After nearly 2 months in Madagascar it was regrettably time to move on, though we will be returning in September for the final trips of the season. The rough plan was to spend a few days in Madagascar, then sail across the Mozambique channel some 550 miles with a stop in Europa, a French island outpost of which we’d heard tantalizing rumours of sharks, turtles, and a phenomenal left hand wave.
We’re joined by Eddie Bauer/First Ascent production head Gerry Moffatt, who would be shooting a pilot of the expedition for Outside TV, and friends Rawleigh, Craig, and Doug; the teams’ 4th trip on Discovery.
Dirty Clubs, the staple card game that was introduced by the group to us back in the first year made a fierce comeback on the trip, which led to a large number of hysterical forfeits, including dressing up as Spartacus for an especially violent episode for our nightly viewing; sitting on the toilet in the dark for an episode of Family Guy (I lost this one- twice), and hanging upside down for 10 minutes.
But TV is hardly the main event on Discovery which led us to more watery pastures near Tulear where a succession of days filled with great waves on the SUP and surf boards kept everyone in smiles. The wind continued to be patchy, but came around for a few nice evening sessions out by Anakao. One last attempt at fixing the starboard engine, which has vexed us since early June failed again and the decision to sail for Europa was made. It’s an island that is of course only reachable by yacht, a place very very few people have ever seen and we were keen to sample the goods.
Shortly after departure at the crack of dawn Craig had the fishing lines out and we landed two of the largest Mahi-Mahi I’ve ever seen. As they both hit at the same time and the winds were blowing over 20 knots, propelling Discovery along at 10 knots, landing both fish was at best chaos. Everyone screaming and running back and forth, gaffs flying, sails cracking. Doug had the largest on a hand line and bravely just dragged him onto the boat. I gaffed the monster, then ran to the other side just as Craig got his to the stern, gaffed that one about the same time Doug’s decided being out of water was rather uncomfortable and started going crazy and made it overboard. Luckily Doug reacted quickly and hauled it back up. The catch would stock the fridge and freezer for weeks and the lines were stowed for the rest of the trip.
We sailed into Europa after a very fast 24 hour passage with the winds in excess of 30 knots. The scenery was mind-blowing. The kiting and surfing possibilities endless. As we sailed to the north side of the island a large motoryacht called “Save our Seas” was anchored there doing reef and turtle surveys. We were the only other yacht. A population of 50,000 turtles makes Europa their home. Bait balls were being chased by large fish, Humpback whales were breaching- the place was wild.
But the French had other plans. Before we even had the anchor down the Gendarme was calling us on the radio. Even with my poor French skills I could tell our stay would be short. Within minutes the tender from Save our Seas paid us a visit with some of the French authorities in their classic, somewhat laughable short shorts (what is it with those guys?) in tow. The message was clear- leave immediately. Europa is a protected nature reserve and though I’d heard short stays were permitted by yachts apparently the rule had changed.
We were not allowed to swim or leave the boat. They did grant us a 24 hour reprieve as I explained we had a faulty engine and would like to have an opportunity for the engineer off Save our Seas to have a look. The engineer kindly did just that. He and I worked on the beast for a few hours but again came up short. Diesel engines are remarkably simple- if they have fuel, air and combustion they will run forever. Ours seems to have all three, and yet she doesn’t even hiccup. We sailed after dinner for Mozambique after a day in Europa. As thankful as I am that places like this are so well protected, I will forever languish over what we missed.
The wind was still blowing hard. 30 to 35 knots from the SE lashed at us all night, with steep 20 foot seas making the ride quite exhilarating. Thankfully none of the guests struggled with sea sickness and Julienne was somehow able to pull off more incredible food, even with things flying around the galley like a pinball game being played by a giant. We ticked off miles at a fast clip, even with Discovery’s sails reefed down as deeply as they go.
As we approached the Mozambique coast two days later the winds slowly died off, leaving a gentle rolling swell and clear skies in their wake. Huge numbers of Humpback whales were spotted breaching and blowing their tell tale water spouts at every point of the compass.
We anchored off Tofo near sunset, a town known for surfing, Manta rays and Whalesharks. A small beach break beckoned a go on the SUP’s. Shortly after our arrival I stepped on the African continent for the first time in my life. It’s too cliche to say it’s a moment I’ll never forget, but it did make an impression as I’ve wanted to go there for longer than I can remember.
The remainder of the trip was a mostly lazy affair filled with lots of card games, shooting the final sequences for the pilot, and wanderings about Tofo as there was unfortunately no wind for kiting and no swell for surf. We employed the services of a very well run local dive outfit called Liquid Adventures and went out to swim with Whalesharks, the world’s largest fish. Considering everyone on board but Jody had never seen one testifies to the fact that they are not only rare but very endangered. For most of the outing it looked like we would get skunked, but “Whaleshark Alley” as it is locally known didn’t disappoint and we each finally got to swim at arm’s length for over a half an hour with a 20 footer. Small as Whalesharks go, but still very impressive. I found the creature somewhat daft but very friendly. His (or her?) willingness to let 40 or so clumsy humans swim around at close proximity certainly does not bode well for their future.
An hour after our guests departed the wind kicked up to 20 knots, a Whaleshark swam right up to the swimstep of Discovery (sorry guys!), and two days later, after another very long attempt with two engineers to get our stubborn motor running failed yet again we sailed north 130 miles to Bazaruto through a literal minefield of Humpback whales in 30 knots. Twice we had to yank the wheel hard over just to miss a leaping giant right in front of the boat. They were EVERYWHERE, their numbers absolutely eclipsing any other whale populations we’ve seen before. After the blow we found ourselves in a kiting and paragliding paradise. But that’s for the next log…
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” ~Anais Nin