So quickly the time has passed! After enjoying the northern coast of Madagascar, already we’ve checked out of Hellville to head 100nm south to begin the passage across the Mozambique Channel.
Russian Bay, 17nm southwest from Hellville, is an anchorage where many cruisers find themselves after checking out. After a slow, long sail, attempting to make the most of the light easterly breeze plus keep our fuel consumption down, we eventually anchored near a small village on the north-western corner of the bay. There were a few jobs we needed to do before our passage, so we chose to anchor in a secluded area of the bay so we could run the generator.
Up at first light, which is around 5am in these parts, we had our breakfast then set to. Taking advantage of still conditions of early morning, we dropped the foresail to make repairs. Setting the Sailrite sewing machine on the coach roof I threaded heavy white polyester thread to tidy up the UV strip where old stitching had disintegrated from the weather. The last thing we wanted was to have the sail blow out during a crossing. With new stitches in place, plus a few new patches of Dacron on chaffed areas, I packed away the sewing machine while Wayne grabbed the scuba gear for the next job – cleaning the hull.
The last ‘bottom scrub’ was at Chagos, some five months ago. Surprisingly the prop, rudder and bow thruster were not too clogged up with barnacles. The zincs weren’t too eaten away and the hull had a light dusting of growth.
Wayne spent a couple of hours below scraping off crusty bits while I stayed above making crusty bits – baking bread and cakes, plus doing clothes washing and general cleaning up. From inside the saloon I could hear his steady breathing through the long scuba extension hose and I could check the contents gauge on the tank, so I knew he was okay down below. We keep the scuba tank on deck and use a 15m extension hose, which makes the task much easier. After lunch I joined him in the water and while he finished off below water, I snorkelled above and cleaned the waterline. A very productive day!
To avoid losing another day, we decided not to go ashore although we were invited by a local fellow – Paulen. After leaving Russian Bay, we stopped briefly at Nosy Antsoha recommended to visit by other cruisers to see dozens of lemurs. I could see them in the trees above, and was calling to them to come down. Looking up I traipsed into a patch of papaya trees and heard munching. I jumped when I saw I’d walked into a gathering of lemurs snacking on papaya!
After an amusing time observing the lemurs and taking photos, we then sailed across to Nosy Iranja – a very scenic spot, but the conditions were too swelly for us to enjoy it as an anchorage, although we went ashore in the dinghy for a look.
Six miles further we spent the night anchored in the Baramahamay “Honey” River. It wasn’t long before a local came to us in a pirogue selling mud crabs. They were large and for 10,000 ariary for two, were a good price. We didn’t buy any honey as I’ve still got a heap from Sri Lanka.
Up early and away. The water this day was calm; had that ‘oily’ look about it. Using our precious diesel was the only option, as our destination, Nosy Lava, was 53nm away. Fortunately after four hours the sea breeze kicked in as usual offering us a swift sail at 192deg (with a couple of tacks) to make it to the anchorage by 5.30pm, just as the sun tucked in for the night. An hour of listening to one of our audio books, a few glasses of Pastis for Wayne, and the gentle roll of the boat rocked us to sleep. Lucky there was no swell to disturb our sleep; this exposed anchorage would be a nightmare in strong easterlies.
After a peaceful night, breaking our fast with hot plunger coffee, banana cake, fresh mango and yoghurt, I threw on my togs, spread on the sunscreen then raised the anchor. By 6.45am we had the mainsail out motor sailing in the soft breeze towards Moramba, 35nm further south, passing a few of the local fishermen. CMap charts in this area were way out, although our Navionics charts were a little better. Once more the breeze kicked in and we had a fantastic run down the coast in calm seas. The entrance to Moramba is shallow, but Navionics was pretty good, although once again CMap was way off, about half a mile out, and had us tracking overland! We anchored in a northerly part of the bay, tucked behind a large island that sits near the entrance.
Up and out early before the sea breeze, we took a worthwhile dinghy ride around the bay. The surrounding land is flat and dotted with baobab trees and the geology is limestone. The scenery – rugged, remote and dry – reminds me of north-western Australia. I was pleased to spot some white and brown Sifaka Lemurs in the tops of the trees.
While I was busy snapping photos, a fisherman and small boy paddled by. He wanted to exchange papaya for a T-shirt but I told him we didn’t have any papaya and that I didn’t think his T-shirt would fit Wayne! We asked him to come across to the boat once we’d finished site seeing and we’d sort something out for him.
After our jaunt around the bay, we motored across to introduce ourselves to South African skipper and crew of the large blue vessel ‘Andrea Helena’. One crew member along for the ride was Nell who has crossed the Mozambique Channel many times. Nell and her husband Des are well known in the yachting community and helpful to international cruisers heading around the cape. We received some very useful passage information and soaked it all in. We returned to Blue Heeler, as we had an appointment to keep.
Back at Blue Heeler, the fisherman returned, bringing some large papaya. I traded an old ‘Eagle Boys Pizza’ shirt which I’d picked up in Brisbane when I worked there. These collared black polo shirts have a pink and yellow embroidered logo and actually look very smart. His eyes lit up! I got three papayas for that. For another piece of fruit Wayne threw in a matching cap compliments of ‘Visit Malaysia’. Next the fisherman was asking for “bonbon” and pointing at the boy. Either that was the boy’s name or he wanted lollies. I grabbed a few Chupa Chups from my stash and the boys eyes lit up! More papaya and another mango. Next he asked if we had “cafe”, so I threw in half a packet of plunger coffee for another mango. They were delighted with their booty and we were happy with our fruit! As a parting gesture I threw the lad a new tennis ball but it fell in the water. After fighting the current to reach it, the boy held it up and seemed thrilled! With big smiles they waved and paddled away.
Besides the friendliness of the locals, this part of Madagascar is a beautiful sailing ground; just the right amount of wind, white beaches, clean water, with plenty of sea life. I’m fascinated by the sailors and their vessels in this part of the world. The large sails float across the flat water like ballerinas.
But the cyclone season begins shortly and we must continue south. The passage to South Africa may be relatively easy, or perhaps not. Winds may come from south, ideally north; we may be becalmed or have strong squalls. The gribs change daily so I guess we’ll see what the conditions are like when we’re out there.
The distance to Richards Bay from our current location at Moramba Bay is 1200nm. If we make the passage without having to hole up along the Mozambique coast it will be our longest passage, but there’s a good chance we’ll have to seek shelter from the strong southerlies. Some of our friends made the crossing a few weeks ago but due to weather had to hole up in Mozambique for two weeks! Although another cruiser had a swift crossing reaching Richards Bay in seven days. Either way, we are at the mercy of Mother Nature and will get there when we get there. We plan to leave in the next few days.
I’ll post updates via the satphone. Until then, please enjoy the following gallery.