Captain’s Log January 2009


The intention was good, but here we are already into January and only now have we managed to update the Captain’s Log! We trust you all had a happy Christmas and enjoyed your New Year celebrations. We apologise for the long update this time, but the past 6 months have been busy!

We left you in Madagascar mid-year 2008 with promises of a write up of our 6 day land based trip to see lemurs at various National Parks around Madagascar. Our time was short however we were rewarded with wonderful sightings of the Indri Indri, ring-tailed lemurs, black & white ruffed lemurs, Diademed sifakas, Verraux’s sifakas, plus an enormous variety of chameleonsgeckos and other creatures indigenous to Madagascar.

Starting with the flight from Nosy Be to Antananarivo (the capital) and back again we enjoyed spectacular views from the plane over the north west coast of this incredible country. The flight gave us the opportunity to view from above some of the stunning coastline that we would later visit by boat. What a treat!

We began our 6 day trip by visiting Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, which is home to the largest of the lemurs, the black and white Indri Indri,

teddy bear like in appearance and with a haunting wailing sound which travels for a few kilometres across the forest. The Indri live in small family groups and we were fortunate to see some members of the 2 main family groups which allow human interaction. Most of them stay well clear of humans and apparently any lemurs that have had physical contact with humans are then rejected by their peers. At Vakona Lodge where we stayed there is a small reserve where lemurs that had once been pets or rejected by their peers are taken and able to live in relative freedom but are habituated to humans, thus allowing good photo opportunities. There we saw black and white ruffed lemurs, brown lemurs and a diademed sifaka, all of which we had seen in the park, however from a much greater distance.

After Andasibe- Mantadia we drove back to Tana stopping off at Exotic Madagascar, a park housing many of the chameleon and gecko species of Madagascar. This place was fascinating with such a wealth of indigenous wildlife to view.

From Tana we flew to Fort Dauphin in the south and went to visit one of the best known parks in Madagascar, Berenty Private Reserve.

This is a small area which includes a portion of original spiny forest, much of which has been removed elsewhere in order to plant sisal. The reserve is home to a number of ring-tailed lemurs, red-fronted brown lemurs and Verraux’s sifakas, all of which wander freely amongst the visitors as if completely tame.

From Fort Dauphin we flew back into Tana on Independence Day amid great celebrations, street parties and fireworks! The journey from the airport to our hotel passed right through all of this so whilst it was a slow trip it was interesting to watch the people celebrating. We arrived late at our hotel, La Varangue,

and had pre-booked their special 7 course Independence Day dinner, which was out of this world, every course featuring the colours of the National Flag culminating in a dessert made up of ‘sweet’ fireworks! And the room – wow, we were given an executive suite which was fabulous – only problem was that we arrived 8.30pm only to depart for our return flight to Nosy Be at 5.15am next morning!

We returned to Nosy Be at the end of June where Trish and Fitz met us and returned us to our very happy family (Chui & Scrumpy) onboard ‘Amarula’. They had been so well looked after I think they were slightly disappointed that we had come home! Again a BIG thank you to Trish and Fitz!

Early July was mostly taken up with sorting out our sail and sun covers over in Russian Bay with Lisa and moving back into cyberspace to collect e-mails as we were organising Eric’s daughter, Jody & husband, Graeme’s trip to join us in Tanzania for later in the year.

Not an easy task with the communications available to us on the water! We enjoyed a few get togethers with Trish and Fitz and other yachties at Russian Bay, Mamoko and later at the Honey River before we started heading further south to meet up with a friend from UK, Janet, who was flying in to Mahajanga at the end of July.

En route to Mahajanga we stopped briefly at Antany Mora in the Radamas archipelago, then at Nosy Lava and Analalava. We had a lovely long walk on Nosy Lava almost up to the old lighthouse and later went round to the beach where the dilapidated former maximum security prison is situated. It was a bit like an old wild west film set, hard to believe the place was allegedly only closed down about 3 years ago!

The River Losa near Analalava was totally wild with depths up to 100 metres and currents racing through at up to 10 knots. It was like white water rafting riding the spring tide upriver.

We motored about 16 miles then decided to head back as finding an anchorage for the night was proving difficult so we fought our way back against the wind and current and managed all of 2 knots with both engines flat out!

The next morning we enjoyed a 2 hour walk to a ridge overlooking Analalava however when we got back to our dinghy we found it high and dry in the muddy mangroves.

A rather comical and very messy attempt to get the dinghy back to the water followed with the assistance of 2 local men complete with pet lemur which they were determined to sell to us! The face off between the lemur and Chui & Scrumpy confirmed our suspicions that a pet lemur onboard would not be a good idea and we eventually relaunched the dinghy and got back to Amarula!

From Analalava we sailed south and managed to catch plenty of fish as we crossed the Baie de Narendry en route to Moramba Bay. With winds gusting to 35 knots at times we had a fast and exhilarating sail! We anchored just south of Moramba Bay as it was low tide when we arrived and the bay entry is shallow.

