Monday, September 24, 2012

Madagascan Sailing Boats - by Gary

The Malagasy have always had a close association with the sea and sailing. First settled by navigators, the island of Madagascar straddles routes established by Arabs and then later Europeans - all travelling and trading under sail.   And while the economics of western societies spelled the death of commercial sail generations ago, not so here.

How does sail survive?  Roads are generally appalling, many coastal villages are not even connected to the road system and in some regions (like around Nose Be)  there is an abundance of small, populated, off-shore islands.  Engined boats are common enough (and undoubtably becoming more so), but the engines, fuel and spare parts are all imported - so are expensive and out of reach for most.  Conversely  labour, timber, and natural fibres for rope and canvas manufacture are cheap and plentiful.

While there is implicit bleakness in an economy  that ensures the continuing viablity of sail , we found the romance of sailing Mojombo among so many traditional sailing vessels was captivating.

Madagascan boats come in a variety of shapes and sizes... lateen outriggers are very common

We have not seen many like the classic gaff-rigged ketch - but are told they are very common further south

This tiny gaff-rigged outrigger was a one-off....

... until we saw that it wasn't.  The 'bedsheet' thingy behind is also
a very common small boat rig here
But our clear favourites were these deep-hulled, lateen rigged mono-hulls.

They have a prodigious cargo carrying capacity.

Although the Malagassy are pretty good at piling cargo on almost anything!

If you see what I mean...

... awesome isn't it...
... just awsome.

But back to our favourites - they come in to the bays around  Nose Be very loaded up...

You have to wonder at times what happens in a squall...

... and unsurprising, with this kind of load their speed is best described as 'majestic'.

They have to carefully work the tides, and sometimes have to anchor or raft off-shore awaiting enough tide to come in and unload

Its an opportunity for the boat crews to rest and relax..

... but as the tide comes in they move inshore, often with the aid of sweeps or poles

Once inshore they then have to wait for the tide to go out again...

... so that the unloading can proceed.

The work is cruel, particularly given the heat...

... but it proceeds apace - you don't want to get stuck through another tide cycle.

Once unloaded the boats again await the rising tide...

... to float off the mud and pole out into the wind.

They are great sailers, and waste no time heaving the big lateen up....

.... and empty they fairly scoot along.

These boats were heading out on a fresh sea breeze - they were flying.

.... quickly disappearing into the distance.

As you can see, they are not elaborate vessels, with 'grown' spars...

... and planking that sometimes resembles a patchwork quilt.

The quality of the timberwork is basic...

... reflecting much about the constraints under which they are built.

The cargoes they carry are unbelievably low value items in western society, but
by the time they reach the end consumer they must have high value in included labour.
Here we see timber, stone and thatch - all brought in by boat.  

For instance much of this stone will be broken up by hand
to be used as aggregate in the manufacture of concrete.  Look at the
labour used just to create these stacks.

Here sand is being unloaded.  Most of the material brought to Nose Be is for use
in construction although  cargoes such as rice and produce are also common.

As an indication of skewed values, labour is CHEAP, relative even to the value of the bags used for transporting the sand.  Boat crews own their own sand bags, and empty them directly onshore returning the empties to the boat.  Onshore buyers of the sand bring their own bags and the sand is rebagged!

In the background shed is palm leaf thatch roofing material

Some impressive looking lumber.  The bloke in the foreground is returning to the boat with the empty sand-bags

work, work, work....

If the favourable tide for unloading falls in the middle of the heat
of the day, then that is when it must be done!

And still reference can be heard in 'white circles' to "those lazy islanders".

Even as a fit young man I couldn't see myself lasting a morning in the heat.

But still - its bloody magnificent seeing the Malagassy at work in their sailboats.

- - -

No comments:

Post a Comment