Our Impromptu

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February 7 - February 14, 2008: Martinique - Dominica


Map of Dominica

Unfortunately, the map picture did not come out very well. Hopefully, it still gives you a basic idea as to what Dominica looks like. Portsmouth is in the Northwest of the island. Roseau, the capital, in the Southwest.

February 7 - we got up early today, around 0600, as we planned on leaving St. Pierre for Portsmouth, Dominica, an approximately 55 nm trip. It was gray and raining, but a little further away from Mount Pelee, the sky started showing some blue. So, we got ready and actually left our anchorage at exactly 0655. The wind was blowing around 25 knots initially. We set both sails, reefed, however, as everyone had done who was sailing "North". So did "Baraka" of Newport, Rhode Island. She had left about the time we got up, i.e., around 0600 and was quite a ways ahead of us. Once we passed the last part of Martinique, the wind strengthened and the waves increased to about 8-12 feet, of course, they were rather irregular. Generally, it was beautiful, just very bumpy. I am proud to state that I did not get seasick - I guess it was because the actual passage was "only" around 24 nm, the balance of the entire trip, we were protected by the two islands. We made good time, could get a great glimpse of the island of Dominica, saw how the weather rolled in and out, encountered a bunch of pretty hefty gusts where Impromptu was lying on her side - but uprighted immediately thereafter.

We were greated by "Jerome", one of the famous or infamous "boat boys" as they are unfairly called. Initially, we did not want to deal with him as we had read in one of our guide books that the Coconut Beach Hotel was near the Customs Office and offered moorings for $ 10/night. I kept calling them on VHF Channel 16 - no answer. Pancho from Roseau answered, telling me that I was calling the wrong hotel because they were in Portsmouth. Pancho had been recommended to us by other sailors in St. Lucia, but for a potential Roseau stop. When I informed him that we were about two miles off of Portsmouth, he immediately stopped talked to me. Someone else answered telling me that the Coconut Beach Hotel was no longer open. No wonder they would not return my call. We continued sailing closer to where we thought the Customs Building was. In the end, Jerome returned to us, promised to take Juergen to customs while I tended to Impromptu. Juergen took our documents (both boat and our passports) and went onto Jerome's boat and was promptly taken to shore. I waited for about 20 minutes. Then I saw Jerome drive off without Juergen. Of course, I was getting nervous. Why would he leave just now? What would Juergen do to get back to Impromptu? Should I take the boat to the anchorage and see how I would get the dinghy off the boat (we had lashed it onto the foredeck), get the dinghy engine down and then try to pick him up? Should I ask someone else for help (I really don't like handling the dinghy and am not at all good at it. In addition, it is rather hard work to get the dinghy engine off the boat onto the dinghy). By the time I was still contemplating what to do, I saw Juergen return to shore and get onto another tiny and not very seaworthy boat with another stranger. They headed towards me on Impromptu. I was so glad when he was back on the boat and took the boat to the anchorage, where Jerome was already waiting to help us tie up to a mooring if we liked one. Had we insisted on anchoring, he would have shown us a good spot as well.

Then the drama started. We were tied up to the mooring. I turned off the engine, started taking things down, turning off all instruments until I heard Juergen scream at me to move the boat forward. I ran down below to get the engine key, turn on the engine and take the boat forward. He initially indicated to move it to port. Then he yelled the other direction - at least that is what I heard - and I did. I heard him scream more so - very unusual for Juergen to scream. In the end, he came running, upset, holding his hand which was bleeding. His four fingers had gotten caught in the mooring line and I must have moved the boat in the wrong direction - and moved the boat too late in the first place. Now, his left pinky is all bloody, the other three fingers and the pinky are all bandaged together - after washing them all in warm then cold water, putting a disinfecting cream on a gauze and then bandaging the four fingers. I wanted him to have a doctor look at this. Of course, Juergen refused. So, I gave him two stiff rum drinks, checked in some medical book which is useless for things like this. He also refused that I call his sister to ask what to do. Jerome came by, had a drink with us on our boat. He offered to take Juergen to the hospital. Juergen refused.

Meanwhile, he ate a lot of foie gras, watched other boats arrive, arrange with Jerome to take two island tours, a Northern and a Southern one, interrupted, on Saturday, by a trip up the Indian River. The latter has been highly recommended, including an area where migrating birds congregate. So, we will be busy for the next three days, and I will hopefully have lots of pictures to show you while, hopefully, also being able to report that Juergen is feeling better. I am totally upset about my misunderstanding his instructions / signals...

February 9 - It was Alexander's birthday yesterday. Happy Birthday, Alexander!

We are taking it easy today because we took a very long and interesting tour through the Northern part of the island. Cobra Tours, the organization that Jerome is office and harbor manager of, arranged it for us. It was spectacular, not only because the island is very beautiful but also because our driver, Greg, was extremely knowledgeable about fauna and flora of the island, polite and just fun to have around. We left Impromptu at 0930 yesterday morning, picked up by Jerome who took us to the dock where Greg was already waiting for us in a small sedan - just perfect for he and the two of us. We had decided on the Northern route first. The Southern route will be "tackled" tomorrow.

