three hulls, two people, one trip around the world…

Visiting Dominica

For a fortnight Lukas was visiting and for a fortnight we played the tourists. The computer remained shut down. Instead, we sailed and spent the time off Dominica alternating between excursion day and chill day. The tour guides of Dominica in Prince Ruprecht Bay have joined forces in an organisation (PAYS = Portsmouth association of Yacht Services). Once you have found your guide, you can arrange everything with him and he will pick you up from your boat for the excursions. The organisation also takes care of the boats that are anchored, so you don’t have to worry about losing your dinghy or dinghy motor. Although the tours are not cheap, they are stress-free and we learned a lot about the island from our guides.

The fact that it was Christmas and therefore a holiday did not bother anyone. All the parks were open and tours were offered continuously. The islanders prefer to close their shops during the hurricane season, when there are hardly any tourists anyway. So we were able to go up the Indian River late in the afternoon on Christmas Eve. It is forbidden to use motors (even electric motors) on the river, so you have to row. The movement of the propellers probably disturbs the fish.

Dominica was the location for many scenes from the second part of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. In the film, the pirates travelled up a jungle river to visit the sea witch and seek her advice. This witch’s house is hidden in a quaint bend in the river with trees whose roots reach into the water and, of course, the scene takes place at night. Lanterns are set up everywhere to illuminate the mysterious building. We actually drove the same way. It is a small branch of the Indian River. The house from the film no longer exists, it was–like so many things–blown away by a hurricane. But the islanders didn’t want to accept that and built a new one on the same spot. If you drive up to the house now, it does looks quaint, but it is much smaller than you expect it from the film. It is particularly striking that the cottage is only one storey high, as in the film Captain Barbossa comes down the stairs from the upper storey, dramatically tapping his wooden leg. We learned that the interior scenes were shot in another house. This stood a little further up the river but is no longer there. It was dismantled and transported to Disneyworld. 

Back we went to the main arm. The boats take you up the river until it becomes too shallow. There it is already narrower and you feel surrounded by jungle. Coincidentally, there is a pub exactly at this point. That’s probably where all the river tourists stop 😉 The riverside path continues through a super-beautiful flowering plant world that you only know as houseplants at home.

There are supposed to be 365 rivers in Dominica (one for every day). They are certainly not all as big as the Indian River. On the way back to civilisation, a rain shower caught us. That’s not so bad here, they are heavy but short. Even if you get completely soaked, everything dries quickly. 

During the trip on the river, one could easily imagine how the Indians used to paddle out of the river mouths in their boats to receive the trading ships and exchange fruit and other food for tools and such. We also experienced one such exchange. A local guide was rattling around the anchorages in his boat asking for old lines. His line for mooring to his buoy was completely gone. We had just replaced the jib sheet and therefore the old sheet was only on board as ballast. For the purpose of attaching a much smaller boat to the buoy, the sheet was still good enough, so it was handed over. The guide was very happy about the nice long line and brought us a bunch of bananas the next day. A good exchange 🙂     

A less nice visitor came in the form of a local who was using a stand-up paddle board as a canoe and had a plastic box tied to the front in which he was probably carrying things. He asked if we needed any fruit or vegetables and he wanted to take our rubbish. Actually we didn’t need anything, but he didn’t give up. I didn’t really trust him to take our rubbish, so I told him he could bring us some fruit. He asked for money to get the fruit. OK. That may or may not work. I gave him money and gladly fulfilled his wish for some water and a cheese sandwich to eat right away. He left and told me to put out some t-shirts and other old stuff for the next visit, he would trade it. Huh??? We usually wear our T-shirts for so long that they are no longer suitable for passing on, and we don’t have that many clothes, anyway.  Well, it is not a must do. The next day he didn’t come back and we had already given up our investment, but Mathias told the PAYS people about it and when we came back from the trip on the last day, there was actually fruit on our boat. 

On Christmas Eve, we had lasagne on the SAN. The way I make it, no one wants to cook it with Lukas. Maybe that’s because I made up our recipe some time ago. Anyway, we now like lasagne with corn and Lukas remembers this kind as a childhood food. As we all know, there are some foods that you like all your life because you got them from mum when you were a child. 

On Christmas Day we climbed the hill to Fort Shirley and enjoyed the view over the bay.

The second organised excursion took us to different destinations on the northern part of the island. First into the mountains:

Further into a volcanic crater. The volcano has not been active for a long time, but sulphur gases still escape and the water inside the crater bubbles without being hot.

