Matthew Town, Great Inagua, Bahamas –
December 13, 2019 –
The most exciting experience while sailing the seven seas are the encounters with people from other worlds. From worlds so far from ours they might as well have just landed from Mars. Sometimes their stories are sad, sometimes they are funny but almost always most inspiring.
This story is about the men of La Patience:
When I landed in Matthew Town, Bahamas I pulled up to the loading dock but the next day I had to move to one of the wooden small craft docks because the “cargo ship” was expected and supposed to take my spot.
When I was busy moving my boat to the assigned spot in the gusting winds all by myself, I saw a sailboat anchored a few cables away from the harbor entry. I thought, oh, other sailors, cool. They probably arrived at night and waited for sunlight to pull in. Then I saw them hoist their sails and head for the harbor entry. Next thought, those must be real sailors, or their engine is just broken. Then I saw them put out their oars and row this heavy wooden boat into the harbor to the loading dock where they finally tied her up.
I do what we do in the cruisers world and walk over there to say hello. As I come closer I see the poor condition this boat is in. It is a wooden sailboat, looked like recently recovered from wreckage. The mast is a cricket tree, just the branches were cut off and so was the boom. The galley was an open fire pit on the deck, the water tank a blue open barrel and the only navigational equipment a bare compass. No engine, no life vests, no gps…
The crew of five look exhausted but also relieved, happy. Communication is difficult, but soon I find out they are trade sailors from Haiti. So I decide to talk to the captain and invite them for barbecue this evening.
I buy wagonloads of buns and patties and cheese and other burger supplies and in the evening I carry my grill over and we have a decent barbecue right on the loading dock.
Communication is still difficult. Their English is poor, their French full of Creole which didn’t make it easier. However we had so much fun, we shared our burgers with my boat dogs Cap’n Jack and Scout and I learned a lot about their homes and lives.
Their home is the Pirate Haven Tortuga, which today is part of Haiti. Haiti, the poorest of the Caribbean countries was knocked out by the earthquake and almost annihilated by the following hurricanes. The coast guards of the surrounding countries are constantly busy fishing Haitian refugees out of the sea. But not so my friends!
They recovered a wreck and made it float. They buy agricultural produce in Haiti and sail it to Great Inagua on the Bahamas to sell it which is a 1-2 days sail. Then they wait for the mail ship to send money to their families in Nassau. They take orders from the locals for the new run and then they set sail again.
They sleep on a big mattress on the deck. They cook on an open fire pit. They have no shelter from the weather because all inside space is needed for freight.
But they are happy. Because they make a living. They can support their families and did not need to run away, embarrassed, disgracefully, picked up by coast guard, put into camps and all that.
Never in my life saw I people so poor so motivated and enthusiastic pulling themselves out of poverty into a better life.
During the few days they were here we talked a lot and when they left this morning, my phone number was written in bright red letters on their mattress. If they call me, I will visit them in Tortuga, Haiti on my way south.
These are my heroes. They are the hope of Haiti. And when life punches me in the face next time, I will remember the brave men of La Patience.