Madagascar Cruising Notes

Long-term cruisers Des & Nell of SY Gambit (and the ex-Madagascar relay station for the Peri-Peri Net) used to be based on Sakatia Island (near Hell-Ville). They have now returned to South Africa, but have sailed the country extensively and continue to offer advice to cruisers visiting Madagascar. Here they share their very comprehensive Madagascar Cruising Notes – a general cruising guide for the approaches to Madagascar and traveling down the Mozambique channel.

Published 8 years ago, updated 4 years ago

(Editor’s Note – November 2017: Please be aware that the information in these cruising notes relating to the waypoints in the Bazaruto archipelago is no longer valid due to the shifting of channels. Please refer to a report by SV Alba posted in 2017 for the latest information – link at bottom of this report).

A general cruising guide for the approaches to Madagascar and travelling down the Mozambique channel.

By Des Cason – October 2015


The major decision is the choice of route: Around the top of Madagascar down the Mozambique channel, or the direct route to South Africa via the east coast of Madagascar.

Madagascar East Coast

The prospect of pleasant stopovers at Mauritius and Reunion is a plus, in addition to favourable sailing conditions down the east coast with the current with you and predominantly SE/ESE/E/NE wind. The sea can get up a bit, but close-inshore the current flattens it out and the wind seldom gets to the point that it is dangerous on a lee shore.

The downside is two-fold.

The extensive continental shelf at the southern tip up to 100nm out, with shallow water and with the prevailing wind SE against the current, results in “washing machine conditions”. Not dangerous, but unpleasant in SW/S/SE winds.

The major problem is the lack of shelter on the east coast and especially once you start your crossing. You face approx 700nm to Richards Bay and unless you can maintain a minimum of 150-200nm per day you will get hit by an SW gale coming up from the south. You may elect to go up the west coast of Madagascar to Tulear to wait for a window, but this exposes you to the notorious corruption/extortion from the officials there. As an alternative, give them a miss and go to Ifaty just north (approx 25nm) which has had very good reports from other yachties. This however still does not solve the 700nm conundrum of the crossing. However, if worse comes to the worst, you can always run up NW to Europa Island (22 20S 40 20E) for shelter and from there across to Inhambane (23 46S 35 30E).

Madagascar West Coast

Not only is the northern route more comfortable, but it also gives you the opportunity to experience one of the best-kept secrets – namely the excellent cruising along the NW coast of Madagascar. In addition, you

cross the Mozambique channel at it’s narrowest and also have the benefit of a southbound current all the way and good hideaways on the Mozambique coast.

Approaches to Cap D’Ambre Madagascar

From the East:

Cap D’Ambre is notorious for rough seas and consistent SE winds in the 20-35kt range during April to end of October each year during the SE monsoon. From October to March conditions are more sedate during the NE/NW monsoon, but the danger of RTS and cyclones are always a possibility. The Equatorial current hits Madagascar at approx. 14degS south of Diego Suarez (will vary with the movement of the ITCZ) and splits into 2, one section going north around CapD’Ambre and the other going south and around the southern tip to Tulear. Both wrap around and the SW flowing northerly component and the North flowing southerly component meet at CapSt Andre (16degS 44degE). This becomes very relevant when deciding on tactics going down the channel (see later comments and recommendations on routing down the channel).

The section of the current flowing around the top enhanced by the SE trades makes for the rough and boisterous season the NE coast and the passage around the top can be quite challenging. The general rule is to get to within 5nm of the coast end then head north, as the north-flowing current seems to

flatten the sea close in, and aim to round the top on slack tide. As a rule, this will give you reasonable conditions to get around the top.

Approaching from Chagos – aim for Diego Suarez and unless it is critical to stop there, give it a miss, as the crime is pretty rife and once you are in it is quite often tough to get out in the prevailing ESE winds and turbulent seas at the entrance. In addition, any emergency equipment required is easier to source at Hellville on NosyBe.

Approaching from Reunion/Mauritius – stay offshore up to Diego Suarez and then close on the coast for the passage around the top. If you get too close to the coast en route north, you run into the south-flowing segment of the Equatorial current mentioned above.

