We were keen beans to leave Martinique waiting for the checkout computer to open in St Pierre at 7:45am. Despite some queue-jumpers getting in the way we were ghosting out of the anchorage by 8:30am. The two queue jumping boats slightly in front of us. There was hardly any wind and we picked out the largest genoa we have on board.
The forecast was for light winds and we had places to be (and queue jumpers to catch)! In the lee of the island the wind was flukey, and we played a game of snakes and ladders with the other boats that were trying to sail out of the anchorage. Everyone heading the same way on opposite tacks, or one boat sailing as a few hundred meters away another boat sat with limp sails. Eventually one by one everyone turned on their motors and made it out to the consistent easterly breeze around the top of the island. Still in front were the two boats that had jumped the queue at immigration. As the breeze built, we didn’t want to face the prospect of changing headsails, the 150% genoa is far to bulky to pack away at sea. So instead we took a reef in the main and marvelled at Alcyone as she zipped along at 7knots rail in the water. Halfway to Dominica the wind moved forward of the beam, we tighten sheets and Alcyone did what she was built to do — sail fast up wind — much to the skippers delight. With better boat speed and better pointing angles we left all the other boats behind. Possibly maybe we were slightly over canvassed... a few days later another cruiser told us their mantra “Don't race the house”. Wise words, but old habits die hard.
Arriving first in Dominican waters we ghosted up past Roseau to a small quiet anchorage we could use for the night. Roseau had mixed reports and is generally a deep anchorage so it’s wise to use a mooring. We didn’t fancy the hassle of sorting that, and preferred our anchorage at Canefields. Our view of a concrete factory and scrap yard didn’t bother us a bit. The water had crystal clear visibility to 5 meters below the surface, we watched as the anchor dug in.
The following morning we sailed the last few miles to Portsmouth. Much smaller, warmer and prettier than its name sake. There is an association of local river guides (PAYS) that have installed moorings and general infrastructure for visiting yachts, like a water hose that runs to a buoy in the middle of the bay. So we filled up the tanks and took a mooring. Dominica has mixed reviews in the cruising world but we absolutely loved it, the folks at PAYS were really friendly and helpful and nobody hasseled us at all. It was the best place we visited!
We walked the 2km to the customs office at the commercial port and the 2km back. Collecting cash and a delicious late lunch of rice, meat, macaroni cheese and provision (boiled cassava, plantain and potatoes) along with some token salad.
We were on a schedule to get to the BVI’s by the 13th for some flights we had booked to the USA, so we decided to maximise our tourist time on Dominica. Following some tips from the locals and with our walking shoes in hand we set off to see the restored english fort and national park that overlooks the bay. Fort Shirley has been wonderfully restored and we spend a good few hours looking through all there was to see. There was a little exhabition on the pre-colonial history of the islands and the carribean which touched on some of the local history that is often ignored, especially by ex-colonial powers such as Britain.
The walk up to the headland and the old gun emplacements was a fairly hard going in the heat. The path was covered in smashed crab shells, the remains of a seabird banquet. Hermit crabs scurried away from us and thousands of lizards narrowly avoided being crushed as we disturbed their sunbathing. John valiantly put Ellie between him and the ‘harmless’ snakes that had also been sunbathing.
Next up on the tourist checklist was the Indian River, rather than being rowed up the sinuous river, we decided on walking to the bush bar (voodoo queens lair in Pirates of the Caribbean) instead. The trial started in a concrete or brick yard and we dodged dump trucks and industrial cement mixers to get to the raised walkway through the mangroves. The trail beyond the bar was impassable in flip-flops with debris from the hurricanes of 2017. We partook in the PAYS beach BBQ that evening, and made use of the free flowing rum punch. The poor dinghy survived an unstable launching from the beach at the end of the evening, survived but not unscathed by the occasion.
For our last full day on Dominica we hired a small car to see a bit more of the island. Our alarm went off at 5:45 and by 6:30 we were on the road with a trusty flask of strong coffee. First stop were the Trafalgar Falls and we arrived just after opening- the only car in the car park. We quickly made our way to the viewing platform then the slightly slower scramble up the river to the hot pools, surprised to be the only ones there! The water was bath-hot and not too sulphurey: we spent over an hour relaxing in the hot pools before John had to drag Ellie out, still not another soul in sight.
We stopped off in Roseau proper to pick up a copy of “The Dominica Story”, a good substantial read for the trip home, and some breakfast. Our next destination was the north east of the island. Due to a slight mishap with the sat-nav we didn’t make it to the main road. Rather, a smaller back road. It all started so well, on a nice new tarmac road in pristine condition, then around a bend in the road we were in a worksite. Either side of the road the drainage was being being dug, rebar bent and concrete poured into shuttering. Further on we overtook a bulldozer clearing rocks, and the interrupted the site surveyor and assistant busy with a theodolite. It seemed as if the road was still open, so on we drove, slightly apprehensively and expecting to be shouted at at any moment. No one batted an eyelid. Beyond the worksite, the road returned to single track, but the views were spectacular. Eventually we ended up on the main road and drove through rain forest that was recovering from the 2017 hurricanes. Only the strongest tree trunks remained covered in leaves. All the branches and tree tops had been blown off in the hurricane. Whole hillsides were like this, except for an occasional nook that had obviously beed sheltered enough for the trees to survive. This only reenforced the dramatic effect.
We quickly toured a chocolate factory and filled up with a few of the more exotic flavours for ships stores. Nearby the red rocks were calling out for a visit, the tropical version of the seven sands of Alum Bay. Only without the tat shops and under a blazing tropical sun. So maybe not that similar to the Isle of Wight after all… We sat and watched the Atlantic rollers crash against the coast, there were blow holes to wait for and the expanse of ocean the we had crossed to contemplate for a while.
Our drive back to Portsmouth took us along the Norther Link Road. A name that invokes images of traffic jams on rainy dual carriage way around the back of some nameless industrial estate. Instead we were treated to stunning vistas, sinewy mountain roads peppered with work gangs turning the eroding tarmac back to concrete roads after the last rainy season. All too soon we were back at the car rental place. We walked the 3km back to the boat while eating a chicken lunch.
We’d been looking forward to visiting Dominica, it had been one of the main attractions of the Caribbean for us. It didn’t disappoint, the scenery is beautiful, the people some of the most friendly and the history interesting. Looking back, it seems such a cruel joke that we had to cut our time short to get to the BVI’s for flights that we’d never be able to take. At this point, we were just about becoming aware of the seriousness of the pandemic. This was the first week of March, and until now it had been hard to judge, in our semi disconnected state, what was media hyperbole and what was serious reporting.