Tales of the Itinerant Sailor

Cruising 2009

Political Peril and the Itinerant Sailor


Steven Jones  

Lost at Sea

Underway again, the officials giving us only a perfunctory checkout.  I suspect they are glad to be rid of us.  Harry sets an ESE course, for the southwest tip of Haiti.  Good sail, across the Windward Passage, but need the motor as we approach Haiti.  By now the starter in the cockpit no longer functions and Harry must go below every time we need to start the engine.  And the GPS in the cockpit is not working, either.

But Harry is prepared.  He has a new hand held GPS.  After reading and rereading the instructions several times, noting the headland very visible to us, and referring to his chart, Harry determines that the GPS is not functioning properly.  He knows this headland; he has been here before.  The beautiful Haitian island of Ile a Vache is just, well it is just…….

For nearly two days we bob up and down in the Caribbean keeping the headland in sight, looking for Ile a Vache.  Lost at sea with land clearly in view, as it were.

Now, this could stretch the imagination a little, and it should.  But bear in mind what I said earlier about the diarrhea.  We are both very sick.  Oh, did I mention that Fairwind does not have an auto pilot?  That is the reason Harry asked me to come along in the first place.  So, two hours on watch and two hours on the toilet! 

During this time there is a fresh oil leak in the engine—front main bearing probably, and a fresh water leak that fills the bilge to the bottom of the engine.  The automatic bilge pump doesn’t work and the water has to be pumped out manually.

Finally, I regain some of my mental faculties and insist that Harry set a course to take us straight to land, preferably where there are people.  Harry is reluctant as his depth sounder does not work and he is a little concerned, naturally, of going aground.

“Put out your anchor to a depth of 10 – 12 feet,” I say, “and when the anchor drags, you know it is time to stop.”  So, as we approach land, we drop the anchor, and even before it sets, we have company.  Single and two-man fishing boats.  It takes a while before someone who speaks English arrives.  We then learn that Harry’s Headland, probably Cap Tiburon, that we have been viewing for nearly two days is not the headland, Pointe Abacou, near Ile a Vache, which is 33 nautical miles to the southeast.  We thank the men profusely, haul in the anchor, and head out to sea.  All of this to say that the hand held GPS is actually working properly.

November 10, 2009.  Finally, Ile a Vache!  Fairwind is low on engine oil, might be low on diesel, and Harry accepts an offer to be towed into the harbor in front of the hotel at Port Morgan (yes, so named after the pirate Henry Morgan).  A beautiful location.  After a heated discussion with the tow boat captain (General Rule:  Always agree on a price before accepting any service of any kind from anyone, male or female!), Harry boards a dugout canoe for the 20 meter ride into shore.

Did I mention that Fairwind does not have a dinghy?  Nor does she carry a life raft or any other emergency equipment.  I am thinking back to the episode when the fresh water tank was leaking into the bilge and the automatic bilge pump did not click on.  And we were crossing open seas for 133 nm!

Harry has by now fully recovered from the diarrhea; I haven’t.   He goes ashore to link up with friends he met here a year ago when he brought along several outboard motors as part of a church outreach program.  I stay aboard. I want to do nothing other than sleep.  I have not eaten for nearly a week so being close to a toilet is no longer critical. 

This goes on for another 24 hours.  On the night of November 11, a well dressed Haitian—a Haitian doctor on a mission here from Boston—comes out to the boat in a dugout canoe.  In his Boston accentuated Haitian-English he tells me a week is too long to suffer.  He provides me with some medication.  I sleep some more.  Two days later I am feeling well enough to take the long walk across the harbor to a local clinic where more medication is prescribed

Meanwhile, Harry and Villiame Luseus, the young lad who has been in contact with Harry for the past year, take a water taxi to the “mainland” to get supplies.  When we leave, “William” will come with us.

Now, William is an interesting story.  At one time he had a very good job with the United Nations Mission in Port au Prince, about 90 air miles away from this little island.  Either as part of his job, or something that he was asked to do on the side, I never did determine which, he is asked by the UN to help identify persons involved in the illegal drug trade in Haiti.  Apparently, this is one of the goals of the United Nations—eliminating drug traffickers in the countries where they set up missions.  He does this and suddenly finds his life being threatened.  He quits the UN and returns to his home in Ile a Vache.

As mentioned earlier, this is a beautiful island.  Pristine, as some would say, except for the French-built hotel in front of us.  Not a bad place to return to for refuge.  William’s family owns much of the land around the bay.  But the trouble follows him.  One day, in his home and in front of his family, men from the drug cartel come to his home and beat him severely.  They do not want him to testify against them.  Ever.  With this in mind, he wants to get out of Haiti.  And along comes Harry.

The Other False Start The Odyssey Continues

Cruising 2009: Political Peril and the Itinerant Sailor
Copyright © 2010 Steven Jones. All Rights Reserved.

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