Archive for January, 2010

What’s next?

Posted in Uncategorized on 28/01/2010 by ketchkaraka

What’s next?

That’s a good question and I’m not entirely sure about the answer yet.
For now, we are in Jamaica, having a fairly good time, catching up with the boat maintenance and spending way too much money. We are also actively working with Voiles sans frontiere ( sails without borders) and oceans watch, to organize aid for Haiti. The idea is to bring much needed supplies to the remote areas that are not affected directly by the earthquake but that still feel the chronic shortage of food and medicines. Such areas as Ile a Vache will not benefit from any official international aid as there are more urgent needs in the rest of the country, and bringing supplies by sailboat will be the only way to help them for a while.
The associations have been efficient and the immediate needs have been taken care off in Ile a Vache, where we are familiar with the locals and would like to bring help, so that we have time to organize our return properly. The rest of the country is in shamble, what once was Port aux Prince, the capital, is a war zone and is out of bound for civilian boats.
So we wish to return to Haiti for the cyclone season and stay several months there, working with the local communities on grassroots projects that will help them cope with the situation on the long term.
In the mean time, a few changes are happening on Karaka. Chris and Lauren are going back to the states, Jody will leave us from here sometime soon as well, two new crew members are on their way, both from the states, Rick and Elan, Tara’s dad is coming down to Jamaica to visit his daughter, bringing me a new accordion in the process, and Kim is going to head back to Australia for 5 or 6 weeks sometime in february/march. Tara and Kway are not ready to leave just yet and will stick with us a bit longer.
So we are going to stay in Jamaica until the crew changes have happened, and then it will be Bob Marley’s birthday and most of the crew want to go to his tribute concert in Nine Miles, his birthplace. After that, depending on the situation on Haiti and how far we’ve managed to organize ourselves, we’ll probably be heading to Cuba for a while before coming back to Jamaica to get ready for our second trip to Haiti. As far as crew is concerned, I think for the time being we’re ok, but we will be looking for skilled people to take to Haiti, so if you are interested by this trip drop us a mail.



Posted in Uncategorized on 22/01/2010 by ketchkaraka

So, what happened?

As far as we are concerned, the disaster in Haiti affected us only indirectly, as Ile a Vache, the island in the south west where we were anchored, didn’t suffer any destruction from the quake. The only problem there were the ripples reaching us in the aftermath of a 4 million people city like Port Aux Prince being almost entirely destroyed.

But let start from the beginning, because fortunately Haiti is much more than the images of destruction we see on TV at the moment…

We left Jamaica on the 5th of January, under heavy rain. My choice to leave in such a weather was justified in that rain is brought from what they call here a Norther, a cold wind coming from the north, and since we had about 150 miles to sail almost due east against the north east trade winds, any help was welcome. The first 12 hours were incredibly rough, with confused seas and little wind, and the occasional rain squall… but soon enough the north wind settled and we were able to make good way toward Haiti. It was rough but good sailing.

We arrived near ile a vache late in the evening and for safety reasons we decided to hove to all night to make sure we could see where we were going and avoid running aground or sail across fishing traps. In the morning the area was covered with little sailing crafts recovering lobster pots and we sailed among them, attracting a lot of attention from the local fishermen.

We arrived in ile a vache the 8th in the morning and anchored in the bay in front of the village of cayes coq at 18 06.200 N and 73 41.72 W. Before we even had the anchor down, dugouts were surrounding Karaka ,offering help in navigating the reef and finding the best anchorage spot. Soon after that the 7 of us were engaged in various conversations with the dozen people who had rushed to us to offer services, fruits, fish and advice… The village of Caye Coq is small, lining the beach under the coconut trees. There are no roads, no running water, no electricity. A local ship builder handsaws his planks, dugouts are over the reef fishing, mothers cook over wood fires, kids play soccer and life is sweet and slow. In one corner of the bay is a french resort, offering luxury accommodation to the UN personal when they feel the need to escape for the boiling pot of the capital. The odd tourist shows up now and then. No other sailboats were around.

