Phase One of my OPB (Other People’s Boats) Caribbean cruising season this winter begins in St. Maarten, where I flew in to meet Hank Schmitt and my old friend, the Swan 48 Avocation, which I once delivered to St. Maarten many moons ago after Hank first started managing her. Faithful readers will recall that I ran out of fuel at the very end of that trip waiting for the bridge to open to enter the Simpson Bay lagoon. So I considered it auspicious this time when we not only didn’t run out of fuel exiting the lagoon (which would have been extremely alarming, considering we had just left a fuel dock), but also got to queue up behind the big J-boat Ranger going out through the bridge (see photo up top).
Our passage southeast to Dominica went very well, as the easterly tradewinds had just a whiff of a northerly slant to them, which allowed us to sail the whole course on port tack in just one board. This with only a bit of cheating with the motor–from St. Maarten up to St. Bart’s to dodge some squalls, and through the lee of Guadeloupe and its sister islands. We did lose our autopilot, but we had a large crew (myself, Hank, our mutual sailing buddy Johnathan Ishmael, and two of Hank’s OPO members, Janet Schuhl and Eva Gross) so hand-steering was not onerous.
Having arrived at Prince Rupert’s Bay off Portsmouth near the north end of the island last Friday evening after some 30 hours in transit, we were soon thrown into a whirl of activity the following day as Hank’s scheme for Yachtie Appreciation Week began to kick into gear. This being the culmination of Hank’s effort to get a new mooring field installed off Portsmouth, courtesy of $24,000 in donations made by his OPO membership. All sorts of people have been involved with this, including key elements of the Dominican government, the local boat-boy trade group PAYS (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security), and other like-minded cruising sailors like Clair and Magoe Menning, who run an Eastern Caribbean community-building non-profit called Macario Advantage off their Leopard 46 catamaran, and Joan and Greg Conover, who are representing the Seven Seas Cruising Association and the Salty Dawg Rally as they sail about on their old Morgan Out Island 51 ketch Growl Cat.
There has been ceaseless schmoozing and networking and said activity whirlwind has been churning non-stop ever since we got here, including various dinners, parties, and eco-tours. This afternoon there is an exhibition soccer match scheduled, between we sailors and the local boy’s high school team, so there is a very good chance I will be crippled and incapacitated before the day is out.
Thus I thought I better share some images and impressions of this very lovely island post haste.
The scene of the scene: Prince Rupert’s Bay. Previously there was a field of 31 moorings here, but over the years this has dwindled through attrition and lack of maintenance to a mere five. With support from Hank PAYS is working to install 50 new moorings, each secured by a 2,000-pound cement block. So far only 10 moorings are installed, but all necessary supplies are on hand and PAYS has recently perfected their mooring-setting technique (which involves a very unlikely looking homemade raft) so the rest should be going in soon. Moorings are very helpful here, as the hard grass bottom makes for lots of dragging when anchoring
The PAYS patrol boat. This cruises the bay at night to make sure all boats are safe and secure. PAYS was founded by the local boat-boys to make sure yachts could visit without suffering any of the petty crime problems experienced on other islands in the area. The boat-boys here are polite and respectful of privacy and are not overly aggressive
Hank and his old buddy Albert, a local boat-boy and PAYS member. Hank had been visiting the island for years and decided to give something back by helping Albert get the materials he needed to build a new boat. This project was the seed that led to the mooring field initiative
Saturday market in Portsmouth. Lots of good locally grown produce available here, including tomatoes to die for
The local smartphone repair guy in Portsmouth
A suspicious toddler examines passers-by
The most beautiful house in Portsmouth!
Prince Rupert’s Bay is often visited by large sailing cruise ships, like this one here, seen outbound in the evening. Conventional cruise ships land at Roseau, the island’s capital, to the south
The cruise ships, unfortunately, contribute little to the local economy. When they send guests ashore to play, they provide the water toys, as seen here, and also cut out local tour operators by organizing their own tours. As PAYS president Jeffrey Frank put it to me when discussing this: “You win some, you lose some.”
