Posted by: catamarantwooceans | August 10, 2013

Sailing to Madagascar

4.8.13 – Sunday – The forecast was for winds from the south east at 20 – 25 knots. Miki the impatient wanted to go out at first light; Gili, the reasonable, thought we should depart a little later. The skipper had his way and we went out at 0700, experiencing very little wind and flat sea. Gili went back to bed and I put the trolling gear out with a new red and white Rapala lure. In just a few minutes a big one took it but about 20 meters away from the transom it got itself released. Little did I know at the time that there will be no more opportunities on this leg!

I spotted the wind from afar but could not guess the velocity. Exactly at eight o’clock it hit us. I was reefing the main to the first position and felt the wind gather force. Very quickly we were at the third reef and going fast; maximum wind on the gauge showed 38 knots. This was washing machine ride and neither of us liked it one bit. Gili felt sick and the only comfortable location she could bear was the salon settee.

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I wanted to believe that the strong wind was caused by the mountainous island and that once we were further away it’ll go back to the forecast values. That did not happen; the wind was close to 30 most of the time and the sea was seething, waves superimposed over swell making our lives utterly miserable. We were lucky to have the weather come at us from behind, going against in those conditions was hopeless.

Big clouds brought squalls. some clouds took the wind away and when, after waiting a few minutes to make sure that the 18 knots wind was there to stay, I tried letting out some more sail, the wind came back with vengeance, forcing me to reef back. Is there a Sea God up or down there toying with us?

5.8.13 – Monday – During the night we sailed, almost blindly, into the darkness. We kept two hour watches and when morning came we saw we did 157 miles in 24 hours. Waves broke into the cockpit from time to time; it took a long time to discover that the dinghy filled up and that the outboard’s fuel tank was floating upside down, spilling its contents out. A lesson learnt: keep the tank in a locker! I bailed the stinking liquid out tethered to the safety line in the back.

In my mind I was inventing a new sea state scale to compete with the venerable Beaufort’s:                                                                     1 – frustratingly nice: too calm, need to run the engine.                   2 – enjoyable: up to and including first reef.                                     3 – acceptable: rough but still fun.                                                 4 – threatening: in control but not so confident.                              5 – dangerous: dangerous! Frightening!

Yesterday we were at the top of number four bordering on five, not having fun at all.  Today the wind varied between 20 to 36 knots; we kept third reef all the time, even when the sea state became 3 (see above), so as not to reach our destination too early in the morning.  In the last 65 miles I even had to roll the jib completely and go on with just the triple reefed main to keep the speed down.Gili was right. Again…  

6.8.13 – Tuesday – Past midnight; the wind is still blowing around 25 knots with the occasional 30+, at least the sea calmed down somewhat. ETA about seven o’clock, a bit after sunrise. I didn’t like sailing with just the main, so when the wind went down and I calculated I could keep the same ETA, I opened the jib to third reef. It didn’t take long for nature to react. An ugly squall with heavy rain attacked us, wind topping at 42.7 knots. Jib rolled back again…

As we approached the island my hidden fears about the suitability of the anchorage were realized;  seemingly protected by the land and reef, the heavy swell rolled in around the coast and although much diminished still made the boat roll quite a bit. I put the anchor down and found out that we could bear it, at least for a while. We’ll take a new forecast and make a decision; stay or continue.

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This is how the island looks; note the waves on the right!

The new forecast was much the same as we had before. Nominally 22 knots from the south east reducing slightly when approaching Madagascar. We calculated we needed 64 hours to reach Antsiranana in the northeast of the island and as we wanted to arrive at the entrance in good daylight, we needed to leave around 1900. Not wishing to stay long in the rock and roll environment we found ourselves in, we decided to leave today.

At 1700 we raised our anchor and turned to a course of 306 degrees true. The wind was right from behind and we employed the poled out jib, wing and wing technique. Going with the wind and waves proved much easier; we might even enjoy it!

7.8.13 – Wednesday – The moment we left Ile de Tromelin the conditions became much better; no more fierce 38 and 42 knots gusts and no spray or rain coming into the cockpit. The autopilot took care of helming and we passed the time reading and chatting. I even put the trolling gear out and just as we were getting ready for lunch a nice wahoo was caught; four meals for the crew.

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The first was dinner in the evening. Gili produced a gourmet meal, starting with sashimi followed by fish steaks in piquant papaya sauce and potatoes fried in butter. This was actually the first proper dinner we had since departing from Reunion and the fact that she did it shows that she finally got her sea legs.

8.8.13 – Thursday – Decent weather condition persisted during the night; expecting less wind I kept first reef but found ourselves in the morning with an ETA at about 0400 – darkness. I didn’t fancy going into Antsiranana before daylight and so started reducing sail and speed. No jib and the main at third reef and still the ETA showed 0400; I may have to perform a dogleg!

The wind helped me decide as it veered further to the south, forcing me to sail 330 degrees instead of straight to waypoint 306. It lengthened the trip by 15 miles resulting in a new ETA of 0700, good daylight, for the entrance to the big natural bay where Antsiranana is situated.

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               Lighthouse on the south of Passe D’Orongea

I had no information regarding the best position to anchor and searched the coastline looking for the harbourmaster’s building. We ended up going into the commercial harbour, in which we spotted a yacht hiding behind a ship, We stopped alongside the quay, which is not really suitable for a yacht, having huge tractor tires and big overhang; but being in a sort of a corner, we could secure the boat reasonably.

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The tide range being about 2.5 meters, going out and into the boat at low water turned to be a daring circus act.

I asked a guy from a nearby tug about the harbourmaster office and he volunteered to take me there. That office, hiding on the north side of the port is the place where you get what I understand to be the cruising permit, called "Droits et Redevances sur les Navire" which is good for all ports in Madagascar. It cost 51500 Ariari, about 17 euro. (rates are 3000 ar. for the euro and about 2300 for the U.S dollar).

The tug man, Douglas, impressed me as being a honest character so I suggested he be our guide us to all the other offices and the town.

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Douglas, who is a seaman, is looking for a job that will take him away from Madagascar. Tel. (261) 0320232190, e-mail

Immigrations are in town; they were pleasant enough but wanted to visit the boat, a visit that cost us 60000 ar. plus the taxi fare. The six of us, the driver, two immigrations people, Gili, Doug and myself, squeezed inside a tiny, ancient Renault 4 to go back to the port.

The doctor came by another taxi, which we paid for, and met us at the entrance to the port. He wanted to see our yellow fever vaccination document, which of course we did not have. This part of the check-in cost 30000 ar.

Next customs, which after a long wait for Mr. Victor, gave us a check in and out document at the same time with no fee requested. A gendarme from the port police also wanted to be involved, wanted a crew list and our passport copies. Each and everyone of all the people we were in contact with did their utmost to convince us that we arrived at the modern version of Biblical Sodom, where all the people were thieves. "Hide your outboard inside the boat and chain the dinghy to the yacht" "don’t walk in town after dark" "Beware of pickpockets" were just a few of the warnings we heard. Most of them agreed that this situation pertains only to Antsiranana.

We were gently pressured to pay about 5 euro to a port security man to keep a special watch over "Two Oceans" during the day and 10 to TWO security people at night. This atmosphere is not suitable for us and after doing a land trip tomorrow, we will leave and go to quieter places.



  1. What a relief, after having read your latest adventures and seeing Gili’s pictures, to know that you are OK.”Vaya Con Dios,and have a safe enjoyable trip.Saba G.

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