As all top safaris have in common, the journey is as much part of the experience. Whilst the 19th century merchant tales of boats and ships braving the waves of the Atlantic Ocean en route from Europe to South Africa’s Western Cape are no doubt enthralling, it is the deep, warm, Indian Ocean waters of the continent’s east coast that provide the most appealing wildlife, and weather!
So why not throw open the sails of a privately crewed catamaran, complete with specialist marine biologist, to explore over 600 nautical miles of coastline – from Mozambique to Tanzania - brimming with natural harbours and protected anchorages and over 100 offshore islands? Explorations can last from 4 nights to 2 weeks and are completely tailor-made.
One such journey may venture into Quirimbas Archipelago in northern Mozambique; undoubtedly one of the best island hopping, fishing and diving destinations in the world.
Blessed with white sandy beaches and flourishing reefs this still largely-undeveloped group of 32 palm fringed coral islands, of which 27 remain uninhabited, is a hidden gem. This provides essential habitats for sea turtles and migratory seabirds, as well as nursery areas for bottlenose dolphins and humpback whales.
Along with the abundance of over 375 tropical fish species that reside in on the rich coral reefs, this makes for some incredible snorkelling and diving experiences.
On a separate expedition, while away the time with whale sharks, who migrate through the historic Southern Archipelago on Tanzania’s Swahili Coast between October and February each year. These endangered gentle giants, who are the largest fish in the sea, remain one of the ocean’s great mysteries as they can dive to great depths.
The Southern Archipelago has over 15 different islands to explore - uninhabited coral atolls with a traditional, unspoilt, non-commercialised friendly culture, where local people go about their business as artisans, farmers, fishermen and traditional sailors.
Within this, Mafia Island is a spectacularly diverse natural environment. Large palm groves together with mango and cashew trees dominate the island while impressive baobab trees are dotted amongst typical African savannah grassland.
Monkeys, small antelopes, wild pigs run wild while falcons, fish eagles, Comoro bats (also known as 'flying foxes') and five species of turtle have also made it their breeding ground. The highly protected Mafia Archipelago Marine Park contains over 400 species of fish with an unparalleled variety of hard and soft corals.
Nearby, the island of Kilwa Kisiwani houses the ruins of its Arab settlers from over 500 years ago and are considered to be one of the most significant groups of Swahili buildings on the East African Coast. The lesser-known Songo archipelago contains further ruins as well as a hugely important nesting area for sea turtles and marine birds.
For those looking for an easy-access, action-packed foray, the well-known Zanzibar archipelago has almost year round appeal. The mere mention of the famous ‘Spice Island’ evokes a sense of mystery and excitement, of immaculate white beaches and colourful markets redolent with the heady aroma of cloves, cinnamon and saffron.
Visit the giant Aldabra tortoises on Prison Island, enjoy the plethora of water sports and vibrant nightlife around Kendwa Beach, dive and snorkel on the Mnemba Island atoll and learn to Kitesurf on the Paje lagoon.
Having a specialist guide on any safari deepens the experience, giving you insights from someone who spends their life immersed in the very thing that you are interested in. For a sailing safari, choosing to have a leading marine biologist on-board guarantees a more holistic and immersive wildlife and conservation experience.
We select the biologists according to the region to be visited and are often able to use local contacts to get a ‘behind-the-scenes’ access.
For example you may have a guide who is involved in a particular research project in which you can get involved for a day, learning all about the species that are being investigated and having the chance to assist in data collection. As with any successful safari, the quality of the guide makes all the difference!
There are a variety of vessels on offer depending on group size and budget. For an adventurous couple or small family, the entry-level 40ft Maxim 400 Fly Bridge Power Catamaran is the ideal platform for island hopping charters, fishing and scuba diving.
This catamaran is best suited for up to 4 guests sharing 2 of the 3 cabins (the third cabin is for the 2 crew members). There are 2 separate bathrooms on-board.
Her main saloon and outside cock pit area has a comfortable cushioned seating area and the galley is well equipped with a 4-burner propane oven and stove, hot and cold water, fridge and separate freezer.
There is a stereo and music system for guests, but there is no TV on board! She is well equipped with a range of fishing gear & tackle, compressor for scuba diving, masks, snorkels & fins, stand-up paddle boards, kayaks and inflatable towable donuts, as well as a range of beach and games. There is also a small RIB tender with outboard motor included.
At the opposite end of the scale is the luxurious 75ft and 85ft catamarans, hugely spacious floating homes. The 75ft Ocean 750 has with a width of 35ft –wider than a tennis court! Big enough for 6 people (staying in 3 cabins), the rear cockpit / interior lounge / saloon area are essentially one large open plan entertainment space that lead to an expansive open deck for sunbathing and relaxing.
There is a large full outdoor wet bar with built in fridge and BBQ area for enjoying meals al fresco style. In the aft cockpit there is an outdoor L- Shaped lounge area with deep sofas and comfy cushions together with the main outdoor dining table area and several day beds for the all-important siesta!
Safaris are synonymous with traversing open savannah plains and riverine forests, usually in a 4x4 vehicle; be it scouring for a leopard lining up its next prey from a hidden tree perch or following herds of elephants on the way to wallow. The excitement of heading out each morning and afternoon, not knowing what drama the animal kingdom will perform, is undeniably addictive.
On the contrary, most will not have envisaged a wildlife-based safari in Africa taking place at sea. Of course, sailing itself is not a new experience - modern man took to the seas over 50,000 years ago.
But treating the oceans as part of the wider animal kingdom and on an equal footing to a land-based safari enlarges the safari sphere quite dramatically. This makes for a great combination option or standalone adventure.
As a safari guide myself, I have seen more often than not, that most safari-goers are looking for that flawless photo; something to turn their fellow guests back at camp green with envy and to take the prized trophy position on their Facebook ‘wall’.
Rapidly changing technology has morphed the way we take photographs, but the images of pristine natural perfection, and the wider sense of wilderness we all seek to take them in, have not.
With more and more people on land-based safaris than ever, there is a good case that a private sailing safari now equals this exclusive, unfettered access to biota-rich ecosystems.
For those looking for a tailor made holiday on the open waves, a private charter offers exclusivity and the ability to choose exactly what you wish to do. A fantastic option for families, couples and groups of friends alike, this offers a wonderful experience with plenty of opportunities to experience the incredible sea life of this phenomenal ocean. I would be delighted to discuss sailing holidays further, if you would like more information you can contact me here.
Images courtesy of Ocean Island Safaris