‘Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to return to Nosy Be and take possession of your stolen dinghy.
This message will self-destruct in five seconds. Four, three, two, one…’
That’s what played in my head as we raised the anchor and gave chase to the dhow (African sail boat) that was heading towards the Mozambique Channel from the Bramahamay River where we had anchored for the night.
And that’s when the call to, “All hands on deck!” came, Francois yelling down into the quarters, “Manu! Le dinghy a été vole!”
I didn’t need a translator to know that our dinghy had just been declared stolen. And then it hit me. I slapped at the fly and realised my sandals were in the dinghy.
“Pouton de merde!” I said aloud.
Francois fired up the engine and we gave chase to the smaller wooden boat sailing away. Usually he would raise the zodiac up on to the stern to avoid anyone stealing the small Yamaha outboard motor (2 stroke, 8 horsepower) before we all went to bed.
But we didn’t usually drink local rum every night and that night we did. And we hit the sack with a warm sensation down our esophagus.
There were three people aboard the dhow, all smiling warmly as we pulled up beside them. Manu questioned them but these weren’t the suspects. What little money I had was on the blue dhow that had been anchored just offshore from the remote fishing village we had visited the previous day. Chatting with some of the local young men, we found out that the boat was heading to Nosy Be, where we had left three days ago.
Francois called Jimmy, our local guide from Nosy, and asked him to keep an eye out for the dinghy.
For now, to get to shore, we had to use the easy-to-capsize Optimist sailing dinghy (lazer) with zebra stripes (too confuse sharks). We had, until the dinghy was stolen, been exploring small islands and remote villages down the west coast of Madagascar, battling torrential rain and howling winds as we sailed by day and anchored by night.
We explored white sandy beaches lined with mangroves that exposed their roots at low tide like a cabaret dancer kicking up a number. We came across lemurs, black, orange, grey, all jumping about and ever curious of the two-legged creature seducing them with sticky rice. We visited little fishing villages with huts on stilts so remote that even French wasn’t spoken. The men hung around when they weren’t fishing, the women washed, cooked and cleaned while the kids ran around, born free.
The rain that plagued us every night like the Bubonic Plague on Madagascar’s east coast, filled our buckets and I could finally do some washing – clothes and myself. As we approached an inlet of small rocky islands, the sun set, splashing orange on one of the clouds that resembled a baobab tree.
“I have a feeling we’ll see baobab trees tomorrow,” I said to Manu, pointing out the cloud.
With night falling, we anchored in five meters of water, had dinner and went to bed. In the morning we awoke to find we were surrounded by small rock islands with sandy beaches, brown murky waters and a pod of Indo-Pacific hump-backed dolphins that surrounded the boat.
And in the jungles hanging off the cliffs that fell to the waters, I saw my first baobab trees.
“Told ya,” I grinned at Manu.
We raised the genoa and caught the 1 knot wind that pushed us lightly along the rocky coasts of the islands.
And then Jimmy called.
“Found your dinghy,” he said. “I’ve stowed it at a friend’s shop. The motor is gone,” he told Francois.
So were my sandals.
“Pouton de merde!” I said aloud as Francois accepted the mission.
He fired up the engine while I raised the main sail We passed the islands we had visited, Nosy Lava with its abandoned prison, Nosy Iranja, Nosy Anawrankitu with its black sand beaches until finally, after three days of sailing against the wind with rain and grey skies without a sun, we arrived back in Nosy Be.
Jimmy met us on shore and led us to his friend’s shop. We then went in search of the suspect boat, found it empty of fisherman, cargo and a dinghy motor. We placed the dinghy on a cart pulled by an ox and headed back to the waters.
“Any sandals?” I asked, overly hopeful.
“No sandals,” said Jimmy.
Pou-fucking-ton de merde.
It was a quick in ‘n’ out operation. We thanked our dinghy rescuer, paddled to the boat, raised the anchor and made a straight shot for Mahajanga, the second largest city in Madagascar.
It would take another 3 days of sailing, in the rain, under grey skies, no sun and against the wind.
Good times, I thought. Good times.