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Ahoy there, from the large island of Madagascar. Armed with just one bag each, the Tedder family set sail on a four-month cruise in Madagascan waters.

In these emails to family back home, Nadine describes their adventures in Madagascar and what it’s like to “live the dream”…

June 2010

Ahoy there, from the large island of Madagascar – a Noah’s Ark adrift in the Indian Ocean – with pearly-white beaches, swaying coconut palms and an ice-blue sea. Yes, here we are “living the dream”.

The plan to go on a cruise was first hatched in a light bulb moment, over a glass or two of crispy white, with our friends Blossom and Wojek. We decided we would also take our seven-year-old Tristen and their 10-year-old son Tadzio, who are like sister and brother anyway. As is human nature, most of the logistics were left to the last minute. We underestimated the mammoth task of preparation that was needed for an adventure of this kind.

Tristy and I winged our way to Madagascar to meet the others who had set sail from Durban a few days earlier. Waiting for us was a zebu (Madagascan cow) with a cart attached to take our baggage, and us, across the very low-tide beach to our awaiting speedboat, which was to transfer us to Safari Vezo beach lodge at Anakao.

Here we were to await the yacht’s arrival. Tristy and I shared special mommy-daughter quality time as we soaked up the sun and played with the local children. Soon we were on board our new “home”, anchored off Vezo Island, flopping over the side for a gorgeous snorkel.

Simple life

The simple life has begun! We marvel at the eye-catching pirogues wafting past, selling seafood: R20 for a freshly caught Dorado fish that is enough to feed six and 2kgs of big prawns for the same amount.

Our bath routine is much to be cherished. It happens off the stern of the boat, usually at sunset with the fiery red ball as the backdrop. We scrub our sun-creamed bodies, before jumping into the ocean to rinse off. We have a desalination watermaker on board, but we use it sparingly. It has been a great lesson for the children on how to conserve water. When we visit the local school to donate soccer balls, Tristen and Tadji are amazed at their spartan classrooms and limited facilities. We all feel good about helping the community. Our schoolwork is done on board, briefly, each day.

Valuable life skills

Frankly, the life skills the children are learning, and the art of travelling in a foreign country, far outweigh the importance of academic work. We are slowly working our way up north. En route, at Nosy (meaning island) Hao, we spot some humpback whales and meet up with an intrepid French family with four children, who are building a lodge on this magnificent remote island.

The Madagascan people are gentle and friendly. It’s a pleasure to be in their country and at all times we feel safe. On our first overnight sail, the children enthusiastically try their hand at navigation, plotting our position on the chart and steering a compass course. They also build their own “base” on a private tropical island. After watching the local fishermen construct their huts, the children use palm fronds, wood, shells and fishing line to replicate the structures on a larger scale. Their imagination flows for a full two days, as we drop them off on their island in the morning and collect them at sunset. It really is like a scene from Nim’s Island.

Home is now Sakatia Island just off the coast of Nosy Be. The children have not missed technology at all. With plenty of time to create necklaces, bookmarks, bangles and other objects from shells, they have not been bored for one minute.

Loads of love, “the islanders”

August 2010

Ahoy there. It is the beginning of August and we have had to say a very tearful, heart-wrenching goodbye to our shipmates Blossom, Wojtek and Tadji. As mentioned, we have a very unique friendship and life on board together for so long was just fabulous. We needed to get into a better routine with Tristen’s schoolwork once they had left. It had largely been neglected for the last few weeks, as there was just too much action with Tadji on board.

The days have evolved into quality time that is spent reading, creating, learning and generally hanging out. Bruce does the schoolwork with her twice a week, and part of their curriculum is navigation and knots.

Exploring nature

We visit several reserves, including Nosy Tanikely Marine Reserve, where I get to glide underwater with a graceful turtle. At Lokobe Nature Reserve we do a jungle walk and spot a nocturnal sportive lemur. It is creepy to see a Madagascar tree boa curled around a branch that we are about to walk under, and then of course there are the chameleons and green lizards. Black lemurs jump out at us and we feed them bananas, much to Tristen’s delight.

Our friends, the Wrights, have come to visit and we are thrilled to receive letters, magazines and post from home. After all, there is not one English publication here of any sort. I am rushing to sign off now as they are flying home tomorrow.

We plan to head north to a new area, the Mitsio Archipelago, and we will keep you posted.

Look forward to seeing you all when we get home.

Loads of love Deenie, Bruce and Tristy

September 2010

When we return to Nosy Sakatia, we find many more boats anchored there. Tristy befriends Millie from Australia, Zoe and Arthur from France, and Nadine and Devon from Durban. They meet up on the beach or paddle over to each other’s boats once the schoolwork is completed for the day. The pressure is on for Tristy to finish the term’s curriculum and the Madagascan project she has embarked on. It’s not so easy to apply oneself when turtles are popping up to gasp some air alongside you and pleasure boats are whizzing past at high speeds. We then up anchor again to visit the Mitsio group of islands. Nosy Ankarea thrills us with its pristine beaches smothered in shells. Snorkelling the turquoise waters of Nosy Tsarabajina is unforgettable.

All good things must end

And so, with our time in Madagascar marching on, we have to face the fact that our “dream” is coming to an end. It makes me emotional to think that this simple, uncluttered life will soon be over.

On our last day we awake to stunning weather, windless conditions and clear water. We soak up every bit of water sports activity and fun we can handle and, of course, sneak in a final snorkel with a fabulous lionfish and giant manta ray sighting. We finish off our adventure with a candlelit dinner in the cockpit.

I have a huge lump in my throat as we wave goodbye to the Pioneer; she has given us a truly good time. Reality hits when we are pulled aside at the airport – our visas have expired. We play dumb and after much Malagasy mumbling, we are stamped out. Phew, a close call.

A huge success

At the same time, we are excited to be heading back to our beautiful home and our much-loved cats. It feels good to have accomplished our mission, most of all it has gone smoothly and without a hitch.

The last time Bruce and I had lived the life on boats was 1994. Now that we have a child, the emphasis is so different, with worries about safety at sea and staying healthy. But the quality family time we have enjoyed was more than anyone could wish for. Tristy fast became a natural sailor and an enthusiastic crew member. Schoolwork was a breeze; she did the term’s curriculum with ease and learnt so much in every other way.

All in all it was a huge success, which will hopefully be repeated. Next time, it will be a one-year round-the-world trip.

We sleep soundly on our first night home, even though we miss the water lapping on the hull. And it is weird to open up the fresh water tap, liberally run a deep, hot bath and flush a toilet with a quick push of a handle.

Bonne nuit, thank you Madagascar for your awesome country and wonderful people. We will be back.

Loads of love, the newly arrived landlubbers

Quick facts

  • Madagascar lies off the southeast coast of Africa, and is the fourth largest island in the world.
  • It is home to five per cent of the world’s plant and animal life.
  • Cyclone season is from January to March.
  • The official languages are Malagasy, French and English.
  • There has been political unrest since 2009, so visitors are urged to be cautious.
  • South Africans need a visa to visit.

Nadine Tedder