30 April – 10 May: Ile a Vache, Haiti ~ 18 06N 73 41W
We had originally planned to cruise the southern coast of the Dominican Republic, day sailing where possible to nibble away at the miles along the bottom of Hispaniola. However the authorities tin the DR don’t make the process too easy for us cruisers, after the initial lengthy and costly check in process, permits are also required for departures from each stop, and the next destination must be named and not deviated from, departure times set and adhered to. We decided we really couldn’t be bothered with the red tape. We had enjoyed our time in the Northern DR last year on our way south so decided to savour those fond memories and skip the southern coast.
A skinny weather window presented itself for the 400 mile sail westwards. After much calculation a 5pm departure from Boqueron, Puerto Rico was decided on to ensure a daylight arrival and before 25 – 30 knot winds were due to hit the region. The full moon was a brilliant balloon each night, the Mona Passage was traversed without incident, sail plans were changed in accordance with unwelcome annoying wind shifts, the fishing line was broken twice by sea monsters over 80 pounds and we arrived late morning after 3 nights at sea without too much of a kicking!
Welcome to Ile a Vache
Our first impressions were positive, after the building big seas experienced on our final approach we were very happy to see calm waters in the anchorage but the main positive for us was that there were several other yachts at anchor, we were very happy to join this gaggle of a dozen boats. Let’s face it, Haiti isn’t really on too many peoples Bucket List as a “must visit” destination!
We were overwhelmed all afternoon by a constant stream of “boat boys” paddling out in dugout canoes (most of the canoes sinking faster than they can bail the water out) but we had expected this and knew we would have to deal with the hunger of the lads wanting to earn some money. Most had broken English much better than our broken French and it was clear no one was asking for a hand out, they all wanted to work ~ and work is what we gave them.
Next morning the first 6 appeared and the transformation of Balvenie from a salty seagoing vessel to a sparkly clean anchored bateau commenced. During the last few days I think we have had 12 lads cleaning and polishing, most just doing 2 or 3 hours but happy with that and with the small wage they have earned.
Life Ashore on a Small Haitian Island
We have spent very little time ashore so far as skipper tweaked his back and literally has been flat out recovering. We did get to have a stroll around the village here at the anchorage. Life is basic, there is no running water ~ the women and children carry water from the well about half a mile away. There is no electricity in the dwellings although there are new solar powered lights running along the foreshore and there is a government building kitted out with a generator and several new computers for the villagers use and there is a cell tower.
There are no roads or cars and we understand the few motorbikes around are a new addition. The only store I saw was a Digicel (mobile phone network) and most of the older lads that worked for us had mobile phones. We have rented a wifi dongle with sim and a weeks 4G connection from an enterprising young man, last year the boats that came couldn’t get wifi, technology is reaching out. Priorities have changed, your can check your Facebook and email but can’t turn a tap (if you had one) and have water run out.
There is minimal need for money here, all the lads agree that if they moved across to the mainland it would be entirely different, money would be an absolute necessity as it it almost everywhere else in the world.
But this little village on Ile a Vache can almost annex itself and remain self sufficient. Some food is grown here, the fishermen are out every day, life is lived at a relaxed pace, they can just about get by. They rely quite heavily on the generosity of passing yachts to supply things they can’t get without money. We, like many other cruisers have given away our old sails, ropes, kitchen utensils, containers, clothes, shoes and many other bits and bobs. For us, it is pleasing to see these items go to people who can use them, we see so much wastage in our travels it is gratifying to be able to help in some small way.
First stop on our walk around the village was the new building housing the computers, adjacent were public toilets and I don’t remember seeing toilets elsewhere, the homes certainly would not have had them. Nearby was a hands-on electrical learning project where teenage students were wiring up power and light sockets, an interesting skill to obtain on an island that has no electricity we thought, and we just loved the bright yellow plastic hard hats. Health and Safety has even made it here!!
We passed the sailmaker, painstakingly stitching a re-cut cruisers sail together to fit one of the local fishing boats, to do this by hand would take hours and hours and the quality of his work was exceptional.
Smiling faces greeted us everywhere, children played happily with minimal toys, back to the “good ole days” when you make your own fun and improvised – but we have seen this in many 3rd world countries, not a game boy insight!
We will be staying here a while yet, the trade winds are accelerating across the Caribbean (unusual for so late in the season – of course!) and we still have the local market to visit and we also have bags of donations to take to Sister Floras Orphanage, both in the main town of Madame Bernard over an hours walk away.
The anchorage is comfortable, an interesting array of food comes delivered in dugout canoes. We watch the fishing sailboats fly by at regular intervals off to ply the off lying waters , meanwhile local line fishermen and a lone freediver are emptying this bay of the smallest of fish and lobster ~ they need to feed their families now and have no concept of what will happen in 5 or 10 years time when everything is gone ~ if they don’t eat now then they will be gone. It is a no win situation.
11 Years ~ 62 Countries ~ 39,995 Miles