As we left the waters of the US Virgin Islands the fishing line zinged. Fifteen minutes later we were cutting steaks off a 50-pound skipjack tuna, which would feed us for the next week. This was the amazing beginning of our sail to Haiti and the little island of Ile a Vache.
Three days later, after surfing the Mona Passage and hitting 15.2 knots, bursting a shaft seal and enduring some heavy weather south of the Dominican Republic, we finally sailed into Port Morgan with the customary warm welcome from the locals.
In 2011, Allard Stamm, the owner of Corina IV, and I visited Ile a Vache and had a great time getting to know the locals and observing their simple but effective methods of harvesting the fruits of the sea. Hand-built boats with sails made of any light material available at the time, sailed the coastal waters in search of fish. Divers used masks, and possibly fins, that were held together with tape and string. This was the inspiration for the Ready Set Sail group to return to the island and deliver a boatload of donated gear to these intrepid people.
We spent the first couple days exploring the island and meeting many of the locals, primarily kids. Quite often we would have a flotilla of dugout canoes off our stern with Haitian and St. Maarten kids alike splashing around in the calm water behind the boat. Eventually we met Felix, a local who spoke very good English after working in the States for many years. He is busy building a hotel and dive shop in the bay and offered to help us organize the donations. He subsequently introduced us to Henry Caesar, the Mayor’s brother (the Mayor being off island), who took control of the situation. We set up camp in Henry’s yard and decided to take everything there and give it away piecemeal. This proved easier said than done!
We loaded the dinghy with over 100 pairs of fins, 50 masks and snorkels, 14 sails, a solar panel, and a couple of oars. All this was donated by the generous people of St. Maarten and the Scuba Shop in Simpson Bay and Oyster Pond. As we started to carry the gear to the designated area, people began to gather. By the time everything was ready there was almost 100 people trying to burst into Henry’s yard and be a part of the action.
The snorkel gear went first, and fast. Divers were in line for the prime pickings and children ran beneath them as townsfolk added to the fray. What started as a relatively orderly handout ended in a complete free for all. The excitement was contagious and soon we were passing fins over walls and under the fences. There was more than enough to go round. Immediately the beach had young boys and girls trying out their fins, some for the first time ever.
The sails came next once the commotion had died down. These were to be given to the fishermen who needed them the most. One of the sails; a Genoa for a 50-foot Beneteau, in good condition, was divided between five very happy men. Lastly, the solar panel was gratefully received by a couple building a community center who needed as much electricity as possible to run their television for village movie nights. After a few photos and exchanging Facebook details, everyone called it a day and had a local, cold, Prestige lager.
The community of Ile a Vache was very grateful for their new gear and equipment and sent warm regards and many thanks to the people and sponsors in St. Maarten who made this amazing event possible. We, the crew of the Corina IV, were also grateful for the opportunity and hope one day to return to assist further or simply spend time with our new friends; hopefully joining Felix for a dive when his shop is complete.
Editor’s note – In June, Max Loubser (skipper) Laura Bijnsdorp, Kippy Gilders, Alex Nebe and Maria Merkens, young friends who grew up together on St. Maarten, boarded Corina IV, a Beneteau Oceanis 52 loaned to them by former St. Maarten businessman Allard Stamm, and set off to sail around the world. As we went to press, the young adventurers were crossing the Pacific. To learn more, visit: www.readysetsailnow.com, Facebook: Ready Set Sail