February 2009

Part Three







February 17, 2009


Martinique wasn't much fun because of the strike so on February 13 we sailed north to Dominica.

With the wind on the beam, all 14-30 knots of it, and the rough seas, we sailed 40 miles in 6 1/2 hours under mostly double reefed sails. What fun! Tenaya frolicked and bounced and occasionally we got doused. The cold water was refreshing as we baked in the hot sun. For these short distances we don't bother with the windvane and just hand steer or use the autopilot.


Tenaya sailing nicely to Dominica


Dominica, not to be confused with the Dominican Republic further north, is incredibly beautiful and completely unspoiled. The entire island is covered in tall, green mountains. Rain forests blanket the steep slopes and deep ravines and higher elevations are covered in elfin or cloud forests of scrubbier brush. In between is the dense but less jungly mountain forest. At a loss for words to describe the island to Ferdinand and Isabella, Columbus simply wadded up a piece of paper and tossed it down. Indeed, it is a very good description of the topography.

Roseau, Dominica's capital, lies at the southern end of the quiet western coast of the island. Mooring balls are laid down along the shore of the bay extending south of town. These are owned by Pancho and Sea Cat whose boat boys take turns guiding boats in and securing them. Offering a variety of services to yachts in a helpful and friendly manner, leading tours to various destinations around the island is their primary goal.


Tenaya anchored at Roseau, Dominica


The lack of wealth is obvious but the streets of Roseau are lively and colorful. Everyone seems to know each other and there is often friendly banter from car windows and across streets. Lots of smiles, laughter and music. Quaint traditional colonial houses with overhanging balconies add color to the green palate. It is a charming town completely lacking any tourist development.


Waterfront houses in Roseau

Some of the buildings in Roseau




Hillside houses

A happy looking guy

Maybe she needs a guitar

And this was after practice!

Boat builders on the beach


We first saw Tigress, a pretty Van de Stadt ketch with a distinctive green stripe, at the anchorage in Barbados though we didn't meet her crew. We saw her again at Admiralty Bay in Bequia and this time a mutual friend introduced us to Annie and Peter. When we arrived at Wallilabou they were already moored and we waved hello. This happens while sailing, running into the same boats along the way. Just after we arrived at Fort-de-France they dinghied up to Tenaya to warn us about the strike. Now we are both here in Roseau. They made arrangements with Poncho to hike to Boiling Lake and asked it we wanted to join them. Absolutely!


Peter and Annie of Tigress





















Steam rising from Boiling Lake


The hike to Boiling Lake was amazing in so many different ways. We started at the town of Laudat, nearly 2000' above sea level, and began to ascend immediately through an incredible rain forest. Once at the top of the first ridge we hiked down the other side to a river. Stepping from stone to stone we crossed the river and went straight back up again. Then down. Then up. I don't recall how many times, but that is how the entire hike went. No level terrain here! As we gained elevation we passed from the rain forest to the mountain forest to the elfin forest.


Katie in the mountain forest on the hike to Boiling Lake


Eventually we descended the steep, narrow, muddy trail into the Valley of Desolation. This moonscape lies below verdant green mountains on all sides. Steam rises and water boils from vents in the earth. Scalding water bubbles and gray mud oozes. Rocks cooked by sweltering temperatures and coated with volcanic minerals have a deathly pallor. The stench of sulfur permeates the air.

As we wandered along the hot, shallow river marveling at the scenery and imagining falling through the thin surface of the earth to be boiled alive, Pancho mixed up a batch of warm mud and painted his face. Then he painted all of ours. Next he pulled out a basket of eggs he had been boiling in one of the hot puddles and passed them around. Cooked to perfection!


The Valley of Desolation

Bubbling water, warm mud and steam rise from vents at the Valley of Desolation

Katie getting a facial of warm volcanic mud from Pancho

Our group was trying to look mean with our painted faces


From The Valley of Desolation we hiked up through an elfin forest to Boiling Lake. A bizarre sight, murky bluish-gray water boils and swirls in a 207 foot wide cauldron 40 feet below the steep-sided lip. The lake is fed by a steam and a waterfall and a cloud of sulfuric vapor rises above. Scientists believe it is a submerged fumerole, the second largest of its type in the world. It has drained periodically over the years but always refills. The last time coincided with the tsunami half-way around the world.

We rested a while and devoured delicious salt cod salad sandwiches Pancho had made as we took in the awesome, unworldly view. Soon we were back on the same trail for the arduous 7 mile trek out. Hiking in the mountains is Jim's all-time favorite pastime and this will be one of his most memorable walks.


Boiling Lake, a submerged fumerole


Somewhere between Boiling Lake and the half-way point the trails parallels the river as it flows downhill opening into a series of small pools with short waterfalls. They are naturally hot and the sulfurous water is said to be therapeutic. We stopped for a soak with everyone but me climbing from one pool to the next. I was quite content to rest my weary legs in one place.


The hot pool we soaked in on the hike out

Minerals from the thermal activity made the water a milky, light blue


After six hours and fourteen miles of strenuous hiking we came out at Titou Gorge, a narrow chasm plunging 200 feet deep with a short waterfall at the head and a pool at the base. Content to just sit and rest my aching, shaking legs, Jim encouraged me to jump in. "You love this stuff" was all he needed to say. Moments later I was re-energized in the cool water and swimming up the river to the waterfall through parts so narrow I could touch each side at once. How wonderful the refreshing water felt on my parched skin and weary muscles! The walls curved in and out and rose straight up about 40 feet with little light filtering through the canopy of green above creating a magical experience. A narrow waterfall of warm water cascades down one side of the lower pool offering a free and natural massage. What an incredible place!


Swimming through the Titou Gorge to the waterfall


Today my calves and quads are still sore so snorkeling was my sport of choice. Peter, Annie, Jim and I took the local bus south a few miles to Champagne, a beach where bubbles rise from the sea floor among coral reefs. In several places a stream or two of bubbles escaped from the sand and rocks but at one location it was nearly effervescent with sound effects as well.


Bubbles rise from the sea floor at Champagne


Lots of colorful fish hovered, darted and swam below our curious gazes. Seargent Majors and Brown Chromis' parted as we glided through their large schools. Damselfish, parrotfish, butterflyfish, trumpetfish, trunkfish and scores I can't yet identify added to the wonder of this awesome place. Peter pointed out the cannons from a sunken 18th century ship and the water temperature warmed and cooled as we moved around the underwater park. Another amazing adventure on Dominica!

There are so many things to see and do here on this gorgeous island that we just may stay a while.


Go to February Part Four - Dominica Carnival


Find Boiling Lake on Google Earth


Go to Contents 2009


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