The anchor is up in Rodney Bay at 7:45 AM. Today’s sail is another beam reach in 15 to 22 knots of wind and moderate easterly swell. Cutter Loose delivers yet another spirited performance on this 43 mile sail from Rodney Bay, St. Lucia to Saint Pierre, Martinique. From anchorage to anchorage, our average speed over ground today is 7.2 knots under reefed main and full jib.
From Bequia to Martinique, sailing in the northern Windward Islands is simply superb. This section of the island chain aligns roughly north to south which translates to wind on the beam for both northbound and southbound yachts. In terms of pure sailing enjoyment, it doesn’t get much better than this, especially when the trade winds and swells are moderate.
Our one night stay in Saint Pierre flying the yellow Q flag is pleasant and brief. Since we are not clearing Customs in Martinique, we will remain on board and be on our way to Dominica in the morning. Our rough plan is to return to Martinique for a longer stay in early March to coincide with the celebration of Carnival at Fort de France. In the interim, we will continue to make progress northward towards Antigua before turning around to retrace our steps south.
On Wednesday, the anchor is up at 8 AM in Saint Pierre, Martinique for a 37 mile hop to Roseau, Dominica. Departing Martinique, we leave the Windward Islands and enter the southern segment of the Leeward Islands. At this point, the island chain bends slightly to the northwest, opening a wider 120 degree wind angle for our sail to Dominica. Cutter Loose responds enthusiastically to this invitation to Leeward Island sailing by providing a smoother, faster ride. By 1 PM, she is swinging on a mooring in the open roadstead harbor of Roseau.
Moorings are essential here in Roseau for two reasons. First, the volcanic mountains are steep-to the waters of the Caribbean with negligable shelf on which to set the hook. Second, this lee harbor receives very little wind other than that which is generated by the heating and cooling of land and the occasional rainstorm. Under these windless conditions, boats swing 360 degrees to the prevailing current. Typically, boats on moorings are pointed in all different directions at once. Adequately spaced moorings are effective in preventing inadvertent collisions between swinging boats. The cost of a mooring in Dominica is a manageable $10 USD per night.
Dominica was the last stronghold of the Carib Indians. Due to the absence of natural harbors and gold, the Spanish explorers placed little value on Dominica. Consequently, the island has been sparsely developed and the vast majority of the island’s interior remains pristine…exactly as it appeared when Columbus first spotted Dominica in 1493. In fact, about 2,000 Caribs still live in a protected area near the village of Bataka on Dominica’s northeast coast.
In the absence of a breeze, the Roseau roadstead is hot and sticky during the heat of the day. However, it is not the town of Roseau that we have come to explore. It is the gorgeous interior of the island and the warmth of the Dominican people that are the primary attractions to be appreciated here in Dominica. In fact, Dominica is known as the Nature Island. We have come here to challenge ourselves with the legendary hike to Boiling Lake. We have the good fortune of scheduling a guided hike to the Lake on Thursday 2/13. Totaling 14 miles round trip, this is the preeminent and one of the most demanding treks on the island.
Our hiking guide today is Seacat, otherwise known as Octavious Luguy. We hop aboard Seacat’s van at 7:30 AM. After a quick stop at Sukie’s bakery, we are transported to Titou Gorge, located about 1,600 feet above sea level and a 6 mile drive from Roseau. Here, we enter Morne Trois Pitons National Park. Alongside the trailhead, water from a cascading tributary is diverted into a wooden pipeline bound for a nearby reservoir that serves as the source of public water for residents of Roseau.
The hiking trail is a mix of pathway carved through the floor of the jungle, rocky stream beds and tree trunk steps to ascend and descend steeper sections of the trail. The hike begins with a pleasant climb in cooler temperatures to 2,300 feet under the dense canopy of primordial rainforest. Here we are greeted at every turn by the cheerful calls of rainforest birds. After a brief descent to the Trois Pitons River, the next climb takes us from rainforest through a montane forest to a summit at 3,000 feet which affords a windy 360 degree panoramic view of densely vegetated ridges and valleys.
A faint but telltale aroma of rotten eggs permeates the air as we descend from the summit. Here, the trail drops steeply through sections of ankle deep mud into the Valley of Desolation, a natural amphitheater of multi-colored sulphur rivers and steam vents that evoke the feeling of Yellowstone National Park. Seacat conveniently buries plastic bags containing a dozen fresh eggs in a smoldering sinkhole of gray clay. While the eggs are cooking, Seacat paints our faces with gray sulphur-smelling muck which dries rapidly to a whiteish-gray mask. This treatment is said to be therapeutically beneficial in a manner that will eraset years from our appearance. A few minutes later, the hard boiled eggs are served, freshly cooked in hot clay. On a long hike, even a simple egg makes a tasty treat.
It is another hour’s hike from the Valley of Desolation to Boiling Lake. At 270 feet in diameter, Boiling Lake is the second largest of its kind in the world. Runoff flows from the surrounding hillsides into the lake where moisture seeps through cracks in the earth to the hot lava below. Surface water is heated to the boiling point and gases vent to the surface of the lake. Veiled in steam, this deep, bubbly cauldron is an eerie but spectacular sight to behold. The only way into and out of this isolated setting is on foot.
After a rest and a picnic lunch on the precipice of Boiling Lake, it is time to retrace our steps to the trailhead at Titou Gorge. Along the way, there are several opportunities to soak in natural pools of warm water. Fatigue sets in during the final descent to the trailhead. Our calves and thighs are aching as we enter Seacat’s van for the return trip to Cutter Loose at dusk. After eight hours of climbing and descending, it feels heavenly to rest our weary legs and feet.
What an incredible day it has been! Most hikes on Dominica lead to a waterfall or similar single destination. Today, we have experienced a variety of climate zones and landscapes during our hike to one of the most remote areas of this volcanic island. This arduous but fulfilling hike to Boiling Lake will most certainly be recorded as one of the highlights of our Caribbean tour.
Back aboard Cutter Loose, we toast to our survival. After hot showers, a light snack and an Advil, we collapse into a deep sleep.
Friday 2/14 is Saint Valentine’s Day, a simple day of relaxation, recovery and celebration. Lunch today is on the terrace at Fort Young Hotel. After lunch, we lazily avail ourselves to WiFi in the hotel bar while watching British television coverage of the Winter Olympics. Tomorrow, we will move north to Prince Rupert Sound on the northwest coast of Dominica to visit the town of Portsmouth.