Dominica Part 1 - 15:34.666N 61:27.669W

Hamble Warrior
Jamie Hickman
Mon 5 Sep 2022 23:39

4th May 2022

We arrived into Prince Rupert Bay off the small town of Portsmouth at the northern end of Dominica just after dark on the 4th May.

We had lifted anchor from Freemans Bay in Antigua shortly after 10am the previous morning and after stopping off to complete formalities and fill our water tanks at Jolly Harbour we headed south. By 2300hrs we were abeam of Guadeloupe and at 0225hrs on the morning of the 4th May we dropped our anchor off Pigeon Island in Malendure Bay to get a few hours rest. We were back at sea feeling a little more refreshed before 9am that morning and had a full day sail in pretty manky conditions to get us to Dominica by nightfall. Wind conditions were mostly force 5 but we had some stronger winds that required reefing the sails and a lot of rain squalls with some very steep seas.. overall it was a pretty challenging sail and by the time we arrived into Prince Rupert Bay we were ready to drop our anchor and get some rest.

From what we could make out in the dark we were in a wide open bay with music coming from the beach and plenty of space to anchor. We located our friends aboard SV "Puff" and prepared to find a suitable anchor spot nearby sweeping the area by torch light to check for any moorings to avoid. Whilst we did this one of the "Portsmouth Area Yacht Services" (PAYS) boats came out to greet us and introduced himself as Maverick. He welcomed us to paradise and told us if we needed anything to ask for him; he also invited us to the Barbecue hosted by the PAYS team currently being held on the beach and raised his cup of rum punch to emphasize he was in the middle of enjoying his night. We declined the offer to join him at the Barbecue and asked if he could advise us where best to drop anchor to avoid any moorings and he told us to drop anywhere and if we were too close to any moorings we could move in the morning! After that he disappeared back into the night and that was the last we saw of Maverick for nearly a fortnight until he ended up joining us at a game of dominoes in town. When I spoke to him next and reminded him that he was the one who welcomed us to Dominica he told me he usually only answered the phones!!!! Over the course of the next days and weeks we met the rest of the PAYS team and they were a really great group of guys; all very friendly and helpful, and during our stay we saw them work very hard to keep the anchorage safe and provide whatever help or services they could to assist the visiting boats.

We were pretty exhausted from our trip and especially Jamie which we put down to the challenging conditions and were glad to get to bed that night.

The next morning the PAYS guys (Andrew, Max & Daniel) visited us to collect our paperwork and clear us in. Jamie was still feeling pretty run down and we were grateful that we didn't have to go ashore to clear in and that we had an excuse to stay put on-board while our paperwork was processed for us.

A few hours later the PAYS guys returned our documents and stamped paperwork and told us we were welcome to stay as long as we liked. We had a relaxing day onboard and Jamie rested up while he was still feeling under the weather.

Over the course of the next couple of days Jamie continued to feel unwell and of course we soon suspected that it was covid. Fortunately we carry a supply of testing kits on-board and we were soon able to confirm our suspicions. For several days Jamie tested positive and continued to have symptoms consistent with covid; mostly a high temperature and feeling of exhaustion. I was fine and continued to test negative for nearly a week but remained confined onboard with Jamie for the entire period with the exception of one short trip ashore with our kind friends Ingrid & Kris from Puff who took me to collect a few essentials including a local SIM card to allow us to stay in touch with the outside world. Despite still testing negative I took every precaution to distance myself as much as possible and kept a face mask on during the round trip in the dinghy so as to protect both our friends and anyone else I encountered during my trip. It was very strange to finally arrive into Dominica having been looking forward to visiting for so long and then to spend our first week confined to the boat and staring longingly at the beautiful island with towering green mountains covered in rainforests knowing there was so much to explore but having to wait. Fortunately for us the compulsory covid testing and quarantine rules had been scrapped just a couple of weeks prior to our arrival but we confined ourselves anyway; we had no wish to be responsible for bringing more cases to the island and in any case Jamie was in no fit state to go off hiking.

So we remained onboard and every few days our friends would pass by and check on us; they would bring us bread from the bakery and stop by in their dinghy staying a safe enough distance to chat and tell us about the island and what they had been seeing and doing. It was lovely to have them stop by but a shame that we were unable to socialise with them properly... still we appreciated their company and the bread deliveries.

Sure enough after a few days I too tested positive for covid and although I only had very mild symptoms - a sore throat and mild headache - it prolonged our self-imposed quarantine and meant we had to wait still longer to start exploring the island.

