Family Magazine

Sailing South from Nosy Be, Madagascar

By Behan Gifford @sailingtotem


Sailing south from Nosy Be, we take a path with longer days and fewer stops so we can reach a beautiful destination, Moromba Bay, with time to linger before pressing on to Mahajanga.

The first anchorage on the way is Nosy Iranja: we’d been looking forward to a swim in what we’re told is the last clear warm water and coral reef we’re likely to see until the Caribbean. Everybody wants in! We saw half a dozen turtles in less than an hour, but otherwise, it’s nothing special.


We actually finished that stalk of bananas without feeling like we overdosed, which most cruisers will tell you is an accomplishment.


There’s a French flavor to our southbound trip: for part of the journey, we’ve borrowed Aline from Shakespeare again. This is a win all around: primarily because we love her company and she slides easily into the crew. Icing on the cake: Niall is getting 1:1 language lessons (she’s not just French, she’s taught French), we’re eating better than ever (crepes and brioche now making regular appearances), and I have a yoga buddy.

En route to Moramba is Nosy Lava, site of a former prison (where inmates escaped and murdered two cruisers a couple of decades ago. The facility has been closed for only a few years, but the ruins appear much older – testament to the power of cyclones in this area?

While I’m wandering around trails inland, Siobhan and Jamie meet a man on the beach who leads them on an impromptu tour that includes a dungeon and cell block units inside a large surrounding wall, now guarded by dive-bombing birds instead of paid guards. I find Jamie later on the beach, shirtless; he wanted to offer something to the guide, but was at loose ends. The guys clothes were rags, so Jamie just took off his t-shirt and handed it over – everybody’s happy! We bring the man (with a name I can’t seem to get right: Jor? Dzor?) and Samuel, who I’ve met in my wandering, back to Totem for coffee, cookies, and stories. Their French is rough, but with Aline’s help we learn so much more than we might have otherwise about their lives and this island.


Moromba feels like a deep cleansing breath: a beautiful place to slow down and just appreciate WE’RE IN MADAGASCAR (still feels a little surreal).


Stately baobabs look down from shore. Most spectacular is this batik baobab.


Squwaking black parrots wheeling and fluttering around the bay remind me of the cockatoo flock in Sydney. Thankfully, unlike their Aussie cousins, these birds don’t seem to have connected “boat rigging” with “beak sharpening” just yet.


The kids got into the pace pretty quickly… this particular afternoon included reading, drawing, and just ruminating for several hours under shade on the beach. Tough day.


Aline and I got into a late-afternoon beach yoga habit, once the sun had dipped low enough to dampen the heat. This turned out to be when lemurs came out to play too, the big fuzzy sifakas silhouetted against the sun. I think they must be abundant here, since even a dinghy ride inadvertently turned into lemur stalking.


We do a lot of exploring: the karst islets that dot the bay are full of interesting corners. There’s the rumor of a 1500 year old baobab on one, which toppled two years ago but would still be an impressive site. We find it, and the middens nearby with their bits of pottery and shells.

Rumor had it that among the treasures to encounter on this bay were burial sites for ancestral bones. Ancestor worship is still part of life for many Malagasy, even those who also profess a major monotheist religion. Saving bones, turning them annually, are active traditions. We find one, and appreciate it with a few minutes of quiet, curious respect before leaving the site …untouched except for the crunch of shells on sharp limestone that we climb over to reach it.


Dugouts stop by with eggs, fruit, and seafood to offer. We trade a combination of cash and glass jars. In anticipation of Madagascar, I’ve been saving every olive and tomato sauce jar for months: Jamie is very happy to slowly reclaim the locker space.

We really would have stayed for weeks if we could – but there’s just a few days to enjoy it. You can feel the season changing, and we’ve got crew to meet in Mahajanga.

This post is syndicated on Sailfeed. 

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