For Cruisers Visting Ile A Vache
08 March 2014 | Ile A Vache, Haiti
This post is really for cruising sailors who are thinking about visiting Ile A Vache.
Ile A Vache is a wonderful place to visit. It is a place of great natural beauty but the people are what really make it special. The first thing you will notice (and I mean before you even get your anchor down) is the boat boys flocking to you in their dugouts, old surf boards, and ragged inflatables. They will all be bailing furiously. They make it so easy. They have been paddling those dugouts since they were babies. You can see from the picture above that it's not so easy for someone like me!
The boat boys want to sell you things or do some work on your boat. They are not begging. Everyone speaks French here but most of the boat boys also speak English. Here are some suggestions for your visit:
1. Don't be intimidated by or annoyed at the boat boys. Many are very interesting to talk to. They are part of the experience at Ile A Vache.
2. The boat boys are very good at jobs like cleaning stainless, washing and waxing the hull, cleaning the deck, etc. Make sure to bring plenty of cleaning supplies since they don't have any to use. The going rate is about $2-$3 per hour.
3. Don't take pictures without permission. It is a violation of their privacy and they think you will sell the pictures for a lot of money. Have a boat boy guide you on any trips and he can get permission for you.
4. There is an open air market about four miles away on Monday and Thursday. Don't miss it and don't go on your own. Hire one of the older boys to take you there. It's a four mile hike through the countryside and several villages. Bring some treats for the kids but remember they have almost no dental care here. At the market you can buy fresh vegetables, bread, toiletries, and even a live chicken. Have your guide with you to make sure you are getting a fair price. Don't take pictures without permission. We gave our camera to our guide and he took a bunch of pictures for us. After the market have your guide arrange a ride back on one of the local sailboats. It is an amazing experience.
5. Many boats do not check-in to Haiti. You may be able to get someone to take your documents to check-in for you. However, the trip to Les Cayes on the Haitian mainland is a very interesting experience. Do not go yourself, even if you speak French. Hire a guide to take you. One of the older boat boys (18-20 years old) would be best. You take an open boat with an outboard across the bay. You may sit under a tarp with the other passengers to get out of the spray. If you arrive at low tide the boat will only get about 50 feet from the shore. A poled skiff will take you to about five feet from the shore and then a man will carry you on his back the rest of the way. The town is very run down and dirty but full of people. They sell everything from lottery tickets to cell phones on nearly every corner. The open air market is worth seeing too. It is safe but don't try this without a guide. Let him handle any transactions for you, especially the changing of money. Even if you are not checking-in this trip is worth it. The day we went the Immigration/Customs office was closed because of Carnival.
6. There is a $5 (one time) fee for anchoring. Henry, the mayor's representative, will collect the fee and give you a receipt. He will also tell you NOT to give any trash to the boat boys. Henry will take your trash for free and dispose of it properly. We saw a boat boy just toss a bag of trash into the water.
7. If you would like to help the local people you can bring things for them. Very much needed are used sails for the fishermen. They want Dacron sails not used spinnakers. You can also bring school supplies (copy books -thin ones with about 25 pages, pencils for the younger kids, pens for the older ones, etc.). Also, the kids cannot go to school without shoes. You can bring shoes for the kids but not flip-flops or sandals. Sneakers are OK. Do not give these supplies to the school. Talk to one of the older boys about distributing them directly to the children. See below for contacts.
8. Most of the boat boys are fine to deal with. We found McKinley, Pipi, Dervid, and Ashley (all older boys) to be very good. Samuel Altema is the SSCA Cruising Station Host here. He is also an excellent resource. He is the one to see about distributing supplies. You can reach him via email at email@example.com if you have any questions before you come.
I know this is a long post but Ile A Vache is such an amazing place to visit that I wanted to share all the info I could. Consider taking the Windward Passage and stopping at Ile A Vache on your way south. Take a look at Frank Virgintino's free cruising guides at www.freecruisingguides.com.