Montserrat to Dominica 15:34.8N 61:27.7W

SV Jenny
Alan Franklin/Lynne Gane
Thu 29 Jan 2015 15:31
Dear Family and Friends,

We have arrived in Dominica. After all the trials and tribulations of the last 4 weeks and the sea born equivalent of cabin fever, I felt like Toad of Toad Hall, (Wind in the Willows), taking to the open road! With perfect winds of 13-15 knots from the East we sailed smoothly (in fact I hogged the wheel and hand steered it was such a pleasure), towards the West coast of Guadeloupe, passing a beam of the island of Montserrat, 2 hours out of port. With so long spent in Antigua, we have had to make decisions about which places we really want to go and for how long, so we will do nothing above Antigua, miss out Montserrat, Guadeloupe, St Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago for sure.

We sailed past Monserrat, dark against the fiery oranges and golds of the sunset, its volcanic silhouette in sharp profile. Here is an island recently devastated (between the years 1995 and 2010) by volcanic eruptions, covering the southern half of the island and the capital Plymouth, in volcanic ash. This area is now an exclusion zone. The North by contrast is picturesque coastlines and lush greenery.

As the light closed Guadeloupe from our sight, strings of lights followed the West coast, stretching up the slopes and valleys a little way inland. Occasional glimpses of the Guadeloupe’s hilly nature could be seen against the clouds. Brightly lit cruise ships hurried past, plying north and south, a barge with a poorly lit tow of 600’ passed us. The winds became light and variable, in the lee of the island. But from Alan’s previous experience, we were looking out for the wind acceleration zone as we approached the southern end of the island. Sure enough we were not disappointed! Nearing about 8-9 miles from the southern tip, the winds began to build, 8-10kts, 15-20, 25-27kts when we had the clear fetch of 3,000M of the Atlantic, with our favourite swell motion. It was disappointing to find that my hard won sea legs had disappeared and that the sea sickness had returned. I’ll be better prepared next time.

Standing off Rupert’s Bay, NW Dominica until mid morning because of the strong winds, we made landfall in Portsmouth. And it did feel intriguing to think that we had sailed from its namesake in the UK.
Approaching Dominica you are in awe of the steep mountains of tropical rainforest. Everywhere is lush greenery apart from the small towns lining the flatter lands near the coast. Portsmouth is small and third worldly, although with investment from China and Venezuela, you can see that a modern town is being reshaped. Buildings are a haphazard collection of materials, rusting concrete, recycled materials, nothing is finished or appears to be repaired. Everywhere life is painted in the brightest colours, lime green is a favourite, the people are wonderfully friendly, tying your boat and introducing themselves. Yes, of course they want to earn a dollar, but when you decline they are genuinely just pleased to welcome you. Chickens and dogs roam everywhere, the graveyard is off the High Street, behind a shop, a weed strewn plot, without gates or signs and ostentatious recent graves, smothered in fresh and artificial flowers.

And yet the official offices are efficiently run, customs was easy, 2 forms clearing in and out at one go 5$EC each, (and so different from Antigua where we had to pay another 154$US harbour dues on top of the considerable fees to clear in, plus separate visits to customs, immigration, the port authority and the marina), the National Park and hiking trail passes were also easy purchase from the local offices. Dominica is open for tourism and there is no complacency, they welcome and work hard for the tourists. As you arrive in the bay you are met by one of the official yacht services association, ours was Eric, Spaghetti Sparrow… all handles of course, their names and photos are all in our Doyles guide so you know who is legitimate! They helped us tie up to a buoy in strong winds, provide boat security, we organised a trip up the Indian River and a land tour with a registered guide, through them.