The day after we arrived I went with crew member Kway and two local guys, Felix and Wilhelm, who know their way around boats having worked as sailors outside Haiti, to the town of Les Cayes, about 10 miles away on the main land, in order to check us in with immigration. The transportation is a small overloaded launch. For the story, they cast us off and we were drifting away from shore while the driver was trying in vain to start the motor, when someone shouted from the shore and everybody laughed. It turned out somebody had “borrowed”the spark plugs of our motor the day before. We had to paddle back to shore and scavenge some spark plugs from another boat.
Les Cayes was a chaotic but lively place, with a mix of old colonial buildings, piles of garbage, UN military personal walking the streets and an ebullient african vibe, down to the unattended immigration office. We couldn’t check in then, and came back to the more chilled out ile a vache.

While we were gone, the rest of the crew had been working on cleaning and tidying the boat after the rough crossing, while entertaining a constant stream of visitors form the village, some merely curious, other more unusual, like the kid Gordon who showed up with a big gash in his foot and asked for medical help. Apparently there was no medical facilities nearby at the time… we did what we could.

The next day a fishermen showed up with about a dozen small lobsters for sale. We were interested, but the guy, hopeful, asked for 100 US $ for them… it is usual for the locals to try to sell their fare at outrageous prices. We can’t really figure if anybody on boats is actually paying those prices as after some bargaining we finally got five lobsters for 5 dollars. Another man showed up later on, the owner of the only eatery ashore aside from the posh french resort up the hill, and asked me to help him with some electrical problem he had on his genset. The thing was busted and I couldn’t do anything for him. We then had an incredible lunch of lobster and fish on the barbecue, along with felix and wilhelm, the 2 guys who took us to les cayes the day before and also a bunch of kids. Apparently in Haiti, sharing is the norm, you cook a meal, people show up, everybody digs in. It is just the way it goes. Locals would share our meals all the time, sometime bringing some food, or some present in return, helping with the cooking or the washing up.

The same night was disco ashore, with a little compound fenced off with coco palm and a sound system rigged up to a generator. The whole crew was enjoying the local brew and some energizing music when the wind picked up from the north, indicating that another of those northers was on its way. I got worried and headed back to the boat as the anchorage was not protected in case of such a wind. Tara came back at the same time I did, and 5 minutes after we were back on board, the boat started dragging anchor toward the beach. It then got somehow hectic, as the engine wouldn’t start and I had to perform some emergency mechanics while the boat was getting closer and closer to shore. I finally started the engine just as we were starting to run aground. By then Wilhelm and some kids had made their way on board along with Kway, while the rest of the crew stranded on the beach was wondering what to do, looking at Karaka getting closer but without any mean to reach us. But then things started to improve, we got the keel off the sand, raised the anchor and found our way into a little inlet just beneath the Port Morgan resort where protection is excellent. It was very nice to get such help from the locals after merely 2 days in the place… They told us they considered us family and wouldn’t let us in trouble without offering help. This is rare.

The wind blew strong for the next few days, preventing us to go stamp our passports. When the wind blows, no boats run to the mainland. The new anchorage was very good though, and we settled in a routine of boat maintenance, exploration of the island and entertaining the endless stream of visitors. One day a few of our friends busted a song, so we got some tambourines, rain sticks and drums out and enjoy an impromptu jam session on the back of the boat. They all came back in the evening with more people and we had a big music party on Karaka that evening, old men with battered guitars, young guys shaking rain sticks, the local pastor banging away on a djembe drum and everybody singing in creole… it was good.

