Cuba to Haiti Sailing

May, 2008

Today is going to be a longer sailing day at 314NM from Cuba to Haiti, so settling in for the long haul along the Cuban coast and into the Windward Passage. 

The Windward Passage is a Strait between Cuba and Haiti, and decided to sail this route to hopefully miss head winds.

Île-à-Vache, Haiti, sailingMany cruising boats sail out to the Bahamas from Cuba, then down to the Dominican Republic, bypassing Haiti. This route is an assured beat that we’re not keen to experience, especially as we don’t know Reality (boat) intimately, yet.

The Sail

Puerto De Vita (Cuba): 21°04.730’N 75°57.112’W
Île-à-Vache (Haiti): 18°06.394’N 73°41.654’W

Starting out with good winds and a great sail, soon, everything dies down and we loll around for hours, until finally deciding to motor sail.

Sailing, Caribbean, Puerto de Vita, Cuba, Ile a Vache, HaitiI get really bored and agitated if we’re not moving.

The Windward Passage is one of the main shipping channels here for ships going to the Panama, so a good lookout at all times is important.

It takes me a while trying to work out the ship’s lights at night as there are many lights, not just Port and Starboard. Apart from keeping out of container ships’ way, there’s not much else to look out for on this trip.

As there’s a Civil War on in Haiti and deemed unsafe, we decide to give the mainland a miss and head for Île-à-Vache (Cow Island) instead, which is off the mainland a little.

Hitting the bank!

After a two and a half-day sail, we motor into the island’s bay at around 2am, very exhausted.

I’m so tired that I fall asleep sitting upright in the cockpit, which is the first time ever for me on an approach.

A rude awakening with a loud thud and my ears tell me it is just a swell, but my brain is telling me the sea is too flat in the lee of the island…both are wrong – we hit the bank!

Thinking that the rudder is frozen or worse, has fallen off after hitting the bank and losing steering, we quickly realise that the autopilot is still engaged.

Madly reversing the boat out fast, we anchor further out and hope like hell the boat isn’t damaged too much. Quick thinking on the Skipper’s part.

Illé a Vache

After only about 4 hours of sleep and dog-tired, we wake to sounds of voices talking outside – a local in a dugout canoe is calling out to the boat.

Before long we have hordes of villagers visiting in dugout canoes. The locals are so very friendly here and all trying to sell us lobsters, mangoes, bananas, and their labour.

Île-à-Vache, Haiti, Sailing
Local fruit seller

This small island is gorgeous and very picturesque. Coconut palms lace the beach provided much needed shade to small thatched or corrugated iron huts, dotted along the waterfront.

Île-à-Vache, Haiti, Sailing
Serene vista

A local named Kiki who speaks fluent English paddles out and advises us to anchor in the lagoon as it is much safer in there, so off we re-anchor again.

The lagoon commands 360-degree protection and is just like a millpond. The scenery is just stunning!

Haiti, Ille a Vache
Illé a Vache lagoon – safe and flat

High on the undulating hill, a resort looks down on the lagoon and is run by a French couple. The resort has been here for a very long time.

I can get the resort’s wireless but as the signal is too low, not able to hook on…what a shame as really itching to chat to people.

Haiti, Ille a Vache, village
Island village

There isn’t any electricity or running water on the island although the island does have wells with clean drinking water.

I later learn that everything we barter for or buy from the locals, grows for free on the island. This doesn’t matter as we want to help out the locals anyway.

Île-à-Vache, Haiti, Sailing
Gorgeous smiles!

For USD$1, an entrepreneurial young boy in his canoe can take us to shore so we decide to visit.

Strolling through the village’s sandy paths draws curious glances from the islanders – there isn’t too much to do here except fish and make babies, it seems.

Meandering past the church, a service is on and the high-pitch shrill of a female’s voice sounds more like an African ritual than a church service. Shame I don’t venture in but thinking it isn’t appropriate on this occasion, so continue to walk the beach instead.

Île-à-Vache, Haiti, Sailing
Island church


My gut feeling about Haitians is that they’re a very gentle people.

When you meet, a local doesn’t shake hands with a strong clasp, or aggressively as we do – it’s almost a slight passing of hands – only a gentle touch with the other person’s hand.

Haitians walk very erect and proud, not slouched.

I haven’t seen any overweight locals here yet. Their bodies are quite sculptured and beautiful, as are their faces.

French and Creole are the main languages spoken and locals that have gone to school can speak a little English.

Haiti, Ille a Vache, local
Local – gorgeous face

Everyone comes to this island because it’s very safe but also to escape the current war on the mainland. We are warned by many locals not to anchor close to the mainland as it is far too dangerous.

Work on the island

There isn’t much work on the island so when a boat arrives, locals paddle out asking if anything is required – laundry done, work on the boat, or food supplies.

Locals show us reference letters that crew from other boats have written, explaining how good their work is so that others will employ someone during their stay.

Locals do work well, providing good quality work.

Haiti, Ille a Vache, canoe
Transport to shore (Photo credit: Colin Palmer)

Although the boat doesn’t really need cleaning, we hire a local for the day to clean the outside of the cabin and polish the stainless. He did an excellent job and we paid him $US15 for the day. Locals earn $US2 per day at the resort. Also giving him a T-shirt and a pair of jeans, he’s stoked and his appreciation is humbling, but also sad that we are leaving tomorrow.

I lost count of all the visitors to the boat during the day. By nightfall the rain starts setting in and canoes taper off not venturing out any longer – we are left alone once again.


If you find yourself sailing to this island, some things that the locals ask us for include pens, writing paper, batteries, paint (for their canoes), fishing line and hooks. Simple things really, which most passing boats do have onboard.

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more images. More posts on the Caribbean at Image Earth Travel.

sailing boat, Ille a vache, Haiti
A spotless and shiny Reality

6 responses to “Cuba to Haiti Sailing”

  1. dartsandmaps Avatar

    These photos are beautiful! The “local face” is breath taking. What a great trip. I look forward to reading more of your posts and your adventures.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you and so happy you like my work! I’ve written only 6 blogs on sailing as the rest are locked away in storage in hard copy journals…a future project.

      The photos in my sailing blogs were taken with a small old point and shoot as I didn’t have my DSLR back then. You probably noticed the images haven’t been Photoshopped. 😉

  2. Ann Coleman Avatar

    I was wondering when this was written, with the reference to the war going on. What a beautiful island, and I’m glad you helped out the locals. Thanks for sharing this post!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Ann, thanks for your feedback.

      I wrote this article back in 2008 but hadn’t published it until 2015. I’ve just republished the post as I’m updating my posts to a new format, which is easier to read, so I also added more photos.
      It is a beautiful and relaxed island. Although poor, the locals seemed happy, which always amazes me – Westerners don’t seem to be happy with what we have and always want more (just my observations). 🙂

  3. Wolford Avatar

    It is paradise !!! Feeling better even looking the pic and reading :-)…Thank you

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Many thanks for your comment! Yes, is it paradise. Not sure what it’s like now as this was over 8 years’ ago.

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