Friday 1st to Friday 8th April
As we entered Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica after a 20 mile sail from The Saints, we were approached by a wooden boat with a powerful outboard motor, with ‘Providence’ painted on the side. Providence, whose real name we later discovered was Martin, has a degree in Botany, and is a general fixer. He whizzed us across the bay to customs in his boat, past the low lying buildings of Portsmouth, Dominica’s second largest town, giving us an introductory talk on Dominica on the way. At customs we completed the usual forms in triplicate and were sorted for a two week visit to Dominica.
We were invited for G&Ts at sundown by Anna and Alex from Plymouth, who were at anchor next to us and who we had met briefly in Jolly Harbour, Antigua and then in the Saints. Terry and Carol were also invited and we recognised them as a couple we’d met in Barbuda, who had also been in Jolly Harbour at the same time. The following day we shared a trip up Indian River and snorkelling in the next bay.
Indian River is a narrow river which empties into the sea at Portsmouth. Providence rowed a party of seven of us deep up the river, as motoring is not allowed. It was atmospheric, with overhanging branches, swamp bloodwood trees with roots like buttresses, herons, crabs, lizards, bright flowers and hummingbirds, and Providence/Martin gave us an ongoing commentary on the flora and fauna. One of the scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean was shot here, the one where the pirates meet Calypso in her hut, and we drifted past the small shack that had been built for the film on the banks of Indian River. We had hoped to see the Sisserou parrot, Dominica’s national bird, that appears on its flag, but as compensation Providence sang us the Dominican National Anthem. Our busy day continued with some fabulous snorkelling over an underwater canyon and the weekly beach barbecue organised by local ‘boat boys’, with the rum punch flowing freely.
The next day Providence had gathered together a group for a tour by road around the island. Dominica has a range of mountains running north and south along the spine of the island and is home to eight potentially active volcanoes. The majority of the island is covered in heavily wooded rainforest and tourism on the island is very low key, with much of it eco-tourism. It suffered from a visit in August 2015 by Storm Erica with torrential rain damaging many of the roads and bridges, which have still to be properly repaired. Our tour took us over the northern ridges of the island to the east coast of Dominica, past a deserted sugar cane mill and water wheel, a strange red clay mud slide, a chocolate ‘factory’, and through Carib Territory, where some 3,500 descendants of the original Caribs live. On many of the Caribbean islands the Caribs, who came originally from South America, were wiped out following colonisation by the English or French, who fought over the centuries for possession of the islands, but they survived on Dominica, aided by the rugged terrain and dense rainforests which were also a haven for escaped slaves known as Maroons. We swam in Emerald Pool in the wet and rainy forest.
We felt quite comfortable on our mooring in beautiful Prince Rupert Bay. Most days we would get a visit from Providence to see whether we needed anything. Michael came by on a paddle board, sold us a Dominican courtesy flag and offered to clean the bottom of out boat which by now had a thick layer of green weed growing on it and we regret not taking him up on this offer. Other visitors to Vega, clearly poor and desperate for a few dollars, were selling mangoes, small and sweet. It was a short walk along the road to Portsmouth, a small and unremarkable town with one main street. It had poorly stocked supermarkets compared with the wide range of French and local goods that had been available in Guadeloupe, but we bought fruit and vegetables from market stalls, a whole fresh tuna in the fish market which lasted us for two meals and chicken barbecued by the roadside. Most days we paddled across the bay to tie up the dinghy at Sandy’s beach restaurant, where the wifi was good. The outboard had finally given up on us, despite Hugh stripping it down for a third time, when he found the carburettor to be full of sand and oil, and then a fourth time, when, although everything looked OK, it would still not run properly. Terry gave us a sheet of unwanted tarpaulin which we erected to catch rainwater as there were some heavy downpours and our water tanks were getting low. Otherwise we could take containers to fill up from taps by the roadside.
We walked up to Shirley’s Fort on the headland to the bay and paid our entrance fee to look round the fort and walk in the surrounding woodlands, the Cabrits National Park. Along the woodlands paths little lizards scuttled away under our feet through the undergrowth and orange hermit crabs rolled up in shells they’d clearly outgrown. On the headland a solitary cannon pointed out to sea, British defences against the French. Shirley’s Fort has recently been renovated using EU money. We have heard other British yachties moaning about such use of ‘our’ money in similar projects, but I feel pleased that a country as poor as Dominica should benefit from the wealthier countries in the world. I have a feeling, perhaps naïvely, that if we spent more of our resources aiding and not invading then there would be less terrorism in this world, especially in countries we have exploited so much in the past.
So far we have felt entirely safe in the Caribbean, and particularly so in Dominica. In Prince Rupert Bay, the local ‘boat boys’ have joined together to set up PAYS, the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security, to provide services to visiting yachts in the form of mooring buoys anchored to the sea bed by large blocks of concrete, barbecues on the beach, guided tours, and security including a night watch. Clearly they are striving to attract and to keep the business of the visiting yachts. We have never felt the need to lock our dinghy and we sleep with hatches and companionway open. However, further south in the Caribbean there are reports of incidents of theft and occasionally violence, and a lot more hassle. Many yachts are completely bypassing St Vincent as a German sailor was killed in March whilst at anchor in one of the bays there.
On our sixth night as we were playing scrabble there was what sounded like gunfire from across the bay. We were unable to see anything, but in the morning it seemed like a large number of yachts had left. When we asked at Sandy’s restaurant we were told that the police had been firing with a Kalashnikov at a group of drug runners who had made off by sea.
It was time anyway to move on and the following day we headed further south down the west coast of Dominica to the capital, Roseau.