Friday, November 20, 2009

Cruising into it in Madagascar

So, looking over our last two blog entries I saw things about which I am happy to say we have moved on… for example previously I said of the edibles on offer: “different eating patterns here… we went for the fruit!” Well, we are learning (but will NEVER get to turtles, which we see almost daily cruising around us): we eat the most odd-looking veg and fruit (sometimes to our regret) and have used all parts of the fish except the tail! We have not yet got to making Malagasy fish biltong like this:

Further evidence of our moving on: we are learning to collect useful bits of old carpet, bottles, etc (we have delicious pouring wild honey in a Sunlight Liquid bottle: have you ever thought of a better use for said bottle?); we have sat at the same anchorage in Madagascar for three nights before moving on (…but that “week-in-the-same-place” scenario is still looking unlikely); we have each started a second book; we are not impervious to the pleas of “Donner un cadeau” (gift please) and have been known to return to the boat to fetch the clothing or cigarettes (the latter specially bought for this purpose: Rolf has not started smoking again) and bring back to the happy recipient on the beach.

In contrast to a previous off-hand and boastful comment, we have learned that fish do not just throw themselves at you and ask to be eaten: in fact, they even make their escape after gaffing and on the boat (which meant beans for supper). Nonetheless, despite some bad fishing experiences – ones that got away - we have a freezer full of fish and eat it almost daily (although Irene is trying to get over her problem of the short time between the poor dude’s happy swim in the water and eating him).

Another challenge provided by the fishing experience from which we have learned a big lesson: if you do not reel in your lines before the boat anchoring process, the lines will immediately get themselves wound around your rudder (starboard side) and prop (port side). The consequence was mild in this case: relaxing over sundowners was replaced by about 2 hours with scuba tank under water trying to pick off/out as much of the line as possible…. and fortunately it seems enough was pulled from the prop to avoid lasting damage.

We have anchored in water that is exceptionally translucent and had the good fortune to snorkel or dive right off the boat. The quality of these waters and extent of the marine life is amazing and cannot be adequately described in words.

We have experienced wonderful nights at quiet, calm anchorages where it felt like we were in a (normal, foundations-in-soil) house again. However, we have also been on the receiving end of horrible stormy, rolly seas, with waves slamming fiercely into our bridge deck …. and this while at anchor!! On such nights your eyes feel like they are rolling around in your head and you cannot read or do anything constructive; basically, you exist and wait for it to pass, as it will undoubtedly do. The only positive thing is that sometimes these rolly seas are due to a rain storm…. and the boat gets a fresh-water wash!

(Below: … speaking of washing……!)

The appearance of storm clouds precipitates (besides butterflies in the tummy) a rapid battening-down-of-the-hatches and gathering of all electronic goodies (computers, VHFs, GPSs, sat phone, cell phones, digital barometers etc) to place them in the microwave or oven for protection from lightning strikes (it would be nice to have something electronic left usable if that calamity should befall us…. And these steel cabinets act as a Faraday cage). Lately, we have seen storm clouds gathering in the east every night … and we worry, as we hear the first cyclone has hit the east coast of the Madagascar main island. However, we have been assured that cyclones do not get to this western part of the island (which has its own micro-climate) until late December, so we will make sure to miss that appointment!

Local knowledge like this is invaluable and one of our challenges is how to access it. Apart from weather advice, it is enormously useful for us to hear about recommended anchorages (the bad, rolly ones we found ourselves in are sneered at by those in the know… we hear after the event!) and good dive spots (we try to see where others are going, but sometimes we are in remote areas where there are no others to follow). Rolf describes us as behaving like Ricochet Rabbit: bouncing around from place to place trying to find the right spots, instead of taking the time to discover these in due course; or alternatively having advance knowledge to get to the best places immediately.

We have explored many of the smaller islands around Nosy Be (Nosy: island; Be meaning big).

