Archive for April, 2011

Dominica is one of the lesser known islands of the Caribbean as it has no international airport, has none of the resorts that are plentiful on most of the other islands, and is generally less developed. However, the “Nature Island” does have a reputation for eco-tourism, and we were anxious to take advantage of the river tours offered in Portsmouth. This was not hard to arrange, as our “boat boy”, Eric Spaghetti, happened to be a river tour guide. We made arrangements with him for a tour on Saturday morning before heading ashore for a bite to eat at one of the bayside’s open-air restaurants with sand floors and wood tables. On the menu were Jamaican dishes along with the usual snacks and seafood offerings, but the prices were obviously set at the tourist rate. No wonder we didn’t see any locals in there.

When we awoke on Saturday, we heard the sounds of reggae being blasted through the bay. Apparently some of the local partiers were still at it from the night before. Fortunately Eric wasn’t one of them, and he showed up to pick us up for our tour looking quite chill as he apparently always does. He motored over to the Indian River, which was surrounded by lush swamplands full of palm and banyon trees and other foliage that looked awesome set against the blue sky. He casually rowed us through the river, pointing out various flora (lilies and crotons) and fauna (herons and crabs) and answering our questions about the history of the island. Dominica was granted independence from Britain relatively recently (1979, I think?) and without struggle, according to Eric. He said after the Brits had taken what was valuable, they were done with the island. (He didn’t specify what was taken besides lots of tropical produce.) When asked what he thought about the current government, he simply said “half and half.”

river River Reflections

After about an hour of rowing, Eric stopped at an open-air cafe of sorts along the river. There we met another Dominican who was carving coconut shells with a saw and gluing them together to make bowls. We took a walk around admiring the natural beauty and sipping on a coconut punch. We then returned to the cafe to find that Eric had artistic talents as well, as he presented us with two amazing origami-type creations that he made using palm leaves. He then rowed us back out the way we came, well at least part of the way. Dallas decided to have a go at rowing the wooden skiff and kept at it for quite a while despite that it was a little harder than expected.

grasshopper Origami island-style

dallas Eric’s chilling while Dallas gets a work out

After a trip to the Saturday market and a mid-day rest, we decided to see if we could get over to the east side of the island to check out the Carib Indian reservation. The Caribs were once plentiful in the Caribbean but are now a much smaller group of a few thousand who have agreed to live in this particular area of the island. Eric acted like getting there would be “no problem” (just like everything else in his world, I think), and suggested that we could take a bus or hitch-hike. We found a bus going to the east side of the island, though not all the way to the Carib territory, and hopped on. It was PACKED full of people and groceries, flowers, etc. that they had purchased at the Saturday market, so it was a slow but very pleasant trip. Unlike the bus in Barbados, the Dominicans were very friendly to each other, and some sang along to the music played by the bus driver.

We took the bus as far as it went (Marigot) and received instructions as to how to walk the rest of the way. We were told that we could get to Carib territory in an hour or so from there, but it was a hot day and well into the afternoon, so we decided to try to hitch a ride. It wasn’t long before we were picked up by two very nice Dominican young ladies. They were obviously from the city (Roseau) and thought it was pretty odd that we were hiking to Carib territory. They informed us that we had a long way to go yet, and we expressed our gratitude for the lift. When they stopped to change a flat tire, we met their friend George and later learned that the women were helping him to deliver a rental car to a guest house in Carib territory. Anyway, George decided that as it was getting to be late afternoon, it was better for Dallas and I to ride along with them than to take our chances walking around and try to find a way back to Portsmouth in the evening. Locals know best, so we gratefully accepted his offer. Somehow we manage to meet helpful people everywhere we go!

George took us to a village that was created as a replica of a traditional Carib village with thatched-roof huts and old tools such as one used to mash sugar cane. Some Carib women were there making and selling baskets out of a plant fiber (that we can’t recall the name of) that was dyed various colors. The craftsmanship was impressive, so it was no sacrifice to buy a couple to donate to their tribe. Other than this “village”, however, one would hardly know that the Carib territory was any different from the rest of the outer island, and we could kind of understand why the ladies were so surprised that we had put so much effort into getting there. I explained to them that we had sailed thousands of miles on a small boat and were used to doing strange things. It all made sense to them after that!

carib Caribs are known for fishing and basket weaving

I really enjoyed the beauty and culture of Dominica and would be happy to return someday. We are now at anchor in the largest bay of The Saints, which is part of Guadeloupe, another French island. The village here is lovely with brightly painted houses, each with carefully maintained landscapes of flowers and other foliage. We have enjoyed two relaxing (though rainy) days here (hooray for high-speed internet!) and will continue to make our way north tomorrow in order to meet my parents in Antigua!

the saints After a nice hike through the village, I had a nice view of PV (the far right) and the crowded anchorage at The Bay of the Saints

Although it’s a shame to leave a fine island like Barbados so unexplored, we do have a bit of a schedule to keep to, so we cleared out Wednesday morning and took the dinghy to Speightstown for our final provisioning stop.  We left the mooring under sail and turned toward Dominica.

