Thursday, December 15, 2016

When Your Country Hands you Limes...

Add a little rum.
Beautiful Ile A Vache at Port Morgan

It should be no surprise to anyone who knows Roy & I  that we where dismayed at the election results and even more so with all that has followed.

Wire for streetlights - It's da Caribbean
loading up Wahoo
SO, we decided to do some good and try to spread a little cheer in the world we actually live in. Our plan to sail back to the Western Caribbean takes us on the Southern coasts of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola before we get to Jamaica and Cuba. These are the islands of the Greater Antilles as opposed to the Lessor Antilles, where we've spent the last two years. A look at your map will remind you that Hispaniola is composed of two nations, Dominican Republic and Haiti. A search of the part of your brain that remembers hurricanes will remind you that Haiti was just visited by another major disaster when Mathew came ashore as a Cat 4 storm this year. The part of the island that suffered the most was the SW coast where the small island of Ile a Vache is located. Ile a Vache, like the NW Haitian island of Tortuga was once the lair of pirates of the Caribbean. Captain Henry Morgan used it as a base to attack ships throughout the Caribbean. He also managed to blow up two of his ships right in the harbor. One, in 1669, while celebrating a successful pirating jaunt and the other when he stopped here in 1675-6 on his way to be governor of Jamaica. (What a varied life he had).

 Today the island is home to two villages and cruisers regularly use the harbor at Port Morgan as a safe refuge on the edge of the Windward Passage (the passage into or out of the Caribbean that lies between Cuba and Haiti). Wahoo spent a few days here in our Spring 2014 trip from Belize to the Virgins. We brought supplies to the orphanage run by Sister Flora, a Franciscan nun from Canada, in the village of Mdm Bernard. We ate at the French Hotel that overlooks Port Morgan and were appalled by the poverty of the villagers in Kakoch and Mdm Bernard. But we couldn't help being amazed at the beauty of the area. Ile a Vache is considered one of the most beautiful spots in the Caribbean.

Looks Idyllic! Sailing fishing boats at anchor in Kakock But life is hard - NOYC has sent a pallet of used sails.
Being from New Orleans we are deeply aware of what a hurricane and tidal surge can do, so we knew what had happened on Ile a Vache. Being an online supporter of "Friends of Ile a Vache" we eventually saw the photos and knew that no International Aid had reached the island though some aid had gone into the main island. The main island town of Les Cayes,  6.5 miles N of Ile a Vache received a lot of news coverage.

Local boys come by to ask for boat work, sometimes to sell fish, sometimes for a handout and sometimes just to talk but all are in their leaky Mango tree pirogues - word soon went round that we were handing out brownies!

The fish farm. Cleaned up & waiting for the trees to grow.
Luckily no lives where lost on IAV but subsistence gardens were all washed away and the soil salted from the surge. The lower wells were also useless as they too had sustained damage which allowed saltwater to infiltrate. Houses, roofs, boats and trees, including mango, pawpaw & coconut trees were seriously damaged. All the trees that shaded the fish farm were blown down or so damaged that the fish died. Only one well in the center of the island still has potable water and food supplies as well as housing are in short supply. On Ile de Permatois, an even smaller island near Ile a Vache, things are even more desperate.

The only help was coming from "Friends of Ile a Vache". Two boats sailed in as soon as possible with water makers and used them to make water to fill jugs and cisterns. But the boats couldn't stay long because it was hurricane season and both were risking their own welfare. Money from donations went to pay local villagers $12/day to clean the beaches and paths as well as to start the recovery of the fish farm and put roofs back on homes.

Haitian houses along the waterfront - some repaired some not. Much work still to be done.

In thinking of what to do we decided to get there with supplies as soon as possible. We got in touch with Wagner Tanis, local agent and one of the creators of FOIAV, who directed us to get in touch with three other boats who were headed that way. SV Tandemeer, a 56ft International Aid boat was coming in with a large water maker and much needed tools as well as food and medical supplies. The 50ft catamaran, Bamba Maru, was coming from Luperon, DR with $4,500 worth of tools and supplies that they had raised through a Go-Fund-Me account which reached into their homelands of Germany and Switzerland. One other boat had to change plans and gave their supplies to Bamba Maru to bring in. What we did was appeal to our friends through a blog email and also a Facebook request. Together with our own donation we ended with nearly $1,400. Let me tell all of you who donated how much what you gave helped and with what appreciation it was received.

