Rounding Madagascar’s North Tip

captain alex

23 September 2011 | mozambique channel

Madagascar has a colorful history with many of the names natives give themselves and places being quite long and hard for westerners to grasp. To illustrate the point by a brief example : the first native chief to unite the tribes of Madagascar called himself Andrianampoinimerinandriantismitoviaminandriantsimitoviaminandriampanjaka or just Andrianampoinimerina for short (look it up if you don’t believe me). Luckily for us many places have a European colonial name as well and we happened to be in Diego Suarez named after the Portuguese navigator of the 16th century.

An interesting place, in the town we found the African sisters which we assumed were the predecessor of the Chiquita banana lady; many of the women carrying loads of bananas and papayas on their heads through the dust swirling outpost. The Malagasy are quirky lot even using their own body strength to power a ferris wheel that was operated by two men seesawing a fulcrum up and down. They are also an amazingly perceptive group of folks, one guide we toured with slammed on the breaks of our truck while traveling down a dirt road only to reverse the length of half a football field to point to what we saw as an uninteresting tree. He then got out of the vehicle to put his finger on a camouflaged chameleon he had spotted while driving us down the bumpy road at 35 mph. Clearly there is no need for Lasik here in this wild land.

After the first night’s boarding and theft of our outboard (at least we still had Holes II) we never quite felt secure in the frontier town and so after three days decided to battle the elements and head for Madagascar’s northern most tip. It took us 5 hours of beating into 30 knot headwinds jus to make the five miles out of the bay and in the process we blew out our staysail while Christine, having transitioned from enthusiastic to pea green, practiced her super model puking skills in attempt to try to feel human again. Of course Kirk stayed true to his nature, demonstrating his technique of hurling in style which he has so much practice at.

Once out of the bay we turned downwind and were now surfing the mighty swell of the open Indian Ocean. Leaving Kirk at the helm and Christine in the fetal position, head hanging over the lifelines, I went below for a nap and it being a bright sunny day had left the galley hatch open for some fresh air. Just as the motion of the ocean rocked me to sleep a wave grabbed us just right and green water came rushing in through the hatch leaving six inches of water inside the boat. After bailing what I could and making sure the bilge pump was on, rushed to the cockpit to see Kirk still enjoying his bath in the cockpit. He said he had been knee deep only a minute earlier.

With the wind still blowing at near gale force our journey to the cape was a fast one and as we approached the waves became much steeper with many breaking. Knowing we had to either tack way out to sea or hug the coast I chose to point the boat towards the jagged cliffs where the swell of an entire ocean was bearing down leaving magnificent spray that proved to be quite humbling as we neared. We got within 250 feet of the cliffs where the waves died down, but with a still considerable wind and a strong current we chugged along at 9 knots. The sunlight began fading the silhouette of the lighthouse, marking the cape passed to our port, and we were now in flat water and skating across the surface in the most exhilarating sail I have ever experienced. The rush was a high, knowing that the worst was behind us and were now entering the lee of the fourth largest island in the world.

Of course, like always, nothing is as it seems, and the calm was short-lived. The winds piped to 40 knots for several hours leading to another sleepless night before dying to nothing by early morning where the sun revealed several rocky islands surrounding us. We were only a few hours sail from the famous rum island of Nosy Be and I could already smell it on the wind..


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