Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dominica 101

Once again I've waited too long between blog posts and now I have far too many photos for this post. So.... two underwater photos from The Saints first, then right on to Dominica.

Two little lobsters
Sea anemome
Dominica... where to begin? Our relationship with Dominica started off a little rocky but we've been here for two weeks and I'm happy to say that we're getting along much better now that we've gotten to know each other a bit.
We knew we'd be greeted by a boat boy (a boat man, really) when we neared the anchorage in Portsmouth and Jerome, who works with Cobra was the first to reach us. Jerome is part of "PAYS" (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services/Security) - a loosely affiliated group of local guys that work to keep the island safe for visiting yachts. These guys grew up playing in the rivers and waterfalls and are fiercely proud of their island.

Jerome takes a call on his cell as he accompanies us in.
They do just about everything from tying your boat to a mooring ($50/week) to taking in your garbage to giving boat and land tours.... all while answering questions about Dominica. Though we rarely pick up a mooring, we wanted to support the efforts of the PAYS guys so we took a mooring for our first week here.

Dominica is the first island we've visited that has boat boys in the harbor and we've heard good things about the guys here. The general rule is that whoever reaches you first is "your" boat boy for the duration of your stay. That doesn't seem to be a hard and fast rule though and we've taken trips with both Jerome and Martin, aka Providence. There are some freelancers out here too and it seems wise to be wary of a few of them. They paddle out in boats and on surfboards to sell fruits and veggies- sometimes asking for a drink ("I'm mighty thirsty Captain.... do you have some rum for me, or maybe a beer?") or asking if there's anything else we need.

As for getting off on the wrong foot.... it was a combination of things; bad timing, crummy weather, missed connections with friends, lack of information and a few other things I can't quite put my finger on. The worst of it was that Saralane broke loose from her mooring while we were off the boat. We came back one evening to find her hanging stern to the wind, mooring lines chafed clear through, and caught by the propellor on another mooring line. NOT GOOD. We had to free the line or risk pulling the prop shaft out of the boat. VERY BAD.

As we worked to figure out how the line was caught, a few of the boat boys and a freelancer came speeding up in their boats. By this time it's pitch black out and the wind is picking up (naturally) but without hesitation the freelance guy, Sugar Daddy, stripped down and dove under the boat with a knife, felt for the line twisted around the shaft and cut us loose. Jerome and Albert, another boat boy, led us in the dark to another mooring where this time, we tied our own lines.

When we pick up a mooring, we tie two lines through the thimble (the loop) on the mooring independently and run them back to the boat. Port side line goes through the thimble and gets tied back to the port side; starboard side line goes through and gets tied back to the starboard side, leaving very little opportunity for chafing. Jerome had threaded our two lines through the mooring differently, running the port side line through and tying it up on the starboard side; the starboard side through and back to the port side, so as we swung in the breeze the thimble (which turned out to have a sharp inside edge) rubbed back and forth on both lines, eventually chafing through and allowing the boat to pull free. All this said - it was our responsibility to check the mooring lines when we were first tied up and there's no good reason we didn't. This whole episode could have (and should have) been easily avoided and we're incredibly lucky that Saralane didn't crash into the boat behind us or drift unnoticed out to sea.

The morning after this incident, Albert stopped by to tell us what happened. He was talking to the captain on an Australian boat in front of us when they noticed our boat moving very fast downwind through the harbor. He said it took them just a few seconds to process the fact that there was no one on board (no dinghy, no sails up, odd angle to the wind, etc...) before they jumped into his boat and sped out to grab Saralane and drag her back. It was then that she snagged the other mooring and.... well you know the rest of the story.

Albert tells us the tale of our runaway Saralane
Sugar Daddy comes by to tell it too.
When we stopped by to thank the Aussie captain, he jokingly complimented us on the boat. "She's really fast.... even without sails up!" Very funny.

Bad beginning behind us, I'll move on to better things. There are hiking trails all over the island and early on we hiked to Fort Shirley at Cabrits National Park on the northwest corner of Prince Rupert Bay here in Portsmouth. The fort was built by the British in the early 1770's and anyone with an interest in history could spend days poking around here. Fort Shirley was the site of the revolt of the 8th West Indian Regiment that resulted in the emancipation of 10,000 slave soldiers in the early 1800's. Much of the upper part of the fort has been restored, but there are sections that are still being reclaimed by the forest.

I love the details on this cannon in the restored area of the fort, especially the arrow showing which side goes up.

