Monthly Archives: March 2015

Dancing ! -

There’s no longer a dot to follow as it moves along the map, but things are moving on l’Ile Rouge (Madagascar).
4H30 Wake up call
5H00: Monika and René go to Ambodifotatra to take the ferry to Suanirana (a trip of 1H30). Danz is waiting for them and after a 2 hour drive they arrive at Mahambo around 10H15. Monika is not a sailor and has trouble recovering from a bit of vomiting during the trip.
5H00 : Serge and Laure have their last breakfast at La Varangue with Didier, ower of the Hotel Libertalia. Didier has offered to tow Middleton. He will be at the helm of Betty, with sailors Francis and Gelin. Our thanks go to the whole team at La Varangue and to smiling Manou, the manageress who knew how to adapt to our needs and requests, which were sometimes outside the hours of normal tourists.

6H00 : we are on the pier and get Middleton out to the difficult passage of Vohilava. The depth is reasonable. We tie the spare rudder to Middleton, which means we will avoid having to dive to take off the bolt. Serge will be able to steer his craft while it is towed. He is settled in Middleton which takes off for Mahambo, towed by Betty, the boat which belongs to Henry, the owner of la Varangue. We leave Sainte Marie under a cloud-filled sky. Serge has not been standing up a lot and feels OK. This morning Alexandra brought her scale; Serge weighs 60kg against 65kg when he left, it’s confirmed.
The crossing lasts 7H30 and Serge was on a see-saw because the sea, like the wind and the waves, is changeable. According to Didier it is a characteristic of this place. The differences in depth and the ocean meeting the shore makes the Indian Ocean unpredictable. In any case, we were tossed around and in spite of a gray sky and a shower we were getting some sunshine without realizing it.
15H00 : We reach the beach at Mahambo in front of the Hibiscus Hotel, which will be our QG for two days and three nights. Inch’allah. During our scouting last week we chose Joseph’s Hibiscus Hotel. There are bungalows and there is easy access by the sea route. Joseph was rather surprised by our visit but he quickly understood our needs. The trailer is here, Middleton too, along with 5 people from Malagasy Tours, our partner on the Malgasy portion of the challenge, and 2 truck drivers.
2 missions before Thursday :
1) Get Serge back on his feet
2) Pack Middleton in her cocoon of “cotton” for her 1000km overland voyage to Majunga
The road stretches ahead

