Dominica, Les Saints and Guadeloupe
Before leaving Martinique in mid January I made sure to stock Fathom up with food and make the most of the good selection and better prices available. A cruiser favourite is definitely the duck confit – seared duck breast and legs in a can of duck fat. 12 pieces in total and the can only costs the equivalent of £4. It might not sound too appetising but trust me, after 15 minutes in the oven the meat melts in your mouth. The trouble was a long running strike in France was affecting shipments of some foods to Martinique and it had become a rare commodity. I did luckily find a few hidden at the back of a shelf so left with 3 tins in the locker which should provide some nice meals mid Atlantic. A big improvement over corned beef!
After a period of strong reinforced tradewinds a calmer period coincided with the sail from Saint Pierre up to Roseau, the capital of Dominica at the SW of the island. For once it wasn’t a rough, lumpy bash to the north but a nice pleasant sail. Despite a new fancy looking lure my Caribbean fishing exploits continued to be a disaster with not one bite on the way. The anchorage at Roseau is deep with bad holding so a few local businesses have put down moorings. As I approached, a couple of locals in a speed boat directed me to one and helped thread my mooring lines. On the mooring next door was Tiama, it was good to see Dustin again, and you guessed it, a few rum punches ensued that evening.
It was a long dinghy ride to the fish dock which is the best place to go ashore and leave your dinghy safely. Check in was nice and easy and the locals seemed friendly. Walking round the town there was still plenty of evidence of the category 5 hurricane Maria which passed overhead in 2017. Many buildings had crumbling walls and were missing roofs and the downtown area had quite a few gaps waiting for a new property to be built. It was a shame I forgot my camera. I couldn’t believe how many clothes shops there were, every street seemed to be full of them. What also struck me was the lack of white faces, Europeans only make up 0.8% of the population on the island.
There wasn’t any reason to stay more than one night so the next morning Fathom and Tiama headed up to Portsmouth, a large well protected bay towards the north of the island. The tradewinds had by now completely died so it was a long motor the 30 or so miles along the coast in a glassy smooth sea. We made a couple of detours over sea mounts to try and catch fish but still no luck. By early afternoon we had safely anchored and headed ashore to check out the town. It just so happened that the carnival warm up was taking place right then and the whole place was a hive of activity, dancing and singing as large cut away lorries drove down the streets while live bands played on top. The ‘music’ was so loud you could hardly hear the person talking next to you and although it was basically a bit of a racket the atmosphere was fun. As the lorries travelled down the road they reached power cables hanging across from the rooftops and I couldn’t believe my eyes when a few gloved hands would reach up and push up the wires so the lorry could pass underneath. Health and safety at its finest! The afternoon and evening had been a real authentic Caribbean experience and I made a vow to return at the end of February for the real carnival.
The following day I met Liz, a Canadian working on the island and Josefine, a Swedish couchsurfer and we ended up hiking up to Fort Shirley together which sits in a National Park at the edge of the bay and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The fort is most famous for a revolt by African slave soldiers in 1802, an event which led to the freeing of all British slave soldiers in 1807. It had been built and modified as part of a network of defences along the Lesser Antilles during the international conflicts between the British and the French in the 18th and 19th centuries. The hike provided some fantastic views and a good opportunity for seeing some snakes. There are many different types on Dominica but not one is poisonous to humans. Despite knowing this we did stop in our tracks suddenly at one point when we heard some loud rustling in the undergrowth, only to find a snake mid way through squeezing the life out of a Gheko. My impressions of Dominica after only a brief time were very positive, it was definitely the most visually beautiful of the islands I had seen in the Caribbean and easy to see why Pirates of the Caribbean had been filmed here. I was keen to come back for some hiking and exploration in a month or two but in the meantime decided to keep buddy boating with Dustin towards Antigua.
Next up were Les Saintes, a group of small islands lying a few miles to the south of their dependency Guadeloupe. They had been recommended to me by several sailors for their beautiful waters and coastline. With the wind falling light again it was a motor sail for several hours from Portsmouth to the anchorage on Terre-de-Haut. Josefine was trying to get north so had jumped onboard for a lift and it was good to spend time exploring with her and Dustin. On our second day there the three of us hired scooters to do a few laps of the island and we stopped off at Fort Napoleon. Originally named Fort Loui it was destroyed by the British in 1809 and then rebuilt by the French in 1867 and named after Napoleon III. There is now an impressive museum on site and beautiful views across the bay from the ramparts. Despite being a very pretty place, I was not overly impressed with the island though, it was basically a white French bubble, expensive and rather fake with its fancy restaurants, a complete contrast to the laid back, authentic Dominica which I much preferred.
Back on the salty road again, this time to the town of Deshais on the NW of Guadeloupe. I hadn’t heard many great things about the island so Dustin and I only planned a short stop before heading to Antigua. Josefine hopped off to continue with her programme when we made landfall. In the anchorage at Deshais we met another boat Dustin knew with father and son crew of Russ and Jon aboard. After checking out with customs and immigration in the afternoon I invited everyone back to Fathom for a pasta dinner and a few of my famous Ti-Punch drinks. They are quite strong and Dustin was certainly feeling the effect when he dinghied back to his boat later that evening. A few hours later, about 03:00, I was fast asleep when I was woken by a message on my phone. It was from Dustin saying his leg had fallen off while climbing back onboard his boat from the dinghy! It turns out he had caught his prosthetic limp in the self steering gear on the stern and rather than jump in to the pitch dark water after it, he had assumed it had sunk and could be rescued in daylight . As the sun rose in the morning I swam over and the two of us spent a good hour in the water trying to find his leg but sadly to no avail. In hindsight it is likely that the fitted trainer provided enough buoyancy for it to float off and was probably at that point a couple of miles out to sea. As we both set sail for Antigua I did feel bad for my role in getting Dustin legless but on the plus side he was able to convert his swimming leg to a walking one as a temporary measure. Never a dull moment with the single handed sailor around!