We came to Dominica in February, 2018, five months after the tiny island was ravaged by hurricane Maria. Dominica is a poor country and evidence of the destruction was everywhere. Many houses still had tarps on the roof to keep the rain out and much of the electricity service hadn’t been restored.
When we talked to the islanders we asked about their experience during the storm. Maria had grown in strength very rapidly. The storm went from a category one to a category five the day before it hit. The people took shelter wherever they could, many taking refuge in their homes, most of these weren’t constructed to survive in 200+ mph winds. Typical of their tales was that of Osborne, owner of the Green Bar, a tiny establishment located in Portsmouth, on Prince Rupert Bay where we anchored. Osborne was at home with his two teen-aged daughters during the night of the storm. With the winds shrieking and debris crashing against the side of their house the roof blew off. Everyone in the house was terrified. They were too exposed where they were and going elsewhere was out of the question. With all the debris in the air anyone who
ventured outside would be battered and killed. Osborne pried up a couple of floorboards of his pier and beam house and told his daughters to climb down into the crawl space. One daughter didn’t want to go down at first but Osborne convinced her to climb down where they spent the final hours of the storm under the house with the crabs that live down there. The next morning everyone came out to see the destruction. Dominica is a lush tropical island covered by verdant, green forests. It’s the kind of a place where if you stick a broomstick in the ground it will grow but that morning there wasn’t a leaf left on a tree. Debris was everywhere and most of the bridges, which there were many, were washed out making travel across the island impossible. Most of the houses had corrugated metal roofs that had blown off in the storm. Electrical service and all communicated was out. The people survived as best they could until help arrived. Five months after the storm both the island and the people are still recovering. A shortage of building materials and labor meant that there were still many damaged structures waiting to be renovated. Some people had left the island in the aftermath of the storm and hadn’t returned but those there had a can do attitude that they’d do what had to be done to claw their way back.
Some cruisers had avoided the island after the storm but we wanted to go support the people in their recovery efforts by spending money at the local businesses taking tours, eating at restaurants and shopping at the local groceries and markets. We had also brought a large parcel to donate filled with clothes, sheets, towels and kitchen items. We arrived during Criuser’s Appreciation Week, an annual event put on by the PAYS, Portsmouth Area Yacht Services group. PAYS is a group of “boat boys” who provide moorings, security and tours to boaters. Over a hundred boats had gathered in Prince Rupert Bay for the event and we were fortunate enough to be there with old friends John and Ellie Wheeler on SV Serenety who we had crossed the Pacific with back in 2003 as well as some new friends, a pair of English boats, Dan of SV Eschaton and Tony and Hazel of SV Longbow who had just arrived from England via the Canary Islands weeks before. Dan, who is a veteran of a dozen Atlantic crossings and has spent many years cruising the Eastern Caribbean was the ring leader. He favors the out of the way local places no tourist would ever dare go and led us on many happy adventures. One of the spots that he led us to was the Green Bar which may be the ultimate dive bar. There’s no sign or really any indication that it’s not just a house from the street. When we arrived the electricity service hadn’t been restored so Dan lent the owner, Osborne, who we discussed earlier, his portable generator so that he could open the bar. Calling it a bar may be a stretch. Osborne has a rickety table and some folding chairs that he sets up on the front porch when someone shows up and sells beer from what was the living room of the house. We spent several enjoyable evenings there sipping a cold beer watching the world go by from the front porch talking with Osborne.
The holding in the bay isn’t the greatest so PAYS as well as several others installed moorings so boats wouldn’t drag. We took a mooring run by Alexis, a “boat boy” who is actually a very impressive young man. We arranged multiple tours through Alexis who was also our guide on the Indian River tour. We spent a couple of days being driven around the island, seeing the devastation, the natural beauty of the island and swimming in waterfalls. One of the waterfalls (Titou Gorge) was used in the filming of one of the Pirates of the Caribbean films and we swam up through narrow walls to the waterfall. The scenery was spectacular.
On our way home it began to rain and a landslide blocked the road. We waited a couple of hours for it to be cleared enough for us to pass. We also also spent a day touring the Kalinago area of the island. The Kalinago were formerly known as Caribs, a name that was given to them by the Spanish, who have returned to their historical name. We saw a group of native dancers, distributed some care packages and toured the restored Kalinago village.
During our stay there Mike, John and Tony went on a Lion fish hunt and came back with 25 Lion fish for a PAYS Lion fish dinner. We also went to the legendary PAYS Sunday Night Barbeque. It’s gained legendary status because it comes with all you can drink rum punch. Its the kind of drink that goes down like kool aid but pack a serious wallop. Fortunately we had been forewarned and took it easy on the rum.
Before we left Mike and Tony spent a day as volunteer trail clearers on a National Park trail that was blocked by trees downed during the storm. They spent the day whacking away at the underbrush as others used chain saws to cut through large trees that had fallen across the trails.