Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica

We were nearing the end of our time in Roseau. Sara and Phil on Lochmarin were about to head south to the Grenadines, and it was almost time to say goodbye. Before doing so, we spent a day out with them at the Champagne Reef near Soufriere. We packed our snorkelling gear, flagged down a passing bus and enjoyed the sunny ride along the coast road.

The reef is one of those 'must see' attractions much frequented by cruise-shippers, so I was ready to be entirely unimpressed. The reef was pretty dead, accessed off a pebbly beach, and the 'champagne' effect, caused by volcanic gases bubbling up through the sea floor, could be easily and cheaply achieved anywhere by hiring a flatulent 10-year old to swim beneath you. Perhaps I was getting a bit jaded?  On the plus side, there were some large and interesting fish, and we spotted a couple of evil-looking, if small, moray eels. We had a great lunch at a roadside restaurant shack, and chatted to a forthcoming local lady who now lived in the UK. She wasn't enjoying it, missing the weather and the friendly people of Dominica.  It was all too easy to see her point of view.  

Roseau had been great, but it was time to move on.  We waved goodbye to Phil and Sara, who had shared so much with us, hoping that we would see them again sometime, somewhere.  We headed for Prince Rupert Bay, at the north of the island. We tried to sail, but the lee of Dominica is a big windshadow. We were on a dead run, the wind gusting and shifting unpredictably, so - after one anxious moment too many - we ended up motoring.

Prince Rupert Bay and Portsmouth, Limbo on the far left.

Prince Rupert Bay is, navigationally speaking, a much better anchorage than Roseau. It's quite a shallow bay but reasonably protected, although swell does hook round the headland (meaning more rolling..).  The town of Portsmouth is spread out across the shore, and it's attractively green and hilly with a good beach.

The bay is home to the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security (PAYS), a particularly active and well-organised group of guys who look after the moorings, provide guiding services, and generally look out for the visiting yachts. The area used to have a poor reputation for security, but that has changed.

We felt safe anchoring, rather than picking up a mooring, although we were surprised no-one came out to greet us. There were plenty of boats there, but it was easy enough to find a good spot quite close inshore to the beach, just off the PAYS beach shelter.  It was quieter and breezier than Roseau.  Another swim, another rum and ginger ale, another sunset...



We explored the town the next morning.  Approaching the new fishing dock, we groaned when we saw someone waiting there ready to take our painter, expecting demands for a fee.  But things are different in Portsmouth: he worked with PAYS to watch the dinghies, and told us not to lock ours up as it upsets the fishermen (this, after all, being their dock).  We were slightly suspicious of the request, but there were plenty of other dinghies there without locks, so we took it at face value and headed into the town.

We stocked up with fruit and vegetables at the market, bought a new padlock for the dinghy, found a bakers and bought some ginger syrup from a rasta guy wheeling a coolbox around (excellent mixed with rum and lime juice..) Sadly, we failed to find a bottle of Macoucherie, a local rum which comes highly recommended. It was a busy, ramshackle, lively kind of town.  Our dinghy was still there when we got back.

The Indian River
Portsmouth offers the 'must-see' attraction of an Indian River tour, although in this case it was actually worth seeing. Sadly, you can't take your own dinghy, and the tour doesn't go beyond the Bush Bar. Don Street writes that, in days gone by, you could reach two or three pools lying upstream by hauling your boat over the rocks. The boats the guides use are far too heavy for that, so no-one goes there anymore. Still, it was an interesting experience. We'd arranged the tour with Lawrence, a PAYS member, who collected us from Limbo one morning in his narrow, wooden pirogue.

It was just a couple of minutes from Limbo to the Indian River, entered through an unpromising looking muddy creek. On the way, Lawrence picked up two couples from a French charter boat. Once there, he shut off his outboard. We floated slowly upriver through lush foliage, the rhythmic creaking of the oars a soothing accompaniment. The river was quite narrow, the water brown, edged with twisting mangrove roots. Large crabs watched us from the bank, and our guide pointed out a couple of fat green iguanas lying comatose in a tree.  We turned off the main channel to see an abandoned, palm-leaf thatched cottage on stilts by the water's edge, part of an old Pirates of the Caribbean set.  We got off the boat at the Bush Bar, a rustic wooden construction set in the jungle, where we paused for a drink and watched the lizards darting about the undergrowth.

Our charterer companions were interested in our trip but seemed a bit perplexed by what we were doing, not really understanding, and surmising (in that slightly direct French way) that we must surely be somewhat wealthy, non?  Their perspective was so different it was hardly worth explaining that the costs of their 10-day charter probably equalled our budget for two or three months...

Resting Lizard
We spent the afternoon walking down to the supermarket, some way out of town. Portsmouth is the improbable home of an international medical school, and it was odd to see US college students around (or, more accurately, to hear them..they don't seem to have a volume control). The shop was modern but a bit disappointing in range and price. The price of most foods in the Caribbean is quite alarming, even when you can find what you want. Even things like chicken are frozen and imported, and usually sold in bulk packs, so we had to be quite inventive to avoid eating rice and pasta everyday.

The aforementioned PAYS is funded partly by a weekly barbecue in their shelter on the beach (unlimited rum punch included!), and we were keen to go along and meet other sailors.  It was getting near the end of the season, and it was a bit quieter than we'd heard, but we met some interesting people: two French sisters who had been around the world together three times, a 92-year old Canadian who'd first visited Dominica by boat in the 1970s, and the austere German sailing with his wife on a massive Hallberg Rassey who said, 'we are not doing this for adventure'.  For some reason, we were about the only British boat in the anchorage.

Hermit Crab
A highlight of our stay was a visit to Cabrits national park, a return visit for me.  The park is on the peninsula forming the northern side of the anchorage, and has been preserved in a similar way to Pigeon Island back on Saint Lucia.  Like Pigeon Island, it was the site of a British garrison, and some of the fort buildings are preserved in a pleasant lawned area with views across the anchorage.

We reached it by dinghy, tying up to the empty cruise ship dock. I'm not sure we were supposed to be there, but the security guard on the pier didn't seem to mind. The place was very empty, and we spent a couple of hours wandering the paths up to the summit. There were hermit crabs on the path, as well as the obligatory lizards, and we spotted a small (harmless) grove snake. Much more interesting than the preserved fort was a barracks building in the woods, derelict and creeper-ridden, gnarled roots growing over the stone.

Creepered ruins on Cabrits National Park
View of the bay, Cabrits on the right.

It was time for a bit of a contrast, and we sailed on to French territory.

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