Madagascar, June 2009
Initially our plan was to go to the Seychelles, however, the Somali pirates expanded their territory and the archipelago was blockaded.  The decision was made to go from Chagos to Madagascar, rounding Cape d'Ambre on the Northern tip.  An additional yacht, s/v Moose had the identical idea so we decided to convoy together.  Maintaining radio silence on VHF,  we set up a sked on the SSB, using an alphabetic code, instead of numbers.  This enabled us to communicate each others position.  The larger ships we encountered were also very apprehensive, two of which had no running lights on and were also quiet on the VHF.  Three days from the Cape the wind died, we turned the motor on and were hopeful it would stay calm for our rounding.  Cape d'ambre is notorious for being treacherous, and most yacht are traumatized by the experience.  The wind rarely blows under 30 knots and the current from the Mozambique channel flowing into the Indian Ocean causes large confused seas, giving it the name "The Witches Cauldron."  You either sail 100 miles off shore or 100 meters, we chose the later and made it unscathed;  zero knots of wind and zero swell.  the current on the East side pushed us to make our speed over ground ten knots!  Once we rounded  the cape, we hit the opposing current &  slowed down to four knots. 

After the eleven day passage we dropped anchor in an unihabited cove on Nosy Hara.  Looking forward to a full night sleep.  When we are underway we maintain a four hour on and four hour off  watch schedual.  The wind shifted that afternoon and we were on a lee shore in a rolly anchorage, as you can see in the photo top right.  The next morning we picked up the anchor to look for a more protected spot to rest and unwind before we had to check in at the city called "Hellville," referred to as "Hell" from here on out.  Named after Admiral de Hell a French explorer.  

Dropping the anchor in Andranoaombi Bay, we experienced our first village and civilization since leaving Chagos.  Four men from the village paddled their piroque out to our vessels and offered us limes, papaya, duck eggs and banana's. We were grateful to receive the fresh produce, as we ran out a couple months ago.  Having no local currency they were egar to trade. Some items I keep on board are school supplies for children, pencils, paper, pens, crayons, pencil sharpeners, rulers etc.  In many of these countries, children can not attend school unless they have their own paper and pencil.  In these villages they can not afford to buy those products, so their children do not go to school.   Phoebe and Drake cleaned out their closets of all the clothes that were too small for them.   The whole village came to shore to great us, and ponder at the rubber inflatable and motor, not to mention the strange people.  The local dialect is Malagasy, however, most people speak French.   Fortunately our friends off
s/v Moose spoke it fairly well, which helped in the communication.  The bag of clothes was distributed to all the children,  amazingly there was enough for each child to have something.  They thanked us by giving us a pumpkin and more fruit.   On board we have a printer for our camera, so I enjoy taking photos of people, then printing them and giving them as a gift.  People in these remote villages love this, as they have rarely seen a photo of themselves or their children. 
After a couple of nights we decided to push on and anchored behind a small island in Ampamonty bay.  The island was unihabited, except for the ruins of home made tents used by nomadic fisherman.  A young couple approached the boat and it was a sight to see them sail passed Blue Sky, what a contrast.  A local fisherman traded us some mud crabs for empty jars and some fishing line and hooks.  We enjoyed the delicious dinner while watching a rainbow dissappear.
Dolphins off the bow of Blue Sky
Calm around Cape d'Ambre
Celebratory drinks on s/v Moose,
Drake, Phoebe and Irene
Rolling at Nosy Hara
Fresh fruit the village traded
Men, really boys, from the village
The man in charge and Grandma
Everyone wanted a photo with Phoebe.
The village with their new clothes
A live chicken for trade.
In Hell, it is unwise to leave your boat unattended.  If you take the dinghy ashore the boat boys will watch it for approximately $1.00, giving their friends joy rides while you are gone.  Having the advantage of traveling with friends, someone would drop everyone off on shore, taking the dinghy back to the boat and thus never leaving the boats and dinghy unattended.  Gathering our boat papers and passports, the children with Duncan and Irene off s/v Moose we headed ashore to start the check-in process.  Bringing the children along usually lightens up the officials and sometimes facilitates the process. 
Arriving in Hell, on Nosy Be, no sooner than the anchor was firmly set in the mud, we were immediately set upon by a slew of "boat boys," now know to us as thieves!  Learning form previous experiences to commit to nothing, we made a note of each boys name and what services they offered.  This generally put them off and it enabled us to get a picture of how many of these pests there were.  Once realizing they were not going to get anything, the boys paddled away.  After they left, it was time to get in the dinghy and gain some local knowledge, paying a visit to a South African yacht that appeared as though it had been there a while.  True to looks, the solo sailor had been in Hell for almost four years.  Retrieving the required information we were further prepared for the upcoming chaos.
A choice of taxi's, car, ox and cart or overloaded piroque.
A well crafted dhow
The car ferry from the mainland.
The market had a wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, something we crave after a long voyage. They even had avocados, which we have not had since Australia.
A woman walks her child to the market. Having a French influence, there were fresh baquettes on every corner. 
The dinghy dock in Hell.  On shore is some furniture to be delivered.  We loved the "bubble wrap" it is weaved matting.  There was very little "plastic" trash in Madagascar, which was a change from Indonesia. 
Having sailed half way around the world we have discovered that checking into a foreigh country is always an interesting experience.  Some more note worthy than others.  Madagascar, in our opinion, has just advance itself to the top of that list.  The first stop was the police station, located in a rusty shipping container on the pier, with equally rusted floors and a leaky ceiling.  Immmediatley the "officer" stated that the children must stay outside.  Not a good sign.  Two "police officers" inside informed us that it was a holiday, what a surprise!  We needed to come back the next day to check-in, however, for $5.00 we were allowed a 24 hour shore pass.  This allowed us to get off the boat to find a cold beer and a cheeseburger. Venturing into Nandipo, a traveler friendly restaurant, owned by a Spaniard, the Three Horse Beer was cold and the food fresh. The children enjoyed Coca-Cola in a bottle and icecream. 

