Sunday, 24 May 2015

Hardships but Happiness in Haiti ..... May 2015

11 – 17 May 2015: Ile a Vache, Haiti to Port Antonio, Jamaica ~ 18 10N   76 27W

Bags Are Packed,  We’re Off to the Orphanage

P5050083 I have been spending hours going through all our lockers shedding Balvenie of surplus stores, clothes, medicines and more importantly for skipper – weight!  In addition we had donations from our good friends on Serafina and Feijáo who had emptied lockers when they sold their boats, Four Coconuts gave us childrens clothes in Grenada, Ruffian passed on medications from another cruiser  – basically we had heaps of useful things, all for Sister Floras Orphanage which relies totally on donations.P5110018

We timed our trip to the Orphanage in the small “town” of Madame Bernard to coincide with market day, ever hopeful but not too optimistic that we might actually be able to purchase some fresh green vegetables.   The sea state had not settled enough for us to take the dinghy around so it was a long walk inland with little shade or wind instead.  We used the services of two local lads, Pepe and Nixon to help carry the bags and show us the way through the inland tracks, a very good decision when the actual walk was 1 1/2 hours each way and this is definitely not the sort of place that has signposts!P5110025

Finally we arrived into town, and our walk through the market confirmed my suspicions that we would not be returning with bagsful of crispy leafy greens, or any greens for that matter ~ oh well, that would have just been a bonus.  We carried on through the bustling market place, round the corner, up the hill, past all the mules tied up waiting to trudge home and finally adjacent to the school we found the orphanage.   

40 Years of Dedication and DevotionP5110024

Sadly we didn’t get the opportunity to meet Sister Flora as she was on a short break to Canada at the time.  Sister Flora came to Ile a Vache over 40 years ago and over time has set up this amazing orphanage, currently home to over 30 children.  She accepts any child from anywhere in Haiti and because of this hundreds of orphaned or disabled children have had a chance of experiencing some love in their lives for 4 decades. 

It was a very humbling sight to see over a dozen youngsters with some dreadful deformities and disabilities sitting/lying on mats, unable to do really anything else, just waiting for their short lives to pass by but grateful to be in an environment where they are loved, cared for and are part of a family. P5110030    There were another dozen children, all with disabilities but able to partake in school lessons and they were welcoming and happy to see strangers who cared enough to visit.  The balance of the children were the “lucky ones”, they were “only ” orphans and were across the road in the school partaking in class with all the local children.  I will add here that education in Haiti is not free at any age and this of course has created a huge problem and resulted in thousands of uneducated people who can not advance in society.  All up we should all give thanks we were lucky to be born in the countries we were, into caring families with loving hardworking parents.  P5110023

We left all the donations with Nicholas the administrator, then he showed us around the complex ~ they have a wonderful play area, a well stocked dispensary and library, a functional but very basic kitchen, a colourful communal area and we spotted several soft toys sitting on a roof airing in the sun.  All up it looks like a very well run and organised operation, but again I stress that it operates entirely off aid and donations, can’t be easy.  


P5110020 Stocking Up at the Market – or Maybe Not!!!!

We headed on back down to the waterfront and into the maze of market stalls.  Maybe we had missed all the good stuff, but I suspect not.  There was very little produce, definitely nothing that looked freshly harvested but I did get a few sweet potatoes and I considered some rather wilted yellow peas that might have been green a week or so earlier, then I spotted a few tomatoes – all was not lost!

We found some sweet buns to nibble on, a few bread rolls for later and called it a day for shopping.P5110031  The walk home was even hotter in the midday sun ~ functioning, working or exercising in this heat is debilitating and it is very easy to see why the locals do everything very very slowly!

Just Hanging Out in Haiti

We spent the rest of our time catching up on computer stuff, reading books, researching our way forward over the next few months and just waiting for the weather to ease in the Caribbean.  We weren’t alone, the odd brave boat came and went but most were like us, waiting for something a little less “sporty”.P5100006

Finally our time came and we left in company with British boat Diva, Jamaica bound.  We just couldn’t get a good enough window to get us down to Panama or even Providencia so we decided to move across to Jamaica where the forecast for the next week was heavy squalls and 10 inches of rain, forecast for Haiti was the same so decided to have a change of scenery to sit out the inclement weather.

Our overnight passage was relatively uneventful, the winds had lightened up but the sea state was still rather messy, nothing new there.  We stayed south as long as we could to keep the wind, threw in a gybe  (with pole, always a challenge) at 1am on a moonless night after we had cleared 3 ships in the shipping channel then spent the next day sailing up the eastern Jamaican coast.

By 3.30pm local time we had sailed into , dropped sails, deployed fenders and lines and tied up to the Customs Dock in Port Antonio, 186 miles covered and Jamaica discovered.

I Took A Trip On A Sailing Ship and When I Reached Jamaica I Made A StopP5160047

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Hunkered Down In Haiti ..... May 2015

30 April – 10 May:  Ile a Vache, Haiti ~ 18 06N   73 41W

Forever WestwardsP5040079

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.

P5040074A 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.

 P5050080 P5080167

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.  P5050122 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. 

P5050132 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.

Let There Be LightP5050119

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!!  P5050104

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.

  P5080166 P5060135 P5080169

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.

P5060138  Meanwhile, another year has ticked by since our departure from Auckland, New Zealand.  Who’d of thought when we left we would be spending our 11th Cruising Anniversary in Haiti!!!!!

11 Years ~ 62 Countries ~ 39,995 Miles