Nosy Tani-kely, Nosy Tsara-bajina and Nosy Komba have been wonderful finds: the first two for their exceptional white beaches, turquoise waters and marine life and the latter (despite being touristy) for its local village, crafts, cheap on-shore dinner (2 prawn kebabs and sautéed veg for R40) and nature park where we had lemurs on our shoulders (so gentle, light and soft, quietly eating their bananas next to our ears), followed by a boa constrictor (different adjectives here….) and examined the chameleons and range of tortoises. Irene’s “instinctive-Mum” tendency to assist the almost-falling banana into the tortoise’s mouth resulted in an inadvertent clamp-down on her finger… those beaks are STRONG!! Nosy Mitsio is a U-shaped island that provided a great restful anchorage in the centre of the U… while the Madagascan Zebus on the beach took us home to South Africa’s Transkei Nguni cattle.

We often return to Nosy Sakatia, where one of the anchorages tends to act as a base to many yachties who gather at the hotel lodge there for sundowners. Here, we have met many people (frequently South Africans) with varied stories to share … some of which are necessary to hear, but one hopes not to go through similar experiences! Some of them (the Lalamanzi’s, Ballyhoo’s and Gambit’s: people are referred to by their boat name here) have been sailing for a few years and have just started their trips home to SA; they were dismayed at the front coming up the coast, but one learns to read the weather and duck away from it where possible. Others are on their way up to the Seychelles and still others on their way to Tanzania.

Rolf still has not stopped looking at every boat he comes across. He is particularly impressed with the dhows and pirogues: such old technology, yet so efficient on their narrow hulls. However, now that Rolf is (learning to) become a fisherman he also spends time assessing fishing techniques and equipment. The crayfish trap below is of particular interest to engineers, it seems, but note the buoy: do not dismiss floating water bottles as being inconsequential to your voyage…. They could prove hazardous!

Of course, after jaunting around the islands it always comes back to replenishing the stores and for this we must go to Hell-ville. The town is apparently named after French Admiral DeHell; they have fortunately renamed the main road which used to be called Cours de Hell (Highway to Hell) and ended at the Catholic Church!

The old buildings indicate that Hell-Ville had a grand past and they stand beautiful in their avenues of stunning mango trees. However the rest of the town is typically run-down, if colourful.

The market at Hell-ville is really great, (although photos of baskets of huge moving muddy crabs, fly-infested meat and general spittoon channels on the floor have been omitted). We are trying the local spices and Madagascan green peppercorns, fresh vanilla pods and cinnamon sticks; we regard the ants falling from the latter during grating as a bonus but Rolf is less than happy to be sharing his Coco Pops with them. Rolf is also manfully trying the cheap Madagascan rum!

It is at times excruciatingly hot here and shopping day is a time to grit your teeth, trudge between the market and various stores with your bags and taxi driver in tow, get it all (3 big boxes - which all proved to be frail - 10 bursting packets and 1 jerry can of petrol for the outboard) to the harbour, fight your way through the hundreds of people and Zebu being offloaded from the giant ferry and convey it per dinghy (2 loads) to the boat.

At the boat, transfer from dinghy to boat, unpack it, re-pack it appropriately, wash all the veg in Milton, dry and vacuum-pack … then treat yourself by getting back to the internet café (and a beer) and spending a few hours in written conversation with your family and friends! We look forward to friends arriving to stay with us in the next day or so, then leave for the Seychelles.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

On our way to figuring out how to do this….

In our last blog we said we had no idea how to be “cruiser yachties”… well, from our observations of others and what we end up doing from day to day, the picture is starting to become clarified. And yes, we KNOW we have been posting pics of paradise and so you think we just sail happily and problem-free from one idyllic spot to another, but there is more: there are also the in-between times….!

Firstly, our observations…. other cruisers get to a place and sit. And sit (sometimes not even getting off the boat to snorkel or walk/dinghy about). For days and weeks… in the same place!! Think we won’t manage that one (did we mention in the last entry the fact that we were driven personalities…!?), but we will each try hard to at least start a book…!

