From Reunion Island to Madagascar

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21 May 2010

Because Reunion is an island, it’s easy to imagine it populated by fishermen and seafaring people. This, however is only partly true: the port where we have stopped hosts the larger part of the fleet, but historically, Reunion is home to a landbound population of planters for whom the Indian Ocean was mainly considered an obstacle to travel — a body of water feared by sailors because of its difficult temper and rough winds.

Tara had a stroke of luck on the way to northern Madagascar, in the form of a swell, which pushed us towards our destination. Sadly though, we were unable to dock at mysterious Tromelin island, located midway on our route: this small, isolated sand isle is enclosed by a perilous coral reef which renders access to the island difficult, and makes it impossible to drop anchor: the waters encircling Tromelin are 4000 metres deep!

Much to the disappointment of Jérôme, our cameraman, who was already imagining himself as a solitary castaway, filming Tara passing by this land where so few souls ever set foot. We settled for a tour around beautiful Tromelin instead, with binoculars to help us observe what our eyes couldn’t reach. A major bird colony inhabits the island: red footed boobies and masked boobies which, far from being shy, treated us to beautiful swoops and dives (reminding us that the only person onboard who actually succeeded in fishing was Ian Probert, imagery specialist from the Roscoff laboratory, who will seize any occasion to plunge his plankton net underwater).

Despite these complicated navigation conditions, we were able to set up and complete a sampling station before reaching Tromelin. The samples collected in this seldom studied area are now carefully stored in Tara’s flank. We arrived in Madagascar yesterday at noon. Apparently, the wonders of Diego Suarez –in the north of the island — are renowned throughout the entire southern Indian Ocean: Mathieu, Tara’s versatile sailor in charge of diving, tells us: “This place is a paradise for 4Ls! (Translator’s note: Renault 4L, the first front wheel drive family car produced by Renault.) Painted yellow, they serve as taxis, and at night they look just like Christmas trees, with all the lights on their hoods.”

Tara is docked in front of Spanish-Basque, seine-fishing tuna boats. One last detail to plant the setting in your minds: we had been told that the women of Antsiranana (the Malgache name for Diego Suarez) are especially attractive. Mathieu confirmed this: Indeed, “the women are very beautiful and wear lots of jewelry. Here, on the main street, you’ll find jewelry stores every 100 metros.”

After an intensive cleaning session from Tara’s prow to her stern, the boat is now ready to welcome children and visitors onboard. On deck, ropes arestashed away to prevent those not used to being on a boat from tripping and falling: welcome, friends and visitors from Diego Suarez!

Sacha Bollet