A Short Cruise in Northern Haiti
Published 10 years ago, updated 4 years ago
I’m writing this to provide information about our experiences cruising northern Haiti. I’m not encouraging people to cruise there but offering our experience to draw from for the boats that choose to. Our searches beforehand came up with few results, and often the information conflicted. The most popular sentiment we found was “don’t go there,” although these statements were often not supported by any account or experiences. The sources we looked to beforehand were “Sailing Haiti Singlehanded” (by JA Rogers 2008) and the little we could find on the internet.
Coming from the DR…
We cleared out of Pepillo Salcedo (Manzanillo), Dominican Republic, with papers for Cap Haitian, Haiti. We got a lot of questions and interesting looks when we said we were headed there, is that one of the goals of the border was to keep the countries apart and cruisers rarely go there. The sail was pleasant and we got to see multiple Haitian sailing sloops, which we had much admiration for.
The channel into Cap Haitien was deep and well marked. We used a dated Wavy Line chart and a section from “Passages South” by Bruce Van Sant. Although there were more markers than listed, the breakers marked the reefs and the approach was deep and followed “red right return.”
We entered the basin in the port to clear customs.
Originally we anchored out and attempted to dinghy in, but were told we needed to tie up to the dock alongside a small tug boat. The basin is small, and the yacht club listed on the south end has been replaced by a coastguard station. The Haitian sloops need the room in the basin to navigate in, so in my opinion, it’s not an anchorage. The basin itself is exposed to the SE, which protected us from the wind direction but offered an unrelenting swell and roll. There were tires that functioned well as fenders although they left marks on our sides (for clarity, we were traveling with two boats and both were rafted together to the tug).
A moderate group of people assembled and we were boarded by a group of officials including the port captain, immigration, customs, police, and most importantly an agent. To our understanding, the agent handles all the formalities for all the agencies and, by Haitian law, we had to go through him for the whole process. We read on one article that it was ten USD per person to clear in, but couldn’t find any solid information. The agent said it would be $350 USD per boat to clear in, which would make Haiti the most expensive country to clear into I’ve ever heard of. We spent a long, very tense time haggling and attempting to negotiate. Eventually, the officials left in a slight huff and we were lost as far as what to do. We were told we weren’t allowed to leave Cap Haitien with our boats, which was our original plan when told the price, and we hadn’t cleared in so we didn’t dare go ashore.
We chatted with people on the dock and most everyone was very friendly. A few persons offered to run favors and errands for us, along with selling us flags, art, and other products. In general, everyone was pleasant aside from the officials. We waited for a few hours before we asked a security official to call the agent and request they come back. Shortly thereafter the same group of officials assembled and we went back to negotiating. We worked out the price of $100 USD per boat in total (entering, customs, immigration, staying at the dock, exiting, etc) and had our passports stamped. We requested a cruising permit for other areas in Haiti and were told the stamp we had was good for everything (I believe it was for 6 months but can’t recall).
I feel this kind of high-stress haggling feels very alien to us Americans, especially when it comes to dealing with government, but we reached an agreement that was $500USD less than originally requested. Everyone was fine and pleasant after the fee was paid and wanted to chat. My experience contrasted with the other information I had found, which leads me to think that the clearing in procedures either change often or are very fluid with nothing concrete existing. Cruisers should be prepared for this, and know that this navigable aspect isn’t an uncommon practice in Haiti or many other countries.
Also, I would highly suggest that at least one person can be able to speak either Creole or French proficiently. While plenty of folks we ran into spoke English and Spanish well, our whole experience in Haiti would have been much more confusing and less enjoyable if half our crew wasn’t able to speak French. I would suggest this to the extent that if no one can speak at least French well, to not travel to Haiti at all. For instance, I haven’t a clue how we would have navigated the customs process without French, and most of the enjoyment we had there was with non-English speaking Haitians.
A short note: at the time of our visit one USD was worth 40 Haitian good. Also to note, a “Haitian Dollar” means five good. There is only one currency, the good, but prices are often given and worked in Haitian Dollars. Not knowing this can lead to some uncomfortable situations, especially because we did a lot of haggling during our stay.
The dock was behind a gate that was not passable by the general public. Many people who worked or had access to the port congregated around our boats throughout our stay there. Some were offering services and products although most just wanted to chit chat or watch us. We thought it prudent to leave someone on the boat at all times. People also offered to look after the boat for us for a fee. Several agencies (security, coast guard, etc) searched the boat and asked a few questions over the next day, not asking for any money. Our stay in “Cap” was pleasant and we found it and the areas nearby to be enjoyable with many resources.
We left a few days later for Acul, a ‘pocket bay’ close to the west. We utilized the sketch chart from “Passages South” and along with active visual navigation found the passage inside the reefs (from La Badie to Coco Beach along the coast) simple and pleasant. We stopped at “Rat Island” which has been set up for tourists to enjoy beautiful beaches and nice snorkeling (there are giant anchors and cannons sunk for instance). The pocket bay of Acul was beautiful and incredibly protected. We anchored out and spent the first calm night since Luperon.
The next day we had many people come up to the boat to talk from the village nearby. We made some friends and spent a few days in the bay, which was very calm and pleasant. We were able to provide some and went sailing on Haitian fishing boats in exchange for taking them out sailing on our boats. It was a very enjoyable stay with new friends. Walking through town we accumulated a large crowd of children following, which some of us found stressful. Again, knowing French and our attempts towards Creole were invaluable.
Next stop Bahamas…
We left for Great Inagua, the seas being quite rough until you get into deep water. Upon arrival, we had to go through inspections from several agencies including customs and the DEA/Bahamas Defense Force since we arrived from Haiti. Expect a more throughout and elongated process for clearing in along with more suspicion. The racism against Haitians and Haiti was ever-present in our interactions with officials in the DR, Bahamas, and USA.
This was our experience in our short cruise at those two ports. We had a very enjoyable time there and felt safe. We were traveling with two boats and nine persons, so I feel this along with our ability to communicate added a feeling of security to combat our uneasiness gathered from our research. Although I’m not suggesting for people to cruise to Haiti by any means, I hope it’s helpful to other cruisers who decide to sail to Haiti.
SY Dorothy Ann (1977 Cal 2-29 GRP)