We went along the Indian River which, by the way, we will tour by rowboat today (at 1430, Jerome will pick us up again. Someone else will then row us up river, show us an area where migrating birds congregate, then we can relax at the Indian River Bar which has been organized by "Cobra" himself, Andrew O'Brien is his real name. He started Cobra Tours and cleaned up the area of the turnaround point on the Indian River, and organized the bar - a rather entrepreneurial individual who we met last night as he took us back to Portsmouth while Greg took Cobra's guests back to Roseau - all this because Cobra had to take part in a meeting in Portsmouth relating to harbor and general tourist safety on the island. We also told him that $ 10 per night for a mooring is too little and that they should charge $ 15. Reason for this is that even in St. John's national park, the Park Services are charging $ 15 per night - and there are no additional services provided but the moorings and a map of the island, if one care to pick one up while making payment. He wanted to raise the subject at the meeting and appreciated out input.

Back to our trip yesterday. Greg showed us coffee beens, grapefruit, Papaya, Kawashi fruit, lemon grass, cut some bark off a nutmeg tree, cut lots of other spices just for us to get a taste of the smell of all the island plants. He also pointed out a lot of different plants, including Bird of Paradise, Poinsettia and many more whose names I must admit I don't remember. Many of them cost incredible amounts of money when purchasing them at New York flower shops. Here, they all grow wild. Amazing. There is a lot of agriculture, from banana plantations, pineapple plantations, one small sugar cane plantation with a rum distillery to lettuce, plantain and other vegetable fields. Some of the plantations are very small, some quite large. Housing is generally limited to one or two room shacks. Only in the villages and towns does one see single family homes and even small apartment complexes - one or two stories high. All "homes" are built in stone, except for some of the Carib shacks which were built in plywood and corrogated tin parts. While the island populations generally seems poor, at least according to our standards, the Caribs are considered the underclass.

People are friendly, smiling. We don't know whether this is because we are in Greg's company (who seems to be known to almost everyone on the island) or whether this is a general attitude. It certainly is quite pleasant. Everybody says hello, is willing to show their fare even if, in the end, we do not buy anything. We did buy some souvenirs though and some post cards. We have, however, not found any stamps yet, and the town of Portsmouth does not look sufficiently inviting for us to walk around and find the Post Office. I am sure Jerome will purchase some for us if we ask him.

We stopped to have lunch at "Randy's", a tiny restaurant in the hills, not far from Calibishe. Randy used to work for Boston Market and claims to have opened about 80% of their restaurants in the US for them before they filed for bankruptcy protection. He is an excellent cook, waits on his guests himself, is the bar tender and make a lethal rum drink "Underground" which, he claims, makes you feel drunk only three or four days after you drank it. Well, today is the second day... We will see. We ate King Fish, grilled, accompanied by an interesting albeit unusual salad, pasta, banana and plantain. We did not care for the latter, but the fish was very tasty. The Chilean white wine we drank with the meal was on the warm side but quite delicious. Greg preferred the local beer and ribs. While we were waiting for the food to be served, Greg made for us a bunch of "sculptures" from a certain grass - for me a fish and a frigate bird, for Juergen a fish on a hook and a long "line" with a reel, and for both of us a grass hopper - all so beautiful. I just hope that they don't get damaged on our journey. We would certainly love to stick them into a flower pot at home to show our friends.

We continued along the Atlantic Coast, passed the Melville Hall Airport which is being expanded courtesy of the Venezuelan Government. What does Mr. Chavez have in mind??? We cut off "into the center of the island, along the Central Forest Reserve and stopped as close as possible to "Spanny Waterfalls" and walked for about 15-20 minutes along a rather wet, muddy path, down some steps to a beautiful waterfall with a pool. Some elderly ladies were the only ones enticed to go swimming there. We refrained, Juergen because he should not get his incured finger wet, I because I don't like to swim anyway. In addition, we had both cameras with us... a good excuse just to stand and watch, take pictures, before heading back to pay the entrance fee of $ 2 per person, buying water and beer and heading back to the car for our return trip. We drove along the Layou River which in part has become a "water park" for river tubing and similar activities. Some Chinese and Japanese investors seem to have tried their luck but left unaccomplished when a change of government insisted on higher taxes than the former government had agreed to. Now, all we see is the highly unattractive ruins of the various construction sites. Greg showed us "his town", Layou, where the hurricane of 1979 had done enough damage that the government built homes higher up on the hill. Those who have jobs and regular income are living there and can pay very small "mortgage" payments over a 25 year period at $ 200 per month to own in the end. The riffraff was still living in the shacks right on the beach, playing Domino, smoking pot, just hanging loose... Greg admitted that he sometimes goes there after work to play Domino with his friends. A fisherman was in the process of building a new fishing boat - quite meticulous work, we thought.

We passed the town of St. Josef, which, at least from a distance, looked quite attractive. We will askGreg to drive us through there tomorrow just so we can see better what it looks like from near-by. We passed the most attractive beach on the West Coast of the island, near Mero, the town of Salisbury - a little more attractive than the others (except of St. Joseph) and continued along the coast on a highway like road with guardrails. In any case, most of the roads were quite well maintained, almost seemed new.