From the volcano, we took serpentine roads to the other side of the island. This is the Atlantic side and the side facing the wind. The sea is rougher here and there are picturesque bays with good surf. Here we were shown the spot where Columbus’ ships anchored when they first encountered the island. How the long-boats got ashore through the strong surf is a mystery to us. However, the long-boats were bigger and heavier than modern dinghies and the sailors were certainly tougher. 

“Kolumbus’ bay”

We went on to a chocolate factory. This was only a very small plant. The pure chocolate or cocoa mass tastes different here. We tried 90% cocoa, which did not appeal to us. However, the chocolates with spices were all very tasty. We took a few bars with us: Cocoa Nibs, Nutmeg+Cinnamon, Mint, Coffee, Lemongrass. There was also ginger chocolate, but it was too hot for me.

A section of the coast has red rocks and it looks like on Mars:

Next stop: Small bar restaurant right on the beach with local food: Rice, noodles, bean paste, yam root patties and a choice of shrimp, ribs or chicken.

Afterwards we visited a botanical garden. Actually, it is a nursery with an attached garden. This garden reminded one more of Rivendell from “The Lord of the Rings” than of the pirates, to stick with the film comparisons.

During the trip, our guide ranted a lot about the prime minister, who seems to be acting like a little dictator. Now he has prematurely called new elections. This came as such a surprise that no opposition could form, leaving him as the only candidate. Why the opposition did not exist during the entire legislative period, I did not dare to ask. Our tours were also organised overnight. People seem to live in the “here and now”, which is supposed to be a healthy way of life. Dominica suffered badly from Hurricane Maria, which swept across the island in 2017. There was great devastation, bridges destroyed, roofs blown away, infrastructure destroyed, etc. Many of the residents left the island. Now there are some projects funded with money from the EU, Australia or China and a new programme where you can buy citizenship of Dominica. Agriculture seems to have recovered and after Covid, tourism is also coming back. We had seen two large windjammer sailing ships in the morning. They are moored in the bay during the day, people take a tour and at night the ships sail on. In the evening we watched the turning and sailing of a 5-master. Under loud sailor music and full mast lighting it turned majestically around, dream ship with sails.

But first we continued our tour back to the bay and in the other direction back into the mountains. There we got out and hiked to a waterfall (Syndicate Waterfall), or climbed over rocks in the river or waded through the river. In the middle of the gorge Mathias’ mobile phone rang, where was the reception coming from?  When we arrived at the waterfall, we couldn’t swim, but we could still enjoy the beautiful nature.

This was followed by a day of tinkering and tidying up. It was a good thing, too, because the gusts were up to 30 knots on this day and then we’d rather be on board. In the evening we went ashore to the Purple Turtle Bar, where there is WiFi. The food there is simple. But the tuna sandwich comes close to a Fischbrötchen. 😉

On the subject of “film comparisons”: In the evenings we often watched a DVD together. This time we watched the film “Waterworld” with Kevin Costner. Every trimaran sailor gets crazy about the trimaran shown there. We would like to be able to set our sails that quickly and then just run over the bad guy 😉

Another excursion day: We had the same guide with whom we had a lot of fun together. This time we went along the coastal road to Roseau, the capital of the island, and through the small streets. The guide always buys a drink sold at the roadside when he is in Roseau. It is made from a type of seaweed and goat’s milk. We also got a bottle of it. It tasted like an ice-cold milkshake, not bad at all. All of Dominica has no port facilities. Along the coastal road you could see huge buoys where tankers moor to deliver diesel and petrol. In Roseau itself there was a kind of cruise ship pier. The cruise ship is moored with long ropes and a movable bridge is laid to the ship where passengers can disembark, almost like the ones used for aeroplanes. Speaking of planes. Dominica has two small airports, one is no longer in use and the other also looks like only very small planes can land there. A new big, swanky and very expensive international airport is planned. But there can only be international airports here anyway, because when the plane leaves the island, it is already travelling internationally 😉 The new project looks like an unnecessary money pit. 

In many places (especially inland) you can see houses painted in pastel colours:


After leaving Roseau, our path led into the mountains. Quite far into the mountain landscape and also quite high up. There are two freshwater lakes there. It is so far up on the mountain ridges that the peaks are already hanging in the clouds. The trade winds sweep across the landscape and the trees do not grow very tall. It is correspondingly cold here. I had to put on Mathias’ spare T-shirt so as not to freeze. We only walked a good distance on the paths there and back, we didn’t want to do a long hike in muddy terrain, in cold wind and on steep paths. Already grown too soft.

