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Seychelles to Madagascar to Lanseria, South Africa - flight report

Sometimes things go wrong and unfortunately this time they did.  I was flight planning from the Seychelles to South Africa, and it looked a little tight.  Although winds were mostly favorable, if anything changed, I'd need a stop in Maputo, Mozambique for gas.  I emailed the person doing my permits and asked if I could stop in Maputo, he informed me that we didn't have a permit for Mozambique and it took 7 days to get one.  I looked at the airspace and there was no way around Maputo.  MMmmmmm, now what.  He started working on the permit and I got in touch with the local DGCA, Director General of Civil Aviation, to see what else we could do.  After a day, while that was still in process, I checked with the Met Office to see what the weather forecast was doing.  Things looked good everywhere except southern South Africa where a front was coming across in the next few days and a huge high pressure south of Madagascar was putting out 40 knot westerly -- that would give me considerable headwinds.  Now, there was no question, I had to stop in Madagascar for gas.  I had an overflight permit, but not a landing permit; so we started working on that permit also.  

Sometimes problems create opportunities.  Since it would take several days to obtain the permits, that gave me the weekend in the Seychelles with two wonderful families.  We'd had a creole dinner with Mike and Eddy, but not their families, so we put Dave on Air Seychelles to South Africa and traveled around the island, swam at the beaches, saw the water reservoir and desalination plants, had more wonderful creole food, and enjoyed the whole experience.  It's a magnificent island and get-a-way.  It's a long way from anywhere, but I hope I'll be able to return.

I spent all Monday at the airport with the DGCA and met office.  The weather was looking good again, the winds had died down, another benefit of delaying the departure.  The permits had not come through.  Dave and Dean were working in South Africa with Mozambique to obtain that permit verbally so that I could cross their airspace.  Finally at 4pm the Madagascar permit came through -- at least I could gas up and go around Mozambique if the other didn't come in.  A BIG thanks to the DGCA staff and especially Mr. Frost, who sent many telexes and faxes to get the permit as quickly as possible.  At 8pm the second permit was in hand.  Phewwww.  I now had lots of options.  In anticipation, I'd already gassed up and filed my flight plan and general declaration.  I was planning on departing but would have cancelled if the paperwork had not arrived.

Tuesday morning, at the airport by 5am, who would expect Mike and Eddy to see me off at that time??  But Eddy drove me to the airport and Mike met us there and they went through all the steps until I was safely in the air.  Thanks so much!!  It's truly been a wonderful time.  At 6am I asked for engine startup but was told to wait 5 minutes.  Then the clearance came through, just as a rainstorm hit and Mike and Eddy were getting soaked waiting for me to depart.  I taxied out, did all my runups and took off just as the orange rays were coming through the clouds to my left.  There were little buildups all around, but it was clear ahead with a nice 12k headwind up the runway.  The climbout was actually a little better than normal as I turned right over the island and headed on my way.  The clouds were sitting on the mountain tops like icing on a cake.  I wished I could have taken pictures, but was a little occupied.  Up to 6000 feet and on course 224 degrees, I was headed directly to Mahajanga, Madagascar, not using airway routes this time.  There was a big black cloud to my right but a beautiful rainbow to my left - I went between the two and enjoyed the rainbow.  Then a second rainbow appeared and I smiled again, it looked beautiful.  I have many pictures of rainbows, but the camera just can't capture the vivid colors.

I was checking in with Seychelles control by VHF.  They'd asked for an "operations normal" call every 30 minutes (since I wasn't on an airway) and gave me two HF frequencies if I lost VHF contact.  Dave and I had actually met two of them, Joseph and Louis, when we were talking with Mr. Orr, the Safety Director during the week.  Their control room was fascinating, but they didn't have radar and relied on position reports to know where all the planes were.  I'd told them I'd be talking with them when I departed.

