Haiti Relief Voyage - The Return Trip

09 March 2010
While feeling relieved that an important part of the mission had been successfully completed, the crew also realized that over 1000 nm lay between Jacmel, Haiti and home. We were giving each other high fives, while we also raised sail, and set a course for Jamaica. We had planned to make a stop in Jamaica as a contingency, in case we had a medical or mechanical emergency. It turns out, we were low on fuel, and needed to stop in Jamaica to refuel.

The first night out, one of the strangest and most frightening encounters I have experienced at sea occurred. At 0200 while the schooner Liberty was about 10 miles from shore, passing the small peninsular west of ile le Vache, the watch on deck saw ships lights in the far distance on our starboard side. Unable to determine the course and speed of the ship with confidence, the crew roused Captain Jared. At this time the vessel appeared to be more than 5 nm away. From the configuration of its navigation lights, it was difficult to determine its course or speed. One minute it appeared we would pass ahead of it by a long way, and then the next, a collision seemed likely. The next moment, that ship was very close, within 1 nautical mile, and on an apparent collision course. We hailed them on the VHF, while we accelerated to full ahead, and made a hard turn to port. We continued turning and turning and calling them on the radio, until we had done a complete 360, and were still on a collision course. It had become apparent that these were hostile actions. At this point, the ship, had cut inside our turn, and was standing off, 300' away, bow facing us. We slowed down to a stop, and continued to hail them on the radio, identifying ourselves as a US flagged vessel, and that we now considered their actions dangerous. While floating there, the ship accelerated straight towards us, and passed our stern by 40' at about 10-15 kts. We had a good look at her. She was a military vessel of some kind, similar to a US Coast Guard cutter, but with no identifying marks we could make out, of about 200' in length. Then they came on the radio, an nonchalantly announced they were a "freighter" bound for the Dominican Republic, they thanked us for diverting from our course, so they could "hold" theirs, wished us well on our continued voyage, and "have a good night"! It was the kind of conversation we have with ships that are more than 4 miles away, and there is no ways they held their course. They then proceeded to sail back the way they came, to hide behind the peninsular.

Of course, after everybody calmed down, there was much speculation about the incident. We believe it was some kind of covert military operation, perhaps checking for drug smuggling, and it was our adherence to radio procedure, sound collision avoidance maneuvers, and that we had identified ourselves and started giving position reports out, that convinced them that we were indeed who we said we were. Another point was that, anybody can raise an US ensign, but the hailing port is only visible on our stern. Perhaps the final rush towards us, passing astern of us, convinced them we were legit.
For the next 2 days we were becalmed. Running low on fuel, we had no choice but to be set back towards Haiti by over 30nm by the current. It was a frustrating time, and in hindsight, the log entries are hilarious. "Thoughts of murder", "impale me on the bow sprit", "lets swim with the sharks" are a few of the entries.

Early morning on the fourth day out of Jacmel, we sailed into the idilic harbor of Port Antonio, Jamaica, only to find out the diesel supply had run out the day before we arrived. Much fun was had, but what happens in jamaica, stays in Jamaica. We waited for the diesel to arrive from Kingston. The crew was well rested by the time we sailed for home.
Port Antonio
The return trip was uneventful, until we rounded the western tip of Cuba. The wind built to gale force, from the north, and with wind against current, we had some large, steep seas. Also, Cuba was a lee shore, and just then we broke the arms of our worm steering gear. We had to rig up the emergency steering, which meant sailing a 50 ton boat by tiller. We lashed a block to the strong backs, and by using the mechanical advantage of a block and tackle, we were able to quite easily steer the boat. She was well balanced, and would stay on course for long streches, without needing to be tended.
tiller steering
We sailed into Key West on day 6, tired and ready for a juicy burger. We got a hero's welcome, not only because many people knew what we had done, but also, because Liberty had a celebrity there for 15 years doing charter work.

We are right now planning a second voyage, here is our press release:

The schooner Liberty, having recently returned from a successful relief voyage, is now looking for support to once again transport relief supplies to Haiti. In partnership with the Haitian Health Foundation (www.haitianhealthfoundation.org), the schooner Liberty, is planning to deliver 10,000 lbs of essential food and medical supplies to their hospital in the coastal town of Jérémie. Founded in 1985, HHF provides health and human services to more than 200 000 people from the surrounding villages. The unique capabilities of the schooner allow it to deliver supplies directly to HHF, avoiding the delays and red tape associated with getting supplies through Port-au-Prince. Call Sharon (973-309-1881) if you want to help us get to Haiti.
Vessel Name: Liberty Schooner
Vessel Make/Model: 78' Steel Schooner
Hailing Port: New York
About: Philip and Sharon are committed to life transformation. Our vision for the Liberty Schooner is to create a unique learning environment as a catalyst for a life transforming experience. We want people to develop to their full potential.
Extra: Our Leadership Coaching and Sail Training programs realize positive life change for leaders and teams in such a way that they increase their effectiveness and influence in every area of their lives, in the office and at home.
Home Page: http://www.libertyschooner.com

Leadership Development &Team Building aboard the schooner Liberty

Port: New York