But the tour offered other highlights: The Ti Tou Gorge. This is a gorge that leads to a waterfall. It is so narrow that you can only swim through the river. So Lukas and I set off. You had to borrow life jackets. Mine hindered me a bit, it was too big for me. The gorge is also a filming location of the second part of “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Here we swam through the place above which Jack Sparrow hung tied to a pole and ultimately fell in. Of course, this place was also smaller and narrower than in the film. Nevertheless, it was fun and nature pure, again. The water was quite cold, but you got used to it. I had a GoPro camera with me, but when I read out the memory card later, it broke down. We only managed to recover one clip so far. Lukas will take the card with him and see if he can save more. 

After the swim, we stopped for lunch, again at a small restaurant. The food was the same, but this time there was only a choice between ribs and chicken. It tasted good, but in the long run you might want to eat something else?

Another waterfall was waiting for us, or rather this time there were two: the Trafalgar Falls. To get to the falls, we had to climb a little again. But it was all doable. We just walk through the water with our shoes. Mathias’ shoes are actually a bit too slippery for such actions, but mine are well suited. This way Mathias can prove that he is much more sure-footed than I am and jump around in front of me despite the slippery shoes 😉

That was the last stop for the day, then back to the beach and enjoy the sunset. Later, the departure ballet of the windjammers.

The last day with an excursion came all too soon: This time we had a different guide. He was not so good, a rather chaotic guy. He used to be a delivery driver, so he knew every single curve on the island and somehow was in a hurry. Anyway, he drove at such a speed that I almost felt sick on the back seat of the minibus. I asked him to slow down a bit, at least when going downhill. After that it got a little better. Our destination, the Sari Waterfall, was quite far away. So we went through the mountains and out and back into the mountains for quite a while until we came to an area where the roads became narrower and finally just looked like dirt tracks. Here the guide had to ask for directions twice. Finally we stopped next to a private house. A slim young man with dreadlocks in swimming trunks and plastic slippers came out of the house and introduced himself to us. Together we walked across a meadow to a gorge where the river flowed below. The descent to the river bed was very steep and went over slippery ground. The young guide progressed without any difficulty and without bothering with his slippery shoes. We climbed more or less carefully down behind him. I had the most difficulties. Partly there were steps made of tree roots, but there you had to take very big steps.

Shortly before the end of the slope, my knee started to hurt. It calmed down a bit and we continued along the river, climbing through the riverbed and over the rocks and sometimes on the bank in the muddy ground.

Maybe it was because I hadn’t had any breakfast, or because of a total lack of fitness, but in any case it suddenly hit my ears and my circulation went on strike. That’s why I stayed behind on the riverbank and only the others continued climbing to the waterfall. Mathias reported that the young guide said they had covered the distance within 15 minutes as children and now he was also hopping cheerfully barefoot from boulder to boulder. Mathias followed him, somewhat less willing to jump. Lukas bathed at the waterfall.

When they picked me up again, I had recovered and the way back was ok, even if we walked slowly. To climb back up the slope, I was given a walking stick. It actually helped a lot, so I could also support myself with my hands. But it’s probably time to do more for my fitness, if only because Mathias can’t show off his reserves of strength like that (where does he always get them from?).

The car ride back also turned into another adventure. After a visit to a restaurant, the driver must have been in a hurry again, at least he took a route that had not yet been completed. Probably in the hope that he would make progress on the construction site. That worked, but the section of the construction site we had to drive through consisted of mud driven over by heavy lorries. If he had stopped here, we would have had to push. When we arrived back on the asphalt road with a lot of luck, the driver said he would not take the shortcut again so soon. The car looked accordingly splattered. We drove to the office of the tour operator and paid our bill, because we wanted to weigh anchor the next morning.

For the return trip to St. Martin, we were moving in the right wind direction. As always, the wind and waves were a bit stronger than expected. So we were a little more heeling than is nice for me (= old softy), but Mathias was able to speed almost the whole way at 8-12 knots. He deliberately forgot to mention a gust that pushed the indicator up to 39 knots. So, 25 hours after anchoring in Dominica, we were back at anchor in St Martin. The voyage continued over New Year’s Eve. We welcomed 2023 with children’s champagne. Fireworks could only be glimpsed far away on an island. On the other hand, there was a big fireworks display in St. Martin on 1 January, right on time for Sailor’s Midnight (9 p.m.), which we were able to watch from the SAN. 

On 3.1. Lukas’ plane went home. Too bad, holiday mode is over. Let’s get to work on the maintenance appointments and daily tasks around the boat….

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