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Sailing Dominica

Updated: May 9

Lush, volcanic, paradise!



Dominica (pronounced (daa-moe-knee-kah not Dominican Rep) was unlike any other Caribbean island we have visited. It is known for its lush rainforests, pristine natural beauty, and dramatic volcanic landscapes. It boasts numerous waterfalls, rivers, and hot springs, offering a wealth of outdoor adventures for visitors.


Its vibrant culture, influenced by African, Caribbean, and indigenous Kalinago traditions, adds depth to the island's allure, making it a unique and unforgettable destination.


Leaving St. Maarten

While on St. Maarten, our friends Mo and Cindy shared their plan to fly to Dominica on Wednesday, urging us to join them there. Mo, having resided on the island for an extended period and even owning an eco-resort there, sparked our interest. We decided to seize the opportunity.

Departing St. Maarten on Tuesday evening at 5pm, we initially enjoyed smooth sailing for about 6 hours. However, as the winds diminished, we resorted to using Lagerhead's motor.


Arriving in the morning hours on Thursday, the 80-mile trip was completed. We bypassed several of the leeward islands including St. Barth's, Saba, St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, and Guadeloupe. While we missed out on exploring these destinations, it leaves us with more exciting stops to plan for next year as we journey back up the island chain.



Our first view of Dominica. You can see a boat boy motoring toward us.

Boat Boys

We were greeted in the bay by one of Dominica's Boat Boys, Jerome. Mo set us up with him.


Dominica's boat boys are an integral part of the island's maritime culture and tourism industry. These local entrepreneurs operate small, brightly colored boats, offering a range of services to visiting sailors.


Boat boys typically provide assistance with anchoring and securing moorings for visiting vessels. They patrol the anchorage to ward off thefts. They also offer guided tours of the island's coastal attractions, such as secluded beaches, snorkeling spots, and marine reserves.


Many boat boys are skilled fishermen and are happy to share their expertise with guests, offering fishing trips or fresh catches for sale. Others come by with fresh fruit and veggies in the morning. Their friendly and welcoming demeanor left an impression on us, adding to the charm and authenticity of the Dominican experience.


We just anchored and didn't need any assistance with that. But we called on Jerome when we wanted to take a riverboat tour.


Clearing In

Customs House

Clearing in was super easy here. Many cruisers we met thought they had to give their documents to their boat boy to clear them in but that isn't true. When we arrived we first anchored over by the Custom's dock and house. Customs charged us $5 US to use the dock. It cost us another $10 US to clear in and out at the same time. It would have been a little cheaper if we had Eastern Caribbean money but we didn't have any yet.


Money

With the exception of upscale tourist establishments, credit cards are rarely accepted. Consequently, we found ourselves stocking up on EC currency. One EC dollar equals approximately 33 cents US, requiring us to adjust to withdrawing larger sums. While we did stumble upon some good deals, prices generally mirrored those found in the US.


Portsmouth

Portsmouth

There are only two bays in Dominica that are suitable for overnight anchoring- Portsmouth and Roseau. We decided to make our home in Portsmouth, located on the northwestern coast of Dominica. It was a much quieter location than the capital city, Roseau (which we visited by car).


Portsmouth is a charming town known for its laid-back atmosphere. Nestled between lush green hills and the Caribbean Sea, Portsmouth offers visitors a glimpse into Dominican life away from the hustle and bustle.


The town has a vibrant Creole culture, evident in its colorful buildings, lively markets, and delicious local cuisine. We explored the quaint shops, where artisans sell handcrafted goods and fresh produce. It is clear from a quick walk about that the residents of Dominica certainly do not enjoy the same level of financial stability as those in other Caribbean islands. They are quick to try to sell you anything and some just ask for money.


Indian River Tour on April 20th


We opted to mark my birthday with a serene boat excursion through the mangrove forests along the Indian River. Access to the river is overseen by the local boat boys, necessitating the hiring of a guide for the journey. No motors are allowed on the river as it is part of a national park. We had to make a quick pitstop at the gas station near the mouth of the river to buy park passes and then get them punched by two park workers sitting in their car.

The view from our boat.

