Exotic plants in exotic islands – Dominica to Antigua
Dominica has seen attacks on yachts in the past, so some of our friends gave it a miss and sailed directly to Iles des Saintes. However, a regular security patrol of the north end of Prince Rupert Bay in Dominica takes place every night, and with the number of yachts at anchor, we felt secure. Our visit to this picturesque island turned out to be well worthwhile.
We visited the Indian River early one morning with Eddison as our guide, and were rowed for almost 2 hours along its length, a tranquil and peaceful setting with numerous herons, hummingbirds and fish to be seen.
Out of a palm leaf, Eddison made Elaine a beautiful bird in flight and a fish.
The town of Portsmouth is typical of a small fishing village, though now far more geared to catering for university medical students, a few tourists, and yachties during the season. It was badly hit by two hurricanes in the last few years, and a number of coasters were washed ashore and wrecked. They now await removal by salvage companies. One vessel in particular was washed up at the mouth of the Indian River.
We also took a whole day tour ashore and shared our taxi with Adrian and Clare from Flyin’ Low, a Tasman 49. We set off round the north end of the island, passing a distillery, and then climbed up and over a mountain, which afforded spectacular views towards Iles des Saintes and Guadeloupe.
Our first stop was to visit a cold sulphur spring, where volcanic gas bubbles up through a vent, and the water on the surface was almost ice cold. We also saw yams being grown, one yam for each plant, which takes 9 months to grow. Throughout Dominica farmers subsist by hacking a small area out of the rain forest, and then planting whatever it is that will grow in that area, be it white cabbage, pineapple, yams, avocados, grapefruit, oranges etc.
The scenery was breathtaking, one moment looking far out over the azure blue Caribbean Sea, the next looking over the rain forest. We dropped down to an isolated beach on the east side of the island, and our driver found a ripe coconut. With his machete he split it open, and divided the coconut between us – delicious!
This island was one of the main locations for Pirates of the Caribbean, and these were proudly pointed out to us, together with tales of their encounters with the cast, including of course Johnny Depp!
Dominica is an island of contrasts, and before lunch in Calabishie we were taken to a nearby area of red rock, where nearly all of the topsoil and vegetation has been washed away, and deep canyons and caves were cut by water run off during the wet season. The views from this headland are stupendous.
The climax to the day was a hike to the Chaudiere pool, which involved walking up through the rainforest, and then down an extremely steep path that led to the river, where rushing water over the rocks has created a natural pool for swimming in its cool waters.
On the way back we were entertained by hummingbirds feeding off blossom in the forest – an enchanting sight.
This marvellous day out was followed by a beach BBQ at Big Papa’s bar/restaurant, very popular with the sailing community as the site of internet and wifi!
Before leaving Dominica an early morning visit to the fruit and veg market was a must. So we were collected at 06.30 by Adrian and Clare and were at the market within a few minutes. Even at that time of the morning it was in full swing, with many of the traders having arrived the night before. We bought the usual provisions to replenish supplies, but also experimented with Dasheen, a starchy root vegetable cooked like a potato, and Christophene, a type of gourd and normally eaten raw. Having now seen how the produce is grown, on a very small scale compared to Europe and brought to market by the farmer, we understood why it is expensive.
Having had constant trade winds since our arrival, all trace of breeze deserted us when we wanted to sail to Iles des Saintes, so we motored the whole way. It proved to be a blessing in disguise, as Elaine noticed what she first thought was a turtle in the water, only to realise that the hump was attached to a very much larger animal, a sperm whale! We altered course, slowed right down, obtained some good photos, and estimate that it was about 9 metres in length.
Iles des Saintes is a small group of French islands south of Guadeloupe, largely unspoilt by tourism, apart from ferries that arrive daily from Guadeloupe. Mountains climb to over 1000 feet, and there are many beautiful white beaches. There we met friends Tim and Rebekah again from Kittiwake, who also did the ARC. With Mike and Susan from Tabby Cat, Bob went diving on two occasions. Especially off Ilet à Cabrit, the sea life was marvellous but to get better quality underwater photographs, we need to purchase a red filter for the camera.
On Thursday 11th February, the evening before that excursion, we were working on the blog and emails in the cockpit after supper, and both noticed that the laptop keyboards were becoming gritty – and so were we! Earlier we had been invaded by small black flies and remarked that it seemed to be raining on nearby Guadeloupe where a dark cloud appeared to be hovering. We retreated down below for the night and shut the hatches.
