Cuba to Haiti

May, 2008

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

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

Many cruising boats sail out to the Bahamas from Cuba, then down to the Dominican Republic, bypassing Haiti. This route is an assured beat and we are not keen on doing that run, 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

Île-à-Vache, Haiti, sailing

Started out with good winds and a great sail. Soon, everything died down and we lolled around for hours, until finally deciding to motor sail. I 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 took 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 decided to give the mainland a miss and head for Île-à-Vache (Cow Island) instead, which is off the mainland a little.

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

I was so tired that I fell asleep sitting upright in the cockpit, which is the first time ever on an approach. Had a rude awakening with a loud thud. My ears were telling me it was just a swell but my brain was telling me the sea was too flat in the lee of the island…both were wrong; we hit the bank!

Thinking that the rudder froze or worse, had fallen off after hitting the bank and losing steering, we quickly realised that the autopilot was still engaged. Madly reversing the boat right out, we anchored further out and hoped like hell the boat wasn’t damaged too much. Quick thinking on the Skipper’s part.

Illé a Vache

After only about 4 hours of sleep and dog-tired, woke up to sounds of voices talking outside – a local in a dugout canoe was calling out to the boat. Before long we had hoards 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

The island is gorgeous, very picturesque with coconut palms lacing the beach and small thatched or corrugated iron huts, along the waterfront.

Île-à-Vache, Haiti, Sailing

Serene vista

A guy named Kiki who spoke fluent English paddled out and advised us to anchor in the lagoon as it was much safer in there, so off we moved again.

The lagoon has 360°-protection and is just like a millpond. The scenery is stunning!

Haiti, Ille a Vache

Illé a Vache lagoon – safe and flat

There’s a resort high on the hill above, which is run by a French couple and has been there for a very long time. I could get the resort’s wireless but as the signal was too low, not able to hook on…what a shame, really itching to talk to people!

Haiti, Ille a Vache, village

Island village

There isn’t any electricity or running water on the island but the island does have wells with clean drinking water. I later learnt that everything we bartered for or bought 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 small boy in his canoe would take us to shore. So, we decided to visit.

Took a little stroll through the village’s sandy paths, which is interesting. Not much to do here except fish and make babies, it seems. Walked past the church, which had some sort of service on. The high-pitch shrill of a female’s voice sounded more like an African ritual than a religion. Shame, I didn’t venture in but thought it wasn’t appropriate on this occasion, so walked the beach instead.

Île-à-Vache, Haiti, Sailing

Island church

Haiti, Ille a Vache, local

Local – gorgeous face


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, as we do. It’s almost a 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 fat locals here yet. Their bodies are quite sculptured and beautiful, as are their faces. French and Creole are the main languages spoken and those who have gone to school can speak a little English.

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

There isn’t much work on the island so when a boat comes in, locals paddle out asking if anything is required: laundry done, work on the boat, or food supplies. Locals show us reference letters that other people have written for them, explaining how good their work is so that we will employ them during our stay. And locals do work well, providing good quality work.

Haiti, Ille a Vache, canoe

Transport to shore (Photo credit: Colin Palmer)

Although the boat didn’t really need cleaning, we hired 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. We also gave him a T-shirt and a pair of jeans, and was so appreciative and stoked, but also sad that we were leaving the next morning.

I lost count of all the visitors to the boat during the day. By nightfall the rain started setting in, so no more canoes ventured out and we were left alone once again.


If you find yourself sailing to this island, some things that the locals asked us for included pens, writing paper, batteries, paint (for their canoes), fishing line and hooks. Simple things really, which most passing boats 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 thoughts on “Cuba to Haiti

    • 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. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • 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). 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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