North to Dominica!

We checked out of Martinique, departed St Anne’s and enjoyed a downwind sail to the southwest tip of Martinique. This was quite enjoyable because we so very rarely get a downwind sail in the Eastern Caribbean. We were surprised to be able to continue to sail up the lee side of the island making it almost all the way to St Pierre near the north end of the island before having to call on Henry. Henry Ford that is. That how we refer to our 120 horse power Ford Lehman. We stopped just to sleep in St Pierre under Mount Pele which was surprisingly not covered in clouds.

Early the next morning we hauled up the anchor and raised the sails heading for Dominica. Mermaid motored into Prince Rupert Bay, a large bay protected from the prevailing trades with the town of Portsmith on the shore. We almost always anchor out but in Prince Rupert Bay we make an exception. We always take a mooring from our friend Alexis who is one of the PAYS boat boys. PAYS stands for the Portsmouth Area Yachting Services. The group was formed by a group of “boat boys” in the area. The group installed moorings in the bay and holds a weekly barbecue that is famous for serving a deadly rum punch. PAYS works like a collective where the revenue generated is accounted for and split up among the members. We heard rumblings that the boat boys weren’t getting a share of the revenue last year and things looked like they may be coming to head but more about that later. First, some fun. We found our friends Mick and Gil of Blue Jacket already there and we took an island tour with them the next day.

Island tours are a mainstay of Dominica and are offered by all the boatboys. Alexis has his own van and driver who picked us up bright and early and headed out. We headed over the central mountains and down to the windward coast passing through towns like Calibishie and Wesley. The culture of Dominica is a mixed bag. The island was originally settled by the French but after trading hands several times the British got the upper hand. English is the official language but there’s an undercurrent of French. Along the way the driver tried to teach us a bit of the local patois which is a mixture of mostly French with a little African and Carib and a dash of English and Spanish. I’m pretty sure I don’t remember any of. One of our first stops was at a chocolate factory. The owner’s name sounded familiar to Robin who had just finished reading “Black and White Sands”. It’s written by a free spirited Scottish woman who moved to Dominica with her husband and grand children in the early 1930s. Turns out the author was his grandmother.

As you likely recall Dominica was devastated by hurricane Irma in September of 2017. When we visited last year just a few months after the storm the island was in the early stages of recovery. Many of the homes still had blue tarps over their roofs but now most of the roofs have been repaired, the roads and infrastructure are in better shape and life is returning to normal for much of the population. The forests are starting a new cycle of recovery, just as they have many times before after hurricanes.

After a lunch stop we headed inland to Spanny Falls. Robin loves swimming in the waterfalls in Dominica and Spanny is her favorite. You have to hike a quarter of a mile from the parking lot to the falls with much of it a steep path down the side of the valley where the falls are. The water is quite “refreshing” as we used to say when it was freezing. In spite of the chilly water we all had a nice splash around and stood under the falls.

Dominica has a lovely Saturday morning produce market so when Saturday rolled around we grabbed bags and headed in for fresh veggies and fruits. Everything was fresh off the vine and picked up some very tasty papaya along with staples like onions and tomatoes.

One of our favorite places on Dominica is the Green Bar. It’s in Portsmouth but it’s kinda hard to find. There’s no sign and if you ask someone for directions they’ll tell you its across from the chicken place. Of course, the only sign at the Chicken Place says “FISH” in big letters. As you may have guessed its a hole in the wall, local place. Osborne, the owner was very happy to see us as we had lots of friends along and filled his little bar. Osborne is a tall man with a bushy mustache, megawatt smile and an infectious laugh. Mike bought the first round including a few for a couple of locals who ducked in when they saw Mike was buying and were happy at the opportunity. The Green Bar consists of a table and a few chars on Osborne’s front porch and a small bar in his converted living room. Osborne serves cold beers from a fridge and a variety of fiery, spiced rums. Dominicans love spiced rums and infuse the local rums with just about every possible combination of sticks and twigs imaginable. It would have been impolite not to sample a few. While there we learned by the stream of people who stopped in that Osborne is also an apothecary. He dispenses herbs, bark and leaves from plants gathered in the forest to relieve the ailments of his neighbors.

An OCC (Ocean Cruising Club) rally kicked off a few days after our arrival so we joined in on some of the fun including a beach barbecue. The event calendar showed that the first event was the PAYS barbecue and Martin, one of the PAYS boatboys and the OCC host for Dominica came by and sold us tickets. Later, another boatboy came by selling barbecue tickets and says what we have aren’t tickets to the PAYS barbecue. Hmmmm, it turns out that Martin is holding a competing barbecue just down the beach from the PAYS pavillion. It’s the same menu and the same all you can drink rum punch as the PAYS barbecue but Martin gets all the proceeds. OK, after some digging we learn that several of the boat boys aren’t happy with PAYS. To be clear, these aren’t boys, they’re grown men many with families and they say that they haven’t received any money from PAYS and that the accounting for the funds that PAYS collects hasn’t been released as required by the by laws. Meanwhile, the president, who they say has appointed so many family members to the PAYS organization that ensures reelection every year, has found enough money to open a bar on the PAYS property. PAYS has been held up as a shining example of how locals can band together to build a business but some cracks are starting to show and it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.

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