From the North (Tanzania/Kenya):

During the NE/NW monsoon October to March this a straight forward run despite the Northerly flowing current, which is the one leg of the Equatorial current which hits Africa at Cabo Delgado (10 40degS 40 42E) and again splits into two parts. The southern section becomes the Mozambique current and further south the Agulhas current. Again, whilst the prevailing wind is in your favour, the risk of RTS and cyclones

during that time is always a factor. Very seldom do you have these systems developing that far north and west, but as you get closer to March the area spawns 2-4 tropical depressions in the vicinity of Mayotte, Whilst not full-on cyclones they get pretty hectic as they move down the Mozambique channel and normally slack off around Tulear, where they track SE into the southern Indian ocean and dissipate.

Be mindful of the irregular currents around Mayotte and Comoros caused by the partial break up of the Equatorial current en route to the African coastline.

Cap D’Ambre and South

The shallow patch at the north point has no major effect, providing you hit it at slack tide. Around the corner, the deep water runs close to the reefs on the NW, but the bulk of the cruising in Madagascar is in 15-25m so get used to that. The continental shelf on the NW coast at times is up to 20-30nm offshore and you usually sail in the pretty shallow water. The charts are approx 300m out and your GPS will place you that

distance to the west of your actual position.

Cap DAmbre to Nosy Be inside the reefs and drop off, has many great anchorages and some yachties have spent up to 3 weeks working their way down to Nosy Be. There are no authorities up to that way, so there is no pressure to rush. Some sharp operators will try and get cash out of you to anchor at some of the larger islands, especially Nosy Hao, but they can be ducked by producing a camera and insisting they pose with their ID documents. The threat of reporting their activities to the authorities in Hellville is usually enough to get rid of them.

Nosy Be to Cap St Andre is pretty relaxed and you could spend a couple of weeks cruising this section as there are a number of great places to stop over. If you are accessing the internet via a local service provider you will have strong signal inshore down the NW coast all the way to Baly Bay. The wind up there is constant, but at least by staying in close, you get away from the worst of the swell which is usually the problem.

As you will discover once you get to the NW coast, things get a lot more relaxed and these conditions hold good all the way down the NW slope to Cap St Andre (16deg S). The one element you must take into account is severe katabatic winds SE blowing offshore between Ananalava and Majunga, which persist the

whole day and die at night. This kicks up quite a swell, up to 4m during the day, but obviously calms down to dead flat at night. Suggest you stay within 5nm, which is exciting sailing in flat water, till nightfall. We and many other yachties have anchored offshore at night, as you will be sailing in 5-15m of water inside the drop-off and if you can live with a bit of swell up to about 1900hrs, the rest of the night is peaceful. Would suggest anchor watch or radar guardsmen if you have it, as there are quite a few prawn trawlers operating in that area.

Cap St Andre is notorious for tropical squalls and lightning the closer you get to November, so if your timing puts you there in November – beware. A yacht 40m from us was struck at 0700 in the morning in Baly Bay which is something you don’t need, especially facing the run down the channel. If in doubt stay 20-30nm offshore and head due west to Mozambique.

Crossing the Mozambique Channel

Cap St Andre across the channel is the crux of your tactics as the decision taken there will set you up for the rest. Having done the crossing 7 times we have found this the best.

Head 270T from Cap St Andre towards Ilha Moz and once you hit the Moz current approx. 70nm from the coast, turn South.

This route uses the confluence of the south flowing current from Cap D’Ambre and the north-flowing current from the south which meets at Cap St Andre and then turns due west until it hits the Moz current flowing south. There is always some turbulent conditions at CapSt Andre because of the two currents meet, but nothing serious as it flows at 1.5 -2kts max. The west flowing current can run up to 2.5kts. Heading SW 225T from Cap St André puts you in the north-flowing current and with a predominantly SE/S/SW wind this results in a tough beat into the wind and current against you. One yacht lay hove to the south of Juan De Nova for two days in 35kts SW and 6m swells!

Getting over to Mozambique also puts you in the favorable quadrant with lighter winds in the event of a heavy SW gale coming up from the south, as the wind usually sweeps across the channel in an NE direction and the bulk of the wind will be found in the middle of the channel towards the west coast of Madagascar.

