It’s not the easiest sail across the Jamaica Channel. I’ll even go so far as to admit that all the sailing since leaving Mexico hasn’t been easy. But then what was I expecting when it’s East I’m headed, against the trade winds and against the current.
But the Jamaica Channel gets a special mention because of the difficulty I had getting round Haiti’s most southern headland, Pointe a Gravois. The current had pushed Eileen some 15 nautical miles Northwest of this cape and it seemed at the time I was not getting anywhere. Imagine the frustration of having to motor sail at half a knot for hours on end to slowly work your way out of the main current. Now double it!
No wonder that by the time a sailor has rounded Haiti’s southern cape and views Ile a Vache (Cow Island) just five miles away, he is inclined to drop anchor there to take a breather. Especially when it really is such a lovely little anchorage.
The anchorages popularity stems from the fact that, like the Salvation Islands off Kourou in French Guiana, there is (or was), no need to check in with the authorities. They knew sailors were just there to rest a while before moving on.
I can’t stress this enough, because for some reason both the authorities, who plan to turn the island into an international marina resort, and the islanders themselves, who seem to think we are there to play Santa Claus, have got it all wrong (and as a result, risk loosing what has become a very lucrative source of income).
That’s not to say that Ile a Vache isn’t worth visiting, (if you happen to be passing by). But I will suggest that it’s not the irresistible charms of the locals or welcome smiles that bring us here. For better or for worse, Haiti isn’t on many a tourists list of must see international destinations.
And when you find yourself:
surrounded by boat boys nagging incessantly for give-aways (not trinkets mind you but your valuable items), or paid work (but it’s illegal to employ a child), not once or twice a day, but until you have nothing left to give,
are boarded by armed officials (from the mainland) to pay your 20 dollar per passport immigration fee,
or failing that (as in my case as I was on shore at the time) are **threatened with imprisonment if I do not accompany the self elected local immigration enforcers to the mainland to pay the aforementioned 20 dollars,
you begin to wonder whether it’s worth all the trouble.
If you want my opinion, it isn’t.
There are half a dozen smaller islands to the North-east that will serve admirably instead.
**Two brothers (one runs a local internet café and bar) boarded Eileen the morning after a random visit by armed officials (I had been on shore at the time, in the very Internet café run by them and missed the excitement). They stated that as I was “hiding” from the officials I now had to accompany them (for a fee) to the mainland to complete formalities.
If I refused to do so, they would call the coast guard and I would likely have my boat confiscated and face imprisonment. This just as I was preparing to leave. Since they were phoning the immigration office at the time, and as I had (and continue to have), no intention of disobeying local laws with regards to my sailing habits…, I asked to speak with the official over the phone.
Fortunately I speak French so it did not take long to arrange to leave copies of my passport and boat papers with the 20 US dollar immigration fee to be collected later.
Having sorted this out, the brothers threats ceased, but now, as they saw it, they were doing me a favour, so what was I prepared to give them in return? My ice box perhaps?
To their dismay they received only my thanks as I weighed anchor and sailed away from this little paradise. A paradise spoilt.
I won’t be back.