Nature reclaiming this section
We spent all day hiking the trails at Cabrits and stopped to chat with some workers who were setting up tents for a jazz and creole music festival that coming weekend. Musicians from the Caribbean and Europe would be there and we would too. The music was great.... and the energy, the color, the clothes and the hair were even better!

Great music, great style, great color.....
.... and great hair!
Saturday is the big outdoor market day in Portsmouth and since we're always looking for fresh produce we got there early-ish (it starts at day break) and stocked up on locally grown fruits and veggies.

Clockwise rom top L: banana & lime lady, young passionfruit farmer, veggies & fruit, cacao/sugar/coffee/spice vendor
We are full to overflowing with locally grown papaya, pineapple, passionfruit (oh happiness!), limes, tiny bananas, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, cocoa, cinnamon, coffee and more. There's a smaller version of the market everyday and it's great to have such easy access all that's grown on the island.

Every transaction, whether buying from a vendor at the market or getting on a bus to ride across the island, begins with the customary greeting, a "good morning" or "good afternoon" and goes from there. It's a simple courtesy that we've gotten used to in the islands and notice when it's absent. It puts everyone at ease and lessens potential wariness of strangers. People here are friendly and engaging but have seen their share of rude visitors as have most of the islands.

Even the local birds are friendly.... if you feed them some of your snacks.
Jerome gave us some ideas about where to go on the island and though we'd planned to bus around and hike on our own we also wanted to get an overall intro to the island with a guide. We opted to go up the Indian River with him the next day and wait until we connected with some other boats before going on a bigger excursion around the island.

Like all the boat boys, Jerome knows a lot about the flora and fauna of the island and he filled us in on what was what as he rowed up the river. (Any mistakes in identification here are mine.) There are no outboards allowed on the river, hence the guided tour as the only option. The Indian River was the site of some scenes in Pirates of the Caribbean (part 2?) and I realize I'm one of the only people left on earth who hasn't seen the movie. I saw Johnny Depp in 'Chocolate'... does that count?

The gnarly looking trees with roots in the water are bloodwood trees. They're beautiful and surreal looking and we see them whenever we hike along the rivers.

Clockwise from top L: mudhen, greenback heron, bloodwood trees and ferns, kingfisher
Almost looks fake doesn't it?
Jerome on the river

There's a little bar at the end of the Indian River trip (conveniently owned by Cobra and Jerome) where we stopped for a rum drink before heading back out and though the tour is sort of packaged, the river was worth seeing. If you're here, go see it.

Back out on our own, we started hiking from Portsmouth and finding (and losing) our way for a few days before we started to get a feel for the area. Another part of our rocky beginning with Dominica was that on the first gorgeous hike we did our camera battery crapped out, so there are NO photos of the huge stands of bamboo, the palm groves and the lovely little fresh water pool we swam in. A few more photos to add to the list of "best photos I didn't take". Here are a few we took before the battery gave out.

Giant bloodwood tree - and me in my BRIGHT pink shirt.
Somewhere between the dinghy dock and getting onto the trail, this little dog adopted us. He came along for the hike and aside from freaking out a few horses and cows along the way, he was pretty good company. We started out calling him Fido (momentary lapse of creativity) but switched to El Jefe since he seemed to be in charge.

El Jefe
El Jefe accompanied us on a few hikes - meeting up with us near the dinghy dock and spending the whole day hiking with us, but he couldn't go along when we bused across the north tip of the island to a town called Bense to hike to the Chaudiere Pool. We walked past farmed agricultural land as well as all manner of things growing wild by the side of the road.

Farm with field of pineapple

Lots of papaya

Lizards on cacao pods
Making strides in my wildlife photography abilities.... I caught this little anole perched on a cacao pod acting territorial puffing out his neck. This goes right to the top of my favorite photos list! 

The bus stop in Bense
Though we were hiking to Chaudiere Pool, we didn't actually get to Chaudiere Pool. Another part of our frustrating beginning in Dominica. 

The trail crosses a river just above the point where several rivers come together, and just as we reached the river crossing it started pouring rain. We'd met some locals along the way who told us to take care because the trail was slippery and the river was high from all the recent rain. They said one of the local guides with a group of people turned back earlier in the day because of the conditions.

The rain just beginning...
With this warning on our minds and not knowing how much rain was on the way or how fast the river would rise, we decided it was probably not a good idea to cross the river then. Chaudiere Pool is one more place on our "must go back and see" list.

