The squall has passed ahead of us as we motor into Portsmouth, the most northerly anchorage of Prince Rupert Bay of Dominica and the waters are now flat and calm as we enter. The island, being of volcanic origin, has green mountains and valleys that reach down to white sand beaches or rocky cliffs. The bay is nearly 4 miles wide and the anchorage we see is enormous. There are sailboats and catamarans peppered along the northern part of the bay.
It was a last minute decision for us to arrive here this week (mid March). Meeting up with John Kretschmer on Quetzal and his crew in Il des Saintes 3 days previous, we had a great reunion with our sailing mentor and he invited us to head south for a few days to Dominica. Since we did not have definite plans that week, (as we were headed back to the US for a brief trip the next week) we decided it would be fun and agreed to accompany them.
Quetzal sailing to Dominica
After obtaining our customs papers in Guadeloupe we headed out of the southern islands for Dominica. We had intended to find a good wind (promised by PredictWind and the GRIB download) and enjoy a 3-hour afternoon sail. We did. We had a great 15 knot ESE wind putting us on a great line for Dominica. The water depths between many of these volcanic island plunge and there are quite often weed–lines that make good fishing. What would be the harm in putting out the fishing rod for a few hours on a beautiful Caribbean afternoon??… we were caught off guard as the reel sent off it high pitched whirring and we had a FISH ON!!
We had full sails up and the first task would be to furl in the genoa to slow our speed to retrieve the fish. Our speed dropped to nearly 3.5 knots and we initiated the autopilot to keep on our rhumb line. Mike cranked on the fishing rod as an efficient deep-sea fisherman would. I monitored our progress and watched out for other boats, and retrieved the gaff and other “fish-landing” equipment. The usual conversation ensued as the fish came closer…”aw it’s a barracuda’, “no, its not, it’s a skip jack”…” a mahi”…then wait …“its, big its…a wahoo!”. We had hooked into a 5 ft wahoo and desperately wanted to land it into the boat. The 6 ft long gaff was the key. We were 30 minutes from anchoring in Dominica and Mike quickly filleted the fish as we discussed how we would manage to eat all the fish during our trip.
We are initially greeted about a mile out by one of the “boat boys” asking if we need help. We had been instructed by our friend on Quetzal, who has been here many times in the past, to ask for his friend Edison. We did get a look of consternation initially when we said we were going to work with him, but he let us pass without incident. The “boat boys” as they are known are a consortium who provide assistance to cruisers as part of their job. They travel through the anchorage assisting with mooring or anchoring, retrieving water, fuel, or even specialty foods if necessary and providing security. There was a time where individuals trafficking drugs were bothersome to cruisers but this group organized into a peaceful trade group called PAYS (Portsmouth Association for Yacht Security) to fight this. Yes we are still approached by individuals on paddleboards selling mangoes, but they are harmless. Edison would help us obtain a secure mooring for $10 /night and pick us up to get checked into customs and immigration the following morning.
The next morning he arrived at the back of Lost Loon to pick us up for the ride to Customs. This just made the whole process seem easier as the police and customs dock was nearly a mile from the anchorage and signage was somewhat lacking. With papers in order, fees paid, our passports stamped and we had clearance. We were thankful that this island would allow us to check in and out on the same visit, thus eliminating that task before leaving in 3 days. He had also arranged a tour to part of the inland rainforest.
We were soon off in a large van with our new friends from Quetzal. We travelled higher and higher into the mountains winding along the palm tree and multicolored bougainvillea lined roads seeing one magnificent lookout after the next with views of the ocean below.
Waters were turquoise blue even from this vantage. Our first stop was a waterfall hike. Our guide spent time showing us different plants along the way that his ancestors and now his family use for different ailments. There are leaves that form an emulsification and it is used for soap, there is a plant to cure what I believe by the description is prostatitis, another for nausea and vomiting, and several others for nervousness (anxiety?). As we ventured further on the walk into the forest, we passed thick green leafy and mossy walls that were literally raining with clear fresh water.
We finally arrived at our destination and took a swim in a freshwater pool just at the base of the waterfall. Once we had our fill of cool fresh water and memorable photographs were taken, we left for our next stop at the island’s own chocolate factory.
We were introduced to the owner who is of Dutch descent. His father had started using the cocoa plant and it “nuts” to make chocolate here in the 40’s! The owner and our personal guide took us through the whole process. Above the separation system takes dried cacoa and grinds it up into nibs. (This actually reminded me of a Destination Imagination project I supervised when the kids were in middle school!)
We tasted the different chocolate combinations he produced and supported his efforts by purchasing our favorites as well. He has homesteaded here in the mountains and has built beautiful gardens. We were lucky to take a tour seeing all the colorful plants in the pinks, oranges, whites and incredible scents of his labor.
We were returned to our anchorage mid-afternoon and deposited along the beach road by a different route, seeing more of the cosmopolitan part of the island. It was bustling like any American city, children coming and going on school buses, but unlike our country we passed several family food stands. We tasted something like a vegetable pasty as we made one stop. We were escorted back to our boats by Edison who had been waiting for our return.
The Quetzal crew left that afternoon for their overnight sail to St. Lucia and we stayed to relax in the harbor.
The following day we were using the internet at a local beach bar and met another couple on a beautiful Amel sailboat. They told us of their travels from Europe and through the Caribbean. They showed us their boat that took them on their journey. Through our discussions that day we gained insights into future travels through the islands.
We also shared a great hike at Fort Shirley at Cabrits National Park (right in our harbor) at the entrance to Portsmouth. The famous ” Battle of the Saints,” between the British and the French could be observed from this site on 12th April 1782. We arrived at a huge dinghy dock at the fort and found our way through the near-abandoned cruise ship customs facility to the National Park entrance.
We paid our fees and took a self-guided tour. We saw remnants of a self-sufficient military installation from years gone by, cannons still standing. We hiked to a great overlook out to the western ocean.
Leaving many parts of the island yet to see, we departed after 3 days for an afternoon sail back to Guadeloupe.
Martinique is to come with more down-island travels!