Passage to Madagascar


Last Updated on September 28, 2020 by Amy

We had waited oh-so patiently for this weather window: five days of calmer winds to get us from Seychelles to Madagascar.

There had been a window in late July, which several of our friends took. We, however, were waiting on a package to come in, and would have to wait for the next window. It took almost two months.

In August and early September, the winds on the west side of the Indian Ocean pick up pretty strongly from the SE. Since Madagascar – and Mayotte or Comoros – are almost directly Southwest, it was going to be a hard beat into the wind. 20-30 knots of wind would be very uncomfortable, and most likely dangerous.

To make matters worse, the winds hit the east coast of Madagascar and blow north to the point. Conditions at the top could be truly awful.

And so we waited. Sometimes the wind lightened near Seychelles, sometimes it lightened near Madgascar, but never both for long enough for us to make the trip (4-5 days) Our friend Jackie from the boat China Dream said “maybe this window is ok, if you have to go. But we don’t have to go.” And neither did we.

World Cruising Routes says that October is the best month to go, as the winds calm down before cyclone season (Seychelles does not get many cyclones). Fortunately, a window popped up a bit early, the last week of September.

For this part of the world, we have been in touch with Des, a fellow sailor and, for the past five years, a volunteer weather router for this region. When David and Des were in agreement that the window looked good, we started our departure formalities.

We’d been given nearly two weeks with some of our favorite crusiers – Carlos and Linda from Mirniy Okean. Just as we said to them in Nai Harn Bay back in Thailand: “another day, another bay”. They were stuck in Seychelles waiting for a part to come in, unable to take this window with us.

But, we were leaving them and finding the third couple of our group: Kimi and Trevor were waiting to welcome us to Madagascar. We hadn’t seen them since Himmafushi, Maldives, and we’re looking forward to catching up again.

Hopefully, Carlos and Linda won’t be far behind, and the three boats will be together for a while, as we all have plans to sail to South Africa and make our way around the coast to Cape Town.

Passage Stats

Departed Eden Island Marina September 26th 10: 45 am

Arrived Mitsio Island, Madagascar September 30th 9:10 am

  • Total Miles: 677
  • Total Time: 3.93 days
  • Average Speed: 7.17 knots
  • 172.1 nm/day

Sailing Journal – Seychelles to Madagascar

September 26th

On the 26th, we departed Eden Island Marina, our home for over two months, refueled, and departed.

At first, conditions were a little rough. We sailed south along the east coast, which gave us a slightly better angle but also winds directly on the nose. We motored into the wind, over the bank that makes the water choppier, and when the wind started to shift, we rolled out the sails for close-hauled sailing.

Double sun halo
Conditions on the Seychelles bank
Full sails up!

I napped that afternoon, thanks to a 5:30 wake up call for one last run in Seychelles. David cooked dinner and I settled in for my night watch. We knew that the winds would still be fairly SE (120-20 TWD), but we were expecting the winds to shift to the east soon, making things more comfortable. I had stars to guide me and a moonless night while I navigated around a few fishing nets on AIS.

September 27th

I went to sleep at 2 and woke up at 5:30 (ugh) to pouring rain and David reefing the sails. Thankfully, he can easily handle that on his own, so I remained in bed, sleeping off and on until 9. When I did finally get up, we were sailing hard with two reefs in the main and Genoa.

Squalls all around.
Wall of clouds on horizon.
Max wind speed: 32.9 knots

My morning shift was gray and rainy. I should know better, but I stayed down in the main salon for most of my watch, when sitting at the helm (where the view and airflow is better) would have me feeling a little bit better. I was powering through my book selection like they were past-due to the library (because they were!). The conditions, rain, and my stubbornness to go outside meant I wasn’t feeling my best by the time my nap rolled around.

With rain comes (hopefully) rainbows!
Napping in the cockpit.

My nap went well and I felt good enough to cook dinner. The winds had been shifting around, even coming from 70 degrees TDW, putting the wind a bit behind us. The sea state was calmer than expected too.

My night watch saw the winds calm even more, to the point that I had to furl the Genoa and motor in less than 5 knots of AWS. My whole watch, I didn’t see a single other boat, and the sky cleared up above us, although the horizon was full of clouds with lightning all around us. Just to be safe, I put our electronics in the oven (our Faraday cage).

September 28th

When I woke up the next morning at 8 am, sailing conditions were amazing. My whole watch was spent with full main and Genoa, the winds at 60 degrees, and between 15-18 knots. While sailing upwind isn’t the best, the sea conditions were calm enough that we were hauling ass. With the winds up over 15, we often averaged 8-8.5 knots of SOG.

That evening, the winds had died down enough to pull out the screecher, and my shift was spent playing the Wind Vane Game. When the winds picked up, I turned us downwind, bringing the AWS down to 15. When the winds died, I turned us upwind, bringing the AWS up to 15. Playing this game, were able to keep a general course with optimum speed, and averaged 8 knots on my shift.

Main and screecher.

September 29th

In the morning, we’d made our turn towards Cap D’Ambre . Winds were strong and we had two reefs in the main and Genoa.

125 nm to Cap D’Ambre!

However, the day was very fast. Around mid-day, we hit 209 nm in a 24-hour period. We also hit 209 nm once before on our passage to Panama. Quite a momentous occasion!

Finally, at the start of my night watch on our final night out, we approached the cape just after sunset. It wasn’t long before we started getting bashed with waves. The winds were still high and 60 degrees off our bow. Despite the high winds, we were being killed by the current. Our speed through the water was 10-12 knots, but we were battling a 5-6 knot current. Starry Horizons was surfing HARD down the waves, getting sucked back to just a knot or two on the upswing of the waves.

David came up and sat with me. We pointed closer into shore and fired up the engines. The smell of land washed over us – in this case, wood-burning fire. We could even see the lights of one of the bigger villages, though with no moon it was too dark to see actual land.

Our plan worked, and we stopped surfing so much. We got about a mile away from land and then turned to run parallel to shore. The current eased off to 2 knots against us.

Loosing 4 knots of speed in a wave.

September 30th

And so we beat down the coast. We’d expected the wind to abate and clock aft of us a bit more but it didn’t; we stayed sailing hard through the night. When I woke up we were within sight of our destination: Mitsio Island.

We dropped anchor, glad our first of many rough passages between us and Cape Town is over.

Anchor down in Mitsio!

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  1. Thank you for the always informative post. Am in Morocco, about to cross to the Canaries and, hopefully, do the Arc in November with my family, on a Leopard 48. May i ask you a small clarification? On the 29th, you say you were bashing into the waves with the wind coming from 60 (yes, i follow that), but then you say you were surfing? Not sure I understand that part. Thanks, fair winds, Luca

    1. Good question. The Indian ocean is often a very confused sea. It seems like we’re always dealing with wind chop, ocean swells and reverb from shore. The swell in the current was pretty big, but no matter the swell direction, the surface of the water was very choppy and uncomfortable.

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