23-26 November 2016
Despite leaving historic Sainte Pierre, Martinique at 4am to ensure arrival in Dominica before sunset, the passage was not quite the sedate trip we had planned. Struck by squalls and larger waves than predicted the foul weather tested our tempers along with our sailing skills. Yet how quickly this was forgotten when the weather calmed and we chanced upon the magnificent sight of a large pod of Pilot whales just off the coast. We spent an exhilarating hour with a pod of about twelve whales. Not only were they an incredible sight from the boat, but I got a unique underwater view by snorkelling and swimming with them from the back of the boat. Which certainly ranks as one of the most amazing experience of my life!
Amelie was very upset she wasn’t allowed in the water, but we were unsure of the whales’ reaction to a human beside them. Pilot whales have been known to try to drown swimmers – but very rarely. I stayed on the end of a rope behind Syrena, so essentially had a much larger creature at my back! They didn’t really take much notice of me, just carried on chilling, swimming between about 5m deep and the surface and staying in small groups of two to three whales. We had hoped to spot whales on the trip up – but sort of in the same way we watch England play football and hope for a goal! The wind had pushed us further away from the coast than we had liked, but after a few squalls and really poor visibility we were just glad of some dry calm weather.
Amelie and Will spotted the pod from the bow thinking they were Dolphins, or then perhaps Minke whales, but a quick check in our Whales & Dolphins reference book identified them as short fin pilot whales, part of the oceanic dolphin family. After the whale excitement, and my devastation that the Go Pro ran out of charge and did not capture any of the underwater footage, we came into Portsmouth, Dominca in another squall but under the arc of a 180 degree arc.
In Portsmouth the boat boys run as a licensed cooperative. They provide secure, inspected moorings; advice & help; boat & island trips; they will get provisions for you and they run a constant security patrol of the harbour. Alexis helped us onto a buoy in the squall, and at about £7 a night it was good value and allowed us to be very close to the beach. This also meant very loud reggae until 4am but we are now immune to this constant Caribbean vibe and can now sleep through it with dreams just a little reggae tinged! Unlike the charter boat next to us, who woke us up by moving off his bouy at 2am to anchor further away!
Dominica is truly stunning.
The island that globalisation forgot still retains its unspoilt natural heritage. With seven volcanoes defining the landscape, it is rugged, steep and lushly green with rainforests, waterfalls and pools. It is also a poor country, the very fact it is not industrialised in any way, lacking real lines of communication and infrastructure means its small population eek out a living on family sized agricultural plots, and more increasingly by promoting concepts such as the boat boys’ cooperative, and eco tourism. There are no big Sandals-style hotels here, or if there are, they do not deface the landscape with their modern architecture and all-inclusive – keep out the poor native people – experience.
To come to Dominica is to embrace the island, the people and most especially the commanding dominance of mother nature. Even driving around the island, avoiding the many potholes and devastated bridges, washed away by the raging torrents of Hurricane Erika, you get a sense that nature is still in charge.
Although our time in Dominica was limited, we got the most out of our brief stay. We visited the village and area of the native Caribs, called the Kilinargo, they emigrated from South Anerica over 1000 years ago. We hiked in the beautiful and awe-inspiring rainforest; walked up boulder strewn river gorges; swam in the freezing pools of the Trafalgar double waterfall and also in the warm turquoise waters off the white sand beach at Mero; we copied the local workers and ate the street food if fried tuna & chicken with dumplings & plantain, (which was great) and also sampled a good amount of chocolate at the Pointe Baptist Estate and we also took a tour up the amazing Indian River, one of the locations used for the Pirates of the Caribbean films.
I have never seen anything like the amazing scenery in Dominica. The people we met were so very friendly, a guy even stopped his car alongside ours to ask if we needed help, which we did. The map we had from the car hire company was very basic and there are few road signs! Dominica was just awesome if highly recommend it if you are ever in the Caribbean.