We are in the Dominica channel watching as the definition of Dominica ahead of us takes shape. We had a restless night on anchor in St Pierre, Martinique. Perhaps it is because we never truly have a good night sleep when we are on anchor, as we don’t trust it, or perhaps we were both thinking about all the people who died when the hot gasses rolled into town killing all but two people in the town and burning and sinking the ships in the Bay. When I did sleep I had the weirdest dreams – one of which was my teeth falling out – what the hell does that mean I wonder!! Fear of toffee? Or of growing old? Must look that up.
I thought I would write something of how it feels to navigate from one Island, one country to another as although this has become ‘just another day at sea’ for us we are trying to remember how unique this is. How special this is and how fortunate we are.
We have spent a lot of time with charts and pilot books looking at the distance, the prevailing wind and any special notes on potential hazards. We love Chris Doyle as his guides are invaluable – our copies are well thumbed and I am sure he would love to see how much pleasure we get out of not just reading them but acting on them – from the navigation advice to the tours, the people to meet and the shops and restaurants and bars – his guides are unique and wonderful.
Having done our research we are on our way to Roseau on the South West Coast of Dominica. Dominica is described as the only Island in the Caribbean that Christopher Columbus would still recognize. It is apparently wild and natural with waterfalls and exotic plants and birds. In the hills are Rasta farms and even – get this Rastaraunts!! Fantastic. We are planning on calling Sea Cat as soon as we get a phone signal. Sea Cat is a local entrepreneur who has run his business looking after yachties for many years. He has mooring buoys, Wi-Fi, helps with clearing into customs and he does the best tours on the Island. We are going to get all of the above from him! It is 09.00 and Mark is on watch with May at his feet – we are doing one hour on and one hour off, as it is a 6-hour journey. We left at around 06.30 so we should get in around 13.00. The winds are very light and even though we have our Genoa and Mainsail we are also motoring – it is very dull sailing Magic in light air as she is heavy and very slow. Magic needs wind!
As the time flows behind us and we move forward the shape of Dominica becomes clearer ahead of us. There is a perfectly blue sky with small fluffy clouds and the sea is gently rolling beneath our hull. As we sail we keep a careful watch for other boats – sailors and fishermen and motor cruisers – we are always watching to see their direction and speed to make sure we are clear of them and that we follow the Col Regs well. Today another 16M yacht Solitude was heading past us and we called her to check we could pass Port to Port – she confirmed that and then chatted to us on the VHF for 40 minutes about all the places in the North they had been, the people they met and recommendations for guides that are helpful and restaurants that are good. We reciprocated with our top tips for the South from Martinique to Union Island – it was really lovely chatting with a fellow sailor and getting the inside info as we sailed past each other. I don’t think we will ever actually meet Jerry and Victoria as they have sold up everything in the USA and are planning on sailing forever towards New Zealand where they may stay. How exciting the people you meet and how brave they are just to sell everything and live their dream. We watched as they sailed past us and south. We are now close to the very South Western tip of Dominica – a tricky spot with an underwater pinnacle that needs a wide berth. We are carefully watching our charts and keeping a look out. May is asleep in her bed.
As we near Roseau we are treated to beautiful pink, yellow and blue houses nestled into tropical trees and bushes. A cockerel crows in the distance. We call Sea Cat- on Channel 16 he says he is at the Supermarket getting ice for another boat and will be with us in five minutes. What a strange world. As we close in on the beach – “Beans” arrives in a Sea Cat market speedboat. He welcomes us warmly to ‘his’ tropical island and says “follow me” he races off toward the beach and a buoy that we will call home for the next two nights. It is only 12.30 so we have made really good time on our crossing. I go on to the foredeck and hand the lines to ‘Beans’ and he helps me to secure Magic to the buoy. He is lovely – in his late 20s and with a huge warm smile and corn rows in his hair. He tells us he can take us on a tour tomorrow, asks if we have a permit for May (we do!) explains that Customs will be quiet now and he can take us. So I grab a bag and put all our boat papers in it. I get the transom door down and step down the ladders onto it and into the Sea Cat boat. Immediately we are off – skimming the surface at speed. It is weird but because we have spent the last 15 months going at a maximum of 9miles an hour we find speeding cars or boats quite a shock to our senses. As we fly by palm trees and little shacks on the beach ‘Beans’ – tells me about his nickname. He is called Beans because as a boy he loved Bacon and Beans – his best friend did too but his friend got called Bacon and Beans was left with Beans. Fair enough. He shows me with pride the beach he played on as a child. We are moored just off his village and he tells me Sea Cat has a house overlooking the sea. We pass the local radio station (government owned) and the Government building – he shows me the palatial house that the Governor lives in and explains that they have to pay 50% tax which means he has to work twice as hard all the time – but he says he loves his job and loves visitors. Good one! We arrive at the stern of the ferry and an official helps me out of Bean’s boat. I walk through the ferry and onto the dock steps. Then a very official and angry lady comes forward telling me that there is no point trying to clear in now, as there would be a very long wait. I ask when I should come back and she says “up to you!” Great …then she explained that there was a queue of about an hour, then they will have lunch for an hour and then they close at 16.00. I talk to Beans and he says lets go and come back at 14.30. So its another exciting whizz back to Magic. I am not sure how much all this back and forth and moorings and tour will cost but we will find out soon enough! Back on the boat May was so excited to see me that she leapt right off the transom onto the platform – that’s about five feet – it was incredible she didn’t hurt herself or go in the sea – poor May. She is hot today and she doesn’t really love the sailing bit. She can have some extra cuddles and a brush – she loves being brushed. We will have some salad for lunch and celebrate our arrival with some beer and then at 14.30 Mark can have a turn in Bean’s speed boat to the Customs office – I know how much he loves the way those Eastern Caribbean women talk to him! – not!
Change of plan as we put the dingy in the water and decide to go to customs ourselves. Now we know where it is there it is easier. There is no wind and we skim across the sea towards the huge P&O Cruise ship dock. We tie our dingy up by the dive center and Fort hotel. Every time we go to a new place we have new challenges with getting on and off the dingy. This time a steel ladder built to get the divers out of the sea is there. We moor up along side but of course we have to climb over the handles of the ladder to get onto a step, as we are not in dive gear stepping out of the sea! We slip and slide on the wet metal but manage – very ungracefully to get on to the steps. I wish I felt more Lara Croft today!
We go and explore the town it is very Caribbean – lots of music blaring and bright colours on the house and the people. Locals cram into small vans that are buses – neat and tidy school children on their way home. As usual May is the center of attention – we had two offers to buy her, locals wanting to dance with her and lots of cruise ship passengers who were missing their dogs whilst on holiday. One lady introduced herself as – Jilly – she is from London but is half Dominican. She lives here and in London. She was telling us how good life is and how happy she is. She loves Dominica and tells us how safe it is and how beautiful. We end up going for a beer with her – lovely lady. Then we head back to Magic deciding that we will eat on board tonight – it’s been a long day and we are tired – but wow, we’re in Dominica. We are going with ‘Beans’ tomorrow for a tour 9-5 with some hiking and waterfalls – it will be wonderful to see more of the interior of an island. So often we only see the coast and local towns. Dominica is a wild, steamy wilderness so we are excited to meet her.