L O G B O O K - by John Philp



MADAGASCAR - THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT...


TUE 9 NOV - We spent a rolling, uncomfortable night anchored off Lavanona, southern Madagascar. The morning dawned bright and clear with a light breeze from the south west. Six primitive local canoes paddled out to us. The natives were eyeballing the yacht and we were eyeballing their amazing ancient canoes! Neither could speak the others language so we just waved and stared. Eventually they hoisted sails and went out to sea for a days fishing. We did the same and headed west to Nosy Manitsa Island twelve miles away.

We reached the tiny sand island of Nosy Manitsa just before lunch. On it was a little village - deserted. We discovered marks where a couple of canoes had been dragged into the water. We figured that it was a fishing village and the inhabitants were out on the water but no one came back in the afternoon, nor the next morning. The huts were very primitive, the only western implements were the fishing nets. A herd of goats and some chickens roamed the dry scrub.

WED 10 NOV - The next morning was beautiful and sunny again. Tony and I surfed a steep little reef wave on the island. There was not a soul in sight.

When we returned to the boat Michelle had baked blueberry muffins! Sitting in the sun with coffee and fresh muffins, aahh... the world was looking a beautiful place this morning! We weighed anchor, set the genoa and sailed west again. This time for Androka Bay, our last stop in Madagascar before heading across the Mozambique Channel to South Africa.

As we sailed close to the beach some natives spotted us and paddled out through the surf in an ancient canoe. As they neared we shouted out just for the fun of it, “Langouste!” (lobster). They reached down and pulled out a large lobster and waved it at us, “Langouste!” They wanted to trade! We were sailing at five knots but they pulled hard and caught up to us. “Langouste!”. Tony threw them a line off the stern and the negotiating began - ‘horse trading’ off the back of a moving yacht! “Combien?”. “Vingt cinq mille” (Twenty five thousand FMg per kilo). After that they spoke in Malagash and we replied in Fijian. “Tolu!” we yelled out. They pulled out three lobster and replied. “Tolu!”. Perhaps that also meant ‘three’ in Malagash. We threw our bucket over the stern to them attached to a line and they put the lobster in but not before indicating that we put in some of the money first - these guys weren’t stupid. Then they indicated the rope by which they were tied to us. Tony pointed at a beautiful shell in the bottom of the canoe. They handed that up to us in the bucket and we caste off the rope at our end leaving it for them. “Moce!” “Vinaka!”.

As we sailed on and left them there bobbing in the swell we remarked what a wonderful countenance the Malagash had and how friendly and helpful and honorable in business they were. We felt very fortunate to have sailed around the southern cape and met these beautiful people.

At Androka we motored ashore in the dinghy. The entire village showed up to check us out! I rigged up my windsurfer and went for a short sail. This drew shrieks of delight from the crowd. They pointed at three sleek canoes which we being readied on the beach and made signs that I was to race them. Suddenly they all launched into the surf and I was left behind! There was a stiff breeze though and I had no trouble overtaking them which made them wave and shout in joy and amazement. Meanwhile I was reaching back to the beach and when I gybed at the sand the whole village would start shrieking and clapping and laughing. Unbelievable!

While the rest of the ‘civilised’ world perched on the cusp of a new century, scurrying around to find the best way to celebrate it on December 31st, and worrying about where they stood in the scheme of things, these villagers seemed caught in a time warp - Madagascar is the land that time forgot.

We left that night at 10pm on a dark and eerie night. We couldn’t see a thing and relied on the radar to negotiate our way around the reef. The wind was fresh from the south east and once out of the anchorage we sped west towards South Africa.

THUR 11 NOV - Wind still the same S-E 20-25 knots. Sea a little bigger, making good time - 9 knots with reefed main and genoa.

FRI 12 NOV - Wind down to 15-20 knots S-E. Today a large whale followed us obediently for about 30 minutes. She probably thought we were another whale on the migration path and decided to fall in behind us.

SAT 13 NOV - This morning the wind is light so we drop the Genoa and start the motor.

Night watch. While the rest of the crew sleeps, you have only your thoughts for company, the stars and the occasional flying fish that ends up on the deck silvery and flapping.

SUN 14 NOV - The sea was as flat as a mill pond this morning. Wind - zero. Seventy miles to go to the African coast.

We heard disturbing news this morning about an Australian couple and their two young children we’d met at Coco’s Island in September. Their yacht ‘Aphrodite’ was ransacked by pirates ten miles off the coast of Yemen, near the Suez Canal. They stopped the yacht by snagging the propeller in a net, shot the boat up with sub machine guns, stole all the electronic equipment and some jewelry, and left them drifting. The yacht was almost a write off. Luckily the crew was not harmed.

After lunch a pod of five Southern Right whales put on an unforgettable show for us. At first jumping into the air, then whacking the surface of the ocean in a frenzy with their thick tails. They were absolutely gigantic. It was like watching a whale version of Jurassic Park from the front seat, except this was in real life!

We arrived at the busy port of Richards Bay in the late afternoon. Outside the harbour were nine freighters and supertankers lined up waiting to enter port. We threaded our way through a narrow channel to get to the marina. The channel was littered with all kinds of sailing craft, jet skis, water skiers and swimmers. I was having culture shock, having just come from primeval Madagascar!

MON 15 NOV - Time now to do the laundry, check e.mail and look around. It was happy hour that night at the Slipway Bar so we took the opportunity to test the local brew and wash the salt from our throats.

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