How To Survive Sailing The Caribbean Sea During Coronavirus Lockdown – Part 5

Haiti and Dominican Republic

A quite dramatic departure from Ocho Rios left us indecisive about where to go next. So we just kept sailing. Direction : something northeast with a tendency to south. Frustrated about the two previous destinations, tired of being at sea for over a month and deeply longing to walk on land again, we couldn’t agree on any destination. While team Josee advocated for Jamaican Port Antonio as the Swiss couple Pia and Köbi recommended it being more understanding, team Friendship voted for a more adventurous rather than rational next stop : Navassa Island. An uninhabited island, only a few goats according to our navigation app. Not even considering a next attempt at resupplying although we only had food for a couple of days left and the chances were less and less likely the more east we headed, we were divided. Like flipping a coin we made the deal if arriving before sunset we would stay one night, otherwise we would keep sailing to resupply. Only where this would be was still unclear.

We didn’t arrive there before night so we continued sailing.

south haitian coast

As the zone between Cuba and the north of Haiti is characterised by low winds but a strong westerly current we finally decided half way to turn southeast to Haiti’s southern coast following the recommendations of the navigation app which shows reviews on anchorages.

Haiti : A place to rest, eat and touch land

“Maladie! Maladie!” What first seemed as a warning for us turned out to be more the fear of us. Anse d’Hainault was without any cases of coronavirus and the three guys in their small nutshell were afraid we could bring the dangerous disease to them. It took some persuasion to get permission from the mayor to anchor. But only after a short time, the locals gathered around and on Friendship; taking the chance to make business. We must have seemed like aliens, coming from a far away star. In the following five days, they would come on every day to sell everything they had including some Haitian sim cards with – whup whup! – working internet. My previous doubts seemed to be unfounded and still the many boys who were also coming every day asking for food left its impression on me.

Making their business of the decade – Anse d’Hainhault (photo: Jonas)

Though, still not permitted to go on land but unquenchably desperate for it we left Anse d’Hainhault and sailed for half a day to a remote beach where nobody would prevent our stepping on land. After spending 42 days entirely at sea we could finally feel solid ground again. That’s how Columbus must have felt arriving in the new world. We jumped and ran like the dog, that poor little thing that was with us and missed land probably even more than we did.

Having more and more cores of the forestay snapped we needed at least to stop the rest of them from snapping as well. Trying to tighten all cores together with a bunch of thin ropes (!), fasten them with a couple of small jubilee clips, we could barely fix it. And still after Anse d’Hainault every other place in Haiti sent us away not even allowing us 24 hours as the yellow flag usually guarantees in emergency cases. At Ile-a-Vache the port authority gave us only half an hour at anchor : I got a back injury the day before being thrown against the table in high seas whilst cooking. The port authority only allowed me to swap onto Friendship as the movement of the catamaran would treat me more gently than the wobbling monohull. Neither the danger of losing the mast nor my injury led to the application of international law.

Trying to fix the shroud on Friendship

Being injured on back of the sea

The time of lying all day long in the cabin on Friendship for almost two weeks passed in a gloomy daze. Being constantly slapped by the permanently undulating movement without any kind of medication that helped or any support for my wounded back I certainly needed longer to heal. It was the saddest and loneliest time, me damned to the unbearable silence of the cabin, only distracted by the recorded voice messages of friends I could gladly still receive as we sailed close along the coast to catch the Haitian signal. “You stand the worst part.” I remember Dja saying reassuringly when I came on Friendship being transported on a kayak with the help of Leo and Lucie. But worse than that was lying there being afraid of every movement, even stopping drinking so I would not need help for getting onto the bucket that stood in the cabin.

As I had still internet I wrote to the embassy in Haiti asking for help. But again, the response was the same I got to hear from the embassy in Jamaica : I shouldn’t expect any kind of help. I would stay on my own which is quite impossible being unable to walk and carry a backpack. They also told me that the rent for a flat is around 1500 USD which is much more than an Haitian earns per year. But they promised to help me getting a face mask once I made it from the Haitian southern province to the capital Port-au-Prince. Yuppi!

We kept sailing.

