I don’t have any good photos to share in this post, but standby for a report on the Haitian island of Ile A Vache. I’m just about done going through those photos. I’ve finally arrived in the Dominican Republic after leaving the Bahamas nearly two weeks ago, and plan on staying here for two or three weeks. It was an interesting voyage from the Bahamas…
I left the southernmost Bahamian island of Great Inagua for the Windward Passage between Haiti and Cuba. The weather was fine although I was becalmed a few times, and just drifted with the current because I wanted to save my fuel for elsewhere along the 515-mile voyage. I have a range of only 200 miles under engine power, and at a cost of over $100 in fuel alone plus maintenance, I’d rather just sail. Besides, I was quite content with the aroma drifting off of Haiti and into my cockpit. Campfires and churned earth in the agricultural fields was all I could smell, and it was a nice change from the musty sea smell that I usually get in the boat. I felt relatively safe here because the area is patrolled for drugs.
After leaving Matthew Town in Great Inagua, I was in visual contact with a US Coast Guard cutter for half the day, and later on their chopper buzzed my boat. Then night came, and I saw no lights from Haiti and the only lights from Cuba were from Guantanamo.
My second night I was finally rounding the southwestern corner of Haiti. I had been well offshore up until now, and had to stay within a couple miles of shore this second night to take advantage of the night winds that come off of Haiti. Just a few miles to the southwest is the US island of Navassa, where the US Navy has drug patrol boats.
Because I was so close to the southern coast of Haiti, I didn’t want to invite any unwelcome guests and so I sailed with my running lights off. I kept a good watch though I didn’t have my radar on the first part of the night. If I had, I might have seen the Navy patrol boat that snuck up on me and lit me up with the biggest spotlight I’ve ever seen! See, I was paranoid about pirates and so sailed with my lights off, but apparently that’s the tactic that drug runners use as well. I turned my lights on for the rest of the night and wasn’t bothered any more by the Navy or by pirates.
My “pirate scare” came during my second night after leaving Ile A Vache, still along the southern coast of Haiti.
It was dusk again, and I was far enough away from Navassa that I felt I could safely sail with my lights off without interference from the Navy. I did have my radar scanning every ten minutes though, to assist my lookout for other boats that might not be running with lights on either. Just after sundown, I saw a very small and very fast boat leave the Haitian coast on an intercept course. Even if there were fish traps in the area, which there weren’t, Haitian fishermen don’t have boats like that and don’t check their traps at night. There was nothing to the south of me and my overactive mind couldn’t think of any reason why such a small, fast boat would be going in that direction, at night, with their lights off, other than to rob me.
There was barely enough light for me to see them against the coast, but more than enough light for them to see me silhouetted against the dark orange sky. They stopped about a mile away from me. I gathered every single thing I could use as a weapon, hoping that they’d be armed with squirt guns and it’d be a fair fight. I started pulling out of memory all the evasion and resistance training I had in the Air Force. I was ready for a fight but God knows I didn’t want one! I monitored their position with my radar and they stayed within about a mile of me for over a half hour. Then I lost radar contact and panicked, thinking they might have snuck up so close that I couldn’t pick up their reflection from the waves so close to me. But after an adrenaline-pumping hour, I never saw any sign of them and was able to relax a little more. Shit was I paranoid! Even if they weren’t pirates, it was suspicious activity!
It’s for reasons like that, and drugs, that the Dominican Republic has such strict rules about boats transiting their waters. You can only anchor in designated areas, and there is a coast guard presence there to ensure you are safe and to give you permission to leave for your next destination. I was going to sail on through Isla Beata all the way to Boca Chica, but I hadn’t slept much and wanted a night of solid sleep before the next 125 miles (which would end up being almost 300 miles for all the tacking I had to do against the wind). So I dropped anchor in front of the fishing village at Isla Beata. It was gorgeous. The beach is maybe 100 yards wide, and then sharply rises to cliffs. In front of the cliffs are wooden shacks where the fishermen live under the shade of palm trees.
Just after dropping anchor, a fishing boat came out to me carrying two uniformed men from the Marina de Guerra. See, they don’t have boats, and rely on fishermen for a ride. Can you imagine the US Coast Guard doing that? My boat was boarded and the men were very polite but took great interest in seeing that I didn’t have any drugs on board. I think I told all of you how I spent days cramming as much stores in the boat as I could. It all came out, and every single bag of flour, powdered sugar, baking soda, and powdered milk was sampled. I might have been intimidated had the junior officer not been wearing pink sandals with his camo fatigues – island life! But I’m glad they were doing their job.
The next day as I was getting permission to leave, they offered a breakfast of rice, beans, and fish, though I had to decline because I ate a big breakfast on the boat. I was detained in their office for a few hours of questioning while they determined my “legitimacy” (who was I really?).
I had no further problems getting to Boca Chica, where I now plan on seeing the interior of the island and doing some diving!
After, of course, uploading my photos from Haiti.