Madagascar to Zanzibar

Leaving Russian Bay, bound for Mayotte

Senta Newsletter

July to August 1996

Madagascar to  Zanzibar and Pemba



The first stage was to Russian Bay where we found Mossie, Alcrest and Vespera still there together with 5 other yachts and the local  trading schooner from Hellville. 
Shady beach at Russian Bay
They had all come to Russian Bay to escape the previous day’s gale.  Mossie had not left for Seychelles because of the bad weather.  The barometer had risen to 1042.  So we had another farewell session on the beach, and after dinner, coffee on Mossie.


On Saturday 27 July we left Russian Bay at 0800 bound westwards to Mayotte, the French island in the Comores group.  There was little or no wind in the morning and a light south wester in the afternoon.  This part of the Mocambique channel lies in the wind shadow of the mountains on Madagascar and is notorious for its frustrating calms.  Mossie left for Seychelles and Alcrest for Mayotte – both around mid day.  We heard on the radio that Bushy of Yetagan had managed to fix his engine and would meet us all in Kenya – good news!  To celebrate dolphins visited Senta several times during the night.


Our second day out started with no wind, and then later a 15 knot south wester, which brought up a short rough sea.  We rolled our way slowly towards Mayotte. A passing junk rigged sailing boat hailed us on the VHF radio, but was unable to hear our reply.  We learned later that our transmitter was faulty and that good friends Ingeborg Klaar and her father Ernst were on board.  There was little wind in the night and we covered only 9 miles in the six hours between midnight and sun rise.  Very frustrating sailing.  A few rain showers brought some wind, but mainly nothing.  Senta was battling to run at 1.5 knots before large seas and an uncomfortable cross sea.  Struggling this way we managed only 36 miles during the twelve hours of daylight.  At last at 2100 the wind started to pick up and we were able to reach under yankee and full main sail.


Dawn the next day had the wind backing to the south east and increasing to 20 knots.  We could now clearly see Mayotte.  We did not want to enter the sheltered waters behind the fringing reef through Passe Bandele on the east side of Mayotte.  This would have seen Senta run in through an unmarked pass in heavy seas with the wind behind her.  We were afraid to risk it, especially as we had heard of a Richards Bay yacht that had run onto the reef in this way.  So we spent the remainder of the morning running up the north east coast of Mayotte, outside the fringing reef and entered into the quiet, sheltered Mayotte lagoon through Passe M’Zamboro at 1400.  We now had to track back eastwards for 16 miles to the main anchorage at Dzaoudzi.  We would not be able to do this in daylight, so anchored for the night in Baie Longoni.  We did a radio check between Senta’s fixed radio and the hand held VHF and found Senta’s radio to be defective.  It would receive, but only send out a carrier – no voice.

Anchorage at Dzaoudzi, Mayotte

Tuesday 30 July saw Senta motoring to Dzaoudzi arriving at 1100.  Alcrest was already there!  Martin told us that they had arrived at the entrance to the east pass at 2200 the previous evening.  After standing off for a couple of hours, he followed a fishing boat through the pass.  The fishing boat was faster than Alcrest and soon left her wandering around in the darkness in a coral reef infested inner lagoon.  Erika was furious with Martin, but tucked her anger away and helped as best she could, hanging from the pushpit and peering into the black night as they slowly picked their way through the hazards to anchor at Dzaoudzi at 0200. 


We tried without success to raise the  port captain on the hand held VHF.  The remainder of the day was spent resting and chatting with new friends, Otto and Jean of the South African yacht Pinotage and our friends on Alcrest.  We heard that on passage from Madagascar Martin had hooked, landed and then released a huge marlin.  Good fishing!


Next day we visited the Port Captain’s office on the hill overlooking the southern passes.  We cleared in quickly at no charge and were allowed to stay as long as we liked!  We changed fifty US dollars for francs at the bank and blew half of it in no time at all.  Prices in the French possession were ruinously high.  Except for the crunchy French baguettes.  At R2 each we could envisage living mostly on them.  We had coffee on Alcrest at lunch time after relaying the anchor for the fifth time!!.  No where seemed quite right.  We met a French couple, Luc, and his wife Jan.  They were on their third circumnavigation in the 36ft Armel, La Cigalle.  The afternoon was spent watching ferry after ferry come and go between Grande Terre and Petit Terre, or Mamoudzi and Dzaoudzi.


