Redwings Round the World

Dominica

9 - 15 February 2001

 

 
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Venla sails along the Northern end of Martinique towards Dominica

9 February - St. Pierre, Martinique to Roseau, Dominica 

Aaron - Up at 0630 to lash the dingy to the deck and prepare for our passage to Dominica.  When the caffeine kicked in at around 0645, I was able to appreciate what a beautiful morning it was with the sun's rays creeping over Mt. Pele illuminating the town, mist rising from the still waters of the protected harbor, boats bobbing at anchor, church bells ringing at 0700.

The ghost boats of last night were all clustered around the town pier where Venla was anchored.  When we arrived yesterday, there were five boats in the anchorage, when we went to sleep, 15, when we woke up, 35!

There is not much room in here and only a narrow strip shallow enough for anchoring so I'm glad the wind did not decide to swing around to the West and kick up or we all would have been in trouble.

We motored out just after 0700 with Venla.  Although it was dead calm in St. Pierre, the forecast for the gap between Martinique and Dominica was for 20 knots of wind from the North East and 7-10 foot seas, so we kept the double reef in the main.  Sure enough, as soon as we were out of the lee of Martinique the wind and seas filled in.  We had a romping sail to Dominica with 75% of the genoa out and averaged 7-8 knots at an apparent wind angle of about 50 degrees.  As usual, every 10-15 minutes we were soaked by large waves breaking over the dodger, with the salt water then washed off by torrential rain squalls every half hour or so.  On a short passage though, its just exhilarating rather than depressing.

Colleen was eyeing fish at the multitude of grocery stores we visited in Martinique, but I would not let her buy any as the primary fish hunter gatherer in the partnership.  I put the killer Bequia lure / Meenie Greenie rig out as we left Martinique and hoped for the best.  We were traveling at a good trolling speed and sure enough, as we approached Dominica the reel started howling.  I ran back and tightened the drag as Colleen slowed the boat from 7 to 2 knots by furling in the genoa and heading up.  20 minutes later, we landed a nice 20-25 pound dorado (dolphin fish).  33 foot Venla had kept up pretty well making over 6 knots and was catching up to us as we finally got the fish aboard, subdued, and bled.

Off to the races again dragging the fish with the genoa out.  Dominica, the Caribbean's highest island, loomed large off the starboard bow.  As soon as we rounded Scott's Head on the southwest corner of the island, the wind died and we motored in towards Roseau, the capital of Dominica and main southern port of entry.  We took a mooring buoy offered by a boat boy who offered to give us 2-3 days on the buoy in exchange for the fish!  Must be valuable stuff.  Sorry but no - we're eating it - here is your US$10 for two days.  We gave them the head and carcass though and they were pretty excited.  They said they will make a fish soup out of it.

As we tied up the mooring buoy, we were excited to see Far Niente at anchor!  We had not been able to contact Rob and Christine since we arrived back in the Caribbean and were happy and surprised to see them here.

I went to check in and Colleen went for a snorkel in the afternoon.  When I came back, she was on the back of a boat from Boston called Carlena.  Lou and Carlene and their 14 year old daughter Alex just sailed down from Rhode Island this past fall and are cruising the Caribbean.  

We brought the fish over to Far Niente in the evening, and along with Venla, the six of us had a huge Dorado BBQ.  Even after gorging ourselves, there was still enough left over that we could give both Far Niente and Venla a huge slab as well as bring home a full filet for us.

10 February - Roseau, Dominica 

Aaron - We walked into town with Heikki and Cheryl in the morning.  Although poor, Dominica somehow has an upbeat and happy feel about it.  The locals seem to do a lot with what little they have and take pride in their properties.  This is a real "working" town with minimal exposure to tourists - but just enough such that we are not out of place.  The result is a lack of the hassle and rip-off attitude we experienced in St. Vincent and St. Lucia.  Down to earth.  Not made for TV.  Real.  We strolled through a botanical garden (with a huge tree that fell on top of a bus 20 years ago in a hurricane and has grown roots down around it) and then watched the Sunday cricket match on the beautiful town pitch.

