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Date: 03 Mar 2011 15:58:00
Title: Jungle on Dominca

15:34.872N 61:27.862W Portsmouth, Dominica, Thursday morning

We're anchored off the beach at Portsmouth in Dominica and, strange though it may seem, it's actually even scruffier than Portsmouth in the UK.

We woke up early yesterday morning anchored just off the Pain de Sucre on the Saintes. We wanted to get some video of Janeway and the basalt columns but the weather was rubbish - rain and low cloud. It looked like Scotland. We needed to clear out of Customs anyway so we motored over to town in Saxon Blue and Kali went ashore. She was so keen to get it over with that she ended being scolded by a woman Gendarme for speeding in the harbour which was a bit rich as Andrea and I were getting rolled around by local ferries steaming through the anchorage far too quickly. Anyway, Kali soon returned with French pastries and sandwiches for our journey so we picked the anchor up again and set off.

The weather was still too bad for filming as we passed the Pain de Sucre again and out through the southern passage between the islands. I wanted to have a look at some other potential anchorages on another island - they were OK but not as good as the ones we'd already used. From there, we headed directly for the northwest corner of Dominica, taking care to avoid the poorly marked fishing gear for much of the way.

Initially, the wind was too light to sail but, as we got clear of the island, it filled in from just north of east so we set the genoa and mainsail and made good progress. We started to overhaul a large catamaran ahead of but, as we came level with him, the wind got stronger and veered around to east, then southeast. We changed the genoa for the jib and sailed hard but the cat started to make ground on us so I'm sure he had his engine on as they're notoriously poor to windward and I should have left him in our wake. As we got close to the island, the wind came round towards the south even more and picked up to almost 30 knots so we ended reefed right down in the middle of a rainstorm. Water was running everywhere and the island kept appearing and then disappearing into the gloom. This really isn't what Caribbean sailing is supposed to be like.

We could see the twin hills on the peninsula which protects the Prince Rupert Bay from the swell coming around the north of Dominica so we knew where the harbour was. As we got close, the rain cleared and the wind died away so we started to motor in. About a mile out, we were approached by a smart local boat with a huge outboard and a friendly chap onboard who welcomed us to Dominica and offered his services as a guide. We'd already been given the name of a good local "boat boy" by Steve and Sue back in Antigua so we thanked him and said we were looking for SeaBird. He told us that SeaBird was in the bay and shot off towards a catamaran behind us.

As we entered the bay, we could see loads of yachts anchored in the northeastern corner. The bay itself is the first proper anchorage we've seen for a while. It's about a mile from north to south and another mile deep and, while it's completely open to the west, it's totally sheltered from the prevailing wind and swell. We tried to get SeaBird on the VHF, had to convince Cobra that we didn't require his services at the moment and carried on in. The names of the guys are hand-painted on the sides of their boats along with "yacht services and guide". We've seen Antonio Banderas, Providence and even Spagetti so they're all pretty memorable.

Just as we were about to anchor up, SeaBird appeared and we arranged for us to pick up a buoy for the princely sum of 10 USD per night. He helped us get secure and then offered to take us over to the Customs to clear in. I accepted the offer as I thought it was a good idea to get financially involved early. We also told him that we'd been recommended by Steve and Sue on White Egret and he said they'd been here last week which seems likely. He roared of across the bay with Kali onboard to do the clearance and returned very quickly with her enthusing about his boat which is always a good way to get a man on your side. The boats are hard chined and completely open with thwarts all the way along and a 50 HP or larger outboard. They go like the clappers but they're completely dry inside and very maneuverable. Impressive craft and all locally made to order.

While we waited for Kali to get back, a guy called Anderson came along in a rubber dinghy and offered us some fruit. He also had courtesy flags so I bought one of those from him. It was mounted on a bit of string with a series of knots at one end. As I undid one, he looked at me and said "Yeah, mon. I was just having a joint and got tying the knots and I just tied too many." I complimented him on the flag - it is a fine design with complex coloured crosses and a parrot in the centre.