This westerly route from Cap St Andre to Ilha De Mozambique has the advantage of many islands to visit south of Ilha Moz (the Primeras) with hardly any population. In addition, you have two secure hideaways

at Bazaruto and Inhambane en route with an additional one at Inhaca Island just outside Maputo. This breaks the trip into 3 stages of approx 250nm each, which is manageable in between the strong southerlies. Bear in mind that the SW’s coming up the coast are bent by the land mass and when anchored at Bazaruto or Inhambane the wind is actually ESE and you have good protection behind the islands, despite at places a 14-20 nm fetch to the mainland in an SW direction.

The main criticism of this tactic is that often there is not much wind, so have some spare diesel. It beats the mid-channel route as you have up to 3kts of current with you, so true boat speed through the water is

not too serious. You will recognize the current by the appearance of a distinct line of what we refer to as “puffball clouds” which lie directly above the current.

We have elected this route as opposed to the 2 alternatives for the following reasons.

Direct route Cap St Andre to Bazaruto on heading 225/230 deg, T.

The Westerly flowing equatorial current hits Mad south of Diego Suarez on the east coast and splits into two. The current around the top of Cap D’Ambre flows SW down the NW coast and meets the southerly flowing section that goes down the east coast and around the bottom at Toliara and up the coast at Cap St Andre. This causes turbulence and washing machine conditions and attempting a direct route to Bazaruto in light conditions puts you in a 2-4kt negative current as far south as Juan De Nova. Invariably the wind is SW/S/SE. The SE is ok for a beam reach across but is not guaranteed. Taking the route direct across gives you up to 2kts favourable current heading 270degT from the confluence of these two currents meeting at Cap St Andre. We have had two runs direct to Bazaruto on this route but maybe were lucky with the wind. The NE in this area is unreliable and normally dies after a day or two.

Down the west coast of Madagascar towards Toliara approx 180degT.

This is a very pleasant part of Madagascar with lots of islands to stop off at, but you face a slight negative current coming up the coast and predominantly SW/S winds. This can become a bit frustrating if you are

in a hurry. Normally yachties will head for Toliara or preferably Ifaty just north (highly recommended) and set off from there for Richards Bay. The drawback is that unless you can do 200nm a day you will get caught in a southwesterly blow with no place to hide. If you elect the west coast stop at Morombe and then head for Europa Island and then Inhambane which gives you two hideaways en route to the Mozambique coast.

Weather forecasting down the channel is pretty easy if you have access to Grib files, and we have found that Ugrib is pretty accurate up to 5 days, especially south of Bazaruto. The weather nets will also give you

valuable info. As you will know the barometric pressure in the tropics is not critical – however from Bazaruto south it becomes critical. The rule of thumb is; A rising barometer means SW/S/SE wind a dropping

barometer means NE. This pattern becomes apparent when you have monitored SA Weather Service via Cape Town Radio on the 1335UTC broadcast. Once you know where the low pressure is you can easily calculate how long you have before the wind switches to S.

To the Mozambique channel and its peculiarities.

As with the rest of Africa, the corruption and mismanagement in Mozambique since independence and freedom from colonial rule has escalated exponentially and unless you experience an emergency, I would strongly recommend you give it a wide birth. Although some places have had favourable reports from yachties they are the exception (Ilha De Mozambique being one). Most ports have been privatized but this has just given the locals a license to do as they please more efficiently.

Ensure you have a courtesy flag that is larger than your national flag, as at times this has resulted in $100 fine. They are notorious for demanding they hang on to your passport as this is another ploy to extract vast amounts of cash to get these documents back. If the return of passports becomes impossible to leave without them and have them reissued once in SA. Our immigration guys are pretty relaxed about arriving without a passport as they have seen it all before. They will issue you with a temporary travel document until such time as your local embassy can issue new documents.

The three anchorages which we recommend are far removed from the authorities and rarely attract attention as they can’t see you and invariably they are too lazy to do something about it and they generally don’t have a boat or fuel to get to you.

