Sunday, February 05, 2017

Bad Times in the Caribbean

 This letter appeared in Lat38 many years ago.  I ran across it while perusing their archive.

I'm a former researcher in high energy physics who, at age 50, decided to escape the 'civilized world' by spending my life sailing my 46-footer Zao. For the last seven years, I've been cruising around the Western Caribbean, so I've been around the block. Nonetheless, I can't believe what happened to me in January and April of this year. I write to caution your readers.

Starting about 20 months ago, I'd been living in Cartagena, Colombia, for about a year, married to a marvelous women named Adelaida. I didn't have much money, so about once a month I used to transport backpackers between Cartagena and Colon, Panama, making about $1,000 a month. In Colombia, that kind of money makes you rich.

In May of '04, we decided to spend some time in the States, so after a number of stops and 20 days of sailing, we cleared in at Miami. By Christmas, we decided that Adelaida would fly back to Colombia while I would sail the boat back.

While in Fort Pierce, Florida, I met a couple of nice young folks - Tyler Bullock and his wife Julie Allaire - who wanted to sail down to Colombia with me. Fine. So we sailed down the coast of Florida, against the wind to the Bahamas, and then south toward the Windward Passage between Hispaniola and Cuba. Running low on diesel, on January 23 I decided to try and find some fuel at Cayemite, Haiti. While looking for a place to drop the hook, the police and some other officials with guns came by and said we needed to go through the standard clearing procedure. So we welcomed them aboard.

But once aboard, the officials commandeered my boat and wouldn't let me near the wheel. They brought Zao so close to shore that about 75 Haitians came out and climbed aboard! I asked the authorities to suspend the proceedings until the people could be driven off my boat. They sent one policeman on deck, while the others continued their work with me down below. The policeman on deck couldn't or wouldn't deal with them, and our stuff was being stolen right and left. I asked the officials to let me move my boat, but they wouldn't. Before it was all over - and it took five hours - we'd lost the following items:

Liferaft, two solar panels, anchor with 200 feet of rode, a gennaker in a sock, about 15 blocks, all of the running rigging including the halyards and sheets, all of the safety equipment including a GPS and portable VHF, luggage containing $2,000 and Julie Allaire's passport, a water purifier, a digital camera, and many personal effects.

Despite having so much stuff stolen in their presence, the police chief and other officials told me that I now needed to pay them for clearing me in - and for protecting my boat against thieves! This was outrageous, but I asked the officials how much they wanted. With Tyler and Julie as my witnesses, the police chief said their fee was $2,000 U.S.! When I pointed out that he and his men had already allowed people to steal $2,000 of our stuff, he said that they would have taken more if they hadn't been around! Finally, I had to take them to the dock in my boat, during which time we were followed by dozens of little rowboats full of people. After more theft, we managed to sail away in the middle of the night. What a horrible experience!

It gets worse.  Continue reading here.
The name of the article is "Despite Horrors, I Have No Regrets".  It's about 1/3 the way thru the letters.

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