HELPING OUT IN HAITI
Almost immediately after the earthquake we started getting urgent calls for yachts to go to Haiti. The first to call were the news organizations, desperately trying to find accommodations for their news teams who were sleeping in cars or any shelter they could find.
Haiti, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic are not particularly suitable for chartering and there were no charter yachts anywhere near Port au Prince. Catbird, an 82' catamaran, agreed to take a charter for one of the largest news networks, but timing was key. On Wednesday, January 13th, we called the owner, Don, and by that evening he and his crew were sailing from St. Thomas to Puerto Rico. We had the contracts, signed by the news network, waiting for him at Puerto del Rey Marina by the time he got there. He provisioned for a month and was on his way to Haiti by early afternoon, complete with extra generators donated by local businesses and considerable cash donations.
The weather did not co-operate. The first day was dead calm, which is very unusual in January. Catbird can motor at 10+ knots, but with strong winds in a favorable direction (which we expected), she can cruise even faster under sail. The next day the wind blew hard, but directly on the nose. Even so, she made the 700 mile trip in respectable time, arriving Sunday evening.
Nothing can prepare you for this type of situation. Don has had combat experience in Vietnam and spent two years chartering in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which is why Catbird and its owner were such a good choice for this charter. He said he had never seen anything like it.
They tied up close to a US Coast Guard cutter that night. There was a lot of gun fire and to their horror they realized they were the target, when they saw splashes in the water around them. It became quickly evident that the impression we get from the media is not accurate and the stories leave out much about what is really happening. There is far more anti American feeling there than people imagine and relief crews are very much in danger. Despite efforts by the US military, the no mans land around the port was unsafe in daytime and impossible to cross at 7PM, when the film crews finished their broadcasts. Snipers totally controlled the area.
Catbird had brought plenty of extra supplies, but when they approached a relief station in charge of distributing food, they were asked 'how many Haitian people do you want us to kill'. The supervisor told Don and his crew that to protect them, they would have to open fire on the very people they were trying to help.
It was obvious that this was far more of a military operation than a relief effort, with US troops far out numbering relief workers and many more US warships sailing in slow circles just offshore, visible on the radar. Part of the trouble is that the area is controlled by various gangs that don't want outsiders upsetting the control of their particular territory. The ones in Port au Prince wear red bandanas. They will shoot at anything and are to be particularly feared.
The harbor was filled with oil and debris, and the pollution made watermaker systems useless, even for Navy ships. Bodies were openly cremated in the streets. Smoke and dirt got into every part of the boat, even after they relocated offshore with the US Coast Guard fleet, whose crews incidently were very helpful and relayed messages back to the US.
After the charter, Catbird went to Jamaica, returning to Haiti with supplies. She plans to stay in the area and wants to continue in the relief effort, so if anyone wants to charter her, we cannot think of a better boat or crew to use. She sleeps 10 to 12. In better times, the boat has done charters for the BBC, filming in the Dominican Republic, as well as many charters in this area. They know this cruising ground very well.
We would obviously like to help Catbird with their venture and also hopefully help Don recoup some of his expenses. Because of these expenses and the nature of the area, there are no discounts, but this boat is uniquely suitable for this work. View Catbird's site and if you want to know more, email us or tell us your plans using our literature request form.
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