Rain, rain and more rain.
We did get out on an island tour one day with people from several boats in the harbor, but I'll save that for the next blog post. It's been raining almost nonstop since then - about four days - and we're starting to feel moldy. We're keeping busy with work, boat projects, cleaning, doing laundry with the abundance of water we're collecting (the drying part is a little tricky) and getting out when we can between downpours. I'll leave you with two photos from our trip around the island. More soon....

On the trail to Spanny Falls
One of the waterfalls at Spanny Falls

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

St. Croix to The Saints

St. Croix seems far behind us now, but here are a few shots from the week we spent there with Skip's family.

Ponds and mates poolside 
Parents and the kids L to R: Warren, Skip, Cindy and Kathie
The Buccaneer was as nice as we remember from a few years ago, and we ate too much, slept too late and generally lazed around. Warren's 90th was celebrated in good form and plans are in the works to celebrate Kathie's 90th here next spring!

We had a chance to catch up with our friends Matt and Rachel, transplants from California and Alabama respectively. We've stayed in touch since we met them last year in Culebrita and it was great to see them again. They've since moved off their boat "August Moon" and into a very cool house in St. Croix. We hope to take them up on their "mi casa su casa" invitation and visit them again soon. 

No exciting news on the fishing front even though we've been spending a fair amount of time offshore. The only thing we hooked was this barracuda that we let go. 

 Watch out for those teeth
From St. Croix we made a quick stop off in the BVI, then went straight to Antigua for a few days where we caught up with our friends Tim and Nancy on Larus who are heading north.... that is if they don't head south. See? We're not the only ones who can't make decisions. The wind was southwest while we were in Antigua, which was perfect for a few days anchored in Five Islands. In more typical trade winds conditions we've heard that the 'scent' from the local landfill blows right over this pretty anchorage and makes it less than idyllic. 

We always poke around the roadside stands in Antigua and this time we came away with passion fruit that we made into juice and added to our rum. Tasty. 

Since we're still focused on getting to Dominica, we didn't hang around Antigua long, but sailed on to Guadeloupe where we hiked over the hill from Deshaies to the long beach just north of the anchorage. We were about to turn off the main road and onto the dirt road that leads to the beach when a guy in a pick up stopped and offered us a ride. We were really out for the walk but he was so friendly and so insistent that we finally jumped in and rode with him. 

Hubert's English was as bad as our French but we came away with the understanding that his father was from France and came to Guadeloupe by way of a few other islands and now has some farmland in Guadeloupe. Hubert loves Americans and was happy to meet us. He dropped us off near the beach where he was turning into the farm with his load of coconuts and overripe mangos to feed his pigs, chickens and goats. Not for the first time, nor the last I'm sure, I wish I knew more French.

It's hard to tell in the photo but these waves were bigger than us.
A few great squalls rolled through while we were at anchor in Deshaies.... the kind of storms we love when we're at anchor. They fill our tanks.... and our dinghy.

Squall moving in over Deshaies
Skip bails out the John H.
One thing we bypassed on our last swing past Guadeloupe was the Jardin Botanique. It's an uphill hike along the main road to the garden but it was definitely worth a visit. This makes up for the lack of flora shots (not too much fauna though) in recent posts. Here's a sampling of orchids, heliconia, bananas and other things I won't attempt to identify. 

Hungry, ill mannered koi
L: Teeny bananas, not ready for picking, R: still not ready, but getting closer

From Deshaies we sailed to The Saints where we've been for a few days, connecting with some old friends and making some new friends. We anchored behind Pain de Sucre for a few peaceful nights and snorkeled the rocky shoreline. The water here is clearer than we saw farther north, but there still aren't a lot of fish around. 

More rain came through while we were here - water tanks are full and we're getting liberal with our water use. This is sure to come back and haunt us if we don't wise up, but for now we're showering happily. 

We cleared out about an hour ago, and tomorrow we're off to Dominica.

* Just a note or two.... I added a few things to the blog, including a "Search This Blog" bar on the right that lets you search for specific things. It's not perfect, but it works pretty well. So, if you want to see all the posts that have iguanas in them.... just type in "iguana" and you'll get most of them. 

* Also for those of you without our email addresses who are too shy to comment publicly in the comments section, there's now an "Email Us" bar on the right too! We set up an email for Saralane and you can email us directly. No excuses now people! We love to hear from you.....