When Kali returned, Andrea and I went ashore in the tender which we left on a rickety dock outside an equally rickety restaurant. We walked along the sandy beach towards town scattering rangy chickens and scuttling crabs as we went. There were a lot of abandoned wooden houses but, as we got onto the main road and closer to Portsmouth itself, things got a bit more lively. Compared to the Saintes, it's surprisingly rough and ready. I suppose that's what a Caribbean economy looks like without money being pumped in from Europe. Dominica used to be British but it's now independent and has a 39 year old Prime Minister who comes from a Rasta farming family. He's extremely popular, apparently, although I think some of the decisions he has to make must be very hard. Dominica is receiving a lot of aid from China, partly in return for de-recognising Taiwan but also in return for.... I'm not sure what. Usually, the Chinese are interested in natural resources, particularly oil but I don't think there's much of that here. The Venezuelans are also getting some influence and they certainly have oil although precious little else. It seems as though any alternative to the USA is welcome although I'm not sure how sensible or sustainable that attitude is.

Anyway, we walked along past tiny shops and ramshackle houses. I turned to look down an alley towards the beach and saw the rusty hull of a ship right next to the houses. When we looked, the whole seafront of the town is lined with wrecked coasters, washed up there in a hurricane when their anchorage turned from a protective bay into a lee shore. They've been stripped of anything portable but the hulls and superstructures just sit there, towering over the houses and making the whole place look like a scrapyard. Everyone in town was super-friendly, welcoming us to the island and asking if there was anything we needed. Fair enough, they're hoping for a job but they all take it well when we politely decline, especially if we mention that SeaBird is already looking after us.

As we hadn't found anywhere for a drink, we walked back to the bar where we'd left the tender and had a homemade grapefruit squash that was really delicious. Back onboard, Kali had prepared a veggie curry with fresh Mahi Mahi fish which she'd bought from another marine mobile vendor. In truth, though, they're nowhere near as hassly as I feared. They all want to sell you something but cheerfully take no for an answer. I think the ones with the boats and names have organised themselves to keep the bay friendly for visiting yachtsmen who are a major source of revenue for the town.

After dinner, Kali and I were putting the tender back up on its davits when a voice called out to us from the dark. I was a bit nervous until I saw the red "Rescue and Security" rib which we'd seen earlier. The security guy is organised and employed by the other boat guys to keep us all safe - after all, a farmer protects his best milking cows from the attentions of the wolf. He asked us for a drop of alcohol and was initially disappointed when I told him we were a dry ship. He soon cheered up when Kali offered him a cup of tea and a portion of veggie curry so they sat outside chatting while I went to bed.

This morning, Andrea and I got up super early at 6am as we'd arranged with SeaBird (whose real name is Jeffrey) to go on a trip up the Indian River and he recommended that we go at 7am to get the best look. It was a really good tip. We roared off across the bay and then towards one of the wrecked coasters and slowed slightly to cut between it and the beach behind and into the narrow entrance to the river. As we passed under the road bridge, Jeffrey stopped the engine and got out the oars as there are no motors allowed in the river. We were the first boat up there this morning so it was wonderful and quiet as we spotted large kingfishers, one of them eating his breakfast and three different types of heron. Jeffrey pointed out an iguana, as green as the leaves around him, lying on a branch waiting for the sun. He had his arms clasped around the tree and his hind legs just dangling. We could only spot him when we were a few feet away so top marks for our guide.

As we progressed further up, the trees on either side joined over our heads. It was proper jungle (called a mini-Amazon in the brochures) and full of birdsong. We saw the spot where they filmed the witch's house in Pirates of the Caribbean and then continued further up to a jungle bar which wasn't open yet but we could get out of the boat for a look around. As we returned downriver, I asked Jeffrey what he called the upright posts on his boat against which the oars pivoted. "Tole Pins" he said. I knew he'd say that - it's the old Viking word, used for the same thing in Emsworth and exported along with the other maritime names to the New World. Erik the Red would have understood him.

By now, other boats full of yachtsmen were coming up river and we were glad we'd had it to ourselves for an hour in the glorious silence. We got back onboard by 8:30, in time for a second breakfast. Now, I've got to go and pack as Andrea and I are heading off to an Eco Resort for a few days away from Saxon Blue. Kali will be able to enjoy bobbing about without us and we'll see her again soon.

Harvey

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