L O G B O O K - by John Philp


TUE 2 NOV - Day two of the passage from Reunion Island to Madagascar. Weather good, light wind from the south 5-10 knots.

While we have the time at sea we are reading up on Madagascar. Though it is geographically part of Africa it’s inhabitants are descended from Malay-Polynesian mariners who settled here 2000 years ago. We’ve been teasing Sefo (who’s Rotuman) that perhaps he has some Polynesian relatives here. There’s a place here called Farafangana that sounds so Rotuman it’s uncanny. They say that as you approach this coastal town you can see huge biscuit plantations stretching as far as the eye can see.

Our first port of call is Taolagnaro which shares a unique mutual history with Reunion as it was from here that the French Governor in 1646 banished a dozen mutineers to Reunion - making them the first settlers on the island.

WED 3 NOV - In the afternoon we got to have a close look at a pod of Killer Whales passing two hundred yards behind us. I’d never seen one before and the startling white patches on their noses and long graceful upright fins made quite an impression on me.

At 6.15pm we sighted land - Madagascar! It was a big moment. To think we had just sailed this boat 9,000 miles from The Bay of Islands in Lami to get here. It felt like we had sailed off the end of the earth. For most people Madagascar only existed in National Geographic magazines. Now we were here!

THUR 4 NOV - At midnight we were sitting stationary 12 miles off Taolagnaro waiting for first light to enter the port. It was a black and cloudy night. The only sound came from the Tau’s stern as she was lifted up in the air by the swell and slapped down on the sea with a loud splash. Occasionally we saw the flash of the light house at Taolagnaro.

Then out of the darkness off the starboard stern side - Woosh! A whale surfaced right beside us. Then another! A calf appeared ten feet off our port side and it’s mother emerged and guided it back to a safer distance. They remained there for two hours, surfacing every few minutes and exhaling air up into the darkness - mysterious bed fellows for the night.

We motored into Taolagnaro at 6am. What a surreal entrance! We anchored just below a rocky headland upon which sat the medieval looking town and port. As we neared thirty or so ancient dugout canoes came towards us then veered close and passed us by on their way out - fishing perhaps? Three large rusting wrecks sat on the beach. We passed close by another wreck - a large tanker with only it’s bow and rusty superstructure visible above the green murky water.

The official clearance into the port was, well... an experience. Customs, Heath, Police, Immigration and the Port representative boarded us then immediately asked for a ‘special payment’ of half a million Malagasy Francs (F$170) to be shared equally amongst them. Tony threatened to leave port right away so they discounted the bribe to about F$60. He then asked for a receipt thinking this would make them go away. Nope! They asked that we come ashore after lunch with the money and they would have a receipt ready. We paid reluctantly and received a receipt handwritten in French saying something about an arrangement between the Fijian Yacht Tau and the five officials. It even had a couple of official looking rubber stamps on it. We could just imagine them saying, “Bro just use those old stamps in the bottom drawer. Those foreigners won’t know the difference!”. We’re keeping that one for framing.

FRI 5 NOV - Madagascar is like the poorest parts of India meets The Wild West - with a French accent . One morning we took the ships rubbish ashore in a garbage bag and asked a young man where we could take it. He offered to take care of it himself, then walked five meters away and started rifling through it looking for food and useful bits. I didn’t feel quite the same for the rest of the day after witnessing that... very sobering.

SAT 6 NOV - Taolagnaro sits on a pretty peninsula with a rocky mountain range and lakes behind it. Golden sand beaches stretch for miles both north and south.

Tony and I rented a couple of trail bikes and raced 25 kilometres north on a rough patch of road to a beach called Itapera. The country was wild and extremely dry. It looked ‘other worldly’ - kind of like Dr Suess meets Africa.

SUN 7 NOV - Next morning we set off down the coast bound for the little protected bay called Baie de Galleon. On the way we sighted a large Humpback whale close to shore. It was flapping it’s flippers around madly as if waving at us. In any case it looked like it was having a good day. It’s not difficult to imagine how the term ‘having a whale of a time’ evolved.

We sailed by Tranovato island where lies one of the only remaining clues to the Portuguese occupation of Madagascar. It’s an old fort dating back to 1504.

MON 8 NOV - We left the anchorage at 4.30am. The local canoes were already putting to sea for a days fishing in a building south west swell. It was very cold...

Motored the entire way on a sunny windless day. Seven whale sightings today! This ought to be called ‘The Whale Coast’. At one stage a whale sat directly in our path. You couldn’t see it’s body - just a huge tail sticking out of the water - motionless. It remained there for an eternity and wouldn’t move. “Excuse me, can you please move?”. That didn’t work, so we changed course and motored around it.

At 5.30pm we passed Cap St Marie, the southern most point of Madagascar - a very wild part of the world. Large swells hit the coast here, it is very dry and reminds one of the American west. As far as we could see up and down the coast wide beaches sloped upwards and became rock mesa’s. The mesa’s made up an elevated plateau of rock and dry scrub. Looking at this scenery you half expected to see a cowboy on horseback come riding over a ridge.

We motored on for an hour and anchored a mile off Lavanona Beach. The boat was pitching about in the swell and we put a night watch on as a precaution. The wind turned offshore later during my watch and I could smell the land - sand and dry desert, kind of organic.

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