On disappointments and big surprises : Dominican Republic

Sailing along the coast we reached the Dominican Republic. The first I will see of it will be Santo Domingo, the biggest city in the Caribbean. An industrial juggernaut we quickly passed. I missed all the previous places where we unsuccessfully tried to anchor or just anchored for a night. Contrary to Haiti our documents had been strictly checked a couple times even though sometimes it was apparently by pirates barely dressed as officials in not even ambitiously faked uniforms. One occasion was still quite scary when lying in bed on my belly as I could only hear a bunch of men ranting on friendship, knocking against everything almost bursting the floor obviously looking for something to sell or to consume. All I could see of them was the reflection in my glasses that I held to use as a mirror. Minutes before they came on board Jonas and Colin ran into my cabin to hide valuables and money.

Where ever we sailed, the Dominican Republic seemed a total failure being sent away every time. While in Europe the people went on the streets to protest against the lockdown and restrictions, the people there wanted to extend them all (stand May 2020) – the Dominican Republic suffered the most cases of all Caribbean states.

Still almost 500 miles to go to Guadeloupe and we were once more in urgent need to resupply. As also all cores of the forestay had finally snapped we considered changing direction to Panama which would have been only a quite quick south tack but downwind, so with the wind, meaning less pressure on the sails and therefore less danger to lose the mast. Would that just be it, the end of this trip? With food left for literally only two more meals we arrived at Isla Catalina on the morning of the 12th of May. There we will be unimaginably lucky.

A bustling place now deserted : Isla Catalina

I’ve never heard of it before but Isla Catalina is usually a bustling touristic place for cruise ships to stop off. But it wasn’t normal times so the hundreds and thousands of chairs for lazy vacationers were left behind in the sand like the hundreds of artsy souvenirs in the abandoned shops. The signs of lost liveliness created an unreal picture of a usually terribly crowded place I would normally avoid. Deserted as nobody could travel, it again became a dream destination of crystal clear turquoise blue sea and shiny white sand.

The guy who was in charge of the abandoned place kindly gave us permission to come ashore. But this time, me, Leo and Colin asked for more. Spending every night in undulating movement for 63 days, even more when counting the time before we headed to sea, we desired a night on land. It was my second time ashore and my first night on land since I came to the boats at the end of February. Finally no harming shaking but the sound of the rustling wind in the trees and the voices of birds. I hadn’t realised how much I’ve missed those sounds until I heard them again falling asleep to the sound of waves breaking on the beach.

A step into civilisation

On the same day we arrived we could almost miraculously get all our problems sorted. The few local people we met helped us organise the repair of the broken forestay. They took it right away, brought it by speedboat (called lancha) to La Romana, a city at the coast, and brought it back already the very next morning. Not even sure if we could organise a repair we were totally overwhelmed that it was all done within 24 hours. Sometimes you just have to trust in people.

The same men organised that three of us could do the urgently needed groceries. As the borders were closed and there was actually no chance to do anything like that, we could not believe what they worked out. Picking up Raffa, Leo and Daeli in the morning, they drove them 40 minutes by lancha to La Romana, managed to smuggle them out of the marina, drove them another hour to several places to buy first gallons of water and then to a supermarket. Due to the lockdown they all had to be back before 5pm as the guys had to return home in time as well! Holy moly!

None of us had been to a supermarket nor a city in months. To say it was a shock is quite an understatement. Later they will tell us how strange it felt seeing all these people wearing masks. A picture that we didn’t know. None of us had experienced the Covid-19 daily life until that very moment.

An end is near

From being worried we would finally starve to death on the beautiful sapphire blue Caribbean Sea, being rejected everywhere and therefore forced to eternal sailing until the mast would break in a storm of the upcoming hurricane season, we got all this shit done within 24 hours and got ready for the final stage. Surely, we celebrated and the following day we spent little time on preparation but a lot on feasting before we set sail.

Sailing towards the end of the trip

On the 15th of May, exactly two months after we left Guatemala in excited joy, we started our last stage. Two weeks later we will arrive in Guadeloupe. After 73 days at sea. Leaving Puerto Rico, the British and American Virgin Islands fast behind us. Passing the small and tiny islands of the east Caribbean Sea : Anguilla, St. Martin where we anchored for only a few hours to receive the weather forecast as a storm was building already taking a name (never a good sign!), Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts and Nevis, finally Monserrat with its dangerous volcano straight towards Guadeloupe. And yet there were those silent moments in which everyone of us was watching quietly over the sea lost in their own thoughts. It felt unreal that this journey of wandering around the Caribbean will come to an end.

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