We had planned to stay an extra day in St Pierre, but after our anchor dragged we felt a little spooked. There was absolutely no room in the anchorage- there is a very narrow shelf on which to anchor and it drops away very quickly, so all the boats were crammed in together. So dragging our anchor was really not an option! We got up in the morning and, over a morning coffee, enjoyed the sight of sails on the horizon: about ten boats had left early to get up to Dominica. We were suddenly inspired to get the sails up and head off ourselves, which is just what we did.
We had a stunning sail up from Martinique, one of our best this season. The skies were blue, the seas were reasonably calm and the trades were light. Time to get out the code zero!
Before long we were doing 7 knots with only 9 knots apparent wind. Yes! We love our code zero! We slowly started catching up with the group of other yachts that had left about an hour before us, and, to our amazement, started passing them one by one! We must have passed about 6 of them, which is pretty impressive for a little 38 footer like us. This is exactly the type of sailing we like: beam reach, 10 knots of wind, sun out, swell minimal. Perfection. It’s days like this we remember why we love sailing so much.
Once we got into the lee of Dominica, we had to take our code zero down and use our jib instead, because there was either 20 knots of wind gusting down from the mountains, or no wind at all. So we put the motor on and motor-sailed up the coast.
The views of the island were spectacular and it was with a real sense of excitement that we approached the anchorage of Portsmouth. I had hoped this would be a little off the yachtie beaten track (I’m not sure why I thought this- wishful thinking more than anything!), but no, we were in for another very busy anchorage!
After the usual faffing around, we got ourselves anchored. There were a lot of boats- probably about 50- but the anchoring area is huge and we had plenty of space right next to the beach. We waved to Eupraxia, anchored in deeper water, and had pasta for dinner, then bed. No matter how pleasant the sail is, it’s always exhausting!
The next morning we were picked up nice and early for a tour of Indian River, but first we had to clear in. It was a Sunday, so the customs office was closed. But the tour guide took us to his house, knocked confidently on the door, and a few minutes later a dishevelled man wearing his underpants and smelling of last night’s alcohol opened the door. He wasn’t impressed, but went back inside and reappeared a few minutes later in a pair of shorts and with the paperwork we had to fill out. Ten minutes later, we were all cleared in! Very surreal.
We then joined another couple- non-cruisers, staying in a nearby hotel- for a tour down Indian River. It’s part of a national park, so no engines allowed- rowing only. Even if we’d been prepared to row our own dinghy down the river, we couldn’t have done- only certified guides are allowed to take you. Whether this is to preserve the river from irresponsible tourists, or to make money for the guides, I couldn’t say. Probably a bit of both.
Anyway, it was a leisurely paddle up the river, which was really quite stunning and peaceful. We stopped for a drink at a river-side bar, then made our way back. The tour took 2 hours and was a very pleasant way of spending a morning.
That night was a beach BBQ, put on by the Portsmouth Association for Yacht Services, otherwise known as PAYS. Let me explain. Some years ago a group of river guides got together and formed this organisation to service the yachting community. There are about ten guides, many of whom have several other people working for them doing tours and so forth, and they provide all possible yacht services from help clearing customs, to garbage collection, from providing mooring buoys to doing island tours and everything in between. They also provide 24/7 security of the anchorage, which is a major plus. In order to raise funds, they put on a beach BBQ every Sunday night and for the cost of 50EC (about £12) you get all you can eat and drink and then once the food is gone they pack all the tables away and everyone gets up and dances, proving once and for all that white people CANNOT dance no matter how hard they try. It was hilarious and ever so slightly cringe-worthy, but the rum punch was flowing freely and everyone let their hair down and had a laugh. Sandra and I had a grand old time giggling at the more amusing dance moves of some of the attendees. Needless to say, there were many sore heads the next morning.
Nick’s sore head was probably worse than most, but that didn’t stop him from spending the entire morning fixing our fresh water pump, which had packed up the night before. We were facing a long wait to get a new pump shipped out from the UK, and we don’t have a manual pump (fairly crucial oversight, we now realise!), so we had no way of getting water from our taps. Luckily, Nick was able to fix the pump, reminding me that between cooking me my dinner every night and fixing crucial boat parts, he does have his uses.
The following day we took a tour of the north of the island, which involved a lot of driving around on winding roads and getting out periodically to take photos. We had lunch on the beach, and walked up to a ‘cold soufriere’- a cold spring from a volcano. Apparently this is quite an unusual phenomenon, but visually it wasn’t particularly spectacular. The same cannot be said of the scenery of Dominica, which is absolutely stunning. We were completely bowled over by how beautiful this country is. Even the roads are lined with gorgeous colourful hedges, which are apparently planted and maintained by the locals every Independence Day. The local houses and their gardens are similarly well-maintained with plenty of fresh, bright paintwork and perfectly manicured tropical gardens.
We booked a third tour for the following morning to take us on a hike in the nearby mountains, but the rain was absolutely torrential overnight and was still pouring down when we got up, so we decided to cancel. Such a shame, as we really wanted to do some hiking in Dominica, which is apparently famous for excellent hikes. But it wasn’t to be, and we decided to make our way to The Saintes instead, a small archipelago that belongs to Guadeloupe. More on that next time!