On the morning of the 12th the fisherman who guided us in the anchorage showed up with his disaster of a spear gun, made, I’m not kidding, out of a broom stick, and we did our best to improve it, sharpening, adding a flap and drilling holes to attach a string to the spear… Wilhelm invited us to eat at his sister’s home, so we bought a goat that they slaughtered and prepared. The rest of the crew were there for the whole process. In the afternoon, I was reading in my bunk when the boat started shaking in a weird way. I got out ready to tell whatever kids was jumping all over the deck to stop their racket but none of the few kids on board were unruly so I forgot about the matter. Nobody else seemed to have noticed. The quake in ile a vache was 5.4 on the Richter scale , much less than what they had in port aux prince, and was relatively benign. We learned at dinner, around a table shaking for tremors and aftershocks, the extent of the destruction in port aux prince, although the locals were uninformed and didn’t believe it was that bad, blaming a greedy government to be crying wolf in order to receive more international aid. Little did they know… life in ile a vache just went on, the news from the main land reaching us only in bits. We learned of some destruction in Les Cayes and started to hear about staggering amount of casualties, but the reality of it didn’t kick in just then. We kept enjoying the place, in the same relaxed atmosphere, but with increasingly alarming news reaching us. We couldn’t go to the mainland as the wind was blowing, and the people from the resort, while friendly, were not willing to let us access their limited internet resources. They were doing relay work for aid organizations. My parents and those of all on board were getting worried back home, and my dad finally managed to contact the resort and learn that we were fine. I’m sorry for all those who were worried for us. We did our best to reassure everybody as soon as we realize the quake had made international news but communication systems were down and we were at the end of the world.

As time was passing we went through the whole boat sorting out whatever we had that could be donated to the haitian people. We had sails we had collected in marinas in Colombia, and a vast amount of clothing that was left behind by the previous owners of Karaka. We tried to figure out what else we could do to help but a party of american doctors on “vacation” from port aux prince and offering free medical care to the people of ile a vache told us of the horrible news they received from their friends on the main land, and how their organization advised them not to head back to port aux prince as the situation there was getting out of hand. They told us of the “normal” pre-quake situation in which they have to use armored vehicles and heavy UN escort to prevent getting looted as they offer medical support to the poorer areas of town. A few of the crew wanted to head to town to offer their services in relief work, but we couldn’t find a way to do that in relative safety. Getting to port aux prince itself was a major challenge, let alone do anything useful once there. One of the doctor who made it back anyway managed to contact the ones left on ile a vache, and we got an insider’s view of the situation there. I’ll spare you the gruesome facts, anybody who has seen the news on TV knows what I’m talking about. The real scary part though, is that on TV they show you only the “good” part of town, as cameramen and journalists just can’t access the worst parts. What you see on TV are the parts of town where journalists can walk the street without being killed right away. None of them go to the slums, where most of the destruction occurred. There, not only the destruction is massive, and they lack everything, but people are fighting for the little there is and gangs terrorize everybody. The day of the quake, a crowd looted a military base of all its weapons. An estimated 4000 inmates escaped for the city jails and disappeared into the slums. 2/3 of the already corrupt and inefficient police force is either dead or missing. In parts of the city, the stink of the tens of thousands of decomposing bodies lying in the streets is so bad that people without medical experience pass out. The number of people trapped under collapsed building is unknown. Everything went down, they barely put steel in their concrete when they built the town.

On the 16th we got enough news to understand the utter chaos in which the country was in, and while our friends from Caye Coq were assuring us of our safety here, food was becoming scarce, prices were going up and refugees were starting to arrive. On that day alone, 6 boats loaded to the gunwale showed up. In normal time, 2 boats a day making the run is a busy day. Fuel was up to 25 US$ a gallon, guests from the resort were awaiting airlift, the owner of the resort was getting nervous and worried, stocking food and supplies( he donated 2 tons of supplies to the local orphanage) and selling us some drinking water at the price of champagne…
We were running very low on water by then, it never rains in Haiti during this season, and we couldn’t get drinking water anywhere, we had to buy it from the hotel. I dispatched a friend to Les Cayes but he came back empty handed. Les Cayes was starting to get a lot of refugees and resources were lacking there too.
By then, safety was becoming a worry. We all had a talk and we decided to make a move back to Jamaica before things got too bad.

