Captain’s Log – Dominica, Nature’s Island

The Picton Castle had a romping sail from St Pierre, Martinique to Dominica. Boat hoisted, with all hands aboard, we sailed off the anchor on an early morning before breakfast out from under the volcano. Fore yards braced on the port tack to cast the bow to port and northwards. Main yards on starboard tack braced to catch the wind as soon as it was useful. Sails loosed and running rigging coils on deck for quick use. Soon enough we were drifting serenely away from St Pierre. In the light and fickle breezes in the lee of the mountains we headed for Martinique/Dominica Passage. It is about 32 miles from anchor to anchor. I hoped to get to Dominica in time enough to clear in.

Once out from under the lee of high Martinique the easterly tradewinds filled in as if they meant it. And meant it they did. After sailing along gently for an hour along the coast in the light winds and tiny seas in the island’s wind shadow the Picton Castle headed out into the ocean channel between the islands to feel the full force of the Atlantic winds and seas coming in from Africa, and heeled over to port as much as I am willing to see her go (she is pretty stiff and kind of stops at 10 degrees heel anyway) and thrashed along kicking up plenty of spray off the bow in the strong Caribbean trades and eight foot seas. All hands were on deck and standing by for snappy sail handling, so I didn’t mind pressing it a bit. Good sailing this. With royals in and furled to their yards, but all else set and drawing, including the flying jib (which pulls like a stubborn mule) the ship leapt along at up to even eight knots. This was exhilarating sailing in The Islands!

Soon enough we were under Scotts Head, the southernmost point of Dominica, and in smooth waters again, passing the small village of Soufriere. Soufriere has a boiling or at least a very hot freshwater spring burbling out of the gravel on the beach. We nosed around both of these areas around 17 years ago when filming the Mark Burnett TV program called “Pirate Master.” For three months or more we were the “pyrate ship” for that show. It was a very interesting job, and plenty work for the crew, but we all got a kick out of it. It was on CBS.

We tried to anchor off the Anchorage Hotel and go stern-to with lines to trees on the beach as we had done in the past but now moorings speckle the waterscape like measles and no could do. Got anchored for the night at a bit of an unlikely spot, then got lines to the shore the following morning. This lasted not the whole day and we shifted to a decent spot closer to the town of Roseau. Now we are anchored just fine. Dominica has few good spots to drop the hook. When shooting “Pirate Master” we tried them all and a few more besides that were not good at all. Hard to think that was 17 years ago.

The island of Dominica is known for a number of things. The main town of Roseau is architecturally quite impressive. And original. Not many high buildings. Mainly old 19th century designs with upper balconies over the street, as one sees also in New Orleans and other creole ports – and one of the few Caribbean island cities with cellars. Not built up or built over with modern architecture.

A distinct Carib population. Caribs are genetically mixed in all over these islands but here in Dominica there is a reserve and a distinct Carib community. It seems that “Carib” is an outdated term. Kalinga being more correct. They still make big dugout canoes of a distinctive design for fishing. Curiously to me is that this design is very close to that of the Kuna in San Blas of Panama, 1,000 miles away.

Amazing nature on an island that did not get entirely clearcut for sugar cane in the bad old days. Tall dense forests and jungles, massive trees. Most other islands suffered ecological devastation due to cane cultivation. Don’t get me started on that! All for sugar and money. A longer story.

Plenty of volcanic activity with hot springs, bubbling hot mud pools, sulfur smoking up here and there, effervescent tiny bubbles coming up through the sand and rocks and sea at Champagne Beach. Beaches are mostly black volcanic sand but some light beaches as well. Great diving with coral in pretty decent shape, we are told.

Early morning here at anchor. The surf along the beach makes for a white rushing, rolling, almost pounding, sound, not quite drowning out the roosters bringing the sun up over the mountain. Pelicans fly low over the surface of the seas, then climb and dive to get a beak full of fish. The odd fish boat heads out to do what fish boats do. We are all cleared out. Have a couple things we need to do ashore, mostly send pictures to do with our visit, then it’s brace up sharp on a starboard tack, haul back the anchor and head for St Martin almost 200 miles to our north.

Dominica is “old school” Caribbean at its best.

Photo from 2007 of Picton Castle as Pirate ship
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