Approaching Mayotte was pretty exciting. For the first time in 24 night watches, I had no trouble staying awake until 3 a.m. The wind freshened quite a bit, and in order to avoid putting strain on the rigging, I furled the jib a few times until we were going 4+ knots with just a bit of sail. I could see the glow of civilization on the horizon in the otherwise black night from about 30 miles out, which was quite different from the single point of light that could be seen from Madagascar at night. Then it was time for one last short night of sleep.

By the time I arose, Dallas had already navigated through the large pass into the lagoon. We agreed that the landscape is reminiscent of the Society Islands in French Polynesia. They seem to fit Earl Hinz’ (author of “Landfalls of the Pacific”) definition of an “almost atoll” – the volcanic islands have started to recede into the sea, leaving just the peaks exposed in the midst of the lagoon. Surrounding the lagoon is limestone reef that emerged from the earth’s crust as the volcanoes sank. Here in Mayotte there is one main island (Grand Terre), a smaller one where we are moored (Petite Terre), and a number of very small, uninhabited islands, some of which have beautiful white sand beaches.

coming in2Just inside the lagoon

The mishaps began when we approached the mooring field. I generally work the bow while Dallas is at the helm, and I had the bridle in place in preparation to anchor. However, the area turned out to be too deep and full of boats for anchoring, so I quickly located our mooring line in the bottom of the sail locker and replaced the bridle set-up. Dallas motored us up to the mooring into the strong wind and swell. I got hold of the buoy with the boat hook but didn’t drag it up and get our line through it fast enough, and before I knew it, the mooring was under the boat with the boat hook attached. The boat hook is pretty important to my work at the bow, so I hopped in the water to retrieve it, swam back to the transom to get on board, and returned to the bow for round two.

This time I was able to pull up the buoy and get our line through, but I put it through a loop of weak rope instead of the thick and sturdy one underneath the large but very heavy buoy. Dallas told me we needed to try again, but I couldn’t get our line free. It was stuck on the buoy. I was afraid the free end of our line was going to end up wrapped around our propeller, which would not make for a good day, so I hopped in the water again! Once in the water, getting the line free was easy, but getting back to the boat in the midst of the strong current was not. Despite the communication problems during this incident (the noise of the wind and the need for quick action made it tough), Dallas decided he wanted to retrieve me and spun the boat around to pick me up. Eventually I made it back on board, and we decided to give it a go again (what choice did we have?!). This time I took the helm, we chose a different buoy, and Dallas was able to pull it up and get us secured to it. Third time’s a charm.

mooring field A pretty picture once safely secured on the mooring

Speaking of which, I ended up in the water for yet a third time yesterday. It happened that evening after we had returned from taking a walking tour around the island and enjoying some cold beer and pizza. (I guess beer took precedence over salad, although we found a pretty good market and had some salad that evening on the boat.) We had read in other cruisers’ blogs that, at least in 2008, there was quite a bit of crime in Mayotte, and dinghies/outboard engines were commonly stolen. The manager of the yacht club told us it hadn’t happened for a while but suggested that we not stow our outboard behind the boat just in case. We agreed that there’s no point in taking chances with such vital gear, so for the first time ever, we decided to bring it inside the boat at night. With our 15-horsepower, 4-stroke outboard, this is not the easiest of tasks – at least not the first time. We hoisted it up without too much trouble, but in doing so, the cover came off and started floating away. Dallas, who was holding the outboard in place on the boat, shouted, “get it!” So I found myself in the murky water once again. I went through as many clothes yesterday as I did in one week offshore!

dallas Civilization has its merits such as Three Horses Beer (called “Tay-Hash-Bay”, French for T.H.B.)

evening2 No shortage of natural beauty here either

Despite the mishaps and potential for crime, it has been a most welcome change to be in the vicinity of land, and a new continent at that! The French presence is very strong here, with French gendarmes (police), French Foreign Legion, and expats visible everywhere we’ve been, but the Mayotte people are still very much African. They are well dressed in colorful sarongs (women) and headwear (men and women) and seem to carry themselves with pride. Some of the women paint their face with an off-white makeup, and I have yet to find out why – just having simple conversations in French has been pretty challenging so far, so we’ll see how it goes! 

DSC_1005 (3) See the face painting – mais pourquoi?!

It has been pretty full on since we’ve been here – clearing in, getting our bearings, provisioning, taking advantage of internet, etc., but we are going to enjoy some French wine and cheese and a good night’s sleep tonight.