How do you fancy heading out to sea on what is really not much more than a very big log tied to a smaller log?
About 430km east of Mozambique, and measuring 592,800 square kilometres, Madagascar is the fourth-largest island in the world. It’s renowned for its astonishing level of endemism with some of the most unusual plants and animals. For example, there are six species of baobab on the island, while there are only two in the whole of Africa; there are giant chameleons, and – most notably – about a hundred species of lemurs, those cute, cuddly, tree-hugging primates.
The island was settled probably between about 1,000 and 4,000 years ago, and almost certainly by Austronesians – a useful catch-all term for people with Polynesian, Melanesian, Malay, Indonesian and Australasian origins from the east – and then only later by Africans from the west. No-one is really sure.
What is almost certain, though, is that whoever fi rst settled Madagascar arrived on boats very similar to the dhows that still sail around the island, and that they brought with them smaller pirogues, or at least the knowledge of how to build them. Hey – perhaps they even sailed there on these ever-so-tiny but surprisingly seaworthy boats.
The pirogues of Madagascar, which are mostly used for fishing, are made from a hollowed-out tree trunk with wooden sides and an outrigger – pretty much the same style of boat you would fi nd in many parts of the Indian and Pacific oceans – Hawaii, New Zealand and a slew of smaller places. The boats are constructed from wood and rope – originally this would have been hand-woven from local plants but nowadays it may well be mass-produced hemp or even synthetic rope. The boats themselves, though, would be made from local wood. They are lateen-rigged, which means that – without going into too much detail – they are handled very differently to anything you may have sailed on the Vaal Dam, or even in False Bay.
We in the so-called developed world are so obsessed with new developments and new technology that we are programmed to believe that the newest way of doing anything must be the best way. So it could come as quite a surprise that this ancient rigging system that has barely changed in thousands of years is very effective – and not really that hard to learn.
So when a couple of adventurous Cape Town lads found themselves in Madagascar, they learned to sail these great little boats, and had so much fun doing it, they came up with the idea of the Pirogue Challenge Madagascar. It’s pretty simple really. You put together a team of two or three – or just arrive and join a team when you get there – and then learn to sail a pirogue. You’ve got two days to learn the ropes, and then you set off . While it is a real adventure, it’s not a foolish risk-taking exercise – you have a local skipper on the pirogue, and there is motorised back-up.
The next three days are spent sailing from island to island, snorkelling, looking at lemurs, doing the odd hike, and getting into long, philosophical discussions around the campfire at night. Qualified divers can do a scuba dive, including a night dive – the fluorescence here is awesome.
The important nitty-gritty details
The next PCM will be from 1 to 8 September – planned to take advantage of SA Airlink’s Sunday flights direct to and from Joburg. If you miss this, there will be another one in May next year, and – if you have a big enough group – you can tailor-make one – how cool would this be for a corporate retreat or a team building? The cost is R19,500 per person, which includes everything except flights.