Happiness is waking up at sunrise on a sailboat in the Caribbean after a fantastic 200 mile sail. We’re moored in Prince Rupert Bay just off Portsmouth, Dominica after a restful night. Sleeping is much easier when your boat isn’t bouncing in the waves and heeling over 30 degrees like we were the night before. Soon after we clean up the boat and go for a swim, Albert arrives in his launch and takes us ashore.
This is part 2 of the story of my sailing trip to Dominica from St. Maarten. It’s day 3 of our Caribbean adventure on Avocation, a Swan 48, with Captain Hank. Our mission is to explore one of the islands hit the hardest by hurricane Maria in September 2017. Dominica, located between Martinique and Guadeloupe, is known for its lush mountainous rainforests and the world’s second largest hot spring called Boiling Lake.
Hank is helping Dominica attract more cruisers by raising funds to build a mooring field in Portsmouth Harbor. These funds are helping the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services install and maintain over 50 moorings. It started 8 years ago when Hank and Offshore Passage Opportunities members raised $6,000 to help Albert replace his wooden boat with a reliable fiberglass boat. We learn that Albert’s right leg was amputated below the knee just a month before our arrival due to sickle cell. It’s still bandaged and he’s trying to get used to life with one leg. Not easy given his avocation, but he’s quick to offer a friendly smile.
Landing ashore, we walk into town to get our passports stamped. The damage due to Maria, a category 5 hurricane that made a direct hit of the island, is all around. Roofs and walls are blown off, boats are washed ashore, a shipping container sitting precariously on a seawall. Dominica’s economy is largely dependent on agriculture. Hence the biggest hit to the island is the wide-spread damage to their bananas, coconuts, and many other crops.
There are 365 rivers on Dominica. After lunch, Albert rows us up their most famous, the Indian River. What was once covered by jungle is now open to the sunshine, but it is still a fun journey. We find Calypso’s hut used in the Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Man’s Chest, or what’s left of it. Albert rows us a mile up river to the tiki hut where you can buy shots of flavored rums. The exotic flavors somewhat mask the fire-water taste of this sugar-cane moonshine.
The next day, after another morning swim and coffee, we load into a van for a tour of the island. Our driver, Ken, works full-time for his brother’s lumber yard driving the fork lift, and part time as a tour guide. Ken is a walking encyclopedia of island facts and seems to know everyone on the island. He takes us up over the mountains to the Atlantic coast, rewarding us with beautiful views of the endless bays and beaches of Dominica. We can only imagine how beautiful the island must have been before the hurricane.
Ken stops at a banana plantation where the bananas are just beginning to grow again after Maria stripped them clean. We drive through the coconut plantation where Ken tells us they filmed Jack Sparrow’s water wheel duel scene. Sadly, many of the giant palms lost their crowns in the storm. Further south along the twisting coastal road, we stop at a little hut where a family makes tapioca starch from cassava roots growing around their house. They mix the starch with coconut to bake delicious cassava bread.
Lunch is at a cliff-side shack half demolished by Maria. In front of us is an amazing view of the Atlanta ocean. Behind us, bottles of rum of every flavor imaginable fill the shelves of the bar. It’s early, so we stick to beer, cokes, and fresh fruit juice.
After lunch we drive through the Carib Reserve, a 3,700-acre district established for the indigenous Carib people. The Island Caribs inhabited Dominica prior to European colonization by the French and then the British.
The highlight of our tour is taking a plunge into the Emerald Pool and standing under the full force of the waterfall. It’s a 15-minute hike down to the pool through what was a jungle with a dense canopy before Hurricane Maria. On the bright side, the sun now warms the fresh water pool, making for a refreshing swim. We buy a few souvenirs from the “gift shop” before loading back into the van and completing our tour of Dominica.
That evening we head back to Matilda’s beach shack for a fun night dancing with other cruisers and island locals at the Full Moon party. There’s plenty of rice, fish, lobsters, and of course, flavored rums. We move more and more tables and chairs aside to make room for a dance floor as the night progresses.
The next morning we “sleep in” to at least 6:30 am. A fresh pot of coffee, sausage links and a swim under a tropical rainbow rejuvenates our senses. All too soon we are dropping our mooring and saying goodbye to Dominica. Next stop: Iles des Saints, Guadeloupe.