Over the Pentecost week-end, a friend of ours was participating in the Tour de l'Île, a sailing boat tour of the larger of Mayotte's two islands. He told us that he does this every year, and that he usually ends up being the only one playing music on the beach, so would we like to come and accompany him with another two instruments? Yes please.




Our skipper was our musician friend Franck, who plays the accordion in our wonderfully named group, "The Blue Mango". He lives on his boat, and he had his son and two of his son's schoolfriends with him, so there were six of us in total. Franck has travelled all over the world before arriving in Mayotte, and he doesn't know where he'll go next. He left France twenty years ago with his boat, called Peerliane, and hasn't been back since: he's been taking the boat all over the place. For three days, we lived on the boat with him, learning lots of nautical vocabulary and replacing soft water with seawater for everything.



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We'd never been round the island before, not even in the car, never mind on a boat. We've both gone out a bit on various boat trips, but always to a specific place or small island, there and back, end of story. This time, we went all the way round and saw parts of Mayotte we would never see normally. There are some very pretty bays and beaches, and the coastline looks very clean and sparkling green from a distance of a nautical mile or two. There are treacherous bits inside the lagoon, as the coral is often very close to the surface and can damage the bottom of the boat, so there was always one of us keeping watch for "coral potatoes" (patches of coral).



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We both tried steering the boat using the tiller, which is harder than it looks when you're watching someone who's been on a boat since he was born. Good fun though, and Franck was more than happy to let us direct the boat while he tightened the sails or had something to eat. He showed us how to differentiate between his boat, which he had built himself and christened on his wedding day twenty-three years ago, and other boats: the others navigate using only their various instruments and often can't actually see where they're going, whereas his doesn't have any nonessential instruments, just enough to tell how high above the bottom he is and what his geographical position is. He navigates by watching the sails, making sure the ropes are in the wind and listening to the wind: he knows he is going straight into the wind when the noise it makes whistling by his ears is the same in both ears.


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Me, Philip... and Franck. Cheater.


We stopped at two beaches on the way round, one on Saturday evening, one on Sunday. The tour was an organized one, with a total of eleven sailing boats, and the main idea was to see each other and start off together at the same time in the morning. The first evening, we just had something to drink all together and got back onto our respective boats. The second evening, one had brought a huge tub of pilao (rice and meat mix) so we had a large meal together, played music, danced a bit and trundled back to the boats. We went back and forth to and from the boat using "the annex", a small rowing boat which Franck kept tied behind the Peerliane.


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What impressed me the most on the boat was the number of different ropes and pulleys that needed to be synchronised every time anything happened. Forward? One rope. Backward? No can do. Change direction? Five ropes and a tiller. Change of wind? Seven ropes, a tiller and three sails. And of course, not one of the ropes is actually called "rope". We didn't learn any complicated knots, but we've been promised a knotting lesson for next time. I hope there is a next time, because I really enjoyed the trip.



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There was even a cat on board, brought from New Caledonia, called Accra.


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I learnt a lot of French nautical vocabulary on the way round. The sails are spi, trinquette, grand'voile and foc; the parts of the boat are pont, carré, cockpit, roof, bâbord, tribord and rame. The anchorage is called mouillage, the verb is mouiller. Other boat-related verbs are loffer, abattre, empaner, virer, border, choquer, affaler, barrer and étarquer, among others. You go to the shore in the annexe, and you tie the bass'tac and the hauban around the étais when you're affaling the trinquette. While the water is rouling or tanging with houle, risées or moutons, you sometimes get a pétolic stretch where you can't mouille because of the fond. The beaupré and the bout dehors are at the front, bâbord and tribord at either side, and the barre is behind. When you're barring, you must be careful to loff or to abatt, warn everyone if you're going to vire because they need to borde the trinquette and the foc nom de Dieu. Sometimes, the foc needs holding with the gaffe or the tangon. Sometimes, you empane without meaning to, and the beaume can hurt.



Thanks, Franck :).


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