Having Terry as our guide, a native of the Indian River vicinity, proved insightful as he shared historical tidbits and led us on an engaging tour. Terry's charming sense of humor added to the experience, and we found ourselves enjoying his discussions about his ambitious plans for the future. At just 23 years old, he possesses a wealth of big ideas.

Terri hard at work!

The Indian River got its name because Kalinago (Carib Indian) lived along its banks and used it as an access route to the Caribbean Sea. The river was important to their livelihood as they used it to transport goods for trade with sailors and along the island chain.

Animals Galore!

We spotted herons, egrets, kingfishers, and colorful parrots perched on the shoreline, in the dense foliage, and gliding gracefully above the water's surface.


We saw three different types of crabs in the clear shallow waters and schools and schools of black fin mullet.


Bush Bar

At the end of the river, the boat docked, allowing us to disembark and explore the jungle at our leisure. Terry assured us there was no rush. Venturing along several trails, we eventually found ourselves at the "Bush Bar," renowned for its signature rum punch, Dynamite, which we found to be absolutely delightful.


Even in the Caribbean jungle, we can't escape US politics.

Engaging in a fascinating conversation with the bartender, we also treated Terry to a drink. We all thought the statue at the end of the bar was very funny.


To my delight, Terry surprised me with a lovely palm leaf and flower animal sculpture as a birthday gift ( it's really a tradition for all visitors).





My birthday present

Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Man's Chest


It's an out and back trip on the Indian River and the way back down was just as relaxing. We made a slight excursion up an offshoot of the river to see where they filmed Calypso's house in Pirates of the Caribbean II.

Calypso's house from P of the C.

Turns out a lot of that movie was shot in Dominica. The map we had showed different locations to check out including

  • Soufriere: Cannibal village and rope bridge

  • Londonberry Bay: Johnny Depp being chased by the natives down the beach

  • Vielle Case: Old church scene

  • Hampstead Bay: Iconic water wheel fight scene

  • Indian River: Calypso's house and swamp scenes

  • Titou Gorge: Cage of Bones drop scene

We, of course, watched the movie again while on Dominica and tried to pick out places that we recognized.


Cheap Beers

The only Dominica beer

We often frequented the Seabird Bar & Grill, where we enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere and affordable drinks. Two local Kabuli beers set us back $10EC, roughly equivalent to $1.85 USD per beer. Situated in front of the dinghy dock, the bar attracted a diverse crowd of locals and cruisers alike.


On my birthday, we found ourselves seated next to a trio of Québécois—Magalie, Rémi, and Hugo—coincidentally celebrating Hugo's birthday as well. We quickly hit it off and ended up joining them at their table for a fun evening of lively conversation.


This chance encounter turned into a nightly tradition, and we continued to hang out with them until their departure at the end of the week. We found out they also knew our other Québécky friends, Mario and Nathalie!


During another visit to the Seabird, we encountered a crew from Argentina. From looking at them, I would have guessed they were professional soccer players but it turned out one was an oncologist, another a psychiatrist, and the last was an engineer. They were on their first sailing adventure.


The tales from their journey starting in Ft. Lauderdale were hilarious. We really enjoyed getting to know these guys. Unfortunately, they came and left in a day. But they are planning to go through the Panama Canal in the future so maybe we will meet again.


PAYS Sunday BBQ for Cruisers

Every sailor in town came to it.

The Boat Boys are part of a group called PAYS (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security). PAYS hosts a fundraising barbecue every Sunday evening, aimed at supporting the nightly security service provided in the bay.


The event offers a choice between chicken or fish, accompanied by rice and beans, veggies, and salad. Also a never ending supply of a delicious and potent rum punch, as well as music provided by a DJ.


After dinner, the atmosphere transformed into a dance party with a blend of local and western music. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, with delectable food and a reasonable price of $25 US per person. All the tables were packed with sailors from all over. We hung out with Remi, Magalie, and Hugo and also met solo sailor Leo from Maine and Tarn and Ash from Australia.


Hugo Magalie and Remi


We would have met a lot more cool cruisers but the rum punch was strong and we ended the night early! Dave and I had started in the afternoon with our own rum punch party while floating around the back of our boat in blow-up chairs listening to Jimmy Buffet. Probably not the smartest idea on a party night!

The next day, a lot of cruiser's plans were dashed by hangovers. We weren't alone with ours.


Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

We had looked into getting a taxi to take us to a party Mo's friends were having on the other side of the island but the fare was $150 one way per person. We thought the price was reasonable until he told us this was in USD not EC! The taxi driver wanted to negotiate. He offered us two days of round trip taxi rides for $300USD per person but we declined. We decided to rent a car for two and a half days for $120USD instead.


Dave kindly volunteered to be our driver, a decision for which I was immensely thankful once we hit the road. As soon as we got into the car, we were in for a surprise.


Having been accustomed to driving on the left side of the road in the Virgin Islands in an American car, we were now faced with the steering wheel on the right side. It took some getting used to, mostly when Dave wanted to put on a blinker but activated the windshield wipers instead.


Navigating Dominica's roads requires careful attention and patience. Most roads are extremely narrow, winding, and often times incredibly steep, with sharp curves and hairpin bends, and very few guard rails.


This is the ditch that flattens tires.

One side is instant death by falling off a mountain and the other side is instant flat tire because there are long deep rain troughs along the road. (Dave did land in one of these ditches and did get a flat tire. Fortunately it was right in town and there was room to pull off and change the tire).


Drivers must be prepared for sudden changes in elevation and road conditions, including occasional landslides, animals and people walking in the road, cars parked on both sides of the narrow street, and huge trucks coming out of nowhere. I remarked to Dave that driving in Dominica is a bit like playing a video game where everything jumps out at you.



Despite these challenges and the anxiety, driving in Dominica was an incredibly rewarding experience. We got to see so much more of the island's natural beauty and we took our time exploring all the hidden gems. The roads were also very well maintained and devoid of all the potholes we found in the US Virgin Islands. Also, the roads were lined with work crew cutting back the jungle and keeping the roads clear of foliage.


Chinese Nation Building

That little Montreal in the corner has nothing do with Montreal, Ca. It's just a company's name.

As we drove around Dominica, we couldn't miss the billboards all over the place announcing upcoming construction projects for new government buildings, hospitals, schools, and even a new airport. Initially, Dave and I assumed these were mere aspirations, given Dominica's financial constraints. However, we soon discovered that these projects were indeed underway, courtesy of the Chinese government.


The well-maintained roads, too, bore the mark of Chinese assistance. The further we traveled, the more evidence we saw of Chinese involvement. Massive cement plants and gravel pits dotted various locations, indicating a significant operation. Trucks rumbled back and forth tirelessly, all manned by Chinese drivers. When we inquired with a local, we learned that China had transported workers and equipment by boat, even establishing on-site accommodations and dining facilities.

Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit is welcomed in Beijing by Chinese President Xi Jinping

Further research revealed a longstanding relationship between Dominica and China spanning over two decades. In fact, the Prime Minister of Dominica had recently visited Xi Jinping in Beijing on March 25, 2024. This alliance underscores China's growing presence in the Caribbean, extending beyond Dominica's borders.


Roseau

The city's historic downtown area is characterized by narrow streets (harrowing to drive down) lined with old, colorful wooden buildings adorned with intricate balconies and gingerbread trim. We explored landmarks such as the Old Market Square (where slaves were once auctioned, it is now a spice market), the Dominica Museum, and the Roseau Cathedral, which showcase the island's diverse cultural heritage.

Downtown Roseau

Roseau's vibrant atmosphere comes to life in its bustling markets, where vendors sell fresh produce, spices, crafts, clothes, and souvenirs.


Despite its relatively small size, Roseau offers a wide range of dining options, from street food stalls serving local delicacies to upscale restaurants offering gourmet cuisine. We chose to have lunch overlooking the ocean.


Roseau Botanical Gardens

We also explored the Roseau Botanical Gardens, located in the heart of Roseau. Established in the late 19th century, these gardens offer visitors a glimpse into the island's rich botanical diversity amidst a backdrop of lush tropical foliage and vibrant blooms.

We don't even know what type of tree this is! There was no sign.

Spanning over six acres, the Botanical Gardens feature winding pathways that meander through manicured lawns, shaded groves, and colorful flower beds. The gardens are home to a diverse collection of plants, including exotic palms, towering ferns, and fragrant tropical flowers, providing a feast for the senses at every turn.


