SpinSheet Magazine November 2020

Page 46

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First Day in Mole St. Nicolas, Haiti


he morning sun blazed into the Vberth and woke me up. What little sleep I’d had hadn’t come until I reached anchor at 4 a.m., but I rolled over as the exhaustion left behind by the long sail from the Bahamas to Haiti lost out to the excitement of seeing in the light of day what, exactly, it was that I had sailed into. Out the companionway and into the cockpit I stumbled, inhaling the smoky air and looking around. The majesty of Haiti’s mountainous skyline was impressive. My boat, Ave Del Mar, was at anchored in 18 feet of water, comfortably just-closeenough and just-far-enough from the

By John Herlig

rocky shores of Môle Saint-Nicolas on the west end of Haiti’s northern peninsula. I hadn’t been thrilled with how the anchor felt as it set in the wee hours of the morning, but I had been eager to allow my buddy boater Aldo on Still Free to claim the prime spot close by, a 12-foot patch of sandy perfection where I could now see his Contest 30 pitching gently in the morning breeze. The residents of Môle Saint-Nicolas seemed busy—motorcycles and the occasional small truck buzzed by on the rough road honking, always honking, and a steady stream of people walked about ##Local boys speak to Aldo in Mole Saint-Nicolas.

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in every direction carrying baskets, boxes, and fuel jugs. Fishermen worked on their bateaux à voile, the ubiquitous and colorful fishing boats that dot Haiti’s waters, repairing sails and stringing nets. Just off the town a group of young boys gathered on a rocky outcropping, staring in my direction and pointing excitedly at the uncommon sight of two sailboats resting in the anchorage. We were the only boats in the waters of Baie du Môle. Absent in addition to other boats were the marinas, beach bars, and dinghy docks that fill most Caribbean anchorages. Clearly this was not where the cruisers go. This was off the common path. This was the real Haiti. Aldo’s voice pierced the morning calm over the VHF. “John! John! This is Still Free!” came his cheerful, accented voice. This is the only way that Aldo ever hailed me on the radio, and it brought a smile to my face. I answered the call, and Aldo said that he was also up having coffee and gazing at the land around us. “Amazing,” he gushed over the radio. “Okay. We need to make a plan. I will come to you in my dinghy, my friend.” “Pull & go,” I said. “Pull & go,” he said back, using a phrase that had come to mean “bye-bye” for us. His dinghy’s small outboard had no reverse and no neutral—it was always in gear—and when I asked him one day how he started it he told me, “You pull, and then you go.” It stuck. Cruising is weird sometimes. Excited, tired, and happy, I went about returning the boat into a livable space, straightening the clutter that always