The Boats Of Caye Coq

Caye Coq CrewThe Haitian Bois Fouille (bwa fouye) sailing craft is hand-hewn with framed timbers harvested from local trees.  In years past critical elements of the framing would be made out of lignum vitae and other hard woods, but today the choices have been reduced considerably.  The caulking is sourced from places and materials you would never dream of.  Sometimes modern materials like bronze or stainless steel screws are incorporated into the construction.  Usually nails are the affordable option.  The sails are hand-sewn and lofted using traditional methods just like the hull.  There has been a trend amongst North American sailors to donate their used sails to be repurposed by Haitian fishermen.   This is a good thing despite the occasional refugee boat upgrading their sails for clandestine passages North.  On balance, these donated sails make a world of difference when adapted to traditional Haitian fishing.   Haitian fishing boats and cargo transport vessels are as green as you can get.  Even large Haitian cargo vessels are engineless and are operated by sailors that are adept at harnessing the wind.  These used sails are being put to use in clever and resourceful ways in Caye Coq (kay kok).  We witnessed one Haitian sloop on a broad reach sailing in from Les Cayes.  This boat was moving!  What a surprise to witness traditional craft sailing so efficiently.  On closer inspection both the headsail and the main were made of used Dacron sail cloth that had been re-cut to fit the mast height and boom length of the Haitian work boat.  Though small in over all length, the Bois Fouille tends to be a little beamy and can transport a useful load of coal over to the markets in Les Cayes.  When there is no wind long oars are deployed for rowing with two sturdy strips of wood installed at the gunwale for oarlocks.

 Framed Timbers  
 Caye Coq Boat 2  

Exploring Caye Coq brings to mind the sea story of Sipriz, a 21 ft. LOA sloop commissioned by Geert Van Der Kolk ( author and sailor of Sea Scout fame.   Local boat builders on Ile-a-Vache built the Sipriz and shortly after it was launched Geert and a small crew, including the Haitian builders,  sailed this amazing craft all the way to West Palm in Florida.  An epic sea voyage that has to be read twice to truly appreciate the magnitude of this passage.    Although these boats are often described in the press with words such as “rickety” and “unseaworthy”, when used for traditional fishing and local transport these boats are more than adequate.  They go to sea daily in prevailing conditions and usually bring their crews home safely.  The Haitian watermen that build and navigate in these boats posses far more on-the-water experience and seamanship skills than the average Joe flying down the ICW channel in his overpowered speedboat.  Photos include shots of sailing craft, a fisherman narrowly escaping the pounding surf as he loads coal for the sail over to the Mainland, and a Haitian crewmember deftly dousing the headsail and securing the bow as his Bois Fouille arrives at a dock.  (All photos on are copyrighted)


  1. Quinn Baily says:

    This is a fresh look at the Haitian boat design in terms of a cultural legacy. I am a boat designer and therefore I appreciate learning new aspects of traditional work boat design and implementation. I just happened across your website, but the blogs kept me occupied for awhile. The photos lend some depth to further understanding how efficient theses boats are in fisheries and moving people and cargo.

  2. Wes Wright says:

    We departed Il-a-Vache just after thanksgiving sailing in the lee of Hispanola as much as possible on our way to Isla Saona, DR. The First Mate thou roughly researched Haiti and Il-a-Vache before we ventured in that direction. The winds, current and mechanical luck all were in agreement with Il-a-Vache as a destination. We stayed for about two weeks. Ocean Trader provided an honest introduction to This island in Southern Haiti. We enjoyed a safe and comfortable stay. Even our occasional dinners ashore were great family events we will always remember. We are now in Puerto Rico. PR is okay for catching flights and buying marine parts, but we are anxious to set sail for the Windward Islands. Thank you Ocean Trader.

  3. These Haitian sailboats are capable work boats, and the men that take them to sea are not sailing for pleasure. The boats and seamen must be respected. Being on the ocean to survive has no resemblance to a life at the boat shows.

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