Another observation: the cruising boats seem to be either (in fact, mostly) old monohulls or relatively recent cats (read: with modern technological indulgences on board like ours (in the minority)). We have met some of the sailors of these old monohulls and this is how it goes for them…. Many do not even have a country they call home as they have been sailing for so long (e.g. Jean-Claude 17 years) and their life is unbelievably basic: take jerry can to the river (for a real treat: fresh water for bathing); stand “kaal-gat” on your deck and wash down; when it is time to go, flex your muscles as everything is manual (no electric winch for that heavy anchor or mainsail…). Let us say that these boats are not pretty as, over 17 years of sailing, things weather badly and you collect SUCH dreadful stuff that must be stowed (like useful bits of old carpet, bottles, etc), so it is best to do it on decks which are ringed by a mesh net to keep it (and you) on board… although there is little space for you! We are sure they scoff at us (“plastic fantastic” Rolf calls us!)

So, apart from making observations of others, what have we been up to in between the paradise photos? Well, we clean and tidy a lot (boats are really small and get dirty VERY quickly), sometimes on a quiet sea and often on a rolly one. (PS Good tummy, arm and leg exercises: stand on a step, knees flexed, and lean forward from the waist till your hands are below the level of your feet, in the tub…. Now WASH those smelly clothes, girl! Scrub and rinse and wring them out then carry the bucket on board and hang them all over the guard rails… remember up to 11 pegs per item, some holding the sides together, depending on how the wind is blowing.) (PPS We are not buying salt any more… whenever we need for cooking, we run our fingers along any surface and within a few seconds have gathered a teaspoon. Sometimes we can pick up whole big crystals, even on surfaces washed 4 days ago.)

We look for things a lot; things that we need, and know we have, but are unsure of where we put them. We deliberately keep calm and wryly pass comment on senility.

We rearrange a lot, perfecting the fine art of “how to store things efficiently and economically and systematically so they may be found again”. We update our storage spreadsheets a lot.

We fix things a lot: yesterday Rolf sorted out a blockage in the port heads (paradise is…)

We snorkel where we can (lovely), walk and sometimes meet the locals, like Ahmed who had made this really great catamaran.

We are learning to be sanguine about the fact that you are expected to give gifts a lot. (Madagascans like to shake hands and chat, then share the fact that we are now family and they need something to remember us by… the best thing to do is have nothing on you except sweets, balloons or pens for kids.)

Lately, Irene has been worrying about fresh food a lot. Until a few days ago, we had some sweet potatoes sprouting happily (trying to turn themselves into highly-prized green veg), a butternut, some carrots and old gems… and some mangoes and a banana from the boat-trader. Now, we are rich in fresh! Our sprouter (no, not the sweet potatoes, but the plastic one) is working overtime on its beans, lentils and chickpeas… and we went on a coconut raid!! Whilst in Russian Bay we found a beach (a long dinghy-ride away) which had about twenty recently-raided coconut trees on it. The adjective serves to describe to you the placement of the nuts on the trees. Nothing daunted, Rolf made a plan (he is tired of sprouts…) with rope, his trusty axe and some fallen logs… and we are now proudly housing 8 green (drinking) coconuts!

Then, on our sail back from Russian Bay to here (Sakatia island again) Rolf (under threat of just potato and sprouts for supper) caught 3 fish. Well, let me qualify that… the first pulled all of the line off the rod, Rolf reeled all 600m back in (with difficulty: the fish was mighty heavy, and Irene did not slow the boat down fast enough…) but the fish bit through the line about 100m from Rolf landing it and stole the lure. The second (seen to be “long but thin”), Rolf fought, but it did not bite with sufficient determination and escaped. The third was delicious…. with potato, a sprout and carrot salad, and followed by a mango, banana and coconut-juice smoothie. Fresh heaven!

Today has been fun-and-games-in-the-engine-bay day, with David of Admiral up to his elbows in grease, alongside Rolf, the fishing-coconut picking-plumbing and engine-mechanic.

Tomorrow, hopefully, we will challenge the Hell-Ville market… and hopefully find an internet café with decent connection speed so I can post this and write to you…