May 28 - Ambavatobi (Russian) Bay

Pos: S13deg32.181min/E047deg59.834min. We motored over to Russian Bay this morning from Sakatia. Can you see a pattern here? No wind to talk about, lots of current, and the necessity of an iron genoa. Charts are accurate for the entry, although I'd suggest favoring the west side until the range line (on Navionics and Garmin, not on our CM93 charts) is reached. We dropped anchor in 40' and enjoyed lunch. In the late afternoon, we went into the small bar/restaurant/store and met its owner, an Austrian named Andre, and enjoyed a warm beer (as Andre explained, "the English way") and talking with him. Not too many fishermen are coming in and out so far, but we'll go exploring by dinghy tomorrow. Of note, we're not getting internet here, and are a bit far for VHF communication to Hellville (about 18 mi).

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May 27 - Des & Nell

Pos: S13deg18.019min/E048deg10.733min. We departed Crater Bay about 0700 and motored over to see Des & Nell. These ex-pat South Africans are delightful, full of information to share, and ex-cruisers. Their boat, Gambit, is lying in Richards Bay, SA, and we went this morning to get a better understanding of strategy and weather for our crossing to SA, as they have made the crossing 6 (or is it 7?) times. We'd advise all our friends to stop in and see them; it's time well spent and they are wonderful people to befriend.

May 26 - Crater Bay

Pos: S13deg23.966min/E048deg13.172min. We anchored in 45' outside about 30 other boats. Most are on moorings from the marina here, run by Rudy (0320442667). Many yachties leave their boats here to do land cruising, and we decided to check things out. Crater Bay has kind of a mixed reputation; in years past there have allegedly been some unsavory characters around. Rudy, himself, cautioned me to not hire any locals; the marina provides security and he felt that was good enough. One is, of course, free to do whatever one chooses, and having a boat boy aboard to ensure night time security is always an option. Rudy suggested stowing everything down below, outboards included. In the afternoon we walked to the intersection of the small town of Dar el Salam (sp?) and took a taxi into Hellville to go to a travel agency as well as do a bit of shopping. After, we ate a delicious pizza and had a few beers in the marina bar/restaurant (total cost 20000Ar, about $9USD) and talked over our upcoming travel plans. Nothing was decided; what a surprise there....

May 25 - Tanikely National Park

Pos: S13deg29.016min/E048deg14.352min. Last night we experienced the dreaded Nosy Komba Roll, which was bad enough to prevent us from sleeping soundly. Shortly after first light, we raised anchor and departed, glad to get away from the constant beam-to motion that was so uncomfortable. We motored the 5 mi to Tanikely National Park, and took a mooring in 35' water. There were a few moorings further in, but depth would become an issue. The water was crystal clear to over 40', and I took the opportunity to use our hookah rig and change out the MaxProp zinc anode. Schools of fish swam around us, some of the larger ones actually bumping our hull! At the beach, we paid 10000Ar each for the Park entry fee and walked to the old light house structure. Built in 1908, it no longer is functional, but there is a small museum with placards in 4 languages, and we felt it a good place to learn about the history of the area, as well as imagining school children learning and enjoying a picnic lunch. There are two varieties of lemurs on the small island, but feeding them is prohibited. Dark skinks scampered everywhere, and the view from the light house was awesome. We snorkeled after lunch, accompanied a turtle for about 10 min, saw a small gray shark, and lots of beautiful kinds of fish. A nice place to visit, and anchoring is allowed in sandy areas just in front of the beach (about 35'-40' depths); this is considered a day anchorage as it's somewhat exposed.

