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Yacht Rescue

19 October 2007, Nosy Be Island, Madagascar

Madagascan lobsterman & dugout canoe
Madagascan lobsterman & dugout canoe

Dear Friends and Family,

We've had a bit of an adventure - when we first arrived from the Seychelles we spent the night in Rantabe Bay (12°27.5'S 48°45'E) but it's rather unprotected and got a bit rolly.  So we left the next morning and had a nice 30 mile sail south to Mitsio Island at 12°54.5'S 48°35'E, an arid but pretty and well protected bay with a nice sand beach and a couple of very primitive grass-hut villages.  We were visited by several people in dugout-canoe outriggers wanting to sell lobsters, squid, fish, fruits, and veggies.  At the time we had no local money, but we had lots of T-Shirts and other tradables for just this sort of occasion, and the locals seemed very happy with this.

Pimienta as seen from Ocelot (photo by charterers)
Pimienta as seen from Ocelot (photo by charterers)

We had the whole bay to ourselves until a French cruising boat arrived just at dusk.  But in the morning we saw that a third boat had arrived in the night - and missed the bay!  They were high and dry on the rocks at the NW head of the bay, a small Fontaine‑Pajot "Athena" catamaran of about 37' (11m).  We quickly dropped our dinghy and motored over to find 4 French charterers and a local skipper, and surprisingly little boat damage, given all the rocks.  In fact, one sail‑drive had been pushed up into the boat, tearing the seal, so it had a leak on port side.  Otherwise, the hull was a bit scratched-up but sound.  They'd arrived at night, just at low tide, and the local skipper had been drinking all day.  When they first hit the rocks off the point they'd thrown out an anchor but it hadn't held.  The wind and rising tide had pushed "Pimienta" inexorably up on the rocks, terrifying the French charterers.  The skipper actually implored the French charterers to get in the water and push! - a request they intelligently ignored.

Pimienta on the Rocks - tide is going out
Pimienta on the Rocks - tide is going out

The 4 French charterers, 3 men and 1 woman, all in their 60s, were understandably distraught.  Pimienta had been pounding on the rocks all night and nobody had got any sleep.  So Jon took their luggage and the oldest man off the rocks in our dinghy and onto Ocelot, while the other charterers walked the rocks to the beach at the head of the bay.  We asked if there was a phone in the village and a barefoot man told us to come with him.  He led us out of the village and across the island, eventually coming to the top of a small hill.  It was about here that we realized that he was not taking us to a remote phone-booth, but to a hill where we might be able to get a mobile-phone signal.  But our phones showed no signal and we couldn't connect so we walked back to the beach.  As we walked through the very rustic village, we realized that the French would not want to stay there, so we offered to let them stay on Ocelot and we could take them back to Nosy Be island the next day.  They enthusiastically accepted our offer.

Sue & Amanda bring a line from Ocelot to Pimienta
Sue & Amanda bring a line from Ocelot to Pimienta

Then Jon and the guy from the other cruising boat went to look at Pimienta.  She was sideways, parallel to the shore and there were rocks all around her, especially in front, but she was standing reasonably happily on her keels.  We decided that it was worth trying to get her off the rocks, but that it had to be on the next high tide (about 2pm) as she wouldn't survive another pounding on the rocks.  She'd need to be pulled backwards about 20' (6m) to get around some rocks before we could pull her out to sea.  We put out 3 anchors and positioned them properly, making sure they were well dug in.  We ran the lines back to the sheet winches and tensioned them up to make sure they'd hold.  About noon the skipper showed up with several villagers who were supposed to push Pimienta off the rocks.  We told the skipper that the anchors would be stronger than 10 villagers and showed him how to use the winches.  (We were somewhat surprised that even a Madagascar "skipper" wouldn't know this.)

We love our big diesel engines - pulling off was easy
We love our big diesel engines - pulling off was easy

At about 1pm we took Ocelot over and motored into the shallows, as close to Pimienta as we dared.  By that time the tide had come up and the villagers had managed to pull Pimienta back and pull her nose out to sea, but they couldn't push her off the rocks.  Sue and Amanda took a heavy line over with the dinghy and then stood by as Ocelot's powerful engines pulled Pimienta off the rocks!  (This makes our second yacht rescue of our 6 year trip.)

Unfortunately, once we got Pimienta off, the line went slack, and although Jon had told the French charterer who was tending the line not to let that happen, he did and it got tangled in our port-side propeller.  There followed some high-adrenalin moments while Jon screamed and shouted from the helm while Sue jumped in the water to free the line and Amanda used the dinghy to keep Ocelot pointed out to sea.  In the end the wind pushed us into about 10' (3m) of water before Sue got the line clear.  Sue and Amanda took Ocelot back to anchor while Jon strapped the dinghy alongside Pimienta and drove her onto the beach in front of the village where the skipper wanted to work on her.

Marie, Marc, Jean Pierre, & Jacky relaxing on Ocelot
Marie, Marc, Jean Pierre, & Jacky relaxing on Ocelot

Then a nice lunch with lots of good home-brew beer and a siesta.  Since we hadn't seen a grocery store in over 2 weeks, we bought a butchered goat(!) from the village so we'd have something to serve the charterers.  The women got together and eventually decided to roast it for dinner with lots of garlic and seasonings - flavorful but a bit tough in spots.

In the morning we sailed south with the French charterers, returning them to Hellville on Nosy Be island, 43 miles away.  The next day we all went to talk to the charter company, who phoned the owner and told us he'd be flying in the following day.  In celebration, the charterers took us to a delightful lunch, overlooking a big sandy bay with colorful coral on both sides.  This was a proper French lunch, their main meal of the day, so it started off with cold beer and nibblies, then appetizers (lobster bisque and seafood profiteroles) before the main course of marlin (in a green pepper sauce) and other fish, sautéed vegetables and fried potatoes, washed down with several bottles of wine.  Desert was tiramisu with demitasse cups of strong coffee.  They had to roll us into the taxi...

Amanda coiling the halyard as we leave Mitsio
Amanda coils the halyard as we leave Mitsio

When we met the owner, also a Frenchman, he immediately gave the French charterers back their charter money, which they later discreetly (and generously) gave to us.  He then suggested loaning us his 4x4 so we could tour Nosy Be, but friends had told us there wasn't much to see.  We're nominally entitled to 20% of the value of Pimienta (perhaps US$140K so $28K to us) but we didn't want to gouge anyone.  Instead, Sue suggested €5,000.  The owner countered with €3,000, which we accepted.  The owner then wrote out a promissory note, which we all signed.  But when it came time to pay, the French owner completely reneged on his promissory note.  I guess the lesson here is not to help a Frenchman unless you have cash in hand first...

In the meantime, we've decided to do a 3-4 day tour of northern Madagascar, but those adventures are for another newsletter.

Fair winds and calm seas -- Jon, Sue and Amanda Hacking

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