The Forgotten Caribbean Part 2
At the conclusion of Part 1 of The Forgotten Caribbean, we were anchored at Bahia de Las Aguilas (Bay of Eagles) on the south shore of the Dominican Republic, close to the western border.
We have decided to set sail at 6PM as the distance to our destination is approximately 115 nautical miles (west). We are anchored at 17 50.91N, 071 38.260W in 10 feet of clear water. The bay is so large and so wide that we can sail west without regard to any obstacles even if we do not have any moonlight. In addition we are sailing under the lee of Punta Beata which most times results in smooth seas. We will have the trade winds as well as the current in our favor although the trade winds will probably be reduced due to the effect of the Katabatic Winds coming down from the mountains of the Dominican Republic. These winds are cold air from the mountains descending after the sun goes down. They have a stalling effect on the trade winds “within the shadow of the island”. Our destination is to a point at the southwest end of Ile A Vache, Haiti. The lat and long of this arbitrary waypoint is 18 02.871N, 073 40.767W. Once we reach this point we will turn north and then east.
Ile a Vache is best approached from the west end of the island as entry is then straight forward. On the east side of the island, there are numerous shoals and coral heads, which while navigable, are not worth the effort. The anchorage we seek, at the Port Morgan Hotel is at the northwest end of the island. (www.PortMorgan.com). The hotel answers to channel 16 and will most times send out a guide boat if you would like assistance. The entrance to the Baie a Feret where the hotel is located is an easy entrance and most boats can go in unassisted. You need only give the west shore a wide berth to avoid a small reef and some shoal water. When inside the bay you can anchor in 10’ of water with good holding.
ANCHORAGE AT PORT MORGAN HOTEL—BAIE a FERET, VILLAGE OF CAILLE COQ, ILE A VACHE
The hotel has a dinghy dock. The village is called Caille Coq and the hotel occupies the hillside to the east. The Village of Caille Coq is made up of a collection of small buildings, houses and fishing boats.
BOIS FOUILLE FISHING
The people from the village speak mostly French and Creole, but some can communicate in English as well. Most people are very friendly and happy to welcome cruisers. You can easily find laundry services, guided trips to the market and village of Madame Bernard, and several people will arrange to prepare dinner for you at their homes in the village, should you so desire. There are no cars and the island has no electric other than an isolated generator, so there are also very few lights at night. You will find the anchorage and the village very, very safe.
Clearing in is simple and straightforward. You can give your passports to the hotel and they will take them to the small town of Les Cayes by boat and have them processed for you or you can go in your dinghy yourself. The town of Les Cayes is a little over 5 nautical miles across northwest to the mainland. It is a safe town and I have gone there many times without incident. There are no immigration facilities on Ile a Vache, and many of the boats who stop for a day or two, do not clear in or out. This is not a practice I would recommend but many cruisers have told me that they did not feel it was necessary.
Haiti is a country of strong contrasts. Economically there are rich and poor in the large cities and poor everywhere else outside of the large cities. When you come to Ile a Vache you will find a place that is tranquil and that has a strong history of fishing and of welcoming cruising boats. The people are full of smiles and their village is a model of organization and cleanliness. There are however very few jobs, so money is always in short supply. Donations of all types are greatly appreciated. However, it is not a good idea to give gifts directly to the people of the island as that always leaves someone feeling cheated. Seek out the island administrator who is readily available, and he will accept your donations of food, clothing and supplies for the school and will be sure that they are apportioned fairly.
Village of Madame Bernard
Madame Bernard is about an hour walk from the anchorage at Caille Coq. You could make your way there on your own, but it is much easier and more informative to have a guide go with you. In settled weather you can make it there via a short dinghy ride. Two days a week the market is held and people from all over the island and others from the mainland come to trade. This is a spectacle you do not want to miss. You will be transported back in time to experience all the sights, sounds and smells of a traditional marketplace in action. The market is reminiscent of articles in National Geographic Magazine circa 1950. While you will be safe walking through the market, you will find yourself very much out of what you are familiar with. Please keep in mind that the majority of Haitians do not like their picture taken and if you attempt to take a picture without their permission you may very well cause an incident. At the village of Madame Bernard, you will also find Sister Flora’s orphanage. Sister Flora is a small Canadian Catholic Nun who arrived near 50 years ago on Ile a Vache and takes care of about 60 orphans as well as about 400 children in total. One of the clinics in her hospital assists young children who are seriously ill and if you do choose to visit be prepared to leave with wet eyes.
There are a number of groups that assist Ile a Vache. You can contact Friends of Ile a Vache through their website (www.friendsofileavache.com) for information and details. FRIENDS OF ILE A VACHE HAITI, a non-profit organization is dedicated to sustainable economic development. They have done and are doing a wonderful job. Last year a group of cruising sailboats arrived with hundreds of pounds of needed supplies. Prior to that, the cruising community brought in a number of rebuilt outboard engines for the fishermen. Every cent that is donated to Friends of Ile a Vache goes to the community as the organization works for free and there are absolutely no expenses.
VILLAGE OF CAILLE COQ
You can walk through the village of CAILLE COQ and you will find the village neat and clean. The villages tend to be retiring but are more than cordial.
If you want to purchase some of the village handicrafts, while there is no organized market, from time to time you will have an opportunity. From oil paintings which are very well done and very Haitian in their format to hand sewn items, you will see objects that are handmade on the island and of good quality at reasonable prices.
If school is in session you can visit the school which is located just out of sight at the back of the village. It is a wonderful thing to listen to a few hundred children sing in French. Their uniforms are yellow tops with brown pants or skirts. Many of the girls have their hair braided and the smiles and waves are worth more than a shopping spree on 5th Avenue in Manhattan.
You can arrange to eat at one of the homes where they will cook for you at a modest price, or arrange to have them cook your meal and have it delivered to you at the dinghy dock. Additionally you can eat at the hotel which has a fine menu as well as wonderful vistas. They also have an internet connection for those that need to catch up. There are a few local islanders who will come out from the village and offer you their service if you need work on your boat. This is for basic work such as cleaning a bottom or sanding and so forth. Be sure you have a price established before you start the job and be fair. While I have not heard in all my visits to Ile a Vache of a case of theft, please keep in mind that your boat is seen as a floating castle and access to below decks should be avoided.
Times are changing and in the not too far future, I am sure there will be changes introduced at Ile a Vache that will make it very different than it is today. If you want to experience the Caribbean prior to 1960 in a safe setting, Ile a Vache should not be missed.
Next month we will up anchor and set course for Port Antonio, Jamaica and continue our journey through the Forgotten Caribbean.
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