Once we left the lee side of Barbados and sailed back out into the open water of the Atlantic, things got pretty rough.  There were squalls around us, gusts were topping 30 knots, and steep 10-footers were making things pretty wet and uncomfortable.    Even Lauren was feeling pretty bad.  We’d hoped to sail up the east side of the islands in the NE winds, making a fast passage without having to motor, but the seas were just too much when there was another option.  An hour or so after sunset, we changed course to slip into the Caribbean between St. Lucia and Martinique.  Changing course made things a little bit more comfortable, and as the night wore on, the winds and seas started to drop so that by morning things weren’t bad at all.  As the sun came up, I could see both St. Lucia and Martinique as we neared the channel between them.

Unlike ocean-crossing, where seeing another sailboat is extremely rare, there is almost always a sailboat in sight somewhere here in the islands.  Several were rounding the SW tip of Martinique ahead of us and a couple were making the passage south to St. Lucia, passing us as we were making our way NW through the channel.  Just off of the SW tip of Martinique is a giant dome-shaped rock island called Diamond Rock.  It gained famed when in colonial days the English snuck cannons and sailors ashore the naturally impregnable fortress and shelled passing French ships at their leisure.  The rock was eventually commissioned the HMS Diamond Rock and (in the French version of the story), held by the English until boats carrying casks of rum were “shipwrecked” on the island, exposing the weakness in the English defenses.

diamond_rock (HMS) Diamond Rock

We sailed up the calm west coast of Martinique until, with an hour or two of daylight left, we reached St. Pierre.  Rather than sail overnight, bashing our way across the channel between Martinique and Dominica, we decided to stop and spend the night.  St. Pierre’s claim to fame is that it was the former colonial capital of Martinique until a fateful day in 1902 when Mt. Pelee, towering over the northern tip of the island, erupted and destroyed the town.  There was only one survivor, a man in jail in solitary confinement whose cell had 2-foot thick walls.  Barnum and Bailey thought that the story was interesting enough to hire him to tour the US with their circus.

cell The lone survivor’s cell

After seeing the one tourist attraction in town, it was time to take full advantage of stopping in a department of France, so we headed to the grocery store.  In addition to a wonderful garlic and herb cheese dip and a $3 bottle of table wine, we found that the store’s bakery had just turned out a batch of fresh baguettes.  While I happen to think the baguette is a pretty poor bread for those of us who can’t drop by a bakery every morning, it’s brilliant when it’s fresh, and we enjoyed our feast on the benches at the waterfront park watching the sun go down.  Back on the boat, Lauren added some toppings to a couple of the $1 frozen pizzas we’d picked up as well and dinner was served on the trampoline under starry skies.  Ahhh.  There are definitely things about this life I’m gonna miss.

st_pierre2 Anchored with St. Pierre and Mt. Pelee in the background

We hadn’t planned on our stop in Martinique, so at 6 am the next morning I was up lifting the anchor to start moving north again.  Between the boat and the shoreline, locals were dropping large fishing nets in the water that would be pulled in by several men on the beach.  Things get started early and here.  The windlass grinding away to pull in 150’ of chain is pretty much and alarm clock without a snooze, so Lauren was up not long after.  We finished breakfast before hitting the rough water in the channel between Martinique and Dominica.  The channel could have been much worse.  The winds were only 15-20 knots and seas didn’t get much bigger than 6’ or so.  Even with just the jib up, the boat made decent time without pounding too much, and by early afternoon we were motorsailing along the calm west coast of Dominica.  Another day and another sail in the lee of a beautiful, mountainous, verdant island.

We had time to make Prince Rupert Bay before sunset, and as we furled the jib to motor into the deep bay we were met by a Dominican “boat boy”.   “Eric Spaghetti”, as he introduced himself was actually a graying middle-aged man, but had motored his brightly painted boat more than 2 miles from the anchorage to meet and claim us first, so per local custom, he was our guy.  As we turned into the bay, his boat with its hand-painted “Eric ‘it’s hot’ Spaghetti” on the side sped away to claim the monohull coming in behind us.