The tailwinds have been a little stronger than forecast and I'm 20 minutes ahead of schedule.  The big decision is whether to stop in Madagascar overnight and refuel or to continue on to Lanseria, the GA airport near Johannesburg (or Jo'burg as everyone says).  I'm feeling okay, everything is running well, I really don't want to stop after only 6 hours flying, although I would like to visit Madagascar, if only for one day.  Tough decision.  I'm in contact with Antananarivo Control (good job they shorten that to Tana) and will make the decision when I feel the winds over the Mozambique Channel.  As I approach Madagascar from the northeast, I'm headed for an NDB at 6000 ft, but I know there's a mountain nearby at 11,000 feet.  Needless to say, I'll be watching through the cloud layers to make sure I say clear.  Landscape, brown tipped hills with little vegetation, big lakes and bays, a spine of mountains down the middle with green, fertile areas between the base of the hills and the shore.  It looks like the trees come right down to the shore on the northwest tip of the island, but as I peer further south, I see beaches, and as I get closer, they are long and empty and beautiful.  Also, there are some islands off the coast with some good looking beaches.  Nice place!!  As usual, there are puffy clouds over the land and islands and it's pretty clear over the water.  The tailwinds are holding so I'm going to continue.  Listening to the HF, the Air France flights use French, instead of English, when they are giving a position reports to a French speaking controller.  The controllers switch back and forth between French and English depending on the plane they are talking with.

The controllers have been making some interesting requests for intermediate reporting.  Normally I report the major intersections or navigation aids.  The first controller in Madagascar asked for estimated time abeam an intermediate point that was an NDB.  That made for some quick calculations, when I thought I should be watching out for mountains.  The next controller wanted to know the estimated time when I would be 60 nm outside his VOR which would be the limit of his airspace.  More quick calculations.  I wasn't hearing other traffic, so I don't know why they were asking for these additional time estimates - the second one was probably to hand be back to HF control.

The Mahaganja controller asks for my ETA at Lanseria.  I give him the GPS estimate with an additional hour to cover headwinds later in the flight.  He asks a few questions and seems stumped.  Another pilot says that it can't be correct and that I must have made a mistake.  The Mahaganja controller asks when I left the Seychelles, I said 0216 UTC, 6 hours previously, and when I will arrive in Lanseria.  I repeat the time, 9 hours hence.  He asks my route, and I explain that I'll be passing Maputo.  He asks if I'll land there, I said no, just overfly and land in Lanseria.  The poor guy is having a tough time and the other pilot isn't making things any easier by continually saying that there's a problem and it isn't possible and it's can't be correct.  The controller finally accepts all the info and relays it to my destination.  He says it's "extraordinary" and seems pleased to be handling a unique flight that he can now brag about.  Then the two start talking in French, assuming, I suppose, that I won't understand.  I explain my speed and distance and why it will take me so long to get there.  The other pilot starts talking with me directly and after understanding the gas situation he says it's "formidable."  I thought the exchanges were pretty funny.  When the Mahaganja controller handed me over to Tana radio he wished me a good trip; I think he was smiling.

The winds are continuing to be good tailwinds and I'm now up to 153k even though I'd planned this part of the flight at 120k.  I know that I'll run into headwinds eventually, but the later, the better.  The water is looking very calm.  The big problem this flight has been the ANR, Automatic Noise Reduction, in my right ear piece is acting up.  I keep hearing the noise cancelling and have to continually adjust the ear pad.  It's driving me crazy.  With the different controllers accents, it's difficult enough to understand what's being said, now I have to hold my right ear piece with my left hand and write instructions with my right hand -- not that easy.  

HF contact has been terrific on this leg.  Seychelles kept in touch every half hour.  When Tana couldn't hear me at first, Seychelles relayed the information.  Then I was in Tana and other controller VHF comm, then back with Tana radio every half hour.  If felt much better than when I was in Indian airspace and out of HF contact for hours on end.  Ok, I spoke too soon.  HF contact WAS great until Mozambique.  On first contact they made sure they had ALL the information, then didn't require contact again for 2.5 hours.  Oh well,  the first part of the trip had very good communication.