Sainte Marie here I am -

If it was Pirates who landed on the islands in the Indian Ocean several centuries ago, today it was Serge and Middleton who landed on Sainte Marie without trumpets and drums to welcome them but guided by a few local boats and dugouts and a considerable number of villagers who were on the beach. Landing was not easy because of the coral reefs, especially on the southern portion of the island. The lagoon and the reef are very large and you can go from a depth of several hundred meters to a few centimeters; the rocks as they are called here, are a danger for Middleton because: 1) the risk of running aground and 2) a risking of smashing into the coral because of the ever present waves.
We pick up Serge as he approaches the barrier because the SE wind pushes him alarmingly toward NW, and the barrier comes closer and closer. Our oarsman is fighting but it’s no use, we decide to tow him for 2 nautical miles along the coral reef to get him out of this scrape. I can’t repeat enough that Middleton in the middle of the ocean is a strong craft but near shore, and as soon as there is maneuvering to be done, she becomes fragile and vulnerable.
We looked at the possibility of taking the passage between the Ile aux Nattes and Sainte Marie, especially because Serge could easily have made it to the passage. But with a depth of 25 cm to the ocean floor, Middleton’s “FIXED RUDDER” would have been smashed. The only solution was to land at the south of the Ile aux Nattes but Serge was too far to the east to safely approach the west side of the island. So Serge took up his oars and went to the passage where there is sufficient depth and no coral, at the Hotel Bora near the airport and where a team of divers removed the rudder so Serge could draw alongside the pier of the La Varangue Restaurant. Without ruder or centerboard, Serge continued to row to the pier but again there is a problem because the slot is very narrow and Middleton is drifting with the wind and the rocks are right at the surface. Francis, the Varangue’s sailor takes the situation in hand and gets Middleton safely to pontoon, where there is music, dancers, villagers of Vohilava, the team from La Varangue and Vazahas (foreigners) from the neighboring hotels.
Serge alights from the boat, loses his balance on his first three steps, as if drunk or surprised. He did not sleep much the night before and his features are drawn; but he accepts the welcome reserved for him, even dances a few steps with the dancers and submits to a photo session. Then, his first dream comes true: A SHOWER! This evening Serge is exhausted but he who normally is in bed by 17H or 18H stays up until 20H. He has an appetite and eats but feels a bit nauseous. Serge sleeps well in a good bed, whereas René spends a windy night on a mattress on the dock next to Middleton and the watchman.
Monday, 30 March – Serge gets up but after standing 5 minutes does not feel well. He eats his breakfast and I can see even without a scale that he has lost weight. We suspect that he has lost 5 to 6 kg over 12 days which is enormous. He is going to have to build himself up.
Hubert takes us into town to have his ATA (temporary admission) book stamped. Everything is done in 2-1/2 hours but Serge can’t stand for more than 5 minutes; he seems to be in a state of permanent hypoglycemia: cold sweats, dizziness, loss of facial color and a huge general fatigue.
Once at the hotel he lies down, is glued to his bed and he begins to realize that his period of recuperation may be more bothersome than planned. We wonder if it will be proportional to the length of time he was at sea; we hope not.
Serge is on land in Madagascar, the first stage of this world tour. The second stage will be to run from the east coast to the west coast of the la Grande Ile. Tomorrow the boat will be towed from la Grande Terre at Mahambo and it is from there that Serge should start again on his two feet, we hope on Thursday!

Middleton turtle or crab? -

25 March: “I’m moving forward sideways like a crab and only row with one arm; there is always this southerly wind and this swell………”
Tomorrow there is hope of better conditions to make rowing easier and most of all to facilitate progress toward Sainte Marie, where people are beginning to wait for Serge.
We met Henry, the owner of Villa de Vohilava, who was good enough to offer us lodging while we wait for Serge. He has a boat and knows the sea well. He is a diver and president of the CetaMada Association, which works to preserve marine mammals in Madagascar. Between Sainte Marie and La Grande Terre, humpback whales come to give birth to their young between June and October. It is also the mating season, when the males sometimes fight to receive the favors of the ladies. We will have to come back because it is not the season to see this show, which must be magnificent. We have spent several hours developing scenarios for Middleton’s arrival; what is the best way to enter the lagoon, how to remove the rudder blade which is not retractable, how do we tow the boat from Sainte Marie to Mahambo on the big island, where and how the boat will be tied to the mooring in front of Joseph’s hotel in Mahambo? In short, it is the beginning of delicate handing of Middleton, such a small and fragile craft when it is a question of human handling near the shore…
René and I are trying to describe the day: dead calm does not apply but it was a static day where we put down roots in Henry’s restaurant, La Varangue, which provides WIFI. We can also say the day was productive. We discovered a contact on Majunga (Mahajanga) who can receive the boat and store it until we will put it in the water again. We also contacted a person who may be able to help us in Mozambique and we contacted a maritime transporter to ship Middleton in her container from Mozambique to Namibia.
We also finalized Serge’s arrival in Sainte Marie with visits to the local authorities, accompanied by Hubert and Alexandra. Serge’s morale is of one who has become resigned to the Indian Ocean, which is so unpredictable. This evening Paella is on the menu again and he is happy to be able to eat well. For the first time he took out his GoPro camera, which will make Monika happy. She is due to arrive in Sainte Marie on Saturday morning.
This evening Serge has the impression that he is not advancing, whereas the tracking seems to prove the contrary, keeping in mind that between 25 and 26 March he only covered 26 miles, not very good progress even though he rowed almost without stopping. I am betting that the next 24 hours will be better.
For my part, I am beginning to yearn for his arrival. Hello to Danz and Momo who are waiting for us just opposite on Grande Terre.