We decided that some exercise would be good, so next day, accompanied by the Alcrest crew we set off  at 0700 to walk to the nearby(??) crater lake and Moya Beach on Isle Pamanzi.  What an ordeal!  We walked and climbed over 16km, arriving back with tired legs and sore feet in the mid day heat.  The crater had been a big disappointment.  Uninteresting and full of green stagnant water.  The climb down to Moya Beach – and back again!-  had looked too daunting so we skipped that part of the walk.  Our first stop back at Dzaoudzi was the Snie supermarket where we bought 1 litre tubs of ice cream and ate them sitting on the steps of the coffee and snack bar.  Needless to say the afternoon was spent resting, before going tired to bed.


Having spent all our francs on ice cream we had to visit the bank again next day.  Money wasn’t lasting long in Mayotte.  Salad and bread set us back R40 that morning and then it was back to Senta for more rest!  It was interesting watching the activity in the harbour.  A cruise ship anchored off Grande Terre.  The children from Alcrest and Spray (an aluminium catamaran) spent all the daylight hours sailing an Optimist.  ‘Retriever’ sailed by single hander, Casey, arrived.  Many small planes landed, probably coming for the week end.  Funny thing, when cruising you don’t have week ends.  It is always holiday time.  Except when you have to work to keep your sea going home afloat.


By Saturday morning our legs were slowly recovering but still we rested..  The Alcrest family came to dinner on Senta during which the Port Captain personally delivered a fax message for Alcrest from Bushy.  What service!


We were starting to plan a circumnavigation of Mamoudzu, but were concerned by the lack of apparently good anchorages and the prevailing fresh south east winds.   But we found a few likely prospects and set off on Monday 5 August in company with Alcrest, La Cigalle and Kestrel (Americans George and Teresa on board).  The people on the latter two boats had been cruising for more than 12 years.   We learned a lot from them during a sun downer session on La Cigalle that evening in Baie Longoni.


Next morning all four boats motored to Recife du Nord for snorkelling.  Crystal clear water over white sand and various shapes of coral formed a backdrop for the multi coloured reef fish.  Yellow, blue, orange, red, black, white, striped and plain.  Even a large purple star fish. An afternoon search for a suitable anchorage at Isle Mayo was unsuccessful, so we motored back to Baie Longoni for the night.  There we spent a lazy day, the only activity being a fruitless attempt to fix our radio.


Next day, 8 August, after watching two small ships arrive at the tiny harbour, we upped anchor and motored around the north west corner of Mamoudzu to the waterfall that cascades down from the forest onto a chocolate coloured beach.  
There were many young people on the beach – we guessed a school picnic outing.  That evening when we rowed ashore the crowd was gone but the beach was strewn with litter! 


We visited the water fall the next morning for a shower and to wash some clothes.  Rinsing the soap out of the laundry took only a few seconds in the rushing water.  We had to be careful not to let go of anything.  That afternoon, after our clothes had dried in the delightful 15 knot SE breeze, we used the wind for an enjoyable sail to Baie Bouveri. 
Watch out!  Hidden Reefs
Pierre, standing on the cross trees, did some nail biting navigation around the reefs and rocks that guard the head of the bay.   We anchored off Isle Caroni where we found Kestrel and La Cigalle.  Alcrest had returned to Dzaoudzi to collect a fax from the port office.  The delightful beach at Isle Caroni was decorated with driftwood of various shapes and framed by many different trees and flowering shrubs.  Near some dried fallen trees on the beach Luc and Jan had built a fire and we joined them for a braai.  The Kestrel and La Cigalle crews had some beef and carrot sosaties (kebabs) that they had brought from Australia!  We opened a tin of ham, crisped thick slices on both sides over the fire and ate it with salad and bread we had baked that morning.  Luc told us that his boat, La Cigalle,  was named after a restaurant his father had owned in Vietnam.  Luc had picked some wild bananas from trees on the island and we braaied these in their skins for dessert.  Chatting after dinner Jan told us that she had watched us creeping in through the reefs and was afraid we might run aground.  We replied that we were terrified this would happen as the light was poor and we could not see into the water. 