My main worries were, first, the refugees, who lacking everything, might not be as friendly as were the inhabitants of Caye Coq. I saw a serious risk of the boat being looted as the food and supplies shortage worsened. The locals all have some relatives in port aux prince upon whom they rely for cash income, so they can buy such things as rice, flour and medicines in Les Cayes. After the earth quake, many of those relatives were dead( I’ll spare you the sad stories of our friends telling us about their losses), and the ones still alive were either making their way back to the island or had lost everything and wouldn’t be sending any money soon. So with prices going up as they were, I could only speculate that before long everybody on the island was going to be hungry. The island cannot, in normal times, sustain the normal population of 15 000, even without the current influx of refugees. The harvests are not ready, the reefs are already over fished, and it is dry season, it never rains… the situation didn’t look good. You can’t expect people who see their children hungry not to be tempted by the riches of a white man’s pleasure yacht. Our friends knew we are not millionaires, but who is to tell the refugees? And how can they believe it?
Already people were coming to us to ask for help, and some people we knew started to mention that some in the village were starting to talk about us as “the rich white people”.

The second worry I had was the likeliness of Haitians trying their luck by sea to reach Jamaica. They do it in normal time, it seemed reasonable to expect the amount of unseaworthy and overloaded crafts leaving the haitian shores would increase after the quake. The prospect of being boarded in the middle of the night by a crowd of starving and desperate Haitians is not attractive. I wanted to get through those waters before most of them took to sea.
So we once more went through the boat and donated a pile of supplies to Wilhelm and another friend called Samuel for them to arrange a donation to the refugees in Les Cayes. We gave most of our food, some clothing, soap and detergent, tents and sleeping bags, a gas bottle and a burner, various items we figured could help in a refugee camp. The worry was to get it to them and to make sure nobody would hoard it and resale it for profit. The people from Caye Coq were somehow envious and wanted the stuff for themselves, but Willhelm assured us he would take care of it. We trust him, he is honest and conscious, he said he would document the whole thing and send us the pictures of our stuff being delivered to the reliefs workers in Les Cayes. He took great care to protect the stuff from the other people. We hope everything went fine but we haven’t had any news yet. Wilhelm is the guy in Haiti for the Transcaraibes, a sailing rally coming every year to Ile a Vache and bringing supplies for the orphanage.

Although we told them we would be back, our friends were sad to see us go so soon, but understood our situation. They wouldn’t let us go just like that though, and organized in a hurry a farewell party for us. A whole crowd came on Karaka on our last night, and we all played music, learned the local beat and drank the local rum till the middle of the night. It was incredible, and very touching.

So after that we basically packed and went. There was nothing else to do. I managed to get a weather report, which was good with a settled trade wind, and we left in the afternoon of the 17th . We kept careful watches the whole trip, making sure no refugee boat was creeping on us. The trip was slow despite the trade wind, as we ripped the jib not even 6 hours out, and had to make do under storm jib, a very small piece of canvas. The sea was rough.

We tied to the dock in Port Antonio, Jamaica on the 19th, 2 weeks after leaving from here in the first place… we are only 150 miles away but we are a world apart.

So our plans are in shamble at the moment, and we are not sure yet what Karaka will be doing next. We’re trying to see what we can do to help Haiti.
We would like to spend several months in Ile a Vache at some point, maybe for the cyclone season this summer and get more involved in working with the communities there. There is a lot to do. There was already a lot to do before the earth quake. Those who are interested in a project to Haiti should contact us as we will try to put together a crew skilled in health care, teaching, community theatre, music, water management, development, or any other related activities. It seems as if skill sharing could have a positive impact in Ile a Vache, rather than just creating a new dependency through donations or gifts. We are going to try to be as serious as possible about this. Kim has a degree in community development and understands the harm that can be done by good intentioned amateurs.

