A PERIPATETIC JOURNEY
not all who wander are lost
Dominica was amazing. Absolutely amazing. By outward appearances, it is among the poorest islands we have visited so far, but the scenery is dramatic, the land is productive, the people are helpful and welcoming, and the nation has a strong commitment to ecotourism. It is home to the Waitakubuli Trail, a 115 mile long trail comprised of 14 segments. It begins at the south end of Dominica at Scott's Head and continues to the Cabrits National Park in the north. We walked on part of the trail on one of our tours and would love to be able to return some day and hike the entire length. Despite repeated hurricane impacts (in 1979, David devastated the island, and in 2015, Erika caused unprecedented flooding) and infrastructure challenges, Dominicans seem upbeat and devoted to the future of their island home. We wish we could have stayed longer and we hope to visit again sometime in the future. Grab a refreshment and get comfortable: this is a long post with lots of photos.
We arrived in Prince Rupert Bay in Portsmouth, Dominica, following a fast sail from Les Saintes. After motoring for about 30 minutes to get ahead of some squalls, we raised the sails and away we went! The wind was never below the mid-20s, sometimes gusting into the 30s, especially as we approached the north coast of Dominica. Despite the 2-3 meter swells and the heavily reefed sails (3rd reef in main for the entire trip, while progressively decreasing genoa sail area during the trip), we made the 2o+ nautical mile passage in less than three hours despite noodling around in the beginning, with average boat speeds around 8.6 knots.
As we turned toward Prince Rupert Bay, a brightly painted boat sped towards us and came alongside. With a warm and enthusiastic, "Welcome to Paradise!", Alexis introduced himself and led us to a mooring in the bay. He gave us an overview of the area, pointing out restaurants and bars on the beach, and we booked an Indian River tour for the next morning. Alexis is part of the Portsmouth Area Yacht Services (PAYS) group. PAYS is a self-organized nonprofit group of formerly independent tour guides that provides security and services to cruisers. Cruisers who have been here before often have a PAYS representative that they prefer to work with and will reserve in advance with them (you will hear this happening on the VHF in one of the videos below; more on that later). Those who do not reserve and/or have not been to Portsmouth before, like us, are met by one of the PAYS members upon approach to the bay. Most often the person who meets you and shows you to your mooring is the one who will help with tours and pretty much any other needs you may have. We booked two tours through Alexis, and he took our laundry out to be washed and folded. He checked in with us each day to make sure we were doing well, to see if we needed anything, and to let us know if he was organizing any tours. In addition to tours and other needs, PAYS also provides day and night security in the anchorage and keeps an eye on unattended boats. We would absolutely work with Alexis again and have recommended him to other cruisers heading to Dominica.
If you watched both videos above, you may have heard the following on our VHF in the background: "Albert...Albert...Albert...Avocation...Avocation." This is a skipper hailing a PAYS member. What is particularly interesting about this call is that Avocation is the boat on which Kendall experienced her first offshore passage (Bermuda to Huntington NY) in the summer of 2015. It was on this passage that she realized two things: it is possible to be more seasick than you had ever imagined or expected and that she was not the least bit wigged out by being out of sight of land for multiple days. Avocation is a Swan 48 owned by Hank Schmitt. If you read a lot of sailing magazines, you have no doubt read some of his articles or read about him. Hank owns Offshore Passage Opportunities, an organization helping captains find crew for boat deliveries and offshore trips. He is also a strong supporter of PAYS and spearheaded an effort to raise funds from the cruising community for new moorings in Prince Rupert Bay. It was great to catch up with Hank that evening and we hope to cross paths again in the future.
First thing Thursday morning, Alexis came by to get us along with Mike and Eva from SV Tell Tales Again (a Leopard 43 from Virginia Beach!) for the Indian River tour. Alexis motored across the bay towards the river mouth. As we passed under the bridge, he shut off the engine and went to the bow to pick up his oars as motorized traffic is not permitted past the bridge. He told us about growing up on Dominica and about the wildlife and trees and plants. We saw many birds along the shore and every now and then, some big fish in the silty water. As we made our way up the river, we marveled at the profusion of green that surrounded us. Tree roots snaked across the ground and to the river's edge. We stopped at the Bush Bar for refreshments and to explore along the riverbank. Kendall highly recommends the coconut punch, a concoction of coconut milk, rum, and spices. Actually, Kendall's love of all things coconut is quite happy in the Caribbean...