May 22 - There be lemurs

We started the morning by getting to the beach shortly after 0900. We had read there was a lemur park on the island and wanted to go see it. The local village is built just at the beach and the trail that leads thru it has numerous small storefronts displaying handmade products, mostly embroidered tablecloths and wood carvings. There was a small sign pointing the way to the lemur park, and we paid 2000Ar each for entry. A young boy named John soon accompanied us and became our self-designated guide; he worked for tips. We wound up a hill, stopped at a tree, and the lemurs were right there on cue. They eat bananas, which John and the other guides had thoughtfully brought along, and we had a great picture opportunity with them sitting on our shoulders. Continuing our walk, there was one boa, several large tortoises, and a couple of beautiful chameleons. Other lemurs climbed thru the trees and came down looking for more food from us, obviously used to human interaction. Although not that informational in a signage or lecture sense, it was a wonderful way to get introduced to just a few of the 100 (some sources quote 60) lemur species endemic to Madagascar. Leaving the park, we went thru the artisans gallery of shops. Many of them have the same things for sale, and prices are negotiable. Lunch was at Chez Yolande; this small restaurant/hotel turned out to be quite the find. We met both sons of the owner (on holiday in France), one serving us (Ceril) and his brother the cook. The food was delicious (special note was the outstanding mud crab), prices reasonable, and the setting relaxing enough to encourage us to stay for hours. Ceril is studying hospitality management, and his service and attitude are first rate. You can pull your dinghy directly to the small beach in front of the restaurant, and cold mountain water is available by hose to fill jerry jugs or do laundry. (Ceril's Mom is an ex-yachtie and the family certainly knows how to make cruisers feel welcome.) We returned to the boats in the afternoon, after making plans to return for dinner. That was possibly a bit premature, as we all were still full from lunch. However, we dinghied back and Sue had grilled fish with vanilla sauce and I the filet of zebu; Stuart and Sheila chose somewhat lighter fare! Thoroughly enjoyable, so much so that we arranged for a custom dinner of Romazava, a traditional Malagasy dish, for tomorrow evening. Chez Yolande will cook pretty much anything you ask for, although advance notice is required for many of the traditional dishes as they take so long to prepare. Lemurs, delicious food, good company, nice's been a fine day.
Pic: No stand under the tree with banana in your hand and they drop on your shoulder/head. Their paws? are surprisingly velvety soft.

May 21 - Nosy Komba

Pos: S13deg26.605min/ E048deg21.231min. We topped off with diesel (gazole) at 2860Ar/liter and gas/petrol (essence) at 3560Ar/liter. At this time, the exchange rate is $1.00USD is 2360 Malagasy Ariary; 10000MGA's is $4.24USD. Going to the bank is interesting; you walk away with over a million Ariary in your pocket; no bill is over 10000Ar, but it all goes fast! Free internet and pretty good, very thin pizza can be found at the Nandipo Cafe. Jimmy and his helper had deposited our jerry jugs on the side deck of Infini, met us at the wharf, and we loaded up the dinghy with more provisions, this time fresh veggies and fruit from the market in the center of town. This is a large market, taking up a city block, and has lots of great fresh stuff. We couldn't wait to get back to the boat and prepare the huge prawns we had bought there, along with the fresh baguettes and salad makings. There was a nice rain shower during the evening and the decks finally look a bit better. By late morning we were motoring to Nosy Komba, about 5 miles away. We've anchored in 35', run the watermaker, are still catching up to emails, and decided to put off exploring until tomorrow. Since it's Happy Hour, we're tasting a local rum we just bought. Called Cuvee Noire ("Black Vintage"), it's a dark rum which apparently won a Silver Medal at the 2012 Renaissance Rum Festival in Miami Beach. Cost: $3.09USD/bottle. Hmmm.

May 19 - Hellville

Pos: S13deg24.459min/E048deg17.039min. We spent the entire morning (0715 to 1215) checking into Madagascar with Officialdom. We had made arrangements to meet our boat boys at 0730, and they were at the wharf promptly to take our dinghy and petrol jerry jug to allow us to meet our taxi. The boat boys here ensure the safety of the dinghy because there is no proper place to tie up to. I took my outboard engine key and fuel lines with me when I got out of the dinghy....Unfortunately, the taxi guy never showed up, and after waiting 45 min we used another taxi driver and had a pleasant chap, Sergio, along as interpreter. (Details: we used Jimmy as boat boy 0328479237, and Sergio 0347238698) It got a bit complicated as we had to first check in with the Policia, then go to the bank for local money (all fees have to be paid in Ariary), then Immigration, then Customs, then Treasury, then the Port Captain, and finally back to the Policia for the final stamps and signatures into our passports. Everyone was very pleasant and total monies were approx $125USD for two people for 3 month clearance. We then took a lunch break at the Papillon Restaurant (rated highly), went to the Orange shops for SIM cards for phone and data, and did a bit of shopping at the Champion and the "big market" (Ahkam Market). We had hired the taxi until 5pm and returned to the wharf at 5 pm sharp where our boat boys helped load the dinghy and we returned to Infini tired but a bit ahead of the game. Tomorrow we'll get diesel, pick up our laundry, and do more provisioning. Also of note is that the anchorage here in the present SW wind is quite rolly and uncomfortable, so the sooner we provision and get going the more sleep we'll get....

