Haiti is not generally known as a destination for cruising yachts however stunning Ile a Vache, an island off the south west coast, is changing that. Beautiful Baie A Feret (also known as Port Morgan) is a charming and safe anchorage where locals welcome visitors warmly. We’d heard lots about it and so decided to check it out for ourselves.
The island of Ile a Vache is staggeringly poor – many of the locals live in what only can be described as abject poverty. There is no power, no running water, no roads or vehicles and no industry apart from a local hotel that employs a handful of people. Subsidence fishing and farming is the way of life and many people are desperate for work, food, clothes and money. We found Haiti heart breaking at times, enriching at others and particularly enjoyed being able to help out by donating – but more about that in another blog.
We’d had a good three day/night trip down from Rum Cay in the Bahamas – nice sailing at times but strong winds and squalls through the Windward Passage. We sailed into Baie de Cayes at dawn to be greeted by amazing scenes of tiny local fishing boats heading off in the morning breeze. Most were basic dugout canoes or hand-built wooden sailing boats – all with patched up sails best described as basic. Anna even spied one with a shower curtain.
We hadn’t even dropped anchor before we were bombarded with a procession of locals with smiling faces beaming up at us from dugout canoes. They came wanting work, offering to get us supplies, wanting to take us on walks, to do our laundry, take our rubbish, fetch fuel and, of course, wanting to sell – anything from lobster to handmade boats. It was all a bit overwhelming, especially as were tired from the passage but sleep went by the wayside as first, we had to deal with the descending troops, second, we needed to check in with customs and third needed go to the markets as we were out of fresh produce.
The nearest supplies were in the village of Madame Bernard, an hour’s walk or half hour tender ride away. Thank goodness we took the tender as an hour’s walk to the locals is probably two for us – all in searingly hot conditions with no water (or cold beer) stops en route. The dilapidated market was easily spotted – dozens of small local boats waited offshore loading and unloading supplies. The market was not quite what we were expecting – very shabby and basic - but we did manage to find citrus, bananas, avocado and papaya. The filth was overwhelming – all rubbish was simply thrown on the ground or in the sea. We bought grapefruit from a woman was promptly spat the sugar cane she was chewing all over the fruit before giving it to us!
Back in Ile a Vache we couldn’t ignore the pleas from the local boys who, for a few cents, wanted to show us their village. We set off with two guides and were followed by another dozen or so. The village was bigger than it looked from the bay with dozens of roughly built shacks dotted amongst coconut palms, mangos and banana trees. The well for water was 500m from the middle of the village and there was a constant trail of children carrying water containers.
Our guides returned the next day to offer another trip. Once again we couldn’t say no and it turned out to be a magnificent hike over rough and somewhat muddy tracks through a saddle to a beautiful bay on the western side of the island where we had a swim in crystal clear water. We came back a different way past a hilltop village.
Another day we took Bandit to the town of Les Cayes five miles away on the mainland. Anchored nearby was a cargo ship from which cement was being unloaded by throngs of workers. It was a scene reminiscent of the days of slavery. Bags of cement were lowered onto boats, taken ashore and heaved onto waiting trucks – all this in stinking hot, dusty and dry conditions.
Anna proved a hit with the local boys on Ile a Vache and Bandit was often surrounded by smiling locals. She was the only one who could recall her schoolgirl French with any clarity and became translator although many of the young spoke reasonable English.
Finally, just to show that cruising the world by yacht is really all about fixing your boat in exotic locations…a photo of David doing an instant repair. We’d been bound for Madame Bernard when we hit a coral head, breaking the shear pin (again). We always carry a spare on the tender, along with a spanner…to enable a quick repair wherever we happen to be.