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Luscious Dominica

Dominica is the island paradise in the Caribbean. It has 365 rivers, eight volcanoes, and only 70,000 people. It is one of the largest islands yet the least built up. There is no international airport...yet! We had heard that is the only truly unspoiled island in the Caribbean , the only island Columbus would recognize if he arrived back today. We desperately wanted to visit. Yet, we had also heard there may be problems with security, so we approached cautiously given previous experience on other islands.

As we arrived in Roseau after a long boisterous sail from Martinique , multiple boat boys immediately came out to meet us. We settled on one who directed us to a mooring which we opted to take in this exposed anchorage while we checked in; customs turned out to be miles away from the harbour giving us a chance to explore. It was not a great experience. Perhaps the worst thing about Roseau , and so many of these island towns, is that they are so dependent on the cruise ship industry. Roseau has a massive waterfront development that caters to as many as three or more cruise ships that disgorge thousands of tourists daily. This area is cordoned off from the town, and locals who are not licensed vendors in the village are not permitted in.  Unfortunately, that sets up a mindset among the local people to take the tourists for whatever they can the instant they leave that restricted zone. It makes for an unpleasant atmosphere as visitors are constantly being approached by people trying aggressively to sell them something. We headed north to Portsmouth as soon as we could.

Portsmouth on Prince Rupert Bay in the northwest of the island is a completely different experience. It is slightly better sheltered than the harbour at Roseau and the anchorage hosts scores of yachts. Portsmouth also has a cruise ship dock, but unlike Roseau , it can only accommodate small ships that carry a small number of passengers, usually eco-tourists.  The local economy has been developed instead to support the cruising community and promote ecotourism among those anchored here.  And what a difference! We were soon to learn why.
One of the organizers of the local tourism services providers (i.e., boatboys) is Martin Carriere aboard Providence (, cell 767-245-2700, home 767-445-3008 or hail him on VHF 16). He's featured prominently in Chris Doyle's Guide to the Leeward Islands , and friends Dick and Leslie aboard Aragorn had recommended him highly. 

Portsmouth Harbour
As soon as we set anchor, we made arrangements with Martin to take a tour of the Indian River .  Our Irish friends Clive & Alice, captain and crew of Lolita out of Newport RI ,  joined us for the tour.  It is a totally unspoiled river that has been a trade route since Columbus first landed here. Only rowboats are permitted (thanks to a local initiative), and Martin talked us through the myriad of birds, giant crabs, centuries-old trees with buttressed roots, and tropical flora.  It was beautiful. ‘Pirates of the Caribbean ’ was filmed here in part.

Portsmouth Market
The next day, Martin came by to see if we needed anything and we invited him aboard. He sipped a cold soft drink as we chatted. We learned that Martin was one of the founders of an association of boat boys that take turns going to approaching boats so that there is no scrambling or competing to get your business. They also have a security patrol in the anchorage so there is no theft or other problems. They offer lots of services such as boat tours, land tours, snorkelling trips, shopping, water taxi, moorings, but they do not harass you if you don’t want anything. Moorings are $10/day and each of the boat boys maintains his own moorings.  They also all get together to assist cruisers in trouble, as happens often among yachts anchored using CQRs, which tend to plow their way across the anchorage.
Moreover, they have worked hard to pass legislation to protect the Indian River by banning motor boats which were destroying the environment. They have also worked very hard to keep the large cruise ships away. As Martin explained to us, “We saw what happened in Roseau . People come; they go ashore and buy a few trinkets. Then they go back aboard to eat and drink and sleep and play. They leave behind trash but they do not spend much money. Crime follows them.”

Local Wildlife

Martin went on, “So we welcome the sailors. The sailors come and stay for weeks, shop in our market, and use our services. We train our people how to deal with people from other places. We show them how to behave and how to treat other people in a way that makes them want to stay. We treat them like friends, and many become our friends and come back to visit or invite us to visit them.”

In our opinion, they’ve done a fabulous job. Whereas in other harbours throughout the Caribbean , the boat boys can be intimidating, here they have banded together to form an organization that teaches them how to interact with other cultures and provides a 24-hour security net in the harbour. They are all licensed to conduct river tours, land tours, or marine sanctuary snorkelling trips. Once a week on Sunday evenings, they sponsor a cruisers’ party to raise money for the security boat.  It’s a win-win. The food is BBQ tasty, they serve rum punch, the music is good, the cruisers get to meet each other and the local providers, and the harbour is secure.  It is their livelihood and they made us feel very welcome.

Martin brought his wife and family to meet us at the cruiser’s party one week. They were delightful and we spent a lovely evening talking to them about our sailing adventures and their life on the island. The next day we organized a 2.5 hour snorkelling trip to the marine sanctuary aboard Providence with Martin and our friends Andy and Sue from Spruce.  In yet another initiative, they’ve set aside a section of reef along the coast here as a protected sanctuary to give the marine resources a chance as well.

Dominica is not a wealthy island in terms of money, but its natural resources are unparalleled in the Caribbean . It has the largest supply of fresh water and perhaps the largest distribution of ra info rest. There are many in Dominica that have contributed to keep it that way.  The people here tend to recognize that it is their most valuable asset for the future.  Martin is but one of many who stand up for what is best for all, fighting development to preserve environment.  They have many things to still accomplish. Trash is a problem and one of the initiatives Martin was considering next was trash disposal and shoreline clean up. He was thinking about organizing the locals and cruisers to get together and walk the beaches to clean up from time to time. 

Portsmouth stretches along the shore of Prince Rupert Bay. There is one road that goes all the way around the island, and when it gets to Portsmouth it becomes its main street. There are two other streets behind it. The people live very simply, mostly in one room cottages. Many have a specialty of something they sell from their homes to make a living. Some sell vegetables from their gardens, some make juices from the local fruits, one lady bakes bread and another pastries. When men sound their conch shells, it means they’ve just arrived off the water with fresh fish. There is no real supermarket. There are a few small shops. You cannot buy fresh meat...except once a week at the market.  And life here is grand. Some, like our friend Martin, are working hard to keep it that way.

Winston taking a rest

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