We got a kick out of the sign over Suki's bread shop - "From a Humble Beginning" they have developed into a major Roseau commercial institution - this is as big as commerce gets in Dominica.  Bicycle delivered bread.

We then figured out how to get a 50 cent local bus to the Trafalgar Falls area.  The local people were very helpful in assisting us.

After a scenic ride through the green valleys near Roseau, the bus let us off a mile or so below the falls.  A quick walk up to the ranger station by the falls where we had to pay US$2 each to proceed. 

The boat boys were trying to get us to pay about US$50 for this trip.  All four of us were able to do the whole thing for US$10.  The walk to the falls was short, but we had to climb over large boulders to get all the way to the falls.  The girls stayed below the biggest boulders, but Heikki and I pushed on and had a dip under the thundering water.  I've seen my fair share of water falls in recent weeks, but these were certainly the best so far.  No people either.  Beautiful.

On the way back, we mentioned to the park ranger that we were thinking of hiking up to Boiling Lake tomorrow, but could not get a good price for a trip from any of the guides / boat boys at the Anchorage - they wanted US$200 - we are willing to pay US$100 for of us.  Hainson the Ranger said that tomorrow (Sunday) was his day off and he'd take us for US$100 happily.  Excellent!

Back in town, a huge local Carnival-related parade was starting when we returned.  Very local and everyone was having a great time.

Forget staying dry in Dominica.  We are just getting used to getting wet every 1/2 hour and then drying off again as the sun comes out.

11 February - Roseau, Dominica 

Colleen - The day of our "big hike".  We have been hearing about the "8 hour" journey to boiling lake.  In fact the Finns on Venla really pushed us over the edge to go on the hike.  They had pre-planned this as one of their big events to go to Dominica for.  Gigolo said that they ached for days after the hike, but it was worth it, with fabulous scenery.

We were a little late starting out. We met Hainson, the park ranger we contracted to be our guide at about 8:10 am. Sunday, his day off, so he is making some extra dough guiding us up.  He picked us up in his very beaten up old pickup truck-good time to be a lady, they sit up front in the cabin with him, men in back.  Not a big deal except that its pretty overcast, and we are all a bit underdressed in tee-shirts.  The winding ride up the mountains is very cool and windy.

We start off on the hike through the rainforest.  Hainson is almost too keen to give rolling commentary on flora and fauna.  The ground is like a complete mud pit, and its raining on and off. We are constantly thinking of the "mega hike" we have in front of us and a bit anxious to lower the decibels on the nature spiel, and pick up the pace. 

A fairly robust rain shower hit us about 30 minutes into the rainforest.  We were strictly warned not to bring raincoats as it was "extra weight, we could hide under trees, and we would dry off soon with the heat".  Obviously not the advice for today.  Despite our efforts to crouch under the trees, we were all fairly drenched within fifteen minutes, and the rain wasn't really stopping.  Finally Hainson said, we need to move on.  If we keep moving our body heat will keep us in good state.  45 minutes later we were confronted with the next "shower".  We tried to take cover, and despite the overhang of trees, we were drenched to the skin.  Finally Hainson said, we need to make time lets move on, despite what now seems like storm-like sleets of rain. 

We crossed a small river in the rain, and started a long climb up a mountain.  The "trail", was one slick of solid mud/waterfall.  We needed our arms to lift us up. Despite the difficulty of effectively climbing a winding small waterfall, we tried to move fast as the rain was beating down on us and we were really starting to get cold.  As we reached the summit, we were wet, it was still windy, but at least the rain had stopped.  Every inch of us, right through the "waterproof" backpacks was drenched and muddy.  The summit was so high, it was in the clouds.  We kept the pace up, hoping to find a place for warmth.  Eventually we hit the decent into the "Valley of Desolation".  I'm not making that up, its actually the name.  The valley is totally exposed, with cracks venting hot volcanic steam and sulfur water flows which create small warm multi-colored streams.  Not much vegetation can exist in this environment.  Mount Doom-scape.  Frodo we know how you felt.

