We had a lively sail over to Dominica and arrived in the capital of Rosseau at 1430. Dominica is one of the poorer islands of the Caribbean and so we were expecting to be accosted by hundreds of boat boys on our arrival. In fact we were met by just one, Jason, who helped us to the mooring opposite the misleadingly named Dominica Marine Centre (because although it's in Dominica it's not a marine centre). As with St Vincent anchoring is almost impossible due to the depths right up to the shore so a mooring at $10US was actually quite handy. Jason was noticeably pleasant compared to the Martinique locals.
The decision as to whether to pick up a mooring can be a tricky one. In the UK and Europe a mooring is probably more secure than anchoring because of regular checks (and liability) by the owner; in the Caribbean the inspections are infrequent and the moorings are notoriously unreliable. A snorkel down to check the mooring is worthwhile but of course the places where you most want to pick up a buoy are where depths preclude anchoring and therefore it’s too deep to check them by snorkel. We know of several boats that have drifted off due to problems with moorings. Some friends we first met in Tenerife, drifted, in their yacht Tigress, past fifteen or so boats in a very busy Bequia with the whole mooring and base still attached; they were fine and miraculously hit no one but it was a good example. We know of several more first hand examples so always ask the boatmen whether the moorings are OK … and always get the same predictable response - ‘dey good mon’. We had the same positive response from Albert, one of the guys in Portsmouth, just up the coast in Dominica, but nonetheless someones mooring failed while we were there. The yacht drifted, unmanned, the length of the anchorage before it could be grabbed by some of the owners of the boats it was bouncing off . It was fortunate that a quick minded yachtie frantically rang a bell to alert people to the problem. During the incident, which Selma and I were comfortingly unaware of, I did comment that it was unusual to hear a bell ringing on a boat. Albert and the other boatmen were unrepentant - after all they’re not their moorings they’re the governments!
We stayed in Rosseau for four days. The town, which was the capital, was better off than we expected and the locals were welcoming and friendly. The provisioning problems that had been building up over the previous few weeks (no diesel left, no petrol, running low on water, no milk, eggs, pasta etc.) were quickly sorted. In fact Dominica rapidly became a favourite island.
A few days after our arrival we went on a tour of the south of the island with Jason; well it should have been with Jason but Jason was in court. As ever the Good Ship Brimble and the Brimblettes had wandered or more accurately sailed into the middle of a minor drama. It transpired that Jason was a newcomer in the Rosseau boating community and a power struggle was on-going between the old hands and this new upstart. The situation was becoming a little fruity to the point that they were ramming each other in their enthusiasm to greet new business and the police and courts were now involved. We bumped into ‘Roots’ and ‘Pancho’ (some of the competition) on the dock … ‘he’s a crackhead mon, you not safe wid him’. Despite the poor references we liked him and booked our land tour with him but ended up with his good friend, ‘Fat Boy‘.
The tour of the island was incredible. Dominica unlike many of the islands enjoys rain pretty much everyday and is covered with lush tropical rainforest. High mountains capped in clouds are the source for many of the 365 rivers which cascade down to the sea forming spectacular waterfalls on their way. Everywhere you look is a new bird, insect or fruit, so much so that after a short while there’s simply too much new to absorb. Mahogany, teak and nutmeg trees, tobacco, pineapple, turmeric, tamarind, cashew, cocoa and coffee were just some of the less obvious plants together with more recognisable oranges, lemons, banana and plantains, papaya, mango, lime, breadfruit, sugarcane, coconut, bay and on and on the list goes.
After half an hours drive we arrived at the village close to where ’Fat Boy’ lived and as we drove through the square he shouted out to some of the locals sitting outside a rum shop. At this point it’s worth describing the curious habit that drivers in the Caribbean have of talking to each other as they drive past. This is done to pedestrians and fellow motorists alike. As two cars, with windows open, speed past each other, drivers regularly toot and then have a brief conversation with each other. No attempt is made to reduce speed as the exchange occurs and you seldom know whether a message was sent or received. The process is made even more interesting because as the vehicles close on one another they simultaneously draw into the middle of the road (presumably to improve message exchange) and then at the last second the driver lets go of the steering wheel so that he can wave his hands at the same time as yelling the message. Clearly, this allows the bus or van to roam freely during the exchange and adds to the excitement for passengers as they not only try and work out what was said but also consider the likelihood of a head-on collision.