Heading, Drift, Route …. Some explanations from Pierre -

The compass on land or at sea gives the heading in relation to the magnetic north, which we must remember does not always correspond to the geographic north. This angle between the true north and the magnetic north is called magnetic declination and the angle varies a few degrees every year. When moving from a map to a compass and vice versa you have to take this magnetic declination into account.
A boat which navigates at a certain speed toward a point follows a route on the surface of the water to a heading (the angle in relation to magnetic north). This boat moves on the water and is subject to different forces which can prevent it from following its trajectory, such as wind or currents, and which produce drift, i.e. the route the boat follows on the surface may not correspond to the route at a certain depth. Any floating craft, whether it has an engine, sails or oars is subject to the same drift, keeping in mind that a very tall craft which is high on the water or a light one which has little of its surface on the water, will have drift caused by wind. Serge’s boat, Middleton, is an example of the latter.
So, it is of utmost importance to take these elements into consideration when calculating the heading given to a boat so it can get from one point to another, and to monitor the changes in the strength of the wind and currents in order to modify the heading so he will not miss the point to which he is heading. GPS has brought a precious aid to navigation because at any time the navigator can know what his position is relative to the seabed.
At night or during periods of rest, without anyone at the oars to give Middleton speed, Serge’s boat will drift according to the force and the direction of the wind and current. Serge can compensate a bit by activating the moving parts of the boat: the rudder blade or rudder and the drift (a small plank that slides vertically in the water and helps to somewhat reduce the “lateral slide” or drift of the boat. Naturally, Serge has to wake up often to check that he has not drifted too far from his heading and if that is the case he changes the trajectory by regulating the appendages.

Pierre Katz
Serge covered only 30 nautical miles in the last 24 hours, and there was always a wind and swell that relentlessly pushed him westward, rather than to the north. Conditions should improve today or tomorrow. Follow his trail to Sainte Marie.