Since the Indian River tour had been so much fun, we decided to book a half day with Alexis for Friday morning. Again, Alexis came for us and the SV Tell Tales Again crew first thing in the morning, and delivered us to his neighbor Serge, who was our guide for the day. First, we did a loop hike in the Syndicate Forest, hoping to see the Sisserou, the national bird of Dominica. There are two species of parrots endemic to Dominica: the Sisserou and the Jaco. We did not see any in the forest, but again, the greenness was almost overwhelming. The next stop was Syndicate Falls, which was on private land. Instead of taking us up to the small parking lot at the trailhead, Serge parked at the end of the small road, and we walked up instead. Along the way, he pointed out all the crops in cultivation in the area, including nutmeg, daschine, sweet potato, callaloo, cocoa, coffee, bananas of all kinds, coconuts, cinnamon, and papayas, to name a few. At one point, he went into the brush at the side of the road, emerging with a stick of sugar cane that he cut into small pieces for each of us to chew on as we walked. At the pay station for the falls, the landowner had put out dishes of freshly cut coconut, sugar cane, and pineapple for the visitors. The falls were beautiful, but I think everyone's favorite part was swinging across the river on the vine!
As we were on the way back to Portsmouth, Serge suddenly hit the brakes, and said, "Parrots!". We piled out of the van and peered into the trees. We could hear them and see them in the trees but they were well camouflaged. Suddenly, two took flight and we got a good look at the national bird of Dominica before they landed again. After a couple more stops along the way to gather ginger from the side of the road and to show us more plants and trees (cashew and almond trees), he took us to his house and gave us breadfruit, plantains, and coconuts from the trees in his yard.
On our last day in Dominica (Monday, April 24), we rented a car for the day and drove around the northern half of the island. It was a rainy, overcast day, but the lush green forest and farms were nevertheless breathtaking. Although we had two different maps of Dominica, it wasn't always easy to navigate. For example, one map showed a road connecting to another road, while the other map showed the road ending without meeting the other one. Perhaps because of wishful thinking (we really wanted that road to connect!) and because each map had proven to be somewhat flawed, we decided to go with the map that showed the roads connecting. As we drove down the road, evidence of maintenance was lacking and the vegetation had begun to take over. At one point, the road was heavily eroded (but intact). Then it began to head down toward the river it would eventually cross. We took this to be a good sign (at least we were on the road we thought we were on!). By this time, it was barely one lane and the only evidence of humans was the occasional small farm cut out of the surrounding jungle. We passed an older, dreadlocked man walking in the opposite direction. He called out as we passed but neither of us caught what he said; we assumed he was saying hello because everyone in Dominica had been so friendly. Not five minutes later, we realized that he was most likely trying to tell us that the bridge was out just ahead. The road did not go through - we'd trusted the wrong map. When we passed him on the way back up the hill, we shared a laugh about the bridge and he gave us directions to the right road. Soon we passed two more men who were carrying large loads of produce from their farms up the steep road in the middle of nowhere. How we wished that we weren't already over capacity in our little rental! Even though we couldn't give them a ride, they were very helpful and made sure we were pointed in the right direction.
Everything grows on Dominica and you can find just about any fruit or vegetable you want. Alexis had told us the Saturday market was not to be missed, but that we had to get there early before all the good stuff was gone. So, Brian, Kendall, and Marin went early on Saturday morning. It seemed that all of Portsmouth was there, shopping, selling, or visiting. The vendors at the stalls were happy to give us directions on how to prepare fruits or veggies that were strange to us. It was a colorful, vibrant, and lively morning.
One afternoon, as Kendall was sitting on the beach with the laptop trying to catch up on our neglected blog, a woman approached and asked if we were from Counting Stars. She and her family had heard about us from SV Alkemi, who knew we were in the area. Janet and Darryl are a Canadian couple traveling on a Leopard 38 called SV Maple with their two girls, Ella and Iris. They had been on the lookout for us because kid boats are always looking for other kid boats. The girls all hit it off, as boat kids tend to do, and were happily playing on the beach. Later, Marin and Isla went back to Maple for a short playdate and plans were made for another playdate and a birthday celebration on Counting Stars.
The next day, the girls had a great time playing together. After a couple of hours, Janet and Darryl joined us for Marin's birthday cupcakes. It was a fun gathering for both kids and adults. It is always nice to meet up with other cruising parents to share stories of past travels and to discuss future plans, boat maintenance, and boat school. Unfortunately, we weren't able to spend more time with the SV Maple crew as they departed for Martinique later that night. We are all headed to Grenada, so hopefully will catch up with them again in the coming weeks.
McGlynn family 5 (Isla, Marin, Eoin, Kendall, and Brian) sailing Counting Stars