Monday, August 20, 2012


Pirate attacks have been mainly north of Mayotte, but we were still concerned.  We timed our departure so that we spent most of our time offshore in the relative protection of darkness.  We ran without AIS, running lights and only used RADAR sporadically.  We saw no other vessels and had calm winds and seas.  We entered through the Bandrele pass on the southeast side of Mayotte and entered without any dramas.  The pass was well-marked with real navaids and range towers.

There are two main islands in Mayotte: Grande Terre and Petite Terre. On Petite Terre are the capital Dzaoudzi and the airport. After anchoring there in over 60 feet, we landed at a real floating dingy dock and walked around doing the check-in formalities.  Other than the nominal fare for a cab ride to the customs office at the airport and about 3 hours of time, we completed the FREE paperwork good for about 3 months.  We then walked over to the local yacht club for a cold beer and to get some local info.  We met Franck, the current commodore, who spoke good English, gave us a warm welcome and offered temporary membership as a passant enabling us to make use of the facilities, such as the bar and the washing machines.  More importantly, he gave us the password for free internet and pointed us to a free mooring to use for most of our stay.  

After 2 nights swinging around on 240 feet of chain, we moved over to the mooring and it held well during a couple of 20 knot blows.  Franck lives on his boat Peerliane that he built and we saw him sailing around a couple of times during our stay.


We took the ferry (le Barge) from Dzaoudzi to Mamoudzou on Grande Terre, where all the shops are. The ferry was free going over and about $1 each for the return trip. Everything is priced in Euros here and we quickly exercised our credit card to get a pocketful of those.  Mamoudzou is a curious mixture of dilapidated buildings and roads, with much building still in progress.


Mayotte is a mixture of locals (mainly black Muslims) and expatriate French. We found most people to be very friendly and helpful. The locals are mostly rather poor, while most of the French seem to be fairly well off.  We found the stores fairly well-stocked and the DHL service was expensive but reliable.  In addition to "normal" grocery stores, there were open markets everywhere.  We got our first DHL delivery so easily, we ordered a few more items as well.


While waiting for our parts we circumnavigated Mayotte and explored the surrounding reefs. Much of the coral had been damaged by bleaching and crown-of-thorns starfish, of which there were still a few around, but overall the reefs seem to be recovering. There was one particularly interesting site the so-called “La Passe en S”, an S-shaped entrance through the reef into the lagoon. This national park has some really stunning dive and snorkel sites in crystal clear water.  We snorkeled twice but never saw the enormous turtles that reportedly live here.

We visited Le Jardin MaorĂ©, a resort near Ngouja and enjoyed the nice beach, the massive baobab trees and a $190 lunch.  Most locals snorkel here to see the turtles and we saw several as we approached in our dingy.


Baobab is the common name of a genus (Adansonia) containing eight species of trees, native to Madagascar (having six species), mainland Africa and Australia (one species in each).This tree is the National Tree of Madagascar and we saw several there too.

Other common names include boab,  boaboa,  bottle tree, the tree of life, upside-down tree, and monkey bread tree. The species reach heights of 98 ft and trunk diameters of 23 to 36 ft.  Its trunk can hold up to 120,000 litres of water.

The Baobab Tree is also known as the tree of life, with good reason. It can provide shelter, clothing, food, and water for the animal and human inhabitants of the Savannah regions. The cork-like bark and huge stem are fire resistant and are used for making cloth and rope. The leaves are used as condiments and medicines. The fruit, called "monkey bread", is edible, and full of Vitamin C. The trees’ stored water is tapped during dry periods.  Mature trees are usually hollow, providing living space for many animals and humans. Radio-carbon dating has measured that age of some Baobab trees at over 2,000 years old. For most of the year, the tree is leafless, and looks very much like it has its roots sticking up in the air.