Mora Mora (Gently Gently) – Serge holds the course -

This morning, not such an early start, around 9H00, to the city center for the time it took to handle some e-mails and update the website because I know I would not have time this evening. Tamatava is the largest port of the country and it’s here that the majority of the freight enters. I was expecting a heavy concentration of cars and a dense population. Actually, this city of 210,000 inhabitants is rather calm, except near the markets when the Tuk-Tuk and Pedi cabs are part of the chaos.
Here’s this morning’s program: see a few maritime shipping companies, to begin with SDV, managed by Balloré Logistics, a French company that we tried unsuccessfully to contact in France. This company, which is well established in African Harbors, could have helped us with the logistics of the boat. If any of you has a contact we would be happy to have it!
The director of the agency, Mr. Dumont is busy and Mr. Didi explains that they only deal with import/export and asks me to see MSC, which handles the liaison Tamatave-Mahjanga. The reception at MSC is warmer, or at least the people I talk to listen attentively to my explanation of Serge’s project. The desire to help find a solution and to help us comes from Mr. James. After 45 minutes I leave with the confirmation that since the beginning of the year there is no maritime caboage between Tamatave and Mahajanga and shipping a container overland will be very expensive.
Why do we have to do all this research when we have already, or almost, arraigned for overland shipping with the precious help of Olivier of Malagasy Tours? I like to search for the best solutions, or at least the best compromise. The condition of the Malagasy roads worries me. Middleton will hiccup and it’s not reassuring. It will be impossible to send Middleton by sea, the only thing left to do is to have heavy insurance for overland transportation. We are going to have to wrap, pad and securely tie the boat to its trailer and the trailer to the truck so that nothing will move around inside. When I woke this morning I felt pressured and I am still pressured, I need to be reassured that this mission, which I call «Operation Middleton in Madagascar», will be well handled.
Gently Gently Laure
We finish by running some errands at the two supermarkets of the city and the bazaar, newly rehabilitated and by reconnoitering a spot where Middleton could land in Tamatave, in case it is impossible to land at Mahambo, to the north. Lastly, we try to find a solution for making cradles in order to place Middleton on the trailer so she will be more stable. At 15H00 we leave and I’m not completely satisfied with our searches and tribulations which have taken us almost 6 hours in Tamatave. I also know we must arrive at Mahanbo before nightfall to find our site and that we always spend a lot of time on the road.
Between Tamatave and Mahanbo, there is a series of streams and rivers, vegetation is dense and there are more houses at the road side than yesterday. In places the road runs along the ocean and I can imagine a small speck in the distance which is Serge and Middleton.
René and I build up our Malagasy vocabulary with Danz and Momo in the car. We also sample the fruit and cakes sold along the road. Danz explains that rice is ubiquitous and eaten morning, noon and night in Madagascar. It is served plain and you can dip it in bouillon. It is also used in pastry: the Codro Codro (O is pronounced ü) is rice paste, coconut milk, cinnamon and sugar; and the Kuba (see today’s photo), is rice paste in a crust of grilled and ground peanuts. These 2 pastries are cooked in a double boiler and are not very sweet.
16H45: arrival in Mahambo, 85 km to the north of Tamatave. It’s a seaside village with hotels and restaurants everywhere. The access to the beach frightens me because it is a track in a ravine and I don’t see how a ten ton truck carrying Middleton can use it. We find another track that is in better condition and which has a hotel with access to the sea. We meet Mr. Joseph, who greets us rather coolly before he understands our request and the object of our questioning about the possibility of loading a boat from his place. In the end, we talk a lot and make quite a bit of headway with him. He has a lot of important contacts in the neighborhood. He also has his own boat so he is used to getting a boat out of the water.
The cradles can’t be built until the boat and the trailer have arrived in Mahambo and we will not leave until Middleton is well tied down and packed. You can understand that once Serge is here, he will not leave at a gallop the next day. I’m eager to see how he will react to being on terra firma and standing up; he who said yesterday that he never stands in his boat, too much gyre and fear of falling into water. Every move is slow and planned beforehand. Today’s contacts with Serge were limited to a few minutes this morning and there was no network connection this afternoon. I haven’t had time to track him today because of travel. However, he is asking for news and how our prospecting went.
We finally unload our baggage and I feel fatigue and tension in the air.
Mora Mora

Nutrition Part 1: Breakfast -

Morale and nutrition often go hand in hand and for Serge they represent even more, a pause that marks his days and give bearings in a sea where there are so few, aside from the sun, the stars and of course his measurement instruments.
Breakfast: The routine sets in, coffee with sugar, La Trinitaine biscuits which have most kindly bens sent to Reunion Island by our partner. Serge heats his water in a water heater called JetBoil, which had the advantage of needing little power to heat.

Then comes muesli which Serge has adapted because he does not like milk! The brand is Lyo Food, a new Polish brand that has a line of freeze-dried produces: the fruit is grown in their own fields so it is possible to track the quality of the ingredients used, which are guaranteed 100% fresh and natural. Serge has a choice of 3 breakfasts called Chocolate Morning, Sweet Morning and Healthy Morning. He exchanges powered milk and water for orange juice and really enjoys this morning meal which has a value of about 200 kcal.
He eats a second item of this brand: Fruit, and there is a large selection. They have the advantage of not needing to be moistened before eating. They come in a snack package which is easy to use and the fruit are in pieces, not mixed. They have been cooked before being freeze-dried, contrary to most foods of this type. For 30 grams of fruit you get about 100 calories and Serge eats them at breakfast and then as a snack during the day. He drinks an average of 3 liters of water per day + the extras (some Coca Cola, coffee, orange juice)
Since the adventure is long and we will always have something to talk about, I am splitting in 2 parts the chapter on nutrition and soon I will talk about the other meals of the day. It is 5H00 in France, for Serge 8H00 (he has stayed on Reunion Island time) and for me 7H00 (I am on Madagascar time) and he has just picked up his oars after his breakfast. He was all excited because he saw a boat in the distance.
Finally, at 23H00 yesterday, Michel, our router (he belongs a bit to me too) sent a text to Serge, who heard the “bips” in spite of his ear plugs, saying that he had to change his heading. You can see it on the tracer at the time of 21H00
René and I are leaving for Tamatave today with Momo and Danz
See you tomorrow

