Friday, April 17th, 2009
Dominica, where to begin? We had a decent sail down from Anguilla – we sailed off the hook in Road Bay, rounded the west end of Anguilla, sailed past St Martin with beautiful sunny skies. Past Saba, slipped under Statia, sailed in the lee of St Kitts and Nevis. We got buzzed by a multinational patrol plane piloted by a friend of a Picton Castle shipmate. The pilot called and sent greetings. In the night we passed Guadeloupe and the early morning found us in the lee of mountainous Dominica.
We took the ship in close under power so the crew could get a good look at this stunning island. We had spent about three months here two years ago being the ship for the “fantasy/reality” TV show “Pirate Master.” This TV shoot was a whole lot of work, and quite demanding, but fascinating work at that. And, for one thing, we really learned the coast of Dominica. Now this would not be so remarkable if it weren’t for the fact that for all its charms, Dominica has scant few anchorages, decent or otherwise. The island is steep to, very steep to. But by and by we made our way down past the main town of Roseau where we saw the fine schooner Spirit of Massachusetts and got anchored stern to the beach by the Anchorage Hotel, a small hotel which had a dock we could take our skiff too. The anchor was let go in over 100’ of water on a steep incline and we had hawsers going to trees on the beach holding our stern inshore and thus in effect, pulling the anchor up hill. The ship was quite secure.
We had planed to stay awhile as Dominica has a very special character and we have many connections here we wanted the gang to take advantage of. It certainly is a stunningly beautiful isle, covered with all lush tropical rain forest and craggy mountains. Most of the Lesser Antilles were completlly deforested in colonial days, in the interests of big profits from the brutal making of sugar. Not so much in Dominica. This island was not cut down like so many others and retains much of its natural flora and fauna. Everywhere one can find bubbling hot sulfur springs underfoot and some of the beaches are even too hot to walk on barefoot. When we sailed around the island during the filming we were just stunned by the majestic beauty of the place.
Our history and guide books tell us that Dominica has been inhabited for about 5,000 years and peopled in successive waves of indigenous groups coming up from South America over time. There is still a group of about 3,000 Caribs, the last large and identifiable such group in the West Indies. They were often (and the books still do) described as “warlike” but weren’t they just defending their homeland against invasion? We saw a t-shirt with an old photo of Geronimo on it with the caption “Homeland Security – Fighting Terrorism since 1492.” And this they successfully did here and in most of the Lesser Antilles with success for about 125 years. Spain had shown little interest in these smaller islands in the Eastern Caribbean even though they considered them theirs, as they considered the entire Caribbean theirs. But in due course, at about much the same period that Plymouth Plantation was being established in Massachusetts, these islands were invaded and taken over by the English, French, Danish, Dutch and even Sweden got one little one. Now these islands are all independent except the French and Dutch ones. Well, St Thomas, St John and St Croix were sold by the Danish to the USA in 1917…
Well, I guess we have to say that Dominica is really and truly wonderful. Its complete lack of long white sandy beaches has made it immune from conventional resort development, so we don’t see massive gated and insulated resorts. Its lack of decent anchorages has made massive marina development unattractive too to those that make money doing that sort of thing, so, again we see no massive, exclusive marina complexes. So what is left is a vibrant local culture and identity on an island left to its own devices which, as it turns out, are quite excellent. It is hard, if not impossible, to describe what all the gang did because, in fact, I do not know. But here we go a little anyway.
In the Caribbean, Dominica is known as the Garden Island, supplying many of the drier islands with fruits and vegetables. The market is just bursting with all manner of beautiful produce. Donald is in his element shopping and bargaining and getting fine fruits and veggies for the ship
The architecture of the main town of Roseau mostly dates from the 19th century and earlier. Few buildings over two stories built of volcanic stone and wood very much in a West Indian Victorian vernacular. Narrow roads lead out of Roseau and take you through the steep craggy jungle covered mountains to small villages with goats, free-range chickens and usually a backdrop of reggae music.
Rudolph Xavier, our friend who was our guide, leader and scout as well as driver during the TV shoot two years ago, was back to see us and it was great to get together again – Mr. Xavier is a most excellent guide and gentleman. Anyone visiting Dominica would do very well to meet him and put themselves in his able hands for their visit.
And of course, crew took full island tours all around the island to Carib Territory, went diving on underwater vents, found great local restaurants where you can get delicious Caribbean dinners, and internet and so forth and so on. Back on the ship, work is ongoing with afternoon swim breaks – swing rope from the fore-yard plunging into the sweet Caribbean sea.