July 5, 2010. Port Antonio, Jamaica
Well, our passage from Haiti to Honduras was briefly interrupted. Our first day sailing from Haiti brought fine cruising downwind and down current, but as we began to cross the Windward Passage between Haiti and Jamaica we hit heavy weather. A beam sea of 8-10 foot waves made for a miserable roll. After 48 hours of fighting the helm, driving through lightning and winds reaching 55 mph, we found ourselves passing north of Port Antonio on Jamaica’s NE coast.
With our generator overheating and crew exhausted, we turned south and arrived in Port Antonio just after daybreak. Errol Flynn Marina in Port Antonio has been giving free dockage to boats coming to or from work in Haiti. Only a mile from land, the seas subsided, and we got shelter. We cruised into the protected harbor and pulled gently up to the dock. I was at the helm, and I will never forget the enormous feeling of relief that washed over me as I heard ‘All lines secure’ called out from the deck. I shut down both engines and relaxed fully for the first time in over 2 months.
We lived at anchor, enduring squalls and gales and constant maintenance, for well over 8 weeks in Haiti with nowhere to tie up or deep water to try and anchor in. Once or twice in Haiti our anchor dragged on a windy night and we had to pull and reset. An hour after we tied up at Port Antonio, a squall came through with 40 mile an hour winds, and I paid zero attention to it; a luxury we never had the whole time in Haiti.
It was so shocking to arrive in Jamaica after Haiti. You are in Haiti…then you leave it behind for the emptiness of the open sea…then suddenly there are mountains in front of you, covered in the trees and lush vegetation that would be Haiti’s decoration but for the deforestation. In Jamaica there are actual shops selling things…there are sidewalks…it is overwhelming. Sky managed to find ice cream within 3 minutes walk.
We met Dale, the manager of Errol Flynn Marina, and, after clearing customs and immigration, we slept and ate, then slept and ate again, and started watching the weather closely. Being able to pull into the marina here felt like winning the lottery, and everyone has been very welcoming. This is ‘the other Jamaica;’ it is not touristy at all. Just a small bustling town and beautiful mountains, lush vegetation, and blue water. Sky took one look and said ‘I could retire here.’
I was prepared for the culture shock, but I’ve never been able to prevent it-just anticipate it. The first time I went to Africa, I returned through Heathrow airport, which is filled with luxury retail shops, food courts, bars, lounges, and even showers if you know where to find them. Arriving there direct from abject poverty literally stopped me in my tracks when I walked off the plane. Everything was just too much to take in all at once—everywhere there were colors, flashing lights, sounds…too much for the senses and the heart to take for a minute.
Being on a boat in Haiti, essentially living with 6-8 other people on a 76-foot floating island, surrounded by a barren sea bordered by desperate need and piles of rubble and destruction anywhere you touch land, amplifies culture shock. Port Antonio dazzled us.
We stepped off the boat onto an intact dock and could walk more than 76 feet in a straight line. We saw flowers and traffic, and a small grocery store, and children acting like children. Poor people were wearing clothes they had bought new instead of the charity clothes found throughout Haiti. My crew and I all got a little overwhelmed.
We have had little time to think about the last 8 weeks—so much happened. It feels like a million years since the day we arrived in Haiti. Here in Jamaica, we have mostly just walked around town, rested on the boat or worked on projects onboard, eaten ice cream, tried to fish (no success), and waited for the weather, so we have had an opportunity to try and process what we experienced in Haiti.
I am thinking about Bichala, our young Haitian friend (‘Capitaine de Shaloop[skiff]’). He somehow managed to call my mom and dad in California yesterday. Sky and I gave our friends our contact info in the States, usually through our folks. Bichala, whose family has no phone and who speaks pretty much no English, somehow called my mom, managed to say who it was, and then they were disconnected. I was thinking about him yesterday when we went to get ice cream and saw a little boy with his family, out for the same thing.
For Bichala, 12 years going on 42…the bay of Petit-Goave must feel pretty empty. For Evenson and Jonas as well. The boat also feels empty without the boys in their leaky canoe paddling out to challenge us to a Michael Jackson dance-off, or swim, fish, drive our skiff when we have to go to shore, help us in our mobile clinics, and laugh hysterically at half the things we did.
It’s funny what you think about.
One day, there was a really bad swell and wind, and I had just taken the skiff to drop Richard from Fat Tire to shore through surf. The boys happened to be on the beach, and helped me push off and jumped in the boat. I was too preoccupied with getting the motor started before gettomg thrown back onto the beach to tell them they couldn’t come to the boat that day. They were determined to come. I ended up bringing them back to Southern Wind, where they were deathly seasick for hours. I had hoped the weather would pass and I could run them in to shore in calmer weather, but the weather continued to blow. Bichala and Yvenson both vomited their guts out as we rolled at anchor, the two boys trapped on board by the storm.
Several hours later during a break in the weather we took them in to shore—never have I seen them happier to be on firm ground. As soon as the weather cleared though, they were back on board—and regaling their friends and passers-by in town with the story of them riding out the storm with us. Really miss those kids. Really, really miss them. I know I’ll meet them again after a fashion; I’ll meet many incarnations of them as we pass through developing communities, but for me there will only ever be one Bichala, Yvenson and Jonas.