A bit of contrast in the land of smiles -

22 March 2015 : The dream team (Mmo, Danz, René and Laure) leave for Tamatave (Taomasina) this morning at 8H30. The Malagasy-Tours team worked yesterday to prepare the vehicle. We have loaded camping gear, the shopping we did in Tana, our luggage and a newly purchased generator.
This trip of about 350 km, will enable us to reconnoiter the land route that Serge will take in about ten days. We will look for places to say and to camp and it becomes obvious that even though this eastern part of the country is more heavily populated than the western, we will surely do a lot of camping. Sites are not easy to find because the vegetation is dense and the space left free at the road side is already occupied by small wooden houses on stilts on the coast, but before you get there, the mountain and rivers don’t leave any flat, accessible spots for a camp site. Parking spaces for heavy trucks and container vehicles are non-existent and if one of them has a breakdown it stays at the roadside with only a red triangle to act as warning. The national route 2, which we are taking, is the only route between Tamatave, the biggest port in the country, and Tana. All freight travels via this route.
We leave the cool weather of Tana (at an altitude of 1200 to 1400 meters) with its pollution and heavy traffic. On this road there are hardly any cars and in the villages we cross the population uses mostly bus taxis or they go by foot. I realize that Serge will not be alone on this road when he runs.
We also discover the seasonal fruit because in Madagascar what you find is fresh. For example, you won’t find lychee because they are picked around mid November and the harvest lasts only one month. All the fruit arrives at the same time. This is the period when bananas are harvested, as well as Rambutan, guava and other fruit I have never seen before. Looking back, another thing that stuck me is not to have seen huge orchards. The mountain and the countryside are not divided into lots by fences or barbed wires and consequently, I don’t know to whom the fruit trees along the road belong. They seem to have landed there by chance, not to have been planted. We also see small rice paddies on the hillsides, I who thought that rice only grew in wetlands.
Another striking thing is the impressive number of churches : catholic, protestant, evangelical and various sects. Being Sunday, most of the population is wearing fine clothes to go to church and the children are carrying prayer books. There are smiles on all the faces. Many of the people live without water or electricity, without cars but it does not keep the Malagasy from beaming.
The voice of Serge is also beaming at 17H30, just as we have finally found a camp site just after Tamatave, when he tells me that he had a visit from a Malagasy fishing boat, which had been told of his presence by the CROSS of Le Port at Reunion Island, and came to have news of the galley slave. The meeting lasted 30 minutes, everyone spoke French and everyone took photos. I hope that Serge thought to record the moment for posterity, he who never thinks of opening his computer and does not answer texts. I don’t know if a marine “bear” exists but Serge must be one.
This evening there is paella on the menu, as well as a good sleep which will take him to the midpoint of his voyage, i.e., 195 nautical miles covered since Le Port. He has the same distance to go to reach the Island of Sainte Marie. In a week, Serge should disembark from his ship, Middleton. Before long I will tell you why this boat is named Middleton.
Here are the messages from Michel, sent to Serge – But when does he sleep?
Sent: Monday, 23 March 2015 04H26
Subject: Run row
Serge has passed the midpoint, super
He is back on heading, a bit more to the North perfect, the drift at night is due to the NE current, nothing serious, it was planned.
See you, Michel
Sent: Monday 23 march 2015 05H23
Subject: run row
Serge is at mid point, on a perfect route toward St. Marie, compensating his heading perfectly depending on the current variations. Arrival planned 29/03 between 15 and 20H00 UTC
Midpoint passed 195 miles covered.
Wind E 10-15knots
Swells ESE 1.4mètre 10secondes
Current NE 0.3 a 0.5knots
barometric pressure 1014hpa
Wing E 10-14knots
Swells SSW 1.5mètre 11secondes
Current NE 0.6 a 0.4 knots
barometric pressure 1013hpa
Winds ESE 11-15 knots
Swells SSW 1.6mètre 12secondes
Current ENE 0.3 a 0.2 knots
Barometric pressure 1013hpa