It was a great shame that we lost a whole week confined to the boat but all things considered we were very lucky - in the two years of covid we had sailed from Greece across the Mediterranean via Italy, Sardinia, the Balearics and Spain; we had driven to the UK through Spain and France at the height of covid, I had been hospitalised for a week and Jamie went through two separate medical procedures, and we then returned to Spain and sailed to Gibraltar and through the Canaries, across the Atlantic and up and down the Lesser Antilles and in all that time we have never once caught covid... there were so many occasions that testing positive could have caused us serious problems but in all that time we didn't once have a positive test. Not only that but we have now had three vaccinations each and despite Jamie being a little knocked out by it for a few days we really haven't experienced anything more serious than the type of winter cold we would get once a year or every couple of years pre-covid. So we have nothing to grumble about. It is also hardly surprising that we caught it when we did. Antigua had only recently relaxed all of their own covid regulations shortly before the racing week so there were hundreds of visitors arriving off flights and piling onto modest-sized boats in crews of anything up to 12 on average - we were enjoying the busy bars and hanging out with some of the crews so it's really not that surprising we were exposed to covid during that time.

So we had a quiet week bobbing at anchor off Portsmouth watching the spectacular rainbows that formed over the island with the near daily rain showers and studying the magnificent frigate birds that sore high over the bay with their distinctive boomerang-shaped wings and long forked tail-feathers. Having noted these birds on our Atlantic crossing and seeing them throughout the Caribbean I commented on them to my Dad who pointed me to some fascinating facts about these amazing birds - most notably that they can stay in flight for up to two whole months without touching down on land or water and can feed on flying fish, tuna, squid and a variety of other fish which they can take from the surface of the water without getting wet. They are also apparently known to take the catch out of other birds beaks mid-flight. I could lie for hours in the cockpit looking up at these fascinating creatures circling overhead.... but keeping a close eye on my lunch!

Finally we both had negative covid tests and we were able to go ashore and explore the island. We started with just a few modest hikes from Portsmouth while we built our strength back up a bit. Fortunately you don't have to go far in Dominica to find beautiful scenery; luscious vegetation, natural beauty or stunning wildlife.

Our first time took us on a muddy little trail up out of Portsmouth and into the rainforest crossing a babbling brook and up to a little spot where we could look down at Prince Rupert Bay below us over a dense blanket of green trees dripping with moisture and smelling fresh and wonderful. The path was a little boggy in places from the recent rain (it rains A LOT in Dominica) and we regularly came across brightly-coloured "crawler crabs" that scuttled across our path in that comical little way crabs move nearly as if they think moving sideways with the claws stretched out you won't notice they are there (a solid case of anthropomorphism right there!!) Other than these little critters and some very large and very beautiful cattle we didn't see another soul on our trail and as we reached the little brook again towards the end of the trail we climbed in to wash the mud off our clothes and feet and returned to the little town of Portsmouth feeling as if we had been baptised by the island's incredible beauty - not just metaphorically but literally!

On our way back to our dinghy we stopped at the little bar named "Madiba" on the beach next to the dinghy dock and enjoyed a couple of rum & cokes and the novelty of looking out at the bay from the shore after a whole week of staring wistfully at the shore from the boat.

Before we started exploring any of the national parks we purchased a weekly site pass for just $32ec (about £10) which gave us access to all of the islands many parks, waterfalls and hiking trails. With this in hand we took our next hiking trip ashore where we walked north around the bay to Fort Shirley and the Cabrits National Park. The Fort is a beautifully restored example; unsurprisingly very similar to the fortifications found around Nelson's Dockyard and Shirley Heights in Antigua. When we arrived there was a wedding reception taking place and it is easy to see why one might choose this venue with the stunning views out across the bay. There are two hiking trails - an east and a west trail - that lead from the fort and we tackled each in turn which involved steep climbs but rewarded us with stunning views out to sea and across the island as well as opportunities to explore some of the ruins of the original Fortress - officers quarters and similar out buildings. We also saw a few of the non-poisonous snakes that inhabit the Cabrits National Park although they were fortunately quite shy and didn't come too close which I was quite pleased about!

We did however have one local resident that stayed nice and close all day! When we first landed the dinghy ashore we brought a bag of rubbish with us to dispose of at the bins near the PAYS office and this caught the attention of the dogs that live down on the beach. They followed us to the bins as we threw the rubbish bag away and then while one lost interest in us completely the other continued to follow us for most of the day. He stayed loyally by our side as we walked to Fort Shirley and accompanied us around as we explored the fort. He would occasionally go off to greet other people and then return to our side like a faithful hound. He is in most of my photos from that day and even accompanied us on our hike up the west Cabrits trail. He clearly decided that was enough hiking for one day though as he decided not to join us on the east trail and we didn't see him again until we returned to the beach later that day!

