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 Just south of the Iles des Saints, Guadeloupe (French) is the tall island nation of Dominica (English and Creole-speaking), which likes to call itself the Nature Island. It took Melanie, crew companion, and me 2 ¾ hrs. at 7.3 mph to sail there on a favorable easterly trade wind. That probably sounds rather slow, but it cost us nothing to catch the wind and have it pay our way, and we had all morning to get there and enjoy the sounds and sun on the way.

And what did it look like once we got tied up to a mooring ball that anchored us to the land? Well, having left the busy city port of the rather large island of Guadeloupe and the small group of quaint but touristic Saints islands, Portsmouth was very different. It is scattered along a large western bay with local and cruising boats moored or anchored out from the

long, fronting beach and its crashing sea swells rolling in from the Atlantic Ocean around to the east. No high-rise waterfront condos or hotels. Forested steep mountains reach down to the town strip and small rivers cut deeply into the mountainside, with houses scattered along the edges of this all. (Old Fort Shirley NP cannons at the ready.)

And what was it like to walk down the main street—the big test of any landing ashore? My first impression was, “We’re not in France, anymore…” Like I suspect most French islands such as Guadeloupe down here are, they are wealthier (not commonly rich, though), with more organized infrastructure such as roads, street layout, etc., no clear poverty, better-stocked stores, and so on. I would say that Antigua doesn’t enjoy such French amenities and northern Dominica has substantially even less. I think grocery stores are a good yardstick—especially for a supply-dependent cruising visitor—and Dominica appears as a food desert even compared to Antigua, which had only two chain-owned stores of any significance.

So, hunting the sparse shelves of very small stores and the large Saturday market for fresh vegetables and home-grown products becomes even more important for a daily or every other day routine. You get good at scanning for essentials and desirables and remembering where they are located. Nothing new about this centuries-old practice of sailors throughout history.

However, people are very friendly and respectful of your existence as another human being regardless of wealth or lack thereof, ethnic or national background, or almost any other measure of personhood. A nod or verbal greeting of some kind is almost always cheerfully given and expected when meeting on the street, especially passing one-on-one, unless you’re on a busy city/town street—same as most everywhere then. In this way, they are like Antinguans, and in Guadeloupe, where a cheery “Bon Jour!” is given. I highly suspect this to be the case all down the Caribbean island chain. It’s a very pleasant personalization between strangers, which often leads to an extended conversation and well-wishes since many have been to the US or other countries, often for a lengthy time, and makes for an interesting encounter.

While Portsmouth in the north is small town, Roseau in the south is big city. Yet, the buildings in the city proper are very much like in Portsmouth: just more of them crammed into the available space where meandering streets crisscross to give some semblance of order. Still, in contrast to the north as you head away from the crowded habitation and tiny businesses where the houses in the hills are clearly built with whatever funds the owners could muster, in the south, as you leave the city, the houses are much nicer, more brightly

stuccoed with architectural flair, and having large areas of tropical landscaping and tended gardens. Many of the houses are perched on hillsides and projections that clearly cost a fortune by anyone’s standard of living. The deeper into the steep ravine-filled mountains you go, the more impressive they are. In the north, such land has scattered shacks and steep land tilled for meager agricultural produce.

The contrast is impossible to ignore. So, what gives? The local tour guide we had for some trips in the north pointedly commented that it’s mostly foreigners who have bought the land and built the houses. Due to hurricane damage, deaths in the owners’ families over the years, people just abandoning the land and leaving the country, etc., opportunities for money via foreign purchase appeared and the houses rose. A common thousands-of-years-old story throughout world history—and so it continues down here.

But the island is beautiful in its starkness of nature, geologically and in plant life in particular, and slowly tourism is providing some needed income but the usual infrastructure for it is slow in coming. Hopefully, that slowness is due to thoughtful diligence to make sure that the Dominican way of life isn’t overrun, but I think it’s more due to the weighty bureaucratic inheritance from the English colonial system that is making it slow—and numerous individuals I’ve talked to verify that reality. Interestingly, the former French Caribbean islands are a far cry from this consequence.

OK, some topics of what I did and saw.

Every island has its share of fortress ruins, some restored to museums, some just piles of fallen walls. Portsmouth had a nice restored one, Fort Shirley, 18th Century British, with salvaged cannons overlooking the bay where I was moored while there.

While the roads in town/city were not in great shape, the roads winding all over the rest of the island were amazing (except where being repaired): made of concrete, cross-grooved for traction, and cement run-off ditches for the rain. They wound up, over, and around unbelievable curves and hills. And the guys driving them would honk loudly before going around blind curves, which meant doing so about every two minutes on average—and I never saw any roadside wrecks pushed off to the side of the road, and the roads were only

wide enough to pass another car if everyone in the car sucked in their breath to somehow shrink the car enough to make the pass-by while driving on the left side of the road, British rules, and traveling at full-bore speed. I would never rent a car for sightseeing here, never! But the scenery was something to behold… as it zipped by.

Needless to say, waterfalls and pools were a big attraction. The memorable ones I saw were

Syndicate Falls,

Titou Gorge (falls inside a gorge you swam through),

and Trafalgar Falls (twin falls with a pool at the base of the tall one that had a thermal spring—with yellow-stained rock—mixing into the cold water.

 (Swiss couple friends getting in.)

That last one was a very memorable experience, climbing to it and bathing in the flowing temperature mixture.

We did take a steep up and down following the mountain ridge trail that went around Freshwater Lake (having a hydropower plant providing 40% of the island’s electricity)

and proved a bit of a challenge for the six of us fellow sailors from the anchorage touring together (none of us Spring chickens), but we all survived in varying degrees. A nice lunch at a roadside cafe afterward did a lot to get us going again.

I also took a diving trip with a dive shop at two sites in Toucari Bay, just the next bay over from Portsmouth. Both dives were interesting, with one having a wide variety of sponges, including some six-foot high barrel sponges you could almost climb into, and the other having some swim-through caves formed thousands of years ago by huge boulders having crashed down the mountain-side and into the sea. More sea life, especially fish in that site. (OK, OK. Next year, I promise to get an underwater camera, maybe).

The way the visiting boats are handled at Portsmouth and certain locations in Roseau is that businesses singly-owned or cooperatively will motor out to greet you and see if you would like to rent one of their mooring buoys (so you didn’t have to anchor) and would like to have a guided tour by them into the mountains to see and do some of the things such as what I’ve mentioned. Which is what I did. I’m not used to this guided tour thing, nor mooring (I like to anchor best since I know what I’ve got down in the water keeping me safe), but this is a different situation and it seemed best to do a package deal, for now.

The cooperative organization in Portsmouth (PAYS) also has a BBQ dinner on weekends for cruisers, at a reasonable price, which allows for getting to know other cruisers, such as the Dutch couple I sat with. Of course, there is always the too-loud electronic Caribbean music to listen and dance to—which I did, both—to help digest the dinner. Until it was time to get back to the boat and bed, and try to ignore the endless music lasting way into the night and sounding like it was just outside my closed boat hatch.

And that’s my snapshot of Dominica. Next stop, Martinique.


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