Next we went to Soulou were we found a 30 foot waterfall that we could see right from our anchor spot.  This was nice since most falls lie deep inland requiring a 2-3 hour hike.  This one dumped cool fresh water almost right on the beach and it flowed out into the warmer harbor.  We brought the dhow ashore that Emily had been building for its maiden voyage.  She set it down and it took off with the wind.  Despite no rudder, she ran remarkably straight.  She also leaked a little bit and while authentic, dad may add some epoxy sealer later to fix that.

Our next stop was the Choazil Islands which are exposed to the north but beautiful.  Two small islands connected with a white sand beach and surrounded by clear blue water.  We were not the first to discover it, since just after we dropped the hook, 2 small day boats motored up to drop off about 12 sunburned white folks.  Oh well, they only stayed about an hour and we were left alone for the rest of our stay on the beach.


In the afternoon, winds switched to North and picked up and the captain decided to head for a more protected anchorage.  We checked out another but found it too deep and still exposed, so we motored all the way back to our free mooring in Dzaoudzi and arrived just at dusk.

We managed the 3 mile trip from Dzaoudzito to M'Bouzi island in our dingy to see some protected brown lemurs that originally came from Madagascar.  We arrived at the same time as the park rangers and helped carry jugs of fresh drinking water for the 2000 lemurs that roam this small island.  We fed them some bananas that we brought and toured the rustic buildings.  Many of the lemurs had some skin disease that made their tails look ratty.  They used to charge for visitors but we were not asked for any money and they seemed happy for our help carrying water and bananas.  We only stayed a short while and buzzed back to the mother ship.


We spent considerable time trying to get duty free diesel, but were hampered by the Ramadan holiday and French officials that spent little time in their offices. Apparently, we are the first cruising boat EVER to request duty free fuel in the history of Mayotte.  Eventually we were told duty free only applied to commercial boats so we opted not to get fuel that was more expensive than available in Madagascar.  We did, however, enjoy the variety of the French dingys in the anchorage.

All considered, we enjoyed our stay in Mayotte.  We fixed the major items (a cooling problem on the outboard, a leaky dive cylinder valve, a broken dive computer and depth gage) and had mailed in some marine parts that we were unlikely to find, even in Africa.  So with most systems up and running well again, we head back to see a little more of Madagascar.  Come along, Dear reader and enjoy that with us.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The building of the Sailing Yacht Sea Dragon

The outrigger canoe dhow is present in parts of the Indian Ocean including, East Africa, Comoro Islands the Maldives and parts of India which are substantially older cultures than that of Oceania and so some would speculate that the outrigger canoe may have its origins in this region.


However many believe that the outrigger canoe in whatever form it first appeared, originated in the region of Indonesia, spreading outwards with the migration of these people across into Samoa, (the birthplace of Polynesian culture) and also to Micronesia and Melanesia.


Shipbuilding must run in the family.  While Emily has not yet started designing nuclear submarines like her dad, she has been honing her skills by making a local craft.  The project started when we found a canoe hull and outrigger parts in the tide line on  a beach.   We have been looking closely at the dhows as they sail and/or paddle by and have been gathering details to make the parts that were missing. Emily has her own knife and whittled and carved and gouged and sanded away at some local wood and branches.

Outriggers provide stability to the narrow hollow log dugout which would otherwise roll over in the water.  They consist of one or more booms tied across the dugout.  To the boom ends are fixed connectives and they, in turn, are attached to the outrigger floats.  The outriggers floats are fixed to poles and are attached to the hull usually by rope bindings. The single outrigger canoe has a substantial float set out on one side only.  This float is always kept on the windward side – a sort of counterpoise.

Here you see how a real boom is tied (left) and how ours came out (right).

Here you see the joints fitting a real float (left) and how ours came out (right).

Emily wove the small palm basket but some might argue that the cowgirl might not be authentic.

A bit of (non-traditional) fiberglass resin gave us a waterline and some waterproofing.  Most real dhows have a bucket for the near-constant bailing required to keep them from sinking.

We proudly present the formal unveiling of the SY Sea Dragon.  

Tom (and Emily)