Supermoon while crossing the Mona Passage
We had a "little trouble" getting there as our auto-pilot broke as we crossed the Mona Passage between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. It was so frustrating to have to wait 3 weeks for the part to reach us and even then it would never have happened without our dear son, John Edward. He facilitated a (nearly) overnight delivery from Houston to the DR after the part finally arrived first in Florida from Europe, where it is manufactured. The Florida facility couldn't ship directly to us so we had it delivered to John Edward. He then went to FedEX and used their Expedited International Service to get it to us. It was a perfect example of the definition of cruising: "fixing your boat in exotic locations at exorbitant costs".

While waiting at Marina ZarPar in Boca Chica, DR Thanksgiving came and went without much thought as there was still a lot of work that needed doing aboard Wahoo. But our 42nd anniversary needed a little celebrating so we found a delightful waterfront restaurant for our only wonderful meal in the DR.  We've visited so many Caribbean countries and only the Dominican Republic gave us that yuk factor. Hard to put a finger on why but surely something about the fact that you feel ripped off by just about everything there. Customs is especially ridiculous at Marina ZarPar, interestingly not so much in Barrahona where we cleared out.

Finally we were able to set our sights on Haiti. An easy sailing 124NM, about 20 hours, saw our arrival in Port Morgan. We were delighted to meet the folks on Tandemeer and Bamba Maru and also the locals who created and work with the Friends of Ile a Vache. Captain Sequoia Sun of Tandemeer had the whole crew over for dinner our first night there.

Wagner, who runs the local arm of the organization, was an exceptional source of help and information. We were delighted to find a friend from our first visit, Jean Villem, helping him. Samuel, works with the community center in the village of KaKoch at the waterfront and is indeed a man of great compassion who takes the troubles of his community to heart. These are all young men but we saw eons of warmth and understanding as they explained about the villagers and the hurricane. We saw the respect from the villagers as Samuel took us on a tour and showed us what was being done with the fish farm and the village repairs. After a discussion between Wagner and Samuel it was agreed that some of what we brought would go to the even smaller and more devastated island of Ile de Permatois near Ile a Vache. Here the 12 or so families live in coconut frond huts and literally have lost everything. Photos of the distribution are on Facebook

A video of Wagner showing the island of Ile de Permatois is here:
Time to get those supplies ashore.

Off of Wahoo

No dock

Here they come! 
Kids are hoping for a treat 
Samuel and his 2 year old daughter

After loading some things into Wagner's boat for Ile de Permatois everything else went into the Community Center for distribution.
Samuel arranged for Felix and I, to hand out the bags of candy I had made up for the children. As we stood on the verandah of the community center, with all the hands reaching up, I felt like it was Mardi Gras. Lots of smiles and laughter. But we know it was the fresh vegetables, dried rice & beans, fishing line & hooks and other supplies that the adults were most interested in. We also brought in lots of school supplies. They needed things as basic as notebooks, pens and pencils but we added coloring books, crayons and colored pencils as well as construction paper, glitter and glue for art projects. After all we want to keep Haitians making wonderful Haitian art. The soccer balls will go to a school in each village. The set up and way the distribution works is to give to the most needy but also to make the families do community work for their supples. That way everyone benefits because the community benefits.
A gallery of vibrant Haitian Art right on the waterfront

We are so glad to have come, so sorry to leave. Certainly a life affirming time spent with people who make you ache inside from the smiles, warmth and appreciation for the littlest of help. We felt we were offering a small drop in a deep ocean. In watching what's happening both in Washington and on Ile a Vache I have to quote Roy; "Both cream and scum rise to the top".

I hope each of you who helped can see how much your support was appreciated. We thank you for your generosity from the bottom of our hearts!!

                 If you want to donate to Friends of Ile a Vache, every dollar is used for the villagers, Here     is the link to their website.

                If you want to see Friends of Ile a Vache on Facebook where there are photos and videos of the ongoing projects.