A critical factor once you get down to say 23-25deg S is your barometer. In the tropics, one becomes a bit blase about the movement as the weather systems are seldom generated by a rise or drop of pressure, but the further south you come down the coast this instrument becomes critical. The gale force SW/S winds coming up the channel are generated by a combination of deep low pressure followed up by a strong ridge of high pressure which both originates in the S Atlantic at approx 0 – 10deg E and at 25 – 30 deg S. So if you know where the low is and at what speed it is travelling you can do the math and figure out how much time you have to find a hideaway.

This information is freely available on the SA Weather Service website on the synoptic charts, or best still is to access Cape Town radio on 4375 8740 13146Mhz USB at 1015 1330 1815 UTC daily for forecasts and reports. The 1330 UTC transmission is vital as this gives you barometer pressure and wind speed around the entire SA coastline and if you jot them down for a couple of days the pattern will make itself apparent. Once you know where the low is you can predict to within a few hours when the wind switch will come through.

The Golden Rule; 

Rising barometer, SW wind. Dropping barometer E/NE wind.

So once your barometer tops out at say 1025-1030 MB, the wind will switch to E/NE for a couple of days. Conversely, once your barometer bottoms out at say 1005-1010 MB, the wind will switch to S/SW and at very short notice. When the NE slacks off to a light breeze, you are in for a sudden switch.

The Cape Town report at 1330 UTC will make this pattern of wind switches quite clear. You can also pick up the PERI PERI Net on 8101 and 12353 MHz USB at 0500 and 1500 UTC daily, for forecasts based on Ugrib and Buoyweather. If you’re a Ham you can also pick up SAMNET on 14316  MHz USB at 0630 and 1130 UTC daily, who give a general forecast for the coast and channel even if you can’t communicate with either Sam or Graham. If you have access to Ugrib on board you can trust it for up to 5 days as our experience has shown. Buoyweather unfortunately, due to errors in their predictive algorithms, are not that good as after 2 days it becomes a fairy tale.

Bazaruto (12 30deg S) and Inhambane (23 40degS)

Both give good shelter during SW gales but bear in mind as the wind passes Maputo up to these areas it is bent by the land mass and becomes more S/SE. Very seldom do you get a true SW in these areas? The tide and consequent over falls in narrow channels due to a 3-4m tidal difference makes entry into and out of these areas critical.


Whilst navigating behind Bazaruto or the headland at Inhambane, always start the trip on low tide, as if you get jammed the tide will lift you in a couple of minutes. In addition, a low tide allows you to navigate visually as the sandbars are clearly visible.

The following coordinates have been used extensively over the past 10 years and any changes will be so minute to not be noticeable. I suggest you plot them into your Nav system and then my comments will make sense.

North Entrance Bazaruto: You will use this entry with a strong S/SE imminent or already there, but usually with the NE still blowing. Starting on a low tide with sandbars visible, proceed to the first anchorage with good NE/SE protection. You can remain there till the wind switches, but this will put you in sight of the conservation authorities who will try and extort cash out of you for being inside a conservation area ($10 per person last we heard). When it is time to leave it can take you up to 6-8 hours to get out as you may have to wait for the tide – time you can ill afford when sailing to a deadline and your next safe spot.

We recommend you move from this anchorage to the one south at Benguerra Island (21 50deg S) which is a lot more relaxed and also gives you access to the lodge and a local shop for basic provisions. From the anchorage navigate visually on low tide approx. 180T according to your charts, which will have one shallow patch at approx 21 46S. As there are a number of yachts moored here you get lost amongst the crowd and duck the officials – they don’t pay attention when there is a crowd.

The exit from here is via a narrow channel between the 2 islands and past the north of 2-mile reef and puts you out in deep water within an hour. The advantage is that you can move to an anchorage behind a substantial sandbar right at the entrance (21 49.26S) prior to the weather actual turning in your favour. We have sat behind this sandbar in 9m of water in 40kts SE and were as safe and comfortable as can be.

Update July 2018: Since writing this, things have changed.

In 2017 a local at Benguerra lodge discovered he could make some spare cash by tipping off the authorities in Vilanculos of any yachts anchoring there who have not checked in. As a consequence 5 yachts were boarded by the police and military and all sorts of threats were issued which resulted in passports being confiscated and exorbitant bribes had to be paid to get them back. I recommend checking with me on the latest developments before going to Benguerra! (contact details at bottom).