As we approached Fat Boy’s village mobile message exchange reached a level where the vans steering wheel seemed superfluous. Despite this, we arrived safely in the square of the local village and Fat Boy shouted in Creole to some of the locals. It transpired that in a few seconds he had arranged a tour of a rum factory with one of them and we duly screeched to a halt and one of the men jumped in. The rum factory was not what we expected. We met the lad’s father and were then lead up a winding path to a shack where the ‘bootleg’ rum was fermented and distilled. Three men proudly talked us through the process culminating in the ‘still’ which was a 40 gallon drum sitting on an open fire with a pipe coming out of the top and running through an open tank of cold water. The rum produced is lethal and the bottle we bought for £2 is now kept for emergencies or to ward off unwanted guests but the little factory was a real window into local life.
We then went on a hike to a waterfall with our guide, Lion. The hike up the white river was breathtaking. It took about an hour and half of walking through rain forest, crossing the fast flowing river 4 or 5 times (up to thigh deep for us and neck deep for Jack) before we reached the Victoria Falls. The isolated location and the jungle scenery created one of the most spectacular sights we have enjoyed on the trip so far. Having enjoyed seclusion and
isolation we then drove to a recognised tourist spot, the Emerald Pool, and were quite shocked by the numbers of people. We swam in the pool but the numbers of people undermined the natural beauty of this crystal clear pool of water in the jungle. We continued round the southern half of the island seeing other local factories and plenty more views - it was a memorable day.
We moved 25 miles northward from Rosseau on 19th February and arrived in Prince Rupert Bay, Portsmouth which is the most northerly anchorage in Dominica. The standard of living in Portsmouth, essentially a rural fishing village, was far more what we had expected in the island with most people living in small wooden houses perhaps 12 by 16 feet with water collected from an outside standpipe (the size of houses is determined by the standard width of a sheet of plywood from which they are made). As with Rosseau the people were incredibly friendly and the town had a great atmosphere so we decided to stay a few extra days for the annual Carnival.
In the meantime we toured up the Indian River with Albert who had met us when we arrived in the Bay. We were joined by our new friends from the S/Y Tigress, Pete and Anne from Somerset. Both Anne and Pete took real time with the children which was really appreciated by adults and children alike and they soon became Ella and Jack’s favourite grown ups as well as good friends for Selma and I. We enjoyed their company and have spent several enjoyable nights on each others boats; the fact that Pete is a retired underwater bomb disposal expert with stories to match gave him immediate super-hero status. The children were very excited to be travelling in one of the boatmen’s boats and enjoyed speeding through the anchorage. As we headed to the Indian River we passed by several wrecked ships washed up by hurricanes Lois and David. The cost of removing the wrecks is simply too much so as with most of the islands they just sit there and rot, providing a hard reminder of the awesome power of the wind and sea.
The Indian river was an amazing experience. The river starts in the hills of Dominica but runs down to Portsmouth where it has become a wildlife sanctuary. By the time it reaches Portsmouth it’s slow moving and completely overhung by huge swamp blood wood trees with massive buttress roots on both sides of the river. The roots spread out above the soil and then run down into the still water, twisting and turning to create a tangled carpet of branches with fresh water crabs leering out from the nooks and crannies.
Albert, who has been taking people along the river for the last twenty seven years, really knew his stuff and pointed out many sights that we would have simply missed without him. Parrots flew in the tree tops, green necked herons sat observing yet another load of tourists rowing by and hummingbirds whizzed in and out of the undergrowth which in many places dropped into the river around you.
Iguanas sunbathed precariously on the top canopy of trees and fish leapt out of the water presumably being chased by Barracuda which hunt in the brackish water. A large part of the swamp has also been made famous as another location for The Pirates of The Caribbean which reflects the spectacular and vivid natural environment. We had hoped to see some Boa constrictors here by the waters edge but it was not to be. The two and a half hours we spent on the river flew by and yet again showed us how rich in vegetation and wild life Dominica is, we loved it.
We stayed an extra few days for the Carnival which began at 4am on the Monday morning! Carnival means ‘without meat’ and was originally meant to be at the beginning of Lent, Dominica still hold their Carnival at this time every year! We did not manage the 4am start due to a rather late night at Big Pappa’s but rowed ashore and made it into town at 7am. By this time festivities were in full flow. The carnival was dominated by an old truck with a reggae/rap band playing music at a volume which was physically hair raising - the earth shook as the truck went by. Ahead and behind the truck people danced, drank and collapsed - it was like a English village fete on acid. The clothes worn were not quite those in the pictures of other carnivals it was more of an 'anything goes' approach - the man in the full bridal outfit appeared particularly popular but we were not sure whether this was the outfit or the fact that he kept falling over.
The last thing we managed to cram into our visit to Dominica was a walk to Fort Shirley overlooking the bay where Brimble was at anchor. The view was fantastic and we were able to take the obligatory photo of our boat as fitting reminder of our now favourite island.
We left Dominica on 24th February bound for the French islands of Iles de Saintes, just south east of Guadeloupe.