Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Dominica in April 2007

April 11, 2007 Portsmouth, Dominica
15.34.884W; 61.27.915W

It was an absolutely gorgeous sail from Ile des Saintes down to Dominica. Everything was just perfect. The conditions that all sailors dream about. Our speed was mostly 8 1/2 knots but we managed to hit 9 ½ knots for a few minutes while Bill was at the helm. He will sometimes sail a bit harder than I am comfortable with, but even he was telling me to ease the mainsheet when we hit 9 ½ knots. We were the last of five boats to leave about the same time. We passed up the other three monohulls by quite a distance. Our boat was the largest of the four monohulls so it is to be expected that we would sail faster. The other boat was a catamaran and he couldn’t sail that thing worth a flip to windward. The cat ended up about 35 degrees off our starboard bow by the time we neared Dominica. He was faster than the monohulls; he just had to go in the wrong direction in order to be able to sail. Eventually he took down his sails and motored into the wind to reach the anchorage.

As we approached Dominica a local guy in a little wooden boat named Providence came out to greet us with “Welcome to Dominica!” His name is Martin and he is one of the river guides recommended in our sailing guide. He kindly left us alone to anchor and then came to talk with us. Bill told Martin that we wanted to arrange a river tour with him, and Martin offered to take us to Customs and Immigration. His fee for this service is $15 USD. Since our dinghy was on the davits and the outboard mounted on the life rail, this seemed like a convenient way to deal with clearing in. Turned out to be the best $15 we have spent since moving aboard this boat. Customs is not located in a convenient spot here in Portsmouth and Immigration is located in a totally different section of town, and we would have wasted four times as long if we had attempted to clear in on our own like we normally do. If anyone is planning a stop in Dominica, we heartily recommend using Martin or one of the other river guides to assist in clearance.

Anchored right next to us was Chris Doyle, author of the popular Caribbean sailing guides. His boat is a rather odd looking small catamaran named Ti Kanot. Chris sails all over the Caribbean each year so that he can update his sailing guides annually. We have been very satisfied with most of his guides and have found his anchorage sketches to be very accurate. Have not found any errors with his waypoints yet.

Years ago Dominica gained a terrible reputation among cruisers because of the boat boys or boat vendors being so aggressive. And there was a minor theft problem. So cruisers started avoiding Dominica. It did not take long for this to have a strong economic impact on this island. The local guides took it upon themselves to clean up this problem. They formed an association for the guides. To be a guide one must now meet several requirements and training guidelines. Visitors are encouraged to report to the tourist authority if they experience any problem with anyone. This has worked extremely well and now the cruisers again enjoy visiting Dominica. And Martin is the man who formed the guide association.

Dominica is not well developed like some of the other islands. This island is taking progress very slowly and learning from the mistakes made by other islands. A large portion of this island is a national park and anchoring is forbidden anywhere within the park. But there is more than sufficient anchoring room in Plymouth that is outside the park area. Dominica is known for its waterfalls and pools. Like Guadeloupe, this is a very fertile island. Their largest export is bananas, and they grow at least a dozen different kinds.

A popular local snack treat is roasted plantains. There are street side vendors who have large grills of charcoal burning slowing. They peel the plantains and put them whole on the grills and cook them very slowly over the charcoal. The charcoal is made locally on the mountainsides. This does not sound very appealing, but these warm roasted plantains are delicious. The vendors serve them to you in a small paper bag, and the warm plantains are sweet and just surprisingly good. The strange looking fruit I am holding in this photo is called an apricot. It does not remotely resemble what we know as an apricot, but it tastes quite good.

Early the next morning we did the tour up the Indian River. The guide has to row up this little river because engines are not allowed within the park boundary. This short tour was interesting and worth your time and the $17 to do it. The roots on the bloodwood trees are amazing. Some of these trees are more than 400 years old. The bloodwood name is appropriate because the sap is bright red. Our photos do not do these trees justice. If you come to Dominica, do the river tour if you don’t do anything else.

BTW, there are some very old people living on Dominica. One woman, Elizabeth Pampo Israel, died last year at the age of 131. She was born in 1875 and died in 2006. There is another local person who currently is 123 years old. They attribute their long lives to the natural foods eaten locally and to living such stress-free lives.

There is also still a village here of Carib Indians. Very likely these are the last of the true Caribs in existence. The Cairbs have bronze colored skin and are Asian in appearance. We did not make it to their village, but that would be an interesting day trip.

Dominica is the last of the Leeward islands in the West Indies. Martinique is the next island south of here and is the beginning of the Windward islands.

One morning we watched a couple of local guys fishing with a seine very near to us in the anchorage. Prince Rupert Bay is an extremely large bay. Most boats anchor in the northern side. These guys were fishing just south of the anchored boats. Reminded me so much of my father. He used to have a 300-foot seine that he would pull by himself down at the beach near High Island, TX. He would park the car on the beach (allowed to do that in Texas). He would tie one end of the seine to the door knob or rear bumper, and then swim out with the seine. When he reached the distance limit with the seine then he would start swimming toward Galveston and round back to the beach. This sounds very simple, but it takes a very strong muscular man to handle a 300-foot long, 4-foot wide seine all by himself. Good times back then.

So anyway, this particular morning these two local guys have a similar seine in their little fishing boat. It had floats woven into the netting on the upper edge. They fed out the seine into a circle and let it float for at least 15 minutes. Then they started pulling one end of it into their little boat. When the diameter of the circle had been reduced to one-half its original size, then one of the guys dove into the water with a snorkel mask. I guess to see what they had caught. Then he yelled and the guy in the boat started pulling the rope/line that was on the bottom edge of the seine. This closed up the bottom of the seine and left the top edge still floating in a smaller circle, effectively creating a bowl. Then he pulled the bottom edge of the closed seine into the boat. The second guy got back into the boat (man, wish we could climb into a dinghy as easily as he climbed into that boat from the water!). They finished pulling the rest of the seine, including all their fish, into the little boat. Then they drove directly to a restaurant on the beach and proceeded to clean the fish right in their boat, discarding the nasties back into the water. Goes to show you how fresh the fish can be in the restaurants down here.

Almost forgot to mention two things. On the tour of the Indian River the guide pointed out where some of the filming was done for the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, Part 2. He showed us where they had built the house out near the river. He said that within 3 days of them building that house that it looked 200 years old. After finishing the film the house was removed and not a trace remains today, looks like the rest of the jungle.

The guide also showed us where Survivor was filmed. They were filming on a different part of the island every week while we were at Dominica. There was some sort of “fence” woven out of plants that they had built the previous week that had not yet deteriorated. We will never see this show, but some of you readers might. The production company paid each guide a whopping $80 for each day that the guides could not do their regular tours because of the filming of this TV show. Sounded pretty chintzy to us. Should have paid them a bit more than that meager amount. The Dominican government allowed these two shows to be filmed here in hopes that it will increase interest in the island and some tourism.

One day we hired Martin to hike through the jungle forest with us. Part of this hike was up to the remains of a fort. While walking down a trail Martin stripped a few leaves from a plant. When we returned to our boat he sat in the cockpit and made a little bird from the strips and gave it to me. He said the little bird would last for years.

Dominica is another of those islands that is on our list of "want to see again." Next time I want to visit the Carib village before the Caribes are completely extinct.

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