Later that afternoon we met Charles from the lodge Marovasa-Be, who kindly invited us to join him for breakfast the next morning. We had a lovely time discussing a variety of topics including the interesting NGO ‘Ecoles du Monde’ which he set up some years ago as his contribution to the country which he considers his second home. They are always looking for volunteers for their projects which include assisting a number of villages in the region by providing education and clinic facilities, solar and wind power, wells and further education opportunities in fields such as agriculture, fishing and hospitality.

From here we continued our sail south to meet up with Janet on July 27th. We reprovisioned and refuelled in Mahajanga and had a pleasant few days anchored off Amborovy beach just north of Mahajanga. With Janet onboard we began our sail back north and stopped off at a fascinating place that we had noticed on our way down the coast.

On the charts nothing is shown apart from ‘Red Cliffs’ which is an understatement. We nicknamed the place the ‘Grand Canyon’!

It was spectacular with enormous sandstone cliffs rising up to a hundred metres above us, which had eroded over eons of time. We even spotted 3 Coquerel’s Sifakas leaping across the canyon.

We sailed back to Moramba Bay where we met up with friends, Trish and Fitz for a couple of days whilst we explored this lovely bay, a favourite spot of ours from last year (lots of information and photos can be seen on our Captain’s Log page from last year).

Before we carried on north we had another pleasant lunch and afternoon back at Marovasa-Be with Charles and Fabienne.

We took Janet to many of our favourite places on the north west coast including Analalava, Nosy Lava and the Honey River.

From Honey River we sailed to Nosy Iranja, which can only be described as the ultimate tropical island paradise with its white sand beaches, clear turquoise waters and colourful vegetation and birdlife. We also visited Mamoko to see the giant tortoises, Nosy Komba with its small lemur sanctuary and our 2 favourite spots, Lokobe Reserve and Nosy Tany Kely, which has some of the best snorkelling and diving we’ve experienced in Madagascar. Janet thoroughly enjoyed her 2+ weeks onboard and we all said goodbye to Madagascar around August 14th, as Janet flew back to Tana and we checked out of Nosy Be to start our sail back to Tanzania.

As we sailed north we enjoyed yet another fantastic sunset as we anchored in the bay just south of Cap St. Sebastian. Whilst we enjoyed our sundowners on the foredeck, Chui & Scrumpy played in the spinnaker (MPS) that lay on the deck ready for the next day’s sail.

Our week long sail back to Tanzania was punctuated by a brief stop over at Iles Glorieuses, which on the chart were shown as ‘Mad’, presumably belonging to Madagascar.

We met some fishermen at one of the beaches and established that they were indeed Madagascan, then we enjoyed an hour or so on a stunning sand bank as we watched whales frolic along the edge of the reefs surrounding these ‘glorious’ islands. We decided to explore the bigger island further west only to discover that it was a French administration and we were advised not to go ashore. When questioned as to whether we had a problem Eric answered ‘Yes, no wind!’ However this did not encourage our hosts to offer any sympathy or welcoming party, so after a few hours and a few more radio communications we decided to motor sail off into the sunset….. After almost 24 hours leisurely motorsailing the wind picked up to 16 to 18 knots from SE and we rode the wind back to Dar es Salaam under MPS only covering 550 miles in 3 days arriving at Sinda Island at 0630 on Saturday 23rd August. As we couldn’t take the dogs ashore (Marine Reserve) we had breakfast, weighed anchor and proceeded to our mooring at Dar Yacht Club. Eric then went to complete the check in procedures and we later walked the dogs to pick up our car from our friend’s house near the Yacht Club.

The next couple of weeks we were busy cleaning the boat, catching up with friends and preparing for Eric’s daughter and husband coming out for their first ever visit to Tanzania! They arrived on September 12th and after a busy social weekend attending the Yacht Club Happy Hour on the Friday, a ‘Last Night at The Proms’ picnic party at the British High Commission Residence on the Saturday and a full day out at our friend’s beach plot on the Sunday we were ready to head north to Lushoto on the Tuesday to start our safari. We enjoyed a cool night in the mountains at Lushoto and carried on to Arusha the next day, where we spent the night at Karama Lodge, which was lovely.

We began our ‘Wild Things’ safari on Thursday 18th September and had a fabulous first day at Lake Manyara viewing plenty of game and huge numbers of birds, plus we were delighted to see that the tree climbing lions, for which the park was famous, had returned. (They disappeared for a few years following the 1997 El Nino year) The green and lush Migunga camp site at Mto wa Mbu with its large resident population of hornbills and other birdlife was a pleasant alternative to the various escarpment lodges we have stayed at on previous visits.

From Lake Manyara we went to the Ngorongoro Crater, where we camped at the Crater rim and as always it was freezing! Hard to believe when we are so close to the equator.