Provisioning in these parts is an altogether different experience. Your menu becomes what you can find to purchase. When you see something that might be useful you buy it there and then even if you don’t need it, you never know when you might find it again. Fresh fruit and vegetables from local supplies are good, the avocados although out of season here, are wonderful, passion fruits, melons, pineapple, limes and grapefruit are very good. Imported apples were rubbish! Bananas were reported as in short supply but here we have had sweet baby ones, really delicious. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, cassava, plantains, onions, garlic, tomatoes and sweet baby cucumbers, squash, peppers, fiery chillies and ginger are plentiful. There’s a green vegetable similar to spinach called Callalou which is good too. Find a market and there’s bound to be something of interest. EC/supermarket regulated these are not, so size, shape and condition are very variable but the taste is mostly very good as it is so fresh. Small local boats paddle up to Jenny selling fresh fruits, I cant begrudge them the inflated prices, the living is hard here.

We were ridiculously pleased to replace a lost bucket with the strongest builders bucket we have ever seen, and the heaviest, you see domestic ones wont last 5 minutes!

We very much enjoyed our Indian River, our guide rowing us through tropical forests, past the set for the filming of the Pirates of the Caribbean (2 I think) where Calypso the witch has a hut in the misty mangroves, watching the humming birds, bananaquits, herons and moorhens from the river, fascinated by the curling and convoluted roots of the Bloodwood and white Cedar trees reaching the waters edge. It was serenely quiet and peaceful. At the limit of navigation, we were landed for a drink in the bush bar (and unfortunately bitten to distraction by sand flies), before returning. Our earlier outing on foot to the source of the Indian River had not been entirely successful, we started from the wrong place (another map reading faux par I shall be reminded of), picked up a local man who said he would show us but when the path petered out and we were beating back the vegetation, we declined his help! By default we found the river and walked towards much of the source, we did see the forests at first hand which was special. Fortunately we didn’t meet any of the local Boa Constrictors!

Our land tour was very enjoyable, we learnt much about the local flora, the sights and much more about Dominican progress and politics from our enthusiastic guide ‘Uncle Sam’ who drove us through the mountains, to the east coast, to the Caribs Territory (village way of life museum) with the remaining 3500 original tribes of Amerindians from South America. On to lunch (goat curry with taro, plantain, yam, rice and lentils topped with a salad of white cabbage, callalou and herbs), by the Trafalgar Waterfalls. A short walk to a viewing platform and for the adventurous to the falls themselves, was rewarded by the sensation of pounding water, one of hot, iron rich water and the other cold water. In the past swimming has been possible here but rock falls have made this difficult now. We continued on to the botanical gardens and street market in the capital Roseau before heading north towards Portsmouth along the West coast.

‘Uncle Sam’ is a fierce labour supporter, very proud of his country and the progress it is making since independence in 1978. It is only recently that all children have been enable to go to secondary education and to college, before remote communities could not afford the bus fares or the books. The children in school are wearing immaculate school uniform, the drivers niece to whom he gave a lift, was polite and studying to become a nurse. The college she was attending new and state of the art, again thanks to foreign investment.

Sports are actively encouraged, towns have their cricket, football and baseball teams and there are many passionate supporters of the ‘Windies’ Cricket team and more surprisingly English football clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal amongst those mentioned.

There is free health care for children and for the elderly, (Dominica is proud to be the home of the oldest women, 128 when she died), but adults must have health insurance. The island is divided into 10 ecclesiastic parishes and represented by members of an elected assembly with a prime minister and presidential figure head, with elections to the assembly every five years. There are surprising alliances with China on improving horticulture and providing apprenticeships for the young, with Iceland for the installation of geothermal power plants and the EEC in support of agriculture. There is a specialist animal breeding station, Copra, coffee roasting and rum factories. And whilst the plantations growing grapefruit, limes (Roses Lime used to own much of the island), coconut, bananas, guavas and some sugar cane, have been abandoned, Dominica is the fruit basket for the rest of the Caribbean and much is being planned to improve production.

The Caribbean thing that is both charming and at times exhausting, is that drivers stop to chat, including ours, transact business, deliver messages, food, have chats with their friends, shout greetings and this happened so many times during the day, we began to despair of reaching our boat at the end of a tiring day!

The photo blog is to follow when sorted!

We are having a relaxing/maintenance day today with plans to sail to Martinique tomorrow.

All our best,

Lynne and Alan