Hearing Bic (our enigmatic dive leader) before you see him is standard, but you can’t fail to be infected by his endless enthusiasm, even if it is 6.30am and you’re up to your waist in freezing water, loading up the dive boat. Heading off to the far shore reserve sites to do fish belts (sequential 20 metre studies of coral site fish populations) for the BV databases isn’t the most scintillating marine research happening with Blue Ventures, but it’s essential work that couldn’t be done without the help of volunteers like us. The dive boat surfs along the coast whilst we chow down on Bokbok (doughnut holes) and coffee, little bursts of excitement and anticipation fizzing in your stomach. Will we find the reef? Will the humpback whales breach? Have I forgotten my weight belt again?
Double dive done, reef checked out and surveyed, Bokbok demolished and hungry once again we head back under a bright blue sky, the water insanely clear, passing the local landmarks of Andava rock and the inner reefs on the way. It’s now 10,30am and after reshuffling and refuelling, the second dive rotas head out for more data collection and fun. The night divers from the day before are starting to fade so sunbathing until lunch and chocolate runs to the local shop are in order.
At 1pm we head up to Coco Beach the hotel where we have our meals. Don’t expect swimming pools and room service but it’s a beautiful location and the friendly staff make for a great beach side bar and restaurant. Tina in the kitchen generally lets you poke about and cook a second lunch if you so wish and Barbara in the bar sorts out the stock for party nights.
A quick turnaround for sailing with the ECO-guides at 1430 see’s us grabbing our wet gear and heading down to Andava beach. The Vezo sail in wooden canoes with outriggers, known locally as pirogues and racing on windy days can be ferocious. We learn the knots and how to put up the main beams then head out into the bay, taking turns on the outrigger to balance the load of the wind in the sail. It’s pretty incredible skimming over the water, flying over the reef below, standing on nothing more than an arms width of wood and holding on for dear life!
Knackered and ready for some R&R we head back to the cabins at halfmoon beach and spend the last few hours of daylight sunbathing, swimming and writing up the dive data for that day. The sun moves lower in the sky and at 17.00 it’s time to head into the village to Dada’s, our local, for sundowners against undoubtedly the most incredible sunset I’ve ever seen. Just before it hits the water the last glow shines through the hole in Andava rock, then in record time falls beneath the horizon leaving only the haze of the day floating above.
At 18.00 we head up to Nosy Cao (the office) and the Bat cave (dive hut) to carry out the day’s duties; water changing, filter cleaning, dive gear maintenance and sweeping. After changing into warmer clothes for the colder nights, we head to Coco Beach for a quick drink and some cards before Vaovao (News, and the next day’s plan) at 19.15. Dinner is at 19.30 and apart from the monotonous rice and beans staple, it’s actually pretty good, better than I would have expected in rural Madagascar and there’s always the option of ordering chips, pizza, zebu and omelette if you get bored!
After dinner everyone heads back to the cabins, most hitting the hay by 2100, a few stay up to watch DVD’s on personal laptops and play cards. For me it’s an early one; tonight the waves are just lapping the shore and the stars are bright, the Milky Way streaking the sky in a huge band... Perfect conditions for a 03.00 boat ride to Valleys, one of the far shore sites, for night diving.