Inhambane /Ponta Barra: Arriving in an S/SE anchor on the north side of the headland just to the west of the lighthouse in front of the lodges in 7-10m (23 47degS). This gives you very good protection and once the wind switches to ESE leave on a beam reach on 060T until the wind turns more E and eventually NE.

If you arrive on an NE with an impending S/SE due, you have 2 choices. You can slow down to arrive at

the S/SE arrives, or you will have to negotiate the entrance into the shelter of the bay and anchor at LingaLinga. This entry and exit again can only be done on an incoming tide and again you face a time delay

in getting out when the weather turns in your favour. Lying in front of the lighthouse at the above co-ordinates is not impossible, but in an NE swell of up to 1.5-2 m is not comfortable. However if the arrival of the

S/SE is imminent, it may be worth it to sail offshore and double back when the S/SE arrives.

Inhaca Island (25 57.54 degS): Very good shelter in SW/S/SE right below lighthouse in 7-10m. Line up the lighthouse with the white lattice tower on the beach bearing 142T. Do not anchor on the west of the

island at the hotel as the local naval chap will be on your back ASAP demanding all sorts. If you are arriving in NE conditions, which as with Inhambane makes the anchorage uncomfortable, either slow down to arrive just as the SW/S arrives or sit it out for a while. Take note that Baixo Danae (exposed reef) is a real danger and should be given a wide berth. When your barometer tops out and the wind starts to turn SE, leave on a reach and as the wind turns to NE you are on the last stretch.

Coming south it is advisable to drive off the foresails only and even in 30-35kts NE with a 3m following swell we’ve never had a problem. With 2-3 knots of current in your favour 150 – 200nm a day is not uncommon.

If you get a window direct from Inhambane to Richards Bay, aim for Sodwana (Jesser Point 27 30deg S) on the SA coast as that is the line of the current and you will get the maximum boost.

Sounds so simple and actually it is if you do your homework.


Bazaruto North entrance to anchorage Ponta Gengareme


21 30 00S / 35 25 00E

21 32.50S / 35 23.40E

21 35.50S / 35 22.40E

21 35.90S / 35 24.10E


21 39.13S / 35 26.04E

Bazaruto/Benguerra/2mile reef exit


21 51.2500S / 35 24.6000E


21 51.2813S / 35 23.7465E

21 50.7555S / 35 24.6186E

21 50.0799S / 35 24.9069E

21 49.1493S / 35 25.9609E

21 48.9189S / 35 26.5961E

21 48.2536S / 35 27.4785E

21 48.0209S / 35 27.9522E

21 47.6193S / 35 29.5042E

21 47.7851S / 35 30.3144E

Inhambane entrance to LingaLinga anchorage

23 39.888S / 35 29.755E

23 40.680S / 35 27 928E

23 41.661S / 35 25.951E

23 42.736S / 35 25.821E

23 44.251S / 35 25.285E

23 44.559S / 35 24.146E


23 44.149S / 35 23.692E

Closing Comments

Quite often a forecast predicts strong SW/S/SE wind in the channel which does not arrive, although there is a wind switch to SW/S/SE but in the 20kt range. This is due to the high pressure over the interior of SA forcing the system offshore roundabout East London (32 50S) and it heads due E. These are sailable conditions and the one to be aware of is the system which is backed up by a strong ridge of high pressure wrapping around the south of SA and reinforcing the SW/S wind. It is not unusual in these conditions to have 35kts+ in the channel with a swell in the 6-9m range!! The only remedy is to get offshore out of the current (approx 100nm off) and hove to.

Report by Nell Cason

Madagascar Cruising Advice

[email protected]

Des & Nell of SY Gambit (and the ex-Madagascar relay station for the Peri-Peri Net) used to be based on Sakatia Island (near Hell-Ville). They have now returned to South Africa, but are happy to continue offering advice to cruisers visiting Madagascar. They have sailed the country extensively and welcome the opportunity to stay involved in the well being of fellow sailors.

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