We returned to Hamble Warrior stopping off for a drink on a neighbouring catamaran that kindly flagged us down as we passed and offered us a sundowner then headed to the beach for the weekly PAYS BBQ that we had bought tickets for that morning. This is a regular event hosted by the PAYS team which helps to fund their services and a fun way to meet other cruisers and get to know the PAYS guys. Tickets are $50ec per person and includes a generous portion of BBQ chicken or fish with salad, rice & pea and their own special garlic sauce. The ticket price also includes as much of their very potent rum punch as you can handle; music & dancing and a compulsory escort back to your dinghy. I'm pretty sure that for at least one of the cruisers there was an escort all the way back to his boat as he had clearly enjoyed the punch so much he needed to be carried off down the beach! It was a fun night and the PAYS guys were great hosts.

We had a few other nights out during our stay in Dominica. We tried one of the bars up in town where we could buy 3 beers for $10ec then on our walk back from their we passed a small green building that had a tiny bar inside. We had walked past here a few times during the day and I had greeted the owner who seemed very friendly. Tonight we passed and there was just one customer at the bar so we decided to go in. We instantly liked the bar owner who we learned was called Osman; he had a warm smile and a relaxed manner and we hit it off straight away. It turns out that rum was the speciality of the bar and on this first occasion we ignored the shelves of "speciality rums" which we would later experience to their fullest extent (!!!!) and just drank the island rum mixed with coke. This was clearly not how rum was meant to be drunk here as we were given tiny paper cups and the bottle was offered to measure it out ourselves which even a modest measure left very little space for a mixer! But Osman obliged us and did his best to accommodate our unusual drinks request and having got our rums he settled to join us and told us a little about himself and about life in Dominica. It turns out the bar belonged to his father and he inherited it when his father passed away. He also owns a farm and we had a really interesting discussion with him about the crops that he grew and about local wildlife - infact much of the conversation began with my asking him about the Sisserou Parrots for which the island are famous and which he has some paintings of on his walls. He also told us about his experience when hurricane Maria hit Dominica a few years previously - one of the most destructive hurricanes in this part of the world in recent times - and about previous hurricanes to have hit the area. It was a rather sobering conversation but made us realise just how much the people of Dominica had endured in recent years to rebuild in the aftermath of Maria.

During our stay we decided to explore the Indian River which is a popular site of the island. It is one of many locations in Dominica which was used for filming the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films. It is easy to see why this island was chosen for this. Everywhere you look is like a film set for the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and the Indian river is no exception. We chose to walk along the river rather than take a boat trip up there and as we wandered through the dense vegetation with incredible flowers - heliconia and birds of paradise we felt like we could encounter Captain Jack Sparrow and his men hacking their way through the undergrowth at any moment! The amazing trees that line the river have these incredible roots spreading down into clear waters that are such an exquisite emerald colour that they hardly look real.

We bumped into some friends from a neighbouring boat as we wandered back along the riverbank and stopped to enjoy a delicous coconut rum punch (for me) and the house special a "dynamite" rum punch for the captain at the picturesque little bar on the riverbank. Here we met the lovely little gang that run the bar and their newest crew-mate "Bishop" the puppy that they had taken into their care after he sadly lost his mum. He was small enough to fit in the palm of your hand but with a personality a hundred times that size! We wandered back towards the dinghy dock with our friends and stopped off to say hello to Osman on our way.

The next day we picked up a hire car for a couple of days in order to explore the stunning interior of the island and spent the next two days in a magical world of Rainforests and waterfalls; hot springs, exotic humming birds, parrots and stunning flowers and plant-life.

One of the few inconveniences of our time on the island was that mysteriously our bank cards would not work for withdrawing cash; not in the ATMs and we couldn't even take out money over the counter at the Bank of Dominica. This was a bit of a concern after a few days as most local businesses didn't accept cards and our cash was running very low. Fortunately the very lovely man at "Silverlinings" car hire was able to give us a cash advance by running our bank card through his card machine and therefore saved the day but despite buying a lot of fresh fruit and veg from the markets; roadside stalls and street-sellers and enjoying a couple of delicious lunches out on our island tour, we still didn't need all of the money that our friend was able to provide us. Needless to say though we were extremely appreciative of his help.