After a further day’s rest the three boats sailed 36 miles round the south of Mamoudzu back to Dzaoudzi.  We looked for Alcrest as we approached the anchorage but could not find her, until we realized that her previously black mast had been re-painted silver.  The day ended with coffee and cake on Alcrest, chatting to them and Pete and Tina of Vespera who had arrived six days before from Madagascar.

Next day after an ice cream feast we started planning our future movements. We hoped to do some work on Senta in Kenya. Mainly an under water paint job, and some how fix our rudder, the shaft of which was too loose in its bearings

We considered the possibility, if this work could be done, of extending our shake down cruise for a further year and heading east across the Indian Ocean to Seychelles, Chagos and Thailand.


Tuesday 13 August, three months after leaving Richards Bay, we spent doing boat maintenance, installing our new echo sounder and re-seating a stanchion base which had been leaking.

Maroposa and Breakwind arrived from Madagascar. During afternoon tea on Senta, Martin told us that each Mayotte citizen received a monthly ‘dole’ payment of 2000 francs from the French government and that the average salary of those who worked was 15 000 francs. One franc was approximately the equivalent of one SA Rand. No wonder they could afford to pay the prices charged at the Snie supermarket. We also learned why Dzaoudzi and Mamoudzu were littered with half built houses. When a girl child was born the family started building her a house, that would be completed when she was old enough to marry.





During the next few days the Port Captain played ‘musical chairs’ with the boats in the anchorage,  shifting them around to make space for the navy to come and survey for a new jetty.    Young Niels from Alcrest developed an ear infection, and was taken to the hospital for treatment.  All free, including medication.



Mayotte Ferry between Dzaoudzi and Mamoudzu


Our last three days at Mayotte were spent writing letters and post cards, posting them, shopping for fresh provisions, checking our charts of Zanzibar, Tanzania and Kenya and comparing them to those on other boats, and checking out.  I also read Nelson Mandela’s book ‘A Long Walk to Freedom’.


On the morning of Sunday 18 August we set sail for Zanzibar  after taking leave of our friends.  Senta ran slowly inside the fringing reef towards Passe du Nord which we cleared at mid day.  For a day and a half we struggled with no wind or calms during which we motored.  Eventually a visit from a school of fifty dolphins heralded the arrival of the first real wind since leaving Mayotte, an 8 knot breeze from the north east.


The wind lasted through the night and we made better progress.  But as the sun rose the wind died.  Our disappointment was alleviated by another dolphin visit. 



These ones were larger than the ones we had seen in Madagascan waters, with white spots on their noses, dark grey capes over their upper bodies and light grey tummies.  They had a wonderful time playing around Senta, and so did we watching them.  We then motored, assisted by a strong west flowing current, past Grande Comores.


A good wind came with the setting sun to help us on our way.  Next day was the same pattern of hot calm day and favourable wind at night, this time attended by low black clouds.  Dolphins visited at 0300, and gave a ‘fireworks display’ with their fast moving tracks leaving phosphorescent bursts in the dark water.  Senta contributed with her own silver trail streaming out from her rudder.


At 0630 on Thursday 22 August we were 205 miles to the start of the Zanzibar Channel inside of Latham Island and 160 miles from Ras Mkumbi on the north tip of Mafia Island.  In a light wind from the south east and big rolling swells we set our spinnaker for a good day’s run.  A fast approaching rain squall had us dropping the spinnaker and continuing on under main and poled out yankee for the rest of the night.  A cruise ship passed by and dolphins visited several times.  They seemed to go away and then come back to check on how we were doing.



Next morning we were getting close to Africa, and were escorted by dolphins past Mafia Island, 20 miles away.  In the early morning breeze we set the spinnaker again. 


With the wind steerer doing all of the work we could sit back, read, relax or sleep, as Senta slowly approached Zanzibar.  But not slowly enough  During the afternoon the wind wtrengthened.  We were going too fast and would reach Zanzibar during the night.  We gradually reduced sail: genoa, two reefs in the main, storm jib.  Eventually we marked time, hove to under storm jib for the night to pass.