Hurricane David

Dave's favorite was this school bus squished by a Baobob Tree knocked down during 1979 Hurricane David. Fortunately, no one was on the bus at the time.

One of the highlights of the gardens is the massive Saman tree, believed to be over 400 years old and considered one of the largest of its kind in the Caribbean. Towering above the surrounding foliage, this majestic tree provides shade and shelter to visitors and serves as a symbol of the enduring beauty and resilience of Dominica's natural environment.

Saman Tree

Trafalgar Falls

Trafalgar Falls, located in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, up a very steep road from Roseau, is a mesmerizing natural wonder that captivated us with its twin cascades. These majestic waterfalls, named after the famous Battle of Trafalgar, consist of two distinct falls: the taller, slender one known as "Father" and the shorter, wider one called "Mother."

There were no cruise ships in town so we had the place to ourselves. We ventured closer over the big boulders to feel the spray of the falls. It was beautiful. Well worth the drive.


Freshwater Lake

We got a real treat when we ventured even further up the mountain to Freshwater Lake. Freshwater Lake is the largest of Dominica's four lakes. It is over 2,500 feet above sea level. It lies in the crater of an old volcano at the foot of Morne Macaque and is the source of the Roseau River. It is also supports Dominica's hydroelectric energy initiatives.


I had anticipated a simple round lake within the volcano crater, devoid of features. However, to my surprise, Freshwater Lake boasts islands within its waters, rendering it remarkably beautiful. Encircled by verdant tropical rainforest, the lake exudes a pristine charm, offering a picturesque setting for visitors to behold. We were quite amazed by it.

Are we back in Newfoundland?

The lake has its own climate too. It was much cooler up there, only about 70 degrees (I actually felt cold) and was covered in fog. It did not feel or look like we were still on a tropical island.


Kalingo Indians and the Maroons

I downloaded this book to learn more.

At the information center at Freshwater Lake we learned more about the

Kalingo Indians and the Maroons, runaway slaves that lived high in the mountains and canoed the lake. They were called Maroons by the English from the French word marron meaning 'feral' or 'fugitive'.


Africans, who refused to be slaves and escaped up into the mountains to live freely. The more dense the rainforest, the more treacherous the terrain, the better for them to not get caught. From their camps up high, they then waged war against the tyrannical European powers.


For generations the Maroons held their territory and kept the Europeans to only 2 miles inland for fear of attack. Calypso was not just a fictional character from a movie, she was a real Maroon chief.


Unfortunately, a devastating hurricane wiped out a lot of the forest and exposed their villages. Chiefs were captured and displayed in cages before being killed. Later, special forces who knew the forests as well as the Maroons killed the rest of the leaders ending the free African state that was established in the Colonial European state of Dominica.

This statue pays tribute to the Maroons. It is located in Roseau.

On the Road Again

On our second day with the car, we traveled over to the northeast side of Dominica. We passed by beautiful beaches. We recognized the spot where Johnny Depp was chased down the beach by natives in Pirates of the Caribbean II. Just after that beach, we stopped into the Pointe Baptist Estate Chocolate Factory.


Public Service Announcement

I had purchased tickets to the factory through Trip Advisor. Do Not Do This! The factory does not get any of that money. They only accept cash at the door for entry and it is much, much cheaper at the door. I have been in touch with Trip Advisor about this and am still fighting to get a refund. Plus have it removed from their site.


Pointe Baptiste Estate Chocolate Factory

Yummy things happen in this unassuming building!

At Point Baptiste Estate Chocolate Factory, it all begins with the harvesting of ripe cacao pods from cacao trees on site and supplied by local neighbors. Once harvested, the pods are cracked open to reveal the beans nestled within their sweet pulp.


These beans are then carefully removed and left to ferment in wooden crates for several days. During fermentation, natural enzymes break down the beans' bitter flavors and develop the complex aromas and flavors characteristic of chocolate.

After fermentation, the beans are spread out to dry in the sun, a crucial step in reducing moisture content and enhancing flavor. Once dried, the beans are roasted to further develop their flavor profile.


Roasting times and temperatures can vary depending on the desired outcome, with different roasting profiles producing distinct flavor notes ranging from fruity and floral to nutty and earthy.

