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_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Marcy home Walvis Bay Angling Club club AFASyn Ushuaia Marcy and crew

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Madagascar Schooners

little schooner Madagascar

As Marcy moved down the west coast of Madagascar, we often encountered the distinctive double ended cargo schooners that move much of the country's goods. This one proudly advertises the local beer on her sails.

three horse schooner Madagascar

With their housing topmasts, big loose footed foresails, and bowsprits the Madagascar schooner would not have been out of place in America, circa 1800. In truth, the cut of the topsails show the real influence, France. In any case we felt lucky to observe them, it was as if a time machine had allowed us to watch sailing that had been lost in our country for many years.

3 horse 2

The boats are rigged with a small main and a big overlapping loose footed foresail on masts of almost equal height. The masts usually have topmasts fitted, although on older boats, past their prime, the topmasts are taken off. This schooner has seen better days, but is still moving goods. The sheer shows the boat is hogged (the bow and stern are drooping) and the fastenings are bleeding rust. The sails have holes, and for her, flying topsails is nothing but a memory.

old girl Madagascar

On this small schooner, the main topmast is gone while the fore topmast remains. It's still a schooner, though it could be forgiven if someone thought it was a ketch. Note the crew, sitting on deck in front of the main mast happily waving. They were enjoying the glory of a schooner at top speed, beam reaching on a nice windy afternoon.

waving crew

Interestingly, the foresail and lug topsails have to be dropped to tack or jibe. The topsails can only be set to leeward, and there is a stay from masthead to masthead that would interfere with the fore gaff in a tack. Due to the steady breezes in Madagascar, this probably isn't much of a problem. Also, the boats are always maneuvered into and out of tight areas under jib and main alone. This keeps the speed down for entering crowded harbors, and tacking (with such long keels) is reliable with the leverage of the sails at the ends of the boat.

dropped fore sail Madagascar

A village called Belo sur Mer builds most of the schooners for the country, so of course we had to visit. The schooners are built in a lagoon that is up a river and protected by shifting bars. We tried to follow a schooner in, and promptly ran aground. Sometimes Marcy's 7 ½ foot draft is a liability. After extricating ourselves, we anchored out front and went upriver by dinghy to explore the village waterfront. This brand new freshly launched schooner was waiting to be rigged.

freshly launched Belo Sur Mer

We also saw several boats in various stages of construction. The frames are all natural crooks, hand sawed to shape.

setting up frames BSM

The planking is roughly dressed with an adze.

planking BSM

There were about a dozen schooners under construction on the beach.

schooner under const BSM

This schooner shows an attractive shape to her scuppers.

scuppers BSM

While Peter prowled around the schooners under construction, local kids kept Ginger company.

kids and Ginge BSM

Some of the kids had handmade toys, usually (and appropriate for a boatbuilding village) toy boats. One boy was so happy with his toy boat that he tried to put it in every picture we took.

toy boat BSM toy boat 2 BSM

After learning about Madagascar's schooners and exploring Belo sur Mer, we needed to prepare for the crossing to mainland Africa. Madagascar had been an amazing country to visit, full of surprises and contrasts. For example, we learned that despite being one of the world's poorest countries, the literacy rate here is higher than in the USA. Many people seemed well informed, and the recent election of Obama as US president was regarded as a great thing. So we flew our biggest ensign as we hauled anchor and headed out to sea.

big ensign BSM

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