Final Week in Madagascar

25 September 2017   Moramba Bay, Madagascar
After all of our travelling for the last week, we had a quiet day on board pottering about.   I spent most of the day doing research on the crossing to South Africa.  We’re feeling a little apprehensive about the 1,200 mile passage because the weather systems come through every 3-5 days with the potential for strong southerly gales against the south-setting Mozambique Current, which can produce very steep and high seas.  

I read various blogs and articles giving advice on the passage.  The most common strategy (and the one that we will follow) is to head directly west from Cap St Andre towards the Mozambique coast.  About 80 miles from the coast, we should encounter the Mozambique Current - a strong south setting current that will boost our passage speed.  

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As we head down the coast, we will be keeping an eye on the weather forecasts.  If a southerly gale is forecast, there are three “bolt-hole” anchorages along the Mozambique coast, where we can go to hide until the bad weather passes.   We can then hop 250 miles down to the next anchorage or, if the next weather window is long enough, go straight to Richards Bay.  If you want to know more, I’ve concatenated all my research into one article called “Passage to South Africa”.

There looks to be a good weather window around the 3/4/5 October, so we’re going to stay one more day in Moramba Bay and then start heading down to Majunga to clear out.

In the evening, we were invited over to “Luna Blu” for sun-downers with “Red Herring”, “Continuum” and “Fortuna”.  It looks like most of us are planning to sail down the Mozambique coast apart from “Red Herring”, who are thinking of going down the west coast of Madagascar and then making a 4-5 day passage across to Richards Bay.

26 September 2017   Moramba Bay, Madagascar
In the morning, we went ashore for a walk.  We landed the dinghy on a deserted beach at the tip of the small peninsula, where there are some impressive Baobab trees.  These trees have massive cylindrical trunks which can be up to 3 metres in diameter and the branches stick out at the top looking like roots, giving the tree the appearance of being upside down.  

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The trunk consists of a fibrous wood, which is used to store water and actually swells up in the rainy season.  The Baobab tree is slow to grow and will live for several hundred years.  Unfortunately, the Baobab tree is a critically threatened species in Madagascar, mostly due to the clearance of land. 

We walked to a beach on the west side of the peninsula, where there is a very photogenic set of rocky islands made from (karst?) limestone and radically undercut by wave action.  There’s an anchorage here, but it is exposed to the open sea and can be bouncy during the day and early evening, so we didn’t anchor there.

A lady called Bridget has a home on the beach and is planning to open a small restaurant and guest house there.  While we chatted to her, we spotted a Coquerel Sifaka Lemur lurking up one of her trees.  Bridget pointed us to a path that climbs up to the top of the little peninsula, which was a nice walk back to the dinghy.

We did some jobs in the afternoon.  Glenys pulled out her sewing machine and repaired the dingy cover.  A few patches were needed and the thread had perished on some of the seams. 

I had another look to see if I could find the water leak on the engine.  About ten days ago, I found a couple of litres of water in the engine bilge, but since then we’ve only been getting a few tablespoons of water, if anything.  I can’t be 100% sure where it’s coming from, but there were some salt deposits below the sea water pump, so I’ve cleaned everything off and see if the salt deposits reappear.  I checked my spares and thankfully, I have some spare bearings and seals for the pump, so if the pump fails completely, I’ll be able to repair it.

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Later in the afternoon, I sewed an extra piece of webbing onto the tack of the staysail.  There were two pieces of webbing, but one has perished in the sun.  It was a mission sewing through 12mm of webbing and sail cloth, but our “Speedy Stitcher” once again handled the job.    

27 September 2017   Moramba Bay to Mahajanga Bay, Madagascar
High tide was at 08:30, so we waited until 09:00 before we upped anchor, so that we could ride the out-going tidal current.  Unfortunately, the off-shore land breeze wasn’t very strong today and we had to motor most of the way out of the estuary.  By 09:30, we were in clear water, so we ran the water maker for an hour to make sure that our water tanks were full.

The sea-breeze picked up just before midday and we slowly sailed along with just our mainsail up.  We only had 20 miles to go and the anchorages in Mahajanga Bay are renowned for being rolly, so there was no point in getting there too early.