This kind of helpfulness and generosity was very typical of the people we met on the island and by the time we left Dominica we held the people of this beautiful island in very high regard. There are always exceptions however...! Whilst on the island we were frequently approached by young men selling fruit - and occasionally vegetables but mostly commonly mangoes. They would approach us in the street; on the dinghy dock and one very entrepreneurial guy even swam out to the boat with his mangoes in a large floating barrel. One particular guy though approached us several times and we always tried to buy something from him as we wanted to spread our few grocery dollars around as much as possible. We soon noticed his produce was pretty poor quality and usually very underdeveloped and under-ripe (most of it never ripened as it had been picked too prematurely and we ended up throwing it away). We often made a tongue-in-cheek joke between ourselves as to where he had "scrumped" the fruit from as he would often take your "order" for example; we'd say "do you have any Pineapples?" and he would leave us his small bag of belongings and disappear only to return 5 minutes later with a small pineapple (the smallest pineapple I have ever seen in fact!) Anyway we didn't really mind giving him a few dollars and figured we had plenty of fruit and it didn't really matter if his wasn't great quality. However, one night he decided to approach us outside Osman's bar and I asked Osman about him. I was curious as to what his name was and I guess what his story was. Osman told me they called him "Baygon" and he said he had "not been much trouble recently". A few night's later Baygon was bothering us outside the bar again; he wanted us to change a handful of euros into dollars for him but wasn't happy with what we offered him. Osman sent him away and afterwards told us that Baygon stole produce from people's farms and garden's. Osman looked at us with the little twinkle he has in his eye and confided in conspiratorial tones that he had a pick and a shovel waiting for Baygon if he ever caught him on his farm! We didn't buy any more of Baygon's ill-gotten produce off him after that although he did visit us on his old surfboard that he paddled out to the boat to try and sell us some fruit. Before we could send him away one of the PAYS guys appeared on their pirogue and sent him off with a clear caution that they were watching him. It was some time later after we had left Dominica and I was casually browsing the homewares in the supermarket that I spotted the brand name for the pest-control products; It seems "Baygon" is used to control everything from rats to roaches... I started to suspect that maybe this was not his given name. Many weeks later we caught up with our friends from "Puff" and shared our stories of Dominica. "Did you meet Hamilton?" They asked us.. "surely you met Hamilton"... they described him in enough detail that we soon realised who they were talking about!!

Our first day with the hire car we visited Middleham Falls. We decided to visit this one first as we had been told by friends that it was a 45min to 1hr hike to reach the falls so we wanted to tackle this whilst we were fresh! I was glad we did as it was quite an exhausting and challenging hike; infact more of a climb in many places!! But the reward was incredible - the waterfalls were absolutely stunning and we stripped down to our swimwear and climbed in to enjoy the fresh cool water which felt heavenly after our hot sweaty scramble to get there. Of all the sites we were to see over these couple of days Middleham falls will always be our favourite I think. We passed a couple of other hikers accompanied by a guide on our way there but once we arrived at the falls we had the place to ourselves and spent quite some time swimming and splashing about in the pools and under the powerful jet of the falls feeling like we had found our own tropical island paradise. I guess that is the advantage of a long hike to reach the falls; not many people do it so we were able to enjoy it all to ourselves.

We left Middleham and stopped off at a lovely roadside food shack with a stunning view to enjoy a delicious lunch of ribs (for the captain) and jerk chicken (for myself) before heading to our next stop of Trafalgar falls.

These falls were also absolutely stunning with two towering falls flowing into a number of small pools. We didn't need to hike very far to enjoy these beautiful falls but they were a stunning sight to behold.

We set off to drive back towards Portsmouth but on our way drove through the village where the hot-springs are located and there are a number of small Spas set up to offer visitors the opportunity to enjoy these steaming sulphur springs. We passed through the village but didn't stop to pamper ourselves. After so many months of saltwater showers we already felt like we had spent the day in a luxury spa just from having bathed in the cool fresh waters of the island falls!

As we approached dusk and we drove along the coastline that was marked on our map with a whale symbol I looked out to sea and saw a large shape come up out of the water and sink back down again. Jamie believes this is my overactive imagination but I will remain convinced that I saw " the whale" marked on the map forever more!

We drove back to Portsmouth along the west coast road via the town of Rosseau - the capital of Dominica - and arrived back to park up by the PAYS office and enjoy a drink in the "Seabird" bar where we planned to discuss our itinery for the following day. Instead we ended up listening to the lively ramblings of our friend "Yellow" who we had got to know over our time in Portsmouth, unfortunately he seemed to have taken his trill that night so when he eventually drew breath we took our leave and headed back to Hamble Warrior to rest up ready for another day of exploring.



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