Dominica – land of rainbows

Portsmouth, Dominica (posted from Grande Anse d’ Arlet, Martinique)

May 2. On our last day in The Saints we got up early, prepared to leave, and watched John and Ann on Moonlight head south. We were ready to go, but we had to wait for our croissants to be delivered. The delivery man came on time. We got our croissants and said goodbye to him. He pointed to a dark cloud to the south and opined that it might rain. Our weather router had predicted possible squalls, but nothing too threatening.

We sailed out past the southern island and set a course for Portsmouth, Dominica, in Prince Rupert Bay. The wind was in the mid teens as we cleared the island, so we left the reef in. It looked like a nice sail. The wind was a little farther forward than we would like, but the speed and the waves were not bad.

 As we neared Dominica we could see squalls off to the east, but they all passed ahead or behind us. As we reached the island we could see white caps around the north end, then the wind hit. It went into the mid twenties and pushed us over pretty far. We had shaken the reef out, so we put it back in and rolled the jib a little. We were back under control and the wind soon passed.

A few miles later and we could see the point at the north end of Prince Rupert Bay. We could also see the big dark cloud that was pouring rain. Then the wind came up with gusts to 35 knots and all we could see was rain – the island had disappeared. Rather than try to enter the bay and anchor, we pointed Rosie a little offshore and rode it out.

Prince Rupert Bay/Portsmouth - when it's not raining

The squall only lasted about fifteen minutes. As soon as we could see it clearing, we turned into the bay, dropped the sails and motored in. We wanted to get anchored before any more squalls rolled down the mountain at us. We were well out in the bay trying to pick out a spot among the boats when we noticed a small, open boat heading on a collision course with us. As he got closer we realized it was one of the local “boat boys”. Many of the islands have boat boys who offer a variety of services. We told him to wait until we anchored, which he did.

His name was Albert and he was one of the Indian River Guides. Boat boys can be pests and really turn off cruisers. Some time ago the guys in Portsmouth realized that if they showed a little professionalism, they would do better. They organized, got training to conduct tours up the Indian River, and brought a more relaxed atmosphere to yacht services. Where in the past people shunned boat boys, they now seek out the River Guides for various services.

Trivia Question: When does it rain in Dominica?

A) Right after you open all the hatches.

B) 3 AM

C) When the clothes hanging out are almost dry

D) All of the above, and more.

It was unseasonably rainy in Dominica

We visited town and got some local cash (EC – Eastern Caribbean). We realized that it was a long hike to the Customs office so we went back to the dinghy and motored down to their dock. The Customs lady was on the phone and another cruising couple was just completing their forms. They gave her their fees, and she stamped their papers and gave them back. Off they went. Still on the phone, the lady gave me the forms. I filled them out, gave her the fees; she stamped my papers, gave them back, and told me I was checked in and out. She never got off the phone the whole time.

The town has a main street that runs through it. The streets are narrow and most buildings look old and tired. Some are unusable. In many respects it is like most of the other small Caribbean coastal towns, but it seems poorer. The waterfront is another story. Most of the coastal towns we anchor off of have shops that back up to the water, restaurants with views of the water, and small sand or rock beaches, and usually one public dock. The town of Portsmouth looked much more run down from the water than anywhere else we had been, but what really set the town was the four or five commercial ships that had been driven ashore by a hurricane and sat rusting at the edge of the shore.

Waterfront, "downtown" Portsmouth

Some of the wrecked ships washed ashore by a hurricane

We booked a tour of the Indian River with Alfred. He picked us up at our boat at seven AM and motored us over to the river. The entrance had been blocked by one of the wrecks, so a new channel was dredged around the front of the boat. Motors are not allowed to be used on the river, so Albert rigged his oars and rowed us up the river. The trip was about 3/4 of a mile.

Albert rows us down the Indian River

Albert did an excellent job pointing out various plants and animals and telling us about the river and some history of the area. The river was one of the locations used in the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie and all the river guides got involved shuttling people and equipment up and down the river.

One of many examples of the strange tree roots along the Indian River

The turn around point is the bush bar. It is a little watering hole most easily accessed by river. It seems a bit out of place in such a remote setting, but the lady who runs it was a great hostess. She brewed up some herbal tea while we walked around the grounds.

Indian River Bush Bar - Jackie talks to a guide. Hostess walks away

Our friends John and Ann on Moonlight arranged a small tour of nearby parts of the island with their River Guide, Alexis, and invited us along. We hiked up a mountain into the rain forest in search of parrots. We heard some and got glimpses of a couple, but didn’t really see any until we got back down the mountain to the car. Go figure.

The path through the rain forest

Jackie and Eric with John and Ann of Moonlight

We went to another location and hiked in to a waterfall. It was rather picturesque except for the chain link fence in front of the pool at the bottom of the falls. This river provides drinking water for many of the local towns and they don’t like the idea of people swimming in water they will be drinking.

Waterfall in rain forest

The path to the waterfall runs along a plantation. All the way to the waterfall and back Alexis would pick fruits, herbs, leaves, and bark and give us samples. On the way back we stopped at the plantation and bought more produce.

We then traveled to the other side of the island and hiked to a volcanic spring. Water bubbled up from the volcanic region, but it travelled such a long way that it was cool by the time it reached the surface.

The final stop on the tour was to meet Alexy’s parents. He is using the money he makes as a guide to build them a nice little house.

The house Alexi is building for his parents

Trying out some local fruit at Alexi's parent's house

Our last excursion in Portsmouth was a walk up to the old fort that guards the north end of the harbor. Its position on two hills gives it a view of Prince Rupert Bay on one side and Guadeloupe and The Saints on the other. This was very strategic in that the British on Dominica could watch the French approach all the way from Guadeloupe. Indeed, a famous naval battle took place in the waters between The Saints and Dominica and it was watched by people from both islands.

Most trees were cut down, so this cannon would have a clear shot at the northern bay

We suffered a little damage in all the wind coming into Dominica. The stitching started to go on the sun cover on the jib and the reef in the mainsail filled with water and pressed down on the dodger hard enough to rip the material holding the middle bow in place. We put on our working jib – probably a more appropriate sail for the windy Caribbean and we did a bunch of little repairs to the dodger. The sewing machine we brought along is really paying its way.


May 9. We left Portsmouth and headed south for Roseau, the capitol of Dominica. The winds are influenced by the trade winds and the mountains. We sailed at times and motor sailed at others.

We neared Roseau and were approached by a couple boat boys. There isn’t much space where the water is shallow enough to anchor, so we planned on taking a mooring. Harrison, the first boat boy to us explained that he would help us pick up a mooring and he would take the payment in to shore for us. We could have saved ourselves a few EC and taken the money ashore ourselves, but it wasn’t worth the hassle to get the dink of the deck, hook up the motor, and then figure out where to go.

Mark and Michelle on Reach bargaining with a boat boy

He wanted to sell us a tour, but the anchorage was marginal and we only planned to stay one night.

Next: Martinique.

2 Responses to “Dominica – land of rainbows”

  1. joan Says:

    Your photos keep getting better & better. Loved the rainbow shot.

  2. Mom Says:

    Almost feel as if I were along with you. Great discriptions. Loved the rainbow!!!

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