Although, that said, we will be available as a vessel to bring needed supplies to Haiti to help with the more immediate emergency relief work going on for the time being. There are a few organization who organize sailboat convoys and we would like to be part of it. We might have to wait a while to go back though, for safety reasons, or at least make sure we are enough boats together to ensure security. Any donations or other vessels wishing to come along will be welcome. Kim is currently working on coordinating all that and I just mention it so that people can start to think about it. Keep checking the website for the updates.

we’re all ok

Posted in Uncategorized on 19/01/2010 by ketchkaraka

karaka and all the crew is ok.

ile a vache in haiti was relatively unaffected by the quake. we stayed a while but the situation was deteriorating so we sailed out. we are now back on in port antonio in jamaica.

haiti was amazing though, and what happened is really really sad…
we want to go back and help, and we will try to organize donations for the people of haiti. right now we are a bit tired and we are just seing the images on tv for the first time and it is disturbing.

thanks for all those who wrote to us and asked for news. i won’t answer separately but we appreciate your concern

more news later

Port Morgan, ile a vache, haiti

Posted in Uncategorized on 09/01/2010 by ketchkaraka

All is well, we had a rough but uneventfull trip to haiti. we are now anchored off ile a vache, a very nice and relaxed island in the southwest. it is safe and friendly, we will spend the next few weeks in the area before heading back to jamaica.

internet is dodgy and slow so i won’t elaborate, plus i have better to do right now than to spend some time behing a computer…

haiti is incredible

Port |Antonio, Jamaica

Posted in Uncategorized on 04/01/2010 by ketchkaraka

Happy new year everybody!

We are in jamaica but today we are going to tidy the boat and check out of the country, and we are setting sail tomorow morning for Haiti. the wind will be just right and we need to make the best of it.

We made it to jamaica on the 28th after 8 days at sea from Colombia. we didn’t actually sail to providencia as we were expecting to, as a major cold front disturbed the whole caribean weather, and so we had to stay well east in order to have any wind at all. in fact the reason it took us so long is that despite the carefull planning, the wind died on us around christmas day, and we just bobbed around for about 30 hours, which was good to have a party, go swimming and get some rest. we had some serious overheating problem with the main engine and we couldn’t motor away. after that the wind was slow to get started again and we sailed at low speed with the best course we could and made it here in Jamaica. I have since found the problem with the engine, there was a lot of lime and salt growth inside the heat exchanger, and after taking it appart and cleaning it, all seem to be fine now.
we had a lovely few days here in port antonio, taking in the jamaican lifestyle. we are anchored in front of the little marina here in the harbor and the place is green and relaxed, except in the evening when all the bars of the bay start pumpimg music out, competing for the loudest sound system.
we got invited at some milionaire’s mansion in dragon point for new year’s eve, as the owners have a megayacht here in the maria and apparently always invite the sailors present in the marina for new year. it was pretty special, and although we had a great time guzzling down their rum and their champagne, we kind of felt a bit out of place. I’ll have to admit i got very drunk… after that we got back in town, and the place was ablaze till the little hours… the next day i took it easy myself but all the rest of the crew went to a reggae fest in sommerset falls, with some big dancehall names performing. they had an interesting evening to say the least.
now we are just chilling, sunday was slow as it was pouring rain all day, but today we have quite a few things to do to get the boat ready for the crossing to Haiti. it is no more than 150 miles away but we plan on staying there about a month, checking some remote villages and unspoilt islands. after the hectic pace here in port antonio, i think everybody feels like a bit of relaxed time in some paradisiac anchorage… for those who have google earth, here are two spots in which we intend to spend some time in in Haiti :
18 13′ 29 N
73 24′ 70 W

18 15′ 33N
73 25′ 52W

We will be back in jamaica early february before heading for Cuba. february is reggae month and Bob marley’s birthday here, so we might get stuck in an endless stream of live reggae shows and stay a bit longer than expected…