Our friends on S/V Bahati made our landfall to Barbados a memorable one. Nat, the skipper, met us at our mooring ball holding his South African vuvuzela against his lips to announce our arrival to all the other cruisers in the Port St. Charles area, which happened to be zero! Nat has cruised the Caribbean before and told us to appreciate the solitude of this bay, as there will probably be nothing like it throughout the rest of our Caribbean tour. As the easternmost island in the chain, Barbados is very well placed for a stop on return from a South Atlantic crossing, but most cruisers of the Caribbean start in the U.S. (or charter a boat in the islands) and would have to beat into the wind for many miles to check it out. Anyway, we were really pleased to see our friends from Bahati again and had a great time catching up with them over dinner and drinks aboard their boat. Ever since we officially met Nat in Cocos, we have been tracking him and his various crew and chatting daily on the radio, and he has become one of our favorite new friends. We wish Nat, his wife Betsy, and S/V Bahati a warm congratulations on completion of their circumnavigation! Fair winds on the journey back to Maine.

bahati Saying good-bye to Nat, Betsy, Martha, and Jim (Nat’s sister and brother-in-law)

lone Pura Vida all by her lonesome in the bay

We are moored near the town of Speightstown on the west coast. The people here have been very welcoming for the most part, starting with the customs/immigration officials. The Customs Officer was a kind woman who gave us a booklet entitled “The Secret of Family Happiness” (a Jehovah’s Witness publication) and insisted that we try Banks beer, “the best beer in the world”. The combination of the two statements seem to sum up Bajan culture in an over-simplified nutshell. “Barbados is still a very religious island”, as a plaque near the Speightstown church explicitly states, and it is also the home of Mount Gay Distilleries, who have been operating for over 300 years and make “the rum that invented rum”. 

coming Barbados in a nutshell

Dallas and I caught the bus into the city of Bridgetown yesterday, which has some historical value but otherwise looks like a city designed around the needs of cruise ship passengers – nothing but duty free shops everywhere. We walked through the outlying village to the Mount Gay Distillery for a tour. Mount Gay’s marketing department has managed to make the rum the drink of choice within the sailing community by hosting hundreds of regattas, so Dallas has been familiar with their products for some time. Anyway, the overview of the distillation and blending process, the viewing of the bottling factory (no photos allowed in here, unfortunately), and the tasting of the Black, Silver, Extra Old, Eclipse, and 1703 (aged 10-30 years) varieties made for a very interesting and enjoyable afternoon.

Rum tasting is like wine tasting in that you can’t help but meet people. Even a very small taste of 100 proof alcohol has a way of putting people in a chatty mood! In our case, we befriended a fun couple from North Carolina celebrating their 4th wedding anniversary. Todd was interested in our trip, as he’s been wanting to do the same thing, though Rebecca gets seasick and is not so keen. We asked them for a lift back to Bridgetown and ended up riding with them down to where they were staying in the next city further south (St. Lawrence Gap) to join them for dinner. On the way, we went off-roading in their rental car into a farmer’s field to snag and taste a couple of stalks of sugar cane, as the travel books suggest. (The books suggest getting permission from the farmer first, but we skipped that part.) They then showed us around the Gap, a stylish area on the coast with lots of bars, restaurants, and boutiques. Dinner was fantastic (mmmm, salmon), and so was the company.

mount gay  Lots of laughs with Todd, Rebecca, and bartender Ryan at the Mount Gay tasting bar

Believe it or not, we have done more than drink rum here in Barbados. Dallas has started in on his long list of minor repairs such as trouble-shooting the AIS (no luck yet) and repairing the anchor light. I scrubbed off the collection of green growth that was building above the waterline, particularly on the starboard hull, as the swell came from that side. While I was working, a coast guard boat came by and alerted me to the presence of a whale in the distance. I shouted at Dallas as two whales breached and approached. By the time I got the camera, they had moved further away, but the coast guard guys offered to give us a ride out to where they were. It seemed like their motor scared off the whales as they didn’t breach again until after we motored off, but it was really nice of them to offer, and they showed off the horsepower of their outboards on the way back.whale

We needed a zoom lens for this one

We’ve been here almost 5 days now, long enough to recharge our batteries and have some fun. We’ve decided to set sail today for Dominica. It should be a very short passage (180 nm) by our standards, and we are looking forward to exploring the less developed island. 

Land Ho!

Lat: 13 19.178′ S
Lon: 59 39.576′ W

After more than 2100 miles and 18 days at sea, we spotted Barbados. Yesterday we finally put the small spinnaker up and made nice time through the night and today, giving us four days with an average speed over 6 knots. The four days of good speed let us time our arrival before sunset today. With less than an hour to go before we’re motoring toward a mooring and a warm greeting from our friends on Bahati and the sounds of local radio in the cockpit, we’re starting to get excited. Our last really long passage is nearly over and our introduction to the Caribbean is about to begin…