Wow, there are NO clouds.  For the first time this trip, no clouds, no horizon, it's blurry out there, changing from dark blue sea to fuzzy whitish horizon to lighter blue sky.  I think I like clouds better, at least it gives some relativity to the sky and water.  And now the headwinds have finally picked up.  I knew they'd arrive sometime, but they didn't have to be higher than forecast, which they are.  Oh well, I gained a lot of time in the first 9 hours, I can't really complain for the last 5 or 6 hours.  What I can complain about is no HF email.  It had been working great the whole trip and I was sending off messages.  Unfortunately, the PMBO in Durban, SA, limits usage to 30 minutes a day and my time is up.  I tried to get a message to the operator via another mailbox, but couldn't reach anyone.  So, sorry I can't receive and reply to your messages and send any updates -- it makes the trip go better for me.

When you least expect it, good things happen.  No, I don't have a tailwind, but the headwind is down and my speed is up to 138k.  Only 40 minutes to go and I'll be over land again.  Then, I'll stay over land from the south to the north of Africa.  Although more comfortable than over water, some of the areas are going to be pretty desolate and inhospitable.  I'll be doing another oil change and checking the engine when I arrive in South Africa, then again when I arrive in France and one more time in Scotland before crossing the North Atlantic.  Everything has been running well, but I want to keep it that way, so oil and filter change, oil analysis, check spark plugs and look over all connections.

I'm really getting excited about seeing Africa.  It's enough to get the adrenaline running so that I don't feel tired.  I really, really wanted to travel around South Africa and now it's becoming a reality.  I can't believe it.  I spy the coast of Mozambique and follow the coast to Maputo then turn right towards Jo'burg.  Maputo control is a little difficult to understand and I ask for some instructions to be repeated several times.  When I'm handed over to Matsapha, Swaziland, it is totally garbled and unreadable.  Each time I have to ask for a repeat, sometimes 3 and 4 times.  I'm embarrassed, but just can't understand the transmission.  Finally I'm handed over to Jo'burg control, what a relief - clear, concise, precise instructions over a clear frequency.  I know now that flying in South Africa is going to be fun.  

Just before Maputo I had to climb to 10,000 feet for obstacle clearance and I turned from south west to west.  The winds were forecast to be 25k on the nose and were actually higher; my speed dropped to 102k.  And, it was cold up there.  I knew this was going to be the slow part; but it was only 220 miles.  Luckily, little by little, the wind dropped and speed picked up to over 130k.  I was handed over to Lanseria tower and was surprised how busy it was, at least 2 or 3 students in the air and others overflying the airport.  It was dark and I had a little trouble finding it with other lights everywhere, but was directed on to downwind and with the approach plugged into the GPS, it was easy to see my position.  I was allowed to descend to 6000ft and as I turned base and final, there was the long runway straight ahead.   15 hours and 4 minutes in the air and I'm so happy to be here that I don't even feel tired.

The airport terminal was huge, for a small airport, and immigration and customs were a breeze, thanks to Dean helping me through.  I was still in shorts and a t-shirt, everyone else was in pants and a coat; so I quickly donned my vest.  Dean said that the temperature was supposed to drop to 0 centigrade or 32F that night.  Brrrrr.  Dean is a local pilot who had seen the web page and contacted me by email.  He obtained the Mozambique permit and took care of all the local needs.  He's planned for an oil change later and for meeting local pilots and EAA chapter members.  I couldn't be in better hands.  I'll also be meeting with Diane from the local ALS foundation.  I'm off for 2 weeks of meeting people and touring South Africa, will update mid June.


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I'm happy to hear from you, please email me at cagarratt@gmail.com any ideas, suggestions or flight tips.  Thanks.