Rum Running in East Africa
The folks of Madagascar speak Malagasy but French is the language of business and education. I fumbled around Hellville for about a month repairing Dancyn from her Indian Ocean passage and restocking after 4 months away in paradise. There I luckily met a Chinese merchant who spoke English. Mr. Chee was a man who knew how to get things into Madagascar and this is no easy task with every uniform or badge being a license to steel! His store catered to the specialty needs of the tourism businesses for Europeans, mostly French and Italian. After some time chatting about life in an African country as a Chinaman he mentioned he exported as well. Primarily he moved drums of locally made rum and spices. Recognizing the glint in his eyes I asked for a liter. After I bought a bottle of water, for the plastic bottle, Mr. Chee dutifully ladled in the rum from one of many 55-gallon drums behind his shop. It was a deep rich brown and smelled of Vanilla and Cinnamon. I resigned myself to the single liter in order to experiment with the possible after affects of this fine elixir! With great ease and delight, some fellow sailing compadres assisted me in finishing that rum. We survived the following morning with no more than the due discomfort. I knew then, paperwork or no, I was not going anywhere until I had tankfulls of this Madagascar Rum!
I arrived at Mr. Chee’s Mercantile with two 5-gallon fuel cans and a hip pocket full of Ari-Ari, the Malagasy currency. I haggled down a bright yellow 70’s era French made Renault taxi for a lift to the village of Dar a Salem with my investment. After some exchanges with the driver in my not so eloquent French the driver navigated past town out the rocky trench of a road to Crater Bay. Once deposited roadside near Crater Bay I skiffed out to Dancyn, which was patiently waiting on anchor. I tied the two fuel cans inconspicuously amongst the other red 5-gallon fuel and water cans. After my contraband and provisions were properly stowed I reviewed the chart and plotted a course to the Comoro Islands a few days to the north west. Mayotte is the first Comoros Island in the chain between Madagascar and Tanzania. The French have occupied it for some time and use it as a naval out post. My plan was to seek temp work as an English teacher, get updated ships papers and use the rum to pay for the expedition out to the islands. The official currency in Mayotte is the Euro. I had heard life was astronomically expensive there but that would make my rum all the more valuable and possibly my pay higher.
Once you sail across a few oceans 2 and 3 day hops in open water become increasingly easy, especially when it is as desolate as this stretch. Shipping along the East Coast of Africa has decreased greatly with the rising threat of pirates from Somalia. So thankfully I could relax and sail the light winds will little threat from large container ships or fishermen. Pirates? Well I’m sure they’re nice folks too. After a few stops to dive and fish on the outer islands of Madagascar I jumped off for Mayotte. Dancyn and I made it in 3 days and encountered mega pods offshore of short beaked common dolphins enroot. During the lazy days at sea, thousands of dolphins took turns eco-locating against Dancyn’s hull to say hello. I toasted to their health regularly just before sunsets. I had gallons of beautiful rum that might about to be confiscated! What else should a sailor do but enjoy these moments?
My charts showed a south entrance into the inner lagoon of Mayotte. But some of my outdated sailing directions described the need to call the French military for clearance before entering the north pass while the south pass was closed to foreign traffic. Being as respectful as I am about regulations especially at French occupations, I made the south pass and saved a few hours. Once a mile or so inside the lagoon a large gray inflatable appeared on the horizon and it was closing fast.