It is 6am and my alarm is waking me up for the second time tonight.The rising sun breaking through the clouds makes it look like Mt. Pele, the infamous volcanic peak on Martinique’s northern end is erupting , but not today. It is simply another beautiful Caribbean sunrise. We are currently making the last of our three overnight passages. This one is from Portsmouth at the north end of Dominica to Le Marin, at the south end of Martinique. The passage is 92 nautical miles. Over that distance we will be in the calm lee of islands as well as as the open Atlantic sailing conditions of the 25 nmi channel that separates them. The leeward side of Dominica was calm seas punctuated with highly variable winds as the we passed headlands and valleys. In the dark you could not see them off our port side, but you could certainly feels their presence from the gusts that would flow from the valleys.
What a difference a few years has made. The last time Oh! was in these waters was almost exactly two years ago. At that time hurricanes Maria and Irma had caused massive destruction as they passed over Saint Martin, Barbuda and Dominica. Dominica had been especially hard hit by Irma. The destruction to key infrastructure like roads, bridges and the electrical system made it very hard to easily rebuild. Two years ago a night sail past Dominica would have looked like an uninhabited island with no lights. Tonight the western shore is lit up almost continuously along its entire length…a brilliant testament to how far Dominica has come… but there is still more to do.
Over the 5 years I have owned Oh! it had become abundantly clear the Honda 2000 generator we had was just along for the ride. It was part of the equipment when I purchased Oh!. However, in the warm tropical sun the solar panels easily meet our daily energy needs. It would be far more useful to the Dominicans. We also had the old mainsail, some excellent brand new Dyform stainless cable with stainless fittings and solar garden lamps that were just occupying space. Maybe the sail will become a sun shade, or turned into bags for sale to tourists in the markets. I don’t know…but I do know the resourceful Dominicans that received the items will put them all to good use. Oh! will also be happy to have lost a few hundred pounds of stuff.
Known as the “Nature Island”, Dominica is very rugged with high mountains, ravines, rivers and spectacular waterfalls. It’s rainforests receive over 300 inches of rain per year creating a tropical wonderland of tree covered towering peaks that contain volcanic vents, a boiling lake, miles and miles of famous hiking trails. The Waitukubuli National Park trail is made up of 14 segments totally 115 miles. The longest hiking trail In the Caribbean and there are many more. There are rivers to explore, many smaller National Parks, markets, villages, the Kalinaga indigenous community and the restored British Garrison at Point Shirley to visit. The restoration is well worth the visit as well as the ruins of the surrounding garrison that are slowly being consumed by the forest. The garrison was a strategic spot that allowed the English to keep a watch on the comings and goings of the French in the Saintes and Guadeloupe.
All well worth visiting. The wonders do not stop at the beaches though. The sea around Dominica hosts excellent scuba diving locations, whale watching, underwater volcanic vents you can snorkel around and hot springs right at the surf line on the beach. To complete this tropical wonderland there are abundant brilliant flowers frequented by hummingbirds and parrots in the rainforests…..and the friendliest people in the Lessor Antilles Islands. The only thing Dominica lacks is visitors to fill some it’s beautiful resorts, boost the economy and in turn help rebuild the island.
I am particularly fond of Dominica, mainly due to the encounters with the Dominicans. I always have always found them to be open, friendly and genuinely grateful simply for the fact we are visiting their island. Of all the destinations I have landed at over the past 5 years of sailing, as Dominica has been the most welcoming. On this visit we met:
James Bond our guide who rowed us up the Indian River. He speaks five languages and was a wealth of information on the plants, birds fish and recent history of the river and its canopy.
Lawrence of Arabia the PAYS ( Portsmouth Area Yacht Services) representative who helped us with everything.
As well as a bunch of friendly locals who were happy to introduce us to their island, foods, and take the time to help us with directions, or with anything else we needed. As we walked through Portsmouth one afternoon, we came upon a street vender with a small group of locals all patiently waiting for her to make what looked like a grainy pancake. After watching her for a minute I asked what was being made, and with a smile that would melt a snowman in a Calgary deep freeze she explained the entire process. Well we had to try it…and the home made Sorrel juice. Her pancakes were Cassava cakes. They were chewy, with a subtle flavour…but tasty and the juice was fabulous. We them re-met a young man that had guided us to help find the bus stop. Being old friends by now, he greeted us with a broad smile and hug for Marlene then noticed the Cassava cake and sorrel juice. A few inquiring questions about the plant the Cassava comes from, he took us to a yard where it was growing wild, along with the Sorrel plants the juice was made from.
All that lush vegetation, beautiful waterfalls and brilliant rainbows require water…or more specifically rain and lots of it. This is the shoulder of the “dry season”. Ya…well maybe not dry yet. Our trip up the Indian river was like being in a really good shower – and not one of those water saver kind they now market. However, rai;or shine the Indian River tour is a must do on Dominica. So…we did it and where thoroughly soaked.
Clearly the nice English couple under their over sized umbrella were much better prepared for a tropical downpour than the mighty skipper of Oh!. But it was a fun day complete with fresh Passion and Star fruits from the market, as well as tomato’s, cucumbers, and melon. Yummy!
As I woke early in the morning on our last day in Dominica, I looked out and could have sworn Oh! had been transported to the B.C. coast. The air was thick with humidity and the sky’s had a grey and somber tone. It was almost foggy and the hills were heavily draped in clouds, some dumping torrents of rain. As the sun tried to break through the thick moisture in front of us it created a world of infinite shades of grey to silver.
However, the big difference between the west coast of Canada and this morning was the warmth of the air and the presence of many catamarans. As I turned around the view was even more stunning… a full brilliant double rainbow stretched across the sky.
It was a stunning view from the breakfast table as we enjoyed toasted pain noisette (a full grain nut bread), yogurt, fruit and coffee…with a hazelnut creme of course! From the brilliance of the rainbows to all the abundance the rain brings Dominica, this is a very special island. One year I will spend at least a month here…just exploring it and enjoying the warmth of the Dominican people. However, Tim and Marlene had a flight to catch in Martinique and Oh! had a date with a rigger and an electrician that Oh! needed to spend some “quality time” with.
The high peaks, huge selection of marine services and magical island of Martinique were calling.
Cheers, from Oh!