The next day we retraced our tracks, this time without the children.  First we handed our boat documents and multipe copies of our crew list to the officials in the container.  Taking our passports, they imprinted each with their administrative stamps, however, the real "visa" stamp is at the airport.  Taking possession of said passports, they informed us to come back after lunch.  At that time they will have returned from the airport with the correct stamp in our passports. 

The sign, above the man walking, placed on the side of the church wall reads Cours de Hell.  Meaning "The way to hell" in French.
Second stop was the port captain, surrendering yet another copy of or boat documents, two sets of crew list as well as our last port clearance.  This con artist, which we had been warned about, tried to tell us that 45 feet equals 21 meters.  The port fees are based per meter.  Knowing the exact metric length of Blue Sky,  I pulled out my calculator and came up with 14.0625 meters.  Showing him the correct calculations, I informed him we would pay based on this length. The swindler still managed to get into my pocket as his second conversion included a "tax."  After settling our fees and receiving the port documents, the next stop was the one handed cruising permit woman.   One hand required a copy of our boat documents along with a list of all the anchorages we intended to visit within the next month.  One hand then proceeded to tell me to return at 11:30 to pick up the cruising permit.  Knowing that one hand would be gone and the office closed for the day at 11:30, I chose to read a book and wait.  While reading, a sound came to my ears that I have not heard for many years, a typewriter, each key tap tap tapping as it hit the paper.  The one handed woman was typing our cruising permit, which is a one paged, single space document, and doing so on a type writer the looks of which I had never seen before.

The final document of our check in was for the medical clinic.  Answering questions referring to how many rats we have killed aboard, and an estimate of their current populations.  The number of dead crew and if there were any currently dying?  Completing our requirements we handed over yet another bribe, sorry, payment for 24,000 Ariary.  It is 2000 Ariary to $1.00 US.  We were now officially checked into the country of Madagascar and ready to get out of Hell and explore.
Escaping "Hell" we were ready to explore this diverse and unique country.  An hour sail away was, Nosy Komba, a dome shaped island with a friendly village ashore.  There are no cars or paved streets in the village, and plenty of small restaurants/bars on the beach to relax in. The women sew beautiful resulates/table clothes and hang them in the streets to sell.  Along the main pedestrian walk way are public water taps.  The water comes from a spring at the top of the mountain and is good and plentiful.  Our water tanks were getting low so we hooked up a hose and water filter to fill our jerries. 
The extraordinary feature of this island is that it is home to the brown lemur.  Native only to Madagascar, there are nearly 30 species of lemurs that are currently recognized.  Following a foot path up a winding hill we encountered the furry little creatures.  With a bag full of bananas, their favorite food, we would hold a banana in each hand.  The lemurs would jump from their perch in a tree and land tenderly on your shoulders, gentling eating the bananas.  In some instances you would have two on your back. The other unique animal prevalent in Madagascar is the chemleon.  Our guide explained that contrarty to popular belief, they do not change color to blend in with their surroundings.  It is used as a defense and is tied to emotions and territoriality.  The females on Nosy Komba are red and very mysterious, making them difficult to observe.  Fortunately the children detected one ascending the limb of a tree.  The males are bright green and are more commonly observed.  Not believeing our guide we confirmed why they change colors in a local book on flora and fauna and the Lonely Planet guide.
Laundry was another prioritiy, after eleven days at sea.  The villagers delighted in watching our exploits.
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The village homes are crafted from the local hard wood.  Below is the communal outhouse.
The brown lemurs come in two different colors, the males are black and the females are brown. Phoebe looks as though she has a new fur coat.
The local woman paint their faces with a yellow paste and decorate them with white symbols.  The paste is used as a facial mask to beautify the skin,and sometimes as a medical treatment.   Madagascar takes schooling very seriously and there are school houses in most villages.  The children are all wearing their uniforms and excited the day is over. 

There were many children ashore and to break the ice, Phoebe would bring a bottle of nail polish.  The local girls would love to have the nails painted, and became instant friends.

The food was traditionally cooked over these grills,with a small fire underneath.
Sunset from

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