Our Caribbean Adventure, Part 8: Dominica, Our Favorite Island.
We enjoyed our stay in Les Saintes a great deal but after 5 days it was time to leave.
I made a trip ashore and a visit to the marina office (owners of the moorings in the harbor) for immigration check out. The French system requires that you fill out the exact same form for check in and check out but it is computerized so it goes quickly. However, since the French use a keyboard that is different from U.S. keyboards you have to be careful with the typing and with proof reading your form. Other than that, it pretty quick and easy, once you get the hang of the slightly obscure nature of the form and its organization.
We left in the morning, with forecasts of 15 knot winds from the E NE. On this trip, we got our weather information from a “wind prediction” website, Windfinder Pro and from Weatherbug. We supplemented that information by listening to the Chris Parker weather broadcast (Marine Weather Center) on our SSB radio.
Again, we were surprised by the significantly higher winds and bigger seas than were forecast. The winds focused significantly between Guadeloupe and Dominica (pronounced, “Dom-in-eee-ka”. Our crossing featured 20-25 knots, with gusts up to 35 knots. Waves and swell were 8-10 feet with a few larger interspersed. It was some exciting sailing.
Our arrival in Dominica took place in the afternoon and it was still blowing, making things interesting in the mooring field in Portsmouth harbor. But we had competent help getting tied to a mooring from one of the young PAYS entrepreneurs. (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security).
There are several reasons why Dominica is our favorite Caribbean island nation. First, the government has made arriving and leaving inexpensive and efficient. You can check in and check out in one stop at the government office. This is a real convenience. Second, the so called “boat boys” are an organized association of young men who help you with arrival and departure, set you up with service and assistance if you need work done on your boat, and provide taxi tours of the island and row-boat tours of the river that empties into the bay. Third, crime against yachts is virtually non-existent because the PAYS organization makes it their mission to protect cruisers. Fourth, the little town is clean and neat and the people are friendly. There is none of the “give us your money and leave” attitude that we found in other areas such as the BVI and St. Vincent. Fifth, we did not experience the discrimination based upon our light, white skin color, that prevails on many of the other islands. Sixth, Dominica is a beautiful country and the people are proud of their island and it shows.
Some of the activities we enjoyed were a 5+ mile hike on a jungle trail with beautiful views of the surrounding ocean, a guided tour by taxi/van of the entire island, swimming off the lovely white sand beach, walking through the nice little town of Portsmouth, and shopping for fruits and vegetables at the open air market next to the town dock.
We needed our hull cleaned to remove a healthy growth of barnacles (due to a really bad bottom paint job at Nanny Cay boatyard on Tortola in the BVI) and Alexis set us up with a friend of his who did an excellent job at a very fair price. We also needed our freezer compressor re-charged with AC coolant and again Alexis took care of us and the job was done correctly at the right price. This turned out to be an exception from work we had done in St. Vincent at Rodney Bay Marina and at Jolly Harbor on Antigua, where we found out that cruisers are often regarded as “rich white people” who should pay more and get less.
We stayed three night at Portsmouth (and returned a year later on our return north) and then headed south. Our next destination was Fort De France on Martinique, a rather long distance for one day so we planned to stop first for one night at Roseau, the capital of Dominica. It was not a restful stop. The anchorage is very marginal. Its deep, and exposed to winds and swell that wrap around the island from the south. But we got help from a very friendly man who collected our mooring fee after helping us tie up to the buoy.
Some readers (experienced cruisers and sailors) may wonder why help is nice for getting a mooring. The reason is that many of them are poorly maintained, and the lines with a loop for tying are kept afloat by milk jugs or other small floats. In the wind and waves, it can be difficult to grab the line with a boat hook, and they are often water logged and encrusted and difficult to lift out of the water. In calm conditions its ok but in 2′-3′ foot chop and gusty winds its not easy at all.
We spent the night at Roseau rolling about in the 3′-4′ swells and left early the next morning. The sailing to Martinique was very nice, with 12-15 knots off the beam and relatively smooth seas. We arrived at Fort De France in the afternoon, but found the anchorage (in the lee of the Fort) to be crowded and challenging. We wanted to stay there so we could check in through immigration and see the town. Luckily, we were able to shoe-horn our way into a decent spot in about 30′ of depth, with adequate swinging room. We were close to the channel buoy when the wind stretched our anchor chain but never in any danger.
We went ashore, found the store with the immigration computer, and took care of the government formalities. Being back in France meant that we had to use our heavy 12′ SS cable and combination lock to secure our dinghy to the landing wharf but there were lots of people around and it seemed safe and secure. This is another thing we learned about Caribbean cruising. On some islands, like Nevis and Dominica, petty theft is fairly rare, but on the French islands like St. Martin it is prevalent, and in other countries like St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Grenada, it is rampant. You must have a long, heavy cable, or a good chain, and a heavy duty lock to secure your unattended dingy, even for just a short walk. Also, you must be sure to lock your engine to the transom. At night, it is highly advisable to lift your dingy onto the deck of your boat or out of the water and locked to your dinghy davits on the stern. Thieves will come aboard at night and steel an unlocked outboard engine right off your deck or transom, or stern pulpit. A dinghy floating astern is an easy target, even if locked with a cable or chain. Even a small bolt cutter will lop through a cable or chain easily and quietly in the dark of the night.
Another caution is to always lock your boat when you leave. In many places, like Rodney Bay on St. Lucia, thieves will watch with binoculars from ashore and make note of unoccupied yachts and the owners destination at a local restaurant for dinner. Then, they will make their way out to your yacht, enter through an unlocked hatch or companionway, or even break in, and steal whatever is available.
We visited Fort De France and the Marina at Marin, and stayed one night in the beautiful St Anne anchorage, which seems very exposed but is actually surprisingly calm and nice. Marin was very crowded, filled with hundreds of boats anchored and on moorings, and the huge marina. But the marina has nice shops and there is a large grocery store within an easy walk. One thing about the French islands is that the grocery stores are well stocked and the prices are good.
On our departure, we spent one night in the bay of Grand Anse on the west side of Martinique and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the little village and calm bay. It was well sheltered from the wind and only a little exposed to the low swell.
Next Installment: Our adventures on St. Lucia and St Vincent, and on to the Grenadines.