A squall hit us as we descended.  Aaron and I were a bit ahead of the Finns and the guide.  We forged on, just hoping to get through the worst of the decent and find a bush to hide under until the squall passed.  I felt like I was crawling down the side of the mountain that was so wet it was an active waterfall.  The water seeks the path of least resistance, that being the hiking path, and just streams down, eroding the surface away as we went.  The wind must have been gusting 30 miles per hour and we had to yell to communicate.  The rain whipped by in sheets.

As we were half way down, I started to be pretty freaked out.  I was in shock that we were in this situation.  How could anyone suggest a raincoat wouldn't be in order?  Hypothermia was my main concern.  Secondary was the thought, what if one was to sprain an ankle; you couldn't be airlifted out (we are in the clouds), and its so steep and treacherous, your party couldn't carry you out.  In the few hours wait for help, you could be crushed by the elements anyway. 

Aaron and I yelled to each other that we needed to stop before we went further and wait for the rest of our party. But there was no cover.  Finally we agreed that a bush only about 3 feet high was the best we could do and we crouched behind it in the mud, just hoping for a bit of respite from the wind and rain.  10 minutes later the guide came down to report that the Finns had turned back.  They were too cold and scared to make the decent in this weather and said they would see us at the base.  Later Cheryl reported her hands were so cold she couldn't feel them and didn't think she could climb any further in such a state.

I thought about climbing backup the decent we had just made in the storm and thought no way, I'll wait for the boiling lake, at least there will be cover there.  Ha Ha (later I was to find no such luck...) My decision was made when my chivalrous husband said, "well I'm moving on, see you later."

As we descended more, I was horrified to see we need to cross small raging rivers with rapids holding hands across rocks.  I was thinking, this can't be. How is it that none of this was mentioned by anyone.  Later I was to discover that what we were experiencing was the immediate effects of the rain storm generated flash floods swelling the streams up.  We moved on and on.  I was now in survival mode just trying to hang on for the boiling lake, thinking I could at least go in and warm up.  As we grew closer our guide dispelled my misconceptions; "the boiling lake is actually boiling, you can't go in it".  Oh my god, how will I restore my body temperature.  At least there's shelter?

"Oh no, its totally exposed, not even a bush". We can't stay long, lest the rain starts again.  I was barely interested in the natural wonder we encountered as we finally reached the lake.

Lets eat the meager lunch I have for us, drink enough water and turn around before the rain starts again.  We were at the lake about 10 minutes, wolfing down food when I realized my hands were going numb.  Internally, I started to panic.  "I think we need to go-NOW."  We tramped off.

Above Boiling Lake

Our time back was practically record, only 2.5 hours in what was supposed to be a 4 hour pass.  Though overcast the whole time, we never saw substantial rain again.  Only light showers.  With the fear of God in me, we basically just wouldn't stop on the path.  We forced our poor guide to walk practically nonstop!  When we finally got to the base camp the Finns were there huddled up, still freezing.

12 February - Roseau, Dominica 

Aaron -  We have still been unable to get anyone to let us use a phone line to make an international call (we are happy to pay!) to upload our e-mails.  Seems to be a mental block ("we don't offer that service, only voice phone calls" - "but its the same thing!!!! Don't you want to make some $$$$" - blank stares).  At the Internet cafe we tried in vain to get our messages via our POP3 server and sent hate mail to ATT Global (which for some reason has "revoked" our userid) but never received any help messages back.

The Internet Cafe was nice and we hung out with the crew of Carlena (Lou, Carlena, and Alex), surfed the net and had a great lunch of bagel sandwiches.  Colleen and Carelena went to vegetable market while we boys killed more time at another cafe.

In the afternoon, Colleen went for a long snorkel in reefs around the anchorage.  I took a shorter one - good visibility - we are right over a reef with lots of fish.

Carlena Gang came over for dinner and stayed till midnight.  Lots of fun discussing their years as teachers in a difficult school system in North Providence Rhode Island.

13 February - Roseau to Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica 

Aaron -  We let go of the mooring and left Roseau at 1100.  We were lazy and did not bother to hoist the main as there was no reliable wind under the lee of the high mountains at the southern end of Dominica, and we motored the 20 miles to Prince Rupert Bay.  Our other excuse for motoring was that we needed to make water.  But basically we were just lazy and did not feel like sailing even though the wind built to 20 knots or so as we neared the northern end of the island which is a lot lower.