At sunrise we were off the southern tip of Zanzibar

in rain squalls and 35 knots of wind.  As soon as the light was good enough we ran slowly up the channel along the west shore of Zanzibar in front of giant swells.  The wind slowly lessened and we were able to sail under full main and yankee.  Several hydroplane ferries plying between Zanzibar and Dar Es Salaam on the African coast, passed us as we were accompanied in by our team of dolphins.



High speed ferry and shipping at Zanzibar



After successfully negotiating the southern pass just after noon, we contacted Zanzibar Port Control.  An immediate welcoming response from Mr Haji told us where to anchor, opposite the House of Wonders, Palace Museum and Hotel Temba.  He also arranged to meet us ashore and ushered us through the usual checking in procedure of port control, health, customs and immigration.  By mid afternoon we were back on Senta.  We had been warned about thefts from boats during the night and so packed all valuable items from on deck down below.  We watched the many dhows sailing to and from the nearby harbour.  Ferry wakes were a big nuisance.



Zanzibar Palace Museum and House of Wonders


Pierre slept in the cockpit, armed with a spade, until rain chased him down into the cabin at 0430.  We had no night time visitors.  Robbers had probably watched from the shore as we cleared the deck and decided there wasn’t anything left to steal.


As the sun woke us from a wonderful sleep we noticed the cruise ship, Royal Star moored to the quay side.  We had seen her at Mayotte and on the passage to Zanzibar.  We contacted her ship’s radio officer and asked him to send a message to Alcrest, via the Mayotte Port Captain, saying we had safely arrived.  Pierre rowed ashore to reward Mr Haji with $10 for his help the day before, and to buy provisions from the market, fresh fruit, vegetables and bread.  In the afternoon I went ashore.  We were making sure not to leave Senta unattended in this notorious den of thieves!  I wandered through the Palace Museum, Stone Town and Slave Market.  On the way back to Senta I bought eggs, post cards and biscuits.  Passing a sports ground I saw four men, wearing large animal heads over their own, addressing a small crowd.  I wondered if it was a performance or a political meeting.



Zanzibar - Walking through Stone Town


Shopping done we sailed to the safer anchorage at Changi Island.  Next morning we visited the ruins of the prison and some giant tortoises, which had been brought from Seychelles by sailing ship in the 1700’s.  During the morning hoards of tourists were brought to Changi from Stone Town in dhows and wooden long boats.  The small beach filled to over flowing.  Once the visitors departed mid afternoon we had our own turn to make like tourists and lie on the beach reading.



Zanzibar Walk through Prison Island


On a second exploration of Changi next day we walked right round the island.  We saw ruins of toilet huts jutting out over the reef,  pits from which coral lag blocks were cut for building houses in Dar Es Salaam,  a sea water pool in the middle of the island and the ruins of the jail, now inhabitated by peacocks..  We also visited the tortoises again and fed them our salad left overs and skins.  They thought it was Christmas!  In the nursery compound we oohed and aahed over the baby tortoises – hundreds of them.



Pierre feeds salad leftovers to 300-year old tortoise


Spring tides were approaching and soon there was standing room only for the tourists on the beach.  


A few days later we sailed to anchor off the Clock Tower on the western shore of Zanzibar.  There we lazed all day and wrote letters to friends and family.  The internet and email were still in the future.  The full moon rose over the land as we relaxed in the cockpit.


During a quick visit to Stone Town to send off our mail and buy more fresh food, we spoke with Casey on Retriver, who had just arrived from Mayotte.  During the first two days of his crossing he had covered 160 and 150 miles.  Lucky Dog!  Pun intended.


We watched a swimming gala held in the sea water off the quay side near where we were anchored.  Being Muslim the ladies all swam in their clothes, long trousers and tunics or skirts and head scarves.  They were obviously much slower than the men in their shorts.  But enjoyed it just as much, maybe even more, gathering from the excited giggling and chattering that reached us from the shore.                          


On Saturday 31 August, in preparation for our jump across to the African mainland, we sailed 35 miles to Ras Nungwi on the northern tip of Zanzibar, in light winds with some rain.


Faith Van Rooyen,
May 31, 2011, 7:08 AM
Faith Van Rooyen,
May 31, 2011, 6:50 AM
Faith Van Rooyen,
May 31, 2011, 6:53 AM
Faith Van Rooyen,
May 31, 2011, 6:45 AM