Next morning we awoke to discover the whole boat covered with a layer ash that we then learnt was a result of the volcanic eruption on Montserrat a day earlier. Fortunately we have a salt water deck hose which we were able to use to wash down the outside. The interior was a different matter! Over a week later we were still trying to remove the remains of the ash.
We sailed north to Guadeloupe, which had also had a liberal coating of ash. The wind was blowing the ash off the roofs of town buildings, so creating an ash storm. We stopped at Deshaies, and for the first time experienced the wind blowing from the west, so making the anchorage a touch uncomfortable. It did not stop us from staying for two nights and visiting the Botanical Gardens there, which are laid out beautifully with tropical plants and flowers from many different parts of the world. The orchids were simply beautiful.
We also enjoyed seeing parakeets and the extremely gregarious blue macaws.
Antigua then beckoned, to meet our friends Ann Britt and Ingemar. We anchored in Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour, opposite the Admiral’s Inn in Tank Bay, with mangroves surrounding the rest of the anchorage. An ideal and idyllic spot in an historical setting. Work began in 1723 on building the dockyard, as both this harbour and Falmouth Harbour, which adjoins, provided shelter from hurricanes and could accommodate the warships of that day. Nelson was stationed there in 1784, and much of the dockyard has now been renovated.
Here we encountered the worst entry procedure since our arrival in the Caribbean, with form after form to complete which took considerable time and demanded a lot of patience – especially as we had to go first to Customs, then to Immigration and finally to the Port Authority. Thankfully they were all in the same partitioned office but each had different requirements!
Visits to the renowned Shirley Heights will wait for our return, as continuing problems with the generator, plus the normal needs to reprovision, organise laundry and catch up on emails meant that sight- seeing was curtailed. But we did catch up with Kittiwake again before Tim and Rebekah set off for St Lucia and the Panama Canal.
The first three days with Ann-Britt and Ingemar were exciting! As we tried to raise the anchor, we found it had snagged on something, and no amount of twisting or running over the anchor would free it. So the dinghy was launched, diving gear put on, and Bob disappeared into the depths. Visibility was about 6 inches, so everything had to be done by feel. It turned out the chain had caught in some old wreckage, and once it had been disentangled, we were on our way, and still made Deep Bay on the NW coast of Antigua in time for a swim in a beautiful anchorage with crystal clear water.
We left at dawn the next morning for St Barts, but the wind failed to materialise, and we motored the whole way, making another beautiful anchorage in the late afternoon, Anse de Colombier, part of the Marine Reserve. Here we found a turtle feeding off the seabed with a fish like a baby shark using it as a host, and two other green fish underneath it. Now French, St Barts is a duty free port that belonged to Sweden for just over 100 years in the 19th century, so of course was of great interest to Ingemar and Ann-Britt.
After exploring and provisioning at the excellent dockside supermarket in Gustavia, there was more excitement once we had dinghied out to the nearby anchorage, as Ingemar went swimming involuntarily with the outboard in his arms! Happily he did not drop it, and Bob pulled him to the surface so he could breathe. It then became apparent that his sunglasses were a casualty, so Bob was back in the water diving for them. Once they were successfully recovered, we returned to the Anse de Colombier anchorage and had an evening and day of R&R before leaving late afternoon for an overnight passage to Virgin Gorda.
Contrary to the forecast, the wind returned, and we had an excellent sail, averaging 7.5 knots the whole way, and arriving in time for breakfast. Spanish Town entry formalities completed, again tortuous, we set off to explore Gorda Sound, a large expanse of sheltered water, not far from Necker Island, of Sir Richard Branson fame.
The BVIs are everything that they are well known for, and create a huge area of largely sheltered water, and attract yacht charter fleets in large numbers. It seems as if about 70% of the yachts here are chartered. After Gorda Sound we made our way to Peter Island where we anchored in the beautiful bay of Deadman’s Bay, and in the late afternoon walked to the island summit, which afforded stunning views. We followed this with a BBQ on board, the first for a long time because of the strong winds we had been experiencing since our arrival.
Our next stop was Jost van Dyke, where we anchored for lunch off Sandy Cay, an exquisite sandy island with aquamarine water. We rounded off the day with an excellent meal ashore at Sydney’s Peace and Love Restaurant in Little Harbour, courtesy of Ingemar and Ann-Britt.
The final day with them was a short passage to Beef Island, off Eastern Tortola, where the airport provides inter-island flights, and theirs back to Antigua. It was a short dinghy ride followed by a 3 minute walk to the airport – how simple and convenient! We thoroughly enjoyed having them to stay on board Pipistrelle, and look forward to meeting up with them again before too long.
And finally ……………another beautiful exotic plant!