The campsite was packed and the next day so was the Crater. At one point there were 17 vehicles viewing 2 cheetahs! We have been visiting this place on and off since 1993, so we are probably not the best people to be writing about it now. For a first time visitor you cannot fail to be impressed by the sheer size of the crater, nor can you fail to appreciate the game within the crater, however the number of visitors has increased dramatically and to conserve areas of the land within the crater roads have been closed off to visitors, so viewing is restricted but tourist prices sky rocketing. Who knows what the answer is, as we all want to experince these incredible sights……. Luckily the Serengeti is huge, so it is still possible to be out there almost alone if you get the right guide and that we did! We noticed that we often went in the opposite direction of the crowds and were rewarded with being the only car to view a lioness and her cub out on the kopjes miles from anywhere. As we watched 3 cheetahs stalk a herd of Thomson’s gazelles for a good half hour we only shared the experience with 2 other vehicles. On another occasion we thoroughly enjoyed our private viewing of an elephant coming through the forest to bathe at his favourite spot and rub himself against his well worn tree whilst the vervet monkeys played in the trees and streams close by. However, our best experience in the Serengeti was viewing a leopard in a tree at dusk, not once but on 2 consecutive nights! Having been on safari a number of times over the past 15 years this is a first for Eric. Meanwhile Jody & Graeme, first time visitors to Tanzania, had no idea what a treat they had witnessed until they spoke to other people and long term Tanzania friends of ours who have never yet seen a leopard!

One of the experiences which Lynne had been looking forward to for years was the hot air balloon safari, which unfortunately did not meet her expectations at all.

We were up at 0445 and driven to the site where the balloons were inflated ready for take-off. We were briefed and shown our allocated positions in the basket. There were 2 balloons, each with 8 compartments, each containing 2 people, so 16 people per balloon. So far so good. Once inside the balloon it became evident that viewing from our compartment would be a challenge, as we were at the back and in the inside compartment, with 4 people wearing hats standing in front of us! Jody & Graeme had a slightly better view as they were in the outer compartment. In addition the first balloon seemed to spook the game, so a lot of animals had dispersed by the time our balloon flew by. Looking out the back was lovely for sunrise viewing but as the sun came up it was difficult to see and impossible for taking any photographs. However, all that said, the champagne breakfast under the acacia tree was superb! Our advice if you ever do a balloon safari would be to make sure your pilot turns the balloon so that each side gets comparable viewing opportunities.

From here we were driven to the Serengeti air strip where we said our goodbyes and thanks to our wonderful driver guide, Hamed. By contrast to the balloon safari Lynne had excellent views over the crater and Lake Manyara on the caravan plane flight back to Arusha! All in all a great safari. Thanks Wild Things!

Back in Arusha we were met by Louise, an old Dar friend, who has recently moved here. After a lovely lunch at her new house in Arusha she drove us back to Karama Lodge to collect our car and spend the last night before driving back to Dar next day. We were up early and made it back to Dar and out to the boat by sunset. We were greeted by Geoffrey (our boatman) and the dogs, all of whom were happy to see us home. After a quiet night onboard the next day was busy with provisioning for our sail across to Zanzibar on the Friday. Eric treated Jody & Graeme to the delightful experiences of visiting a local butcher and the fish market! Later we met up with a whole group of friends for pizza night at the Yacht Club.

On Friday 26th September we sailed across to Menai Bay via Fungu Yasin sand bank. Eric took Jody and Graeme for the Kwale lagoon kayak experience and we all enjoyed snorkelling off the sandbanks at Kwale and Pungume. Next day we carried on to Stone town where they enjoyed a visit ashore to see the old town, after which we anchored at Prison Island so they could visit the giant tortoises there. On the Sunday Eric, Jody & Graeme went on a Spice tour and we planned to sail across to Lazy Lagoon the next morning. However we were woken at 0600 with a devastating phone call to advise us that Geoffrey, our boatman, who had worked for us for many years, had been killed in a car crash. In total shock we sailed as quickly as we could back to Dar es Salaam only to discover that his funeral had already taken place that day. The next few days were a blur. Geoffrey’s poor wife, Pamela, was understandably distraught and we tried to communicate with her to find out what had happened. He sadly leaves behind a young son, called Eric and Pamela is expecting their second child early 2009 (Note – we are pleased to advise that Pamela gave birth to her and Geoffrey’s second son on January 5th. Mother and baby doing well).

We had a few days left with Jody & Graeme before they had to return to Australia. They spent some time looking at souvenirs at the Slipway and the evening before they left we went to a vodka and caviar party courtesy of our friend, Tony, who has been working in Russia! After this we went with other friends to the Ethiopian restaurant, which is always an interesting dining experience, particularly as you eat with your hands and finish up by eating the ‘tablecloth’!

Only 3 days after Jody & Graeme left we were due to fly to Australia. Our plan had been to leave the dogs onboard with Geoffrey looking after them, however now we had a major change of plan. Fortunately, our good friends, Trish & Fitz who had given us ‘time out’ in Madagascar to do our Lemur safari stepped in again and held the fort for us! Trish again stayed onboard Amarula with the dogs whilst Fitz picked up the mooring next to ours. Perfect! Again Trisha and the dogs had a fantastic time together (hope you did too Fitz!) and we can’t ever thank them enough for being there for us.

So, as originally planned, we flew to Australia on 5th October. However, as this Captain’s Log is getting rather long, we will write up our Australia trip along with photos, and the rest of 2008 in our next update. We have very little planned for 2009, as we are waiting to see what happens in the global financial situation!

So we wish you all a healthy, happy year ahead and welcome comments and feedback as always.

For previous Captain’s Logs, please click here