Once roasted, the beans are cracked open to reveal the nibs, which are the essence of chocolate. These nibs are then ground into a thick, viscous paste known as chocolate liquor or cocoa mass. This paste contains both cocoa solids and cocoa butter, the natural fat found in cacao beans.

At this stage, the chocolate-making process diverges into two paths: dark chocolate and milk chocolate. For dark chocolate, the chocolate liquor is simply mixed with sugar and sometimes vanilla before being refined further to achieve a smooth texture. Milk chocolate, on the other hand, incorporates milk powder or condensed milk along with additional sugar to create a creamier, sweeter chocolate.


The final step in the process involves conching and tempering the chocolate. Conching involves continuously mixing and aerating the chocolate to further refine its texture and flavor, while tempering ensures that the chocolate sets properly and has a glossy finish.

The Dark Chocolate with Cocoa Nibs was my favorite!

Once tempered, the chocolate is poured into molds, cooled, and solidified into the familiar bars.


From humble cacao beans to decadent chocolate delights, the journey from bean to bar is truly a testament to the artistry and craftsmanship of chocolate-making.


The tour included taste testing all the products. We, of course, bought an array of flavors to indulge in later.



Pagua Bay House

Inviting pool at Pagua Bay House in front of the restaurant.

A bay over from the Chocolate Factory lies the Pagua Bay House. We had met the lovely owners, Rick and Alicia, earlier when we met up with Mo and Cindy. They were good friends from years past.


In fact, Rick and Alicia has transformed Mo's former eco-resort into their home. We were trying to get to a party at their house when the taxi driver quoted us the high prices. We also didn't realize it would take almost an hour and a half to get there over the mountains. Since we didn't make it to their party, we had to stop in and say hi.


This boutique hotel is renowned for its stunning location, luxurious accommodations, and warm hospitality. The architecture of Pagua Bay House reflects a modern Caribbean style, with spacious rooms, elegant furnishings, and private balconies or terraces overlooking the ocean.

Look at this view!

Rick and Alicia constructed this stunning retreat between 2008 and 2012, showcasing their remarkable craftsmanship. The seamless integration with the natural surroundings is truly impressive. Alicia attributes the resilience of Pagua Bay House during Hurricane Maria in 2017 to the remarkable wall they erected. Miraculously, the property remained unscathed. However, they encountered a setback when the house was burglarized afterward, resulting in the loss of some top shelf liquor and food.

So delicious!

We savored a delicious taco lunch in their company and relished the warm hospitality of Alicia and Rick. We loved getting to know them better and they kindly extended an invitation for us to return next year when our travels bring us through again.


If I was flying into Dominica, I would certainly stay there for a relaxing vacation!


Night Snorkeling

During one of our final evenings in Dominica, we rendezvoused with fellow cruisers Magalie and Leo for a night snorkel adventure in search of octopus! Dave was eager to test Leo's pole spear on lobsters.


Equipped with waterproof lights, we boarded Magalie's dinghy, with Leo leading the way. Fortunately, we didn't need to venture far from the anchorage to find prime octopus habitats among the rocks.

Sea Hare, we didn't take the pic.

Night snorkeling was an exhilarating experience; our bright lights attracted a myriad of fish, and we were fortunate to spot a large squid. Leo even retrieved a Sea Hare for us to examine.


Dave successfully caught a lobster, which made for a delicious meal. We didn't find any octopus but we had so much fun, we will certainly night snorkel again. There is now a pole spear waiting for Dave at my mom's house that I can retrieve next week when I visit.


Arnold Said It About Dominica

We are absolutely planning to return. There's an abundance of sights and activities we have yet to explore. I'm particularly excited about tackling the all-day hike to Boiling Lake. Dave is keen on summiting the highest peak in the area. Plus, there are numerous waterfalls waiting to be discovered. It's all set for our agenda in 2025.

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3 Comments


Thomas Nicholas
Thomas Nicholas
May 12

Another informative and entertaining blog summary, we look forward to many more.

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sam mills
sam mills
May 09

Love the Read and all the photos, you truly have a way with words to tell this amazing story. I am so jealous of your adventures and am just lucky enough to be following you blog.

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Diane Rhodes
Diane Rhodes
May 09
Replying to

Thanks for taking the time to read our blog! We appreciate it! :-)

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