Summary: Chagos-Madagascar

Security is a very personal thing and is best kept to oneself. What one person considers safe is another person's bad dream. And so it is with the pirate dilemma of the Indian Ocean. The Somali pirate attacks may seem to have abated, but it's not a clear-cut thing how safe it is thruout various areas of the IO. We were getting AIS targets which read "Armed Personnel Aboard." If things were 100% safe, that would not be necessary...At any rate, going to Chagos was high on our list and we felt it a worthwhile destination. It took us a bit over 2 days to get there from Gan (our exit port in the Maldives), and we had a pleasant run down to Peros Banhos. We weren't pleased with the history of the forced evacuation of the inhabitants of Chagos, but decided to go see the places where, in years past, cruisers used to stay for months at a time. Unfortunately, at the present time the maximum allowable stay is 28 days. Time is paid for in advance at the rate of 50 pounds weekly, so you can see the issues of approximate arrival and departure dates and upcoming weather coming into play as one plans a transit somewhere beyond Chagos. Reunion, Mauritius, and Madagascar were common destinations, but a couple boats planned passage to Cochin (India) during our visit. Only several islands at two atolls in Chagos are approved for visiting yachts, and anchoring must be done in approved, designated areas. The BIOT (British Indian Overseas Territories) patrol boats visited twice during our stay of a bit over three weeks. Very nice folks, very appropriate, and no issues. The fishing is amazing amongst the reefs there; hook-up generally took about five minutes and a nice sized grouper (coral trout) was taken. For the cruiser BBQ's, a couple of us went out and had no trouble bringing in 2-3 fish for the grill. We started looking at weather after about two weeks, and although the pleasures of cruiser socializing were wonderful, we knew we'd be ready for departure within a day or so of identifying an appropriate weather window. I should also note we had an extremely difficult time hooking up to SailMail or Winlink, and were fortunate that so many of the other yachts had sat phones. After looking at the predicted weather, it was Stuart (sv Imagine) and my opinion that the upcoming 5 day forecast looked about as good as it was going to get for our passage to Madagascar. Anything over the 5 days we considered guess work. In summary, we got 20-25 knots pretty much the entire way. We had to motor a bit over 24 hours out of Chagos, but picked up the SE trades at S7deg29min, which worked out great for us. We turned at S12deg11min and essentially headed due west. This was just south of the Mascarene Banks, and thru a bottle neck of narrows which bordered us 20 miles to each side. We felt that was a safe enough margin, and so did others as we picked up a few AIS targets and one large, unidentified fishing boat. By that point I had decided to take us off silent mode on the AIS, so was transmitting as well as running with lights at night. We had no drama, no pirates and no problems. The highest winds encountered were sustained 35, with one gust recorded at 37 knots. Again, most of the time it was in the 20's and off the quarter. We arrived at Cape D'Ambre, the most northern cape of Madagascar, after 1514 miles in 10 days, with an average overall speed of 6.3 knots. Looking back at things, I don't think we could have picked a better weather window. Boats have to be prepared for brisk sailing conditions and prepare accordingly. At any rate, we are happy to be here and are looking forward to exploring Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world.
Pic: Cruisers gathering for a fish fry/potluck at Boddam, Solomon Atoll, Chagos. Picasa picture albums will have to wait for strong internet!

May 8 - Safe arrival in Madagascar

Pos: S12deg00.8min/ E049deg13.2min; Mpaninabo Bay. We had a fast sail here, covering 1514 nm in 10 days, 2 hours; average speed 6.3 knots. We'll be updating this blog when we get SIM cards in Hellville, Nose Be (connecting to SailMail and Winlink has been almost impossible, and frustrating hours have been spent in the effort). We're so happy to be here; everything's fine with the boat and crew, and Team Infini sends hugs to all; we'll catch up to emails when we're able.
Pic: The lighthouse at the northern tip: Cape Ambre. Nice with double reefed main and a scrap of jib, about 1/4 to 1/2 mile off.