We dropped the pick at around 1500.  Prince Rupert Bay is a beautiful large bay and there is plenty of good holding in 8-10 meters.  Nice change from St. Pierre and Roseau where is was very steep to and crowded.  A few boat boys approached and tried to talk us into the "Indian River Trip" - but everyone we have talked to says its not worth the ten bucks so we were pretty standoffish to great effect with the BB's and we were not too hassled.

We dingied over to Far Niente, picked up the gang (Christine, Rob and baby RC) whizzed over to the old fort on the northern head of the bay.  We tied up the dingy to a massive ferry terminal reserved for cruise ships that call on Portsmouth (the town on the eastern shore of the bay), paid a nominal park entry fee, and started off on a nice walk through the woods towards a lookout point.  This will go down in history as the "reptile tour".  The path was covered in geckos, lizards, and, every 100-200 feet or so, a snake.  There was a lot of walking along looking down going on.

We survived though and then checked out the fort.  This was a major stronghold of the British in the 1700-1800's.  Beautiful views.  Found some mango's and papaya's growing among the ruins and brought a bunch back.

14 February - Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica 

Aaron - We dingied into town at around 1100 after a lazy morning.  The alarm clock is broken, so I am using that as a good excuse for sloth.  This was the first day, however, we have not got up early in awhile.  Normally I am not a morning person, but when on the boat, it is so easy to fall asleep early (no late night distractions like TV and when I hit the hay I am not playing endless feedback loops filled with the obsessions of working life - office politics, the next deal etc....) that it's easy to wake up early.  I normally get up at 0645 on the boat, make coffee, listen to the news on NPR or BBC at 0700, "George's" weather at 0715, "Alex's net" and more weather till 0745, talk to other boats / listen out for anyone calling us till 0815, then its the "Murder and Mayhem" net followed by Master David Jones of the Caribbean Weather Service at 0830.  All the while I diddle over the charts, pilots, and other planning rags, slurp more coffee and eat cookies.

Anyway... this is a one road / one horse town.  Bit dusty and hassly - not great.    I tried unsuccessfully to get on line - no luck even with the phone company Cable and Wireless ("we don't offer the service" - look back down at newspaper).  Argh.  Colleen did not even want to spend time in the shops.  It was that depressing.

While I went to try to find some fishing hooks, Colleen went back to the dingy.  She was hassled by a local guy who was chatting us up and giving us his sob story when we came in, and then wanted US$5 for having "looked after" our dingy.  She said no way.  He said he'd give us a break as we are young - we had only to buy him a beer.  Forget it.  He then said he hopes something does not happen to our dingy next time.....  Ok buddy.

Back on the boat we bottled up a 20 liter batch of ginger beer.  This is great stuff and many people are asking for the recipe.  Click here to get it: Flashdance II Ginger Beer.

In the afternoon we checked out and then worked to negotiate a ride tomorrow morning to the "Syndicate Trail" a nature hike in the hills with lots of parrot sighting opportunities apparently.  "Einstein" ended up negotiating us a van ride with "Shadow" for US$40 up to the start of the trail.  He wanted US$100 at first for a round trip (can't imagine we want to walk down), and then asked us not to tell anyone else how cheap we got it for cause "US$40 is not the price" - well I guess it is cause that's what we will be paying no matter how many folks we get to cram into the van (they always want to do "per person" - give em credit for trying).

15 February - Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica 

Notes -  Up at 0630, picked up FN at 0700 and then met 4Fins and Shadow for ride to Syndicate Trail to look at parrots.  Nice easy one mile walk, saw a few parrots at end, AH saw wild pig.  Walk down took 4 hrs - saw lots of parrots, banana plantations, really great walk.   for Back to boat, swim, shower, visited by boat boy from BCN, passed out..... guess will go to Saints tomorrow.

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Copyright 2001 All Rights Reserved by Aaron Henderson and Colleen Duggan