After nearly a month of sailing with island stops along the way, Sipriz, a traditionally-built, 21-foot Haitian sloop made successful landfall in Florida. The boat and its crew of four, expedition leader Geert van der Kolk and Haitian sailors Gracien Alexandre, Jean Emmaniste “Manis” Samedy, and Jean Oblit Laguerre left Kakok on the island of Ile a Vache in southwestern Haiti on March 16, 2009.
The 800-mile voyage followed a route retracing that of Haitian refugees. The expedition endeavors to draw attention to the plight of the Haitian “boat people” and highlights Haitian boat building and seafaring skills. Sipriz was built during the summer of 2008 on Ile a Vache by Laguerre using traditional methods and with no metal fastenings.
“Haiti’s problems of hunger, disease and poverty are real. But there is a rich and thriving culture of craftsmanship and art in Haiti, as well,” said van der Kolk, noting that artists from the FOSAJ Art Center in Jacmel, Haiti painted the boat’s sail. “Our sloop, Sipriz, is a living example of the vibrant traditions and resourcefulness that exist throughout Haiti.”
The Sipriz crew arrived in West Palm Beach, Fla., at 0300 on April 20, 2009 after being challenged by an offshore passage in an open boat and the hostility of some local authorities — despite the fact that the Haitian crew carried U.S. and Bahamian visas.
“…it’s easy to see why some boat people never make it to the U.S.,” van der Kolk said.
Sipriz will be on exhibit at the Palm Beach Maritime Museum in West Palm Beach and the Katzen Arts Center at American University in Washington, D.C. this summer.