The town of Portsmouth was disappointing, the buildings not well maintained, the stores unattractive and the people not very smily. Before this island gets opened and attracted by tourists other than the sailing community and cruise ship patrons, Portsmouth will have to be cleaned up and improved upon, and Cobra's efforts alone will not be sufficient to accomplish that. We are curious as to Roseau and the Southern part of the island. Of that, tomorrow...

February 11 - Michael Yeargan's birthday - Happy Birthday, Michael! Yesterday, we took the "Southern Route" of the island. That, after we had an eventful night. It had been blowing quite a bit - around 30 kn consistently, higher in gusts. We were tied up to a mooring, as you might remember. At some point during the night, I dreamed that our mooring line would tear, and the sound of the waves against the stern of Impromptu suddenly was different - maybe, not so suddenly, but anycase, by the time I was finally awake, I decided to go out on deck and check it out. Well, there was no boat anywhere near us - while there had been lots of them anchored and moored right around us when we went to bed. The town was far away, and Impromptu found itself very near the mountain with the radio antennae - we had drifted 2.9 nm! At a speed of 1.6 kn, we decided that we must have been drifting for almost two hours before I noticed it. I woke up Juergen to tell him that something was "terribly wrong". We got dressed, turned on the engine and started moving back towards the anchorage. Of course, we did not want to take a mooring - certainly not after that experience. In addition, the harbor is quite dark. We preferred to anchor, found a spot in about 30+ feet of water, near a large motor yacht and a very large black sailboat. We noted our anchor position, checked it out for a while until we were reasonably comfortable that the anchor was holding, and went back to bed. All this started around 0300. By 0500, we were back in bed, exhausted and not too comfortable. I went up to check every so often that we were still in place. We were.

Jerome was to pick us up at 0945 to take us to shore where Greg was picking us up for our Southern Route trip. Well, he (Jerome) helped us tie up to another mooring. This time, we not only threaded a docking line through the mooring line but in addition, tied up to the hook of the mooring also. Now we have two lines and hope to be safe this way.

The trip around the Southern part was very interesting but not as fantastic as the Northern route. Also, because it was Sunday, it was hard to find a nice place to have llunch. We finally stopped in Soufriere on the Southwest coast, South of Roseau, the capital of Dominica, in a place we would never have gone into. It was very clean though, and the food was tasty. We enjoyed the view over the ocean and the experience. Earlier, we had visited a fairly sizeable waterfall - actually, there were two, and at the bottom, there were hot pools where a family was soaking, happily smiling. Since we were in the rain forest, it was raining quite heavily for a few brief moments. The walk was fun. On the parking lot, a few local women were selling their fares, including local coffee. We had it for breakfast - very tasty. Now, Juergen is on his way trying to buy some for us...

The wind continues to be blowing and will do so according to Windfinder.com. This means that we may stay here for a few more days - not exactly torture... We will discuss it later when Juergen is back from his visit to purchase the coffee and stamps for me.

February 14 - Brad's birthday. Happy birthday, Brad... In a way, we were a little sad, leaving Dominica this morning. We really loved the island and the people we met. We had grown very fond of Jerome who came by to say good-bye the night before though he was actually on a training course in Roseau all day and had no business being on the water. Still, when we indicated on February 12th that we would stay another day to see him one more time - for drinks on Impromptu - he promised to come - and he did. We finally even took some pictures of Jerome. For some reason, the occasion never presented itself before. This time, we made a point - see for yourself in our Gallery. Eddison also came by - to collect the last two nights' mooring fees. Later we learned from Jerome that he should not have charged us. First, after paying for five nights, the sixth night is free and, since our mooring had broken and we had drifted away, we also should not have paid for the seventh night. O well - we told Jerome to see it as a donation. We had visited Big Papa's Restaurant for the last time, not to eat or drink, but for its internet access, said good-bye to Jan, the German representing the Trans-Ocean Club, a German organization (if I understand this correctly) who is aiding long distance sailors around the world. There seem to be such TO stations everywhere, one was also on Martinique as we had learned from Axel and Brit.

Juergen went to the post office in Portsmouth one last time because the is the only place in town with a mail box, and I wanted my cards to be mailed from Dominica.

We talked about a lot of things with Jerome, both of his background but also things that could make life for the "boat boys" as they are so crudely called somewhat easier, including providing lights for their boats. It provides greater safety for them but also will give boaters a better feeling when, in the dark, a lighted boat approaches them rather than one totally dark.

Jerome is the one who had also recommended that we not go straight to Pointe a Pitre on Guadeloupe but spend a few days on Les Saintes, a group of small islands just about 20 nm Southwest of Guadeloupe. We did, and here we are, anchored in "Anse de Bourg", a nice picturesque bay, fairly well protected. Still, there is a little swell, stronger in evenings when the wind has somewhat dissipated but the ferries keep running and the ocean swell is still around. We may actually change anchorages tomorrow, February 16. Miscommunication between us left us in the same spot...