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Dominica – “Tall Is Her Body”

The lush green island of Dominica, located in the northern Windward Isles, has many names: The Commonwealth of Dominica, The Nature Island of the Caribbean, “Waitukubuli” – which is a Carib word meaning “tall is her body”. On May 21st, the Picton Castle sailed into an anchorage just south of the capital city of Roseau. Despite the fact that her highest peaks were hidden by dense rain clouds, she was still an imposing sight. The mountains sloped steeply down, inviting discovery. Dropping our port anchor in 100 feet of water, Paula and Dan R took the skiff to shore, laden with two stern lines. They tied these off to two large coconut trees, thus keeping us nicely secure. In both St. Barths and Grenada the Picton Castle moored stern-to, but never in quite this fashion. Dominica does not have many good anchorages and this was an old school way they used around here back in the days of sail, and it still works just fine!

For some, Dominica was a familiar site. In 2007 Survivor creator Mark Burnett got the Picton Castle to be the “pirate ship” for his short-lived TV series Pirate Master. She underwent a complete transformation. Her white hull was painted black, she flew the ominous Jolly Roger instead of the Cook Islands flag, the aloha deck was sealed off, she had a figurehead installed off her bow, the hold was turned into the Captain’s chamber, and contestants filled the bunks in the salon instead of the usual trainees. For three months the Picton Castle sailed the waters off Dominica and those of us onboard during that time, or indeed during the Atlantic Voyage when the ship visited, were awfully excited to once again anchor off her coast. It was an enormous amount of work to sail for a TV show but we also thought it was pretty interesting.

The youngest and most mountainous of the Windward Islands, Dominica’s tall steep jungle interior (bubbling with geothermal activity) is what really sets it apart from other Caribbean nations. This island is an ideal place for day expeditions and the only trouble the crew had was deciding where to spend their two days off. Aase, Siri, Shawn, Ollie, Katelinn, Dave F, Robert, Bas, Dan E, Nadja, Paul and Ali, among others, spent one of their days hiking to the second biggest hot spring in the world, Boiling Lake. Traversing a giant gorge, they walked for hours up a steep path, flanked on either side by cool rivers and pools. As they climbed the pools became progressively warmer, being fed, as they were, by the boiling lake. Atop the mountain the view was breathtaking and absolutely worth the 6 hour round-trip hike.

Others, not wishing to spend their entire day in the mountains, but nonetheless desiring a soak in a hot spring with a waterfall view, went to Trafalgar Falls. I took the short, muddy hike into the falls with Rudolph and Frederick. When we were filming Pirate Master 4 years ago, Rudolph was the man assigned to be our driver. He quickly became a friend. Frederick, through sheer determination and hard work, became crew on the Picton Castle for two months. He had never before left Dominica and yet he sailed with us to Martinique and the British Virgin Islands before returning home. It was such a pleasure to reunite with these two men! When we arrived at the falls, Meredith, Rebecca, Shawn, Cody, Brad, Dan R, Clark and Joh were already enjoying the scenery. Two waterfalls cascaded off the cliffs and into large, round pools. A few feet from the falls were several hot springs where one could relax, hidden amongst the foliage of the forest. Pania, Fred and Julie also made it to the Emerald Pool, another stunning waterfall which cascades into a pool which is literally ‘emerald’ in colour. Wendy took an hour and a half hike around Sourfriere and unwound in the hot springs at the water’s edge. Dan R, Tammy, Josh and Frankie spent an afternoon diving near Champagne Beach, where the bubbles from the underwater vents and volcanoes tickle the body, like champagne bubbles tickle the nose.

Adrienne, Lauren and Josh took a tour of the island, especially eager to visit Carib territory. Many of the islands in the Caribbean had been inhabited by the Caribs at one point or another. Yet Dominica is the only Caribbean island where they still have a territory, elect chiefs and maintain an autonomous ‘traditional’ way of life. During the 1500s and 1600s, while the rest of the Caribbean was being settled by Europeans, Dominica was relatively ignored. Consequently many Caribs fled to Dominica during the height of colonization. This is not to say that Dominica evaded conquest for long or that the Caribs did not suffer massacre and torment there.

If Dominica is famous for its natural beauty and culture, it is also celebrated for the diversity of its wildlife. Joani and Mitch both said that their favourite part of the visit was just listening to the tranquil life of the forest. Raj, our medical officer, hiked into the Northern Forest Reserve, where he hoped to get a glimpse of two parrots indigenous to Dominica. He climbed the Syndicat trail which leads to a platform overlooking the rainforest. While sitting, admiring the view, one of the parrots he sought flew above him and landed on the branch above his head where it preened itself. Satisfied, Raj decided to take a bus to the National Park of Cabrits, near Portsmouth. He had read a study on the genetic mutation of snakes and lizards and knew that they were abundant on this part of the island. Hundreds of years ago the land where he hiked had been the site of one of the largest British forts in the Caribbean. As he walked through the overgrown jungle, past cannons covered by moss and walls overrun with vines the ghosts from that era seemed to follow him. And of course, he found his lizards and snakes in abundance.

Discovering historical Roseau (the capital city) is also a great way to spend the day. In many ways the town has not changed significantly since the days of colonialism. No high rises clutter the waterfront and no casinos or shopping malls beckon the gambling or shopping tourists. Dominica has something far more special to offer and one can only hope that they do not have to sacrifice too much to a foreign clientele in order to get the kind of boost to the economy they so deserve.

At night the crew congregated at Ruins Rock Cafe. Ruins Rock is one of our favourite crew hangouts of all time. Serge (Spice Man) the proprietor serves up rare treats such as snake, iguana and bison and creates a groovy, hip atmosphere where the crew can dance or relax or just be. Usually closed on the weekends, Serge opened his doors when he heard we had come back to the island for a few days.

The Picton Castle and her crew could have easily spent several more weeks on Dominica. There is a mind-boggling amount of splendour to see. The sea always beckons however and our journey must continue. We still have places to see before we sail for Nova Scotia. On May 24th, 2011 we hauled up the anchor, let go the stern lines and sailed out of South Roseau – bound for Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands.

*Thank you to Dan Eden for allowing us to use his lovely photographs

at Trafalgar Falls with Rudolph and Frederick
Dan hiking in the hills of Dominica
downtown Roseau, Dominica
Picton Castle stern to in Dominica
preparing to swim at the falls
the crew lounging at the falls

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