“Luna Blu” and “Fortuna” were also moving south today and there was much discussion on the VHF radio about continuing on past Mahajanga Bay and anchoring on the coast further towards Majunga.  We prevaricated - anchoring on the coast would be an open roadstead, with the on-shore sea-breeze making it an unpleasant place until late in the evening.  We eventually decided to go into Mahajunga Bay and make an early start for the 65 mile passage to Majunga tomorrow.

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At about 16:00, we anchored in Mahajanga Bay at 15°14.16S 046°57.84E in 8 metres of water.  The wind and swell were coming from the north-west and we tucked in behind a bit of a sandy headland, which made it a fairly calm anchorage.  We had 3 foot wind waves as we crossed the mouth of the estuary, so I wouldn’t have wanted to be on the east side of the bay.  There’s large fishing camp ashore, which tells me that this is a good place to be.  

28 September 2017   Mahajanga Bay to Katsepy, Madagascar
We had a very peaceful night until 03:00, when the wind picked up from the south-east causing some chop.  We were planning to leave at 04:00, but both of us were awake at 03:00, so we dragged ourselves out of bed and left.  We had a great sail along the coast in steady south-east winds allowing us to make 6-7 knots.

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve had a clunking sound coming from the propeller shaft, which starts as soon as our boat speed is above 6 knots.  We have a fixed 3-blade propeller, which we allow to rotate as we’re sailing along.  I’ve proved that the clunking sound is coming from the propeller by putting the gearbox in reverse while we are sailing - the noise stops when the propeller is not turning.

I’m pretty sure that the noise is caused by a worn cutlass bearing, which supports the propeller shaft near to the propeller and the shaft is “rattling” in the worn bearing.  I thought that maybe the propeller was out of balance because we had a worn zinc on the end of the shaft, so we pulled over and anchored off the coast for 30 minutes, so that I could dive down and have a look. 

The propeller is still firmly fixed to the propeller shaft and everything looked okay.  The zinc was badly worn, so I removed it completely.  Unfortunately, the rattling noise returned when we were back underway.  It’s very, very annoying, but at least I know that the rudder and propeller are not falling off…

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As we entered the Majunga Estuary, hundreds of Dhows were sailing in from their day’s fishing.  They were running downwind and we were on a close reach, cutting across their path, so we had an enjoyable hour, dodging through the middle of the fleet, waving, laughing and taking lots and lots of photographs.  It’s an impressive sight to see these small boats with huge sails screaming along in 20 knot winds.

We arrived in Katsepy at 15:30 and anchored at 15°46.11S 046 14.72E in 7 metres.  “Luna Blu” and “Fortuna” had just arrived.  They anchored off the coast last night and had a sleepless, rolly night until it calmed down after midnight.

Glenys and I jumped in our dinghy to go and have a look at what was available on Katsepy - we were interested in vegetables and diesel.  The village is a score of shops and buildings on sandy streets.  There were a few dreary looking vegetables for sale and a couple of small grocery stores, but the majority of the shops were selling food and snacks for the people who come here to catch a ferry across to Majunga.

A previous cruiser had reported a fuel station 200 metres along the road, but when we asked in the village, we were pointed to a small shop selling petrol in plastic water bottles and diesel in cooking oil drums.   I didn’t like the look of that and even if there was a fuel station along the road, there didn’t seem to be any tuk-tuks in the village to transport our jerry jugs, so we didn’t investigate any further.  We’ll get fuel and provisions when we go into Majunga city to clear out tomorrow.

Back on board, I looked at the engine.  I found a few tablespoons of water in the engine bilge and salt crystals beneath the sea water pump, so it’s leaking.  I’m not sure whether to leave it until we get to South Africa or whether to bite the bullet and try to change the seal before we leave.

My final job was to pour the diesel from our three jerry cans into the main tank, so that we can get diesel tomorrow.  The fuel tank is full, so we will have enough fuel to motor 1,000 miles of the 1,200 mile passage to South Africa - if we have to.