Visiting sailors settle into the Yachtie Appreciation Week kick-off party at the PAYS pavilion on the beach. This featured a very rousing speech from politician Ian Douglas, who represents Portsmouth in the national legislature
Your humble narrator recovers from dancing at the party and receives advice from President Jeff
One major attraction close to Portsmouth is the Indian River, which creeps out of the forest at the south end of town. Not too far up you’ll find this shack here, which was built for the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie, specifically the swamp scene where they visit the witch. Several other scenes were also shot on the island
Further up the river you’ll find this poor fellow, who was left behind by a TV crew shooting a segment of the reality show Naked And Afraid. His remains, of course, are much more terrifying if you are nude when viewing them
White egret on the riverbank
This is the river outside the Bush Bar, near the head of navigation. You can also walk a trail to get here
Inside the Bush Bar we were presented with this entry in the visitor’s log as proof that Prince Harry had recently passed through. But I am skeptical. On googling the prince, I find he has many names, but none like this
Much of the interior of the island looks like this. Or steeper. There is a large network of trails for exploring and there are many attractions buried in the forest, including two species of parrot unique to the island: the Sisserou parrot, which is quite rare, and the Jaco parrot, which is more common
Deep in the forest you’ll also find lots of waterfalls. These are the falls at a spot known as the Emerald Pool. The island is laced with 365 rivers, one for each day of the year (like the beaches on Antigua), except for leap years, when there are 366
This is Hank (left) and Johnathan (right) getting pressure-washed at Milton Falls
Another view of the Emerald Pool falls, seen from behind
Trafalgar Falls features two separate spigots, with a vast boulder field strewn before them. The boulders were seriously rearranged last August when Hurricane Erica swept through and plagued the island with very heavy rainfall and vicious flash floods
Despite a sign warning us not to, members of our party swarmed up into the boulder field to get to the base of the falls so we could swim in the pools there. Here we see Johnathan (left), inspecting his toes, and a young Swedish cruising couple, Emily and Marcus, from the boat next to us in the bay, who joined our expedition. Down on the observation platform in the distance there was a park ranger shouting at us to get the hell down from there. Emily, in turned out, is a highly experienced soccer player, but could not be persuaded to join our team
Another example of how Erica rearranged things. This is one of three wrecked bridges we found in our wanderings. Flash floods and landslides actually seem to be a common problem here
The soil here is quite fertile and agriculture of all descriptions is prevalent. Produce is exported to other islands that are not so lucky in this regard
Typical view on the windward side of the island
Dominica is the only West Indian island with a surviving population of Carib Indians, the more aggressive cannibalistic tribe who were pushing out the more peaceful Arawak as Europeans arrived in the area in the late 15th century. The Carib reserve on the island’s windward shore is home to 3,600 souls, including this fellow, who sold us a pumpkin and did not eat us
Random Carib artwork found scrawled on a table in the reserve
Behind the bar at a roadside restaurant on the windward side
A fisherman shows off a lionfish he caught and is cleaning
An old fishing boat we found on the beach. This is the real deal, a dugout wood hull built up with one big plank on either side, and a frame built in afterward to firm everything up
A mural in the village of Massacre memorializing the massacre of Carib Indians (by the French) that took place there long ago
Lots of friendly stray dogs here! This is my favorite, who I named Priscilla, enjoying some johnny cake. If I were here on my own boat (and didn’t already have a dog) I would seriously consider adopting her. She was very calm and very biddable
Eva shows off her new sun hat, purchased at the Chinese department store in Portsmouth. She added the gaping hole and ribbon herself
Three cats chilling on the street in Roseau. The cat on the right, you’ll note, would rather not have his photo taken, which I’ve found is not at all unusual here. I normally respect this, but he didn’t raise his hand until I pulled the trigger
A school bus crushed by a baobab tree in Roseau. No injuries were reported
Apply for miracles within
UPDATE: I survived the soccer match! But only because I played for about 10 minutes before coming out for a substitute. Ultimately, Johnathan and I were the only sailors bold enough to participate, and we had to recruit a team of boat-boys from a nearby bar to fill out our squad. They did very well and lost to the high school team by only three or four goals.
Our ruthless opponents, clad in jerseys given them by Hank, who brought them from his old alma mater, the Portsmouth Abbey school in Rhode Island
Action on the field. I only realized once I was out there that I don’t really have any idea how to play this game
Johnathan and his entourage launch a drone to film the action and harass the opposition from on high
If you’re bumming because you’re missing all the fun and games here, fear not. This is only the First Annual Yachtie Appreciation Week. There will be another next year, with free moorings (more of them) and discounted island tours, parties, meals, and yes, another soccer match.
If you’re any good at soccer, we really need you to show up next time!
And if you can’t wait that long, come and visit Dominica anyway. Tis a most excellent place to be.
With a recent invasion of non-native sea grass, it has been doubly important to have secure moorings. A wise skipper does not leave his boat unattended if he feeks his anchor will not hold. Dominica is unlike the BVI where you sail from beach bar to beach bar and look at your boat while dining ashore. In Dominica you want to depart early and spend the entire day climbing to waterfalls, hiking one of the 14 trails or making the all day run to the Boiling Lake. With a secure mooring and a vigilant PAYS association watching your boat for you, Dominica and the new mooring field is key to a fun and stress free visit. The mooring outside of the Yachtie Appreciation Week are only $10 per night and the fee goes to the nightly security boat. Even if you do not want to spend the $10 a night, there will be a designated anchorage area for free and you are still covered under the PAYS security umbrella. Even Yachties on a budget are welcome to come and spend time on this less visited island.
Hank, Charlie, Joan, and PAYS: This has been an awesome week here! And still going. Thank you!
Bennett and Susan, s/v Pratique
Back in the early 80’s we trusted Albert a few times with the boat we were running…a few dollars well spent for safety (and some polished brass!). “De head boat boy” then and now, glad to see he is doing well!
Well Done Hank !!!!!
A great job Hank.
And a thanks to all that helped.
Awesome article as usual. Never been to Dominica but it looks like paradise. We are leaving in a week for some OPB sailing out of SXM. If you are there between 3/1 and 3/12 and happen to wander into the the SXM YC or the Red Piano, just look for the tallest guy in the place with grey hair and I’ll buy you a painkiller!
Great article, Charlie. Wish I was there. Miss you Hank.
Hi Hank wonderful article and great job done! the pictures are beautiful and hope that next year I can join you on one of your sails there…………Kathryn
Charlie — when it comes to giving not just color (people mostly expect that) but meaning to the explorations of people on their boats or others, there’s not better blog than Wavetrain! In this case, a little history (not a guidebook); a taste of what NGOs are doing there; and my personal favorite: the Chinese outpost that I’m sure supplies all kinds of things… Have a great time at your next port of call!