Small talk -

In a long conversation of 9 minutes with Serge this morning, his voice was full of enthusiasm and he began by asking how things are going in Tana, on terra firma. I gave him a short resume of our progress, that can’t be measured in nautical miles. This evening our second phone conversation is shorter; it’s 18H45 in Madagascar and he has just gone to bed. He rowed for a total of 10H.
I gathered the following information:
-He is sleeping well and still has not seen any fish around his boat. He wonders if this is because of the ultrasound. Middleton is equipped with an ultrasound at the level of the hull. The hull acts as a sound board, carrying the sound waves, creating a microscopic environment of moving water molecules over the entire underwater profile of the hull. As a result growth is prevented as the cell structures of the algae and micro-organisms are targeted and cannot survive. Consequently, Serge will not have to go into the water to clean the hull.
-Some sea gulls have flown above him but none has alighted on his boat. He is eating well and heats his Fleury Michon food. This evening the menu was: chicken, potatoes/ mushrooms.
-He’s burning and he’s hot. The temperature is 36°C or higher today, without taking into account the effect of reverberation.
-We started to speak about the possible arrival at the Island of Sainte Marie and today I broached the subject with Hubert Pasquier, a friend of our friend Loïc in Vannes. As the saying goes, our friends’ friends are our friends. Hubert has already cleared the ground on the Island of Sainte Marie, which is always helpful.
-Serge is not bored, that’s what he told me this morning. The days fly by, all the more so because the least movement in the boat takes time; going to get a bottle of water is a real expedition. Not having contact with the outside world via Internet doesn’t bother him because he has no constraints other than rowing, eating, making progress and holding his heading! He repeated that again this evening. Just the same, he is worried that the Paris Saint Germain is going to play against Barca on April 15 and without Zlatan.
-He complains about smelling bad but that was expected. As for me, I wonder if I’m not going to find a “stinking lizard” in little more than a week.
-Today’s estimates show a possible arrival on Sainte Marie March 29 or 30. I’m happy that solitude does not weight heavily but I know the determination of Serge when he must accomplish something. I know where this trait comes from. Mamie, his mother (I spoke with her by phone today) has Breton ancestors and a temperament of steel. At more than 90 years old, she never gives up when she has an idea.
-He has no discomfort. I thought he would be stiff or feel exhausted from the constant seated position or being on hands and knees but everything seems to be going well. He regularly applies anti-chaffing cream to his buttocks, the scrota and between his thighs;

In Tana, it’s a day without activity and without having to take a plane use the car. Stopping is a luxury and for me pure delight. I use it to update the website, my accounts, the organization of the team that will join us in Africa, to contact the routers because the arrival and departure points of the boat are important for the organization of the continental portion, i.e. the continuation of the adventure. Just taking the time to think, to question and to make decisions, that’s what you can do when you have a day in one place without having to move. Only one regret, I thought we would have the time to visit la ville haute and to wander in the streets, but no, at 17H15 night starts to fall and at 18H00 you are “Wasa” in this huge capital of 1,800,000 inhabitants and you must not linger on foot at night, even less if you are carrying a camera or a bag. I love the markets and we will go to the one in the neighborhood. I have always felt that it is in such places that you feel the essence of a country, just as you do in isolated places where tourists fear to tread.

When I travel I look for the authentic. It means:
-taking an interest in history to better understand the contemporary
-Looking and observing: the architecture of homes, advertising, sign postings, the way people look as they stroll, rural life, the way people look at you, exchanging smiles
-Asking questions and finding answers to learn about others and to understand them.
-Putting aside prejudices, stripping oneself of one’s firm beliefs and finally not starting with the point of view that as westerners we hold universal truths about what should or should not be what is good or bad. Travel is an infinite source of learning and opening up to others and to the world. Even if today I did not stroll in the streets of la ville haute, I hope to travel a lot…..with Serge at my side!