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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Dominica After Hurricane Maria

Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica

It was Hurricane Maria which brought about the change in our destination from the British Virgin Islands to Antigua for the Salty Dawg Rally and it is Hurricane Maria which draws us now to Dominica (Do-min-EE-ka).
Locals admiring a catch

A group of boats expressed interest in offering their assistance  in Dominica in some way, but were without a clue about where to begin. The leader of our group, if I may call them that, is the S/V Toodle-oo!  We were all glad to have Bill and Laurie share their ideas with us about how we might make our desire to be of help known to the Dominicans. 
Five couples represented, all volunteering to help out in Dominica

Somewhere along our 1600 mile 12-day passage, therefore, plans to offer assistance to Dominica became known as the “Toodle-oo! Expedition" so named by other interested cruisers hearing about our intentions on SSB (single side band).  

Fishing pier in Portsmouth, Dominica
The "Toodle-oo! Expedition is a rather pompous name for such a humble little group of boats, but there it is.  Some of us had sailed to the Caribbean in the Salty Dawg Rally. Others are members of the OCC (Ocean Cruising Club) of which Carl and I are now members as well. 

Northwest coast of Dominica
Dominica is a tourism-based economy.  We want to help bring the cruising tourists back to Dominica. 
Toodle-oo! helped us identify an axis point where perhaps, we can help to tip the balance in favor of cruiser tourism. 

But before describing our chosen axis point, I want to share some observations about the post-hurricane Dominica that I see today.
The town of Portsmouth, Dominica before the sun comes over the mountains

First seen from 20+ miles away, the volcanic island’s rugged mountains rise sharply out of the ocean. Dominica has 7 potentially active volcanoes. Clouds rest on its’ peaks and as one sails closer, clusters of colorful houses creep up the steep foothills along the shoreline. 

With damaged tree canopy, the ground below is visible. 

Peering through binoculars however, reveals a clearer, more somber picture. The mountains are awash in broken trees and defoliation is evident because we can see land between the trees—the enormous canopy of trees about which I’d read, significantly damaged. Debris is visible here and there although much has been cleared away, I’m sure. 

So much debris yet to be removed.

Many buildings are in shambles and at least part of the reason for the appearance of the "colorful houses" is the addition of bright blue tarps on several roofs.  I am humbled and overwhelmed by the destructive force of the wind that has churned its way across this beautiful island.
Fort Shirley, site of West Indies Slave Soldier Revolt of 1802.

Now, anchored in the broad, deep harbor, I am struck by the relative quiet at the north end of the bay. Off our port stern, the stately brick buildings of Fort Shirley stand as a sentinel halfway up on the hillside, seemingly unharmed.  Below that, the long dock designed to receive cruise ships still stands, but is littered with pieces of itself. 

Dominica has many miles of hiking trails
The welcoming center to the Cabrits National Park of which Fort Shirley is a major showpiece, appears dark and without doors and windows.  An apparently new hotel runs parallel to the shore on our port beam but its' roof has been ripped away.  
The "new" hotel was unfinished when Maria came.  Now she's minus her roof as well.

Following the bay around our bow and to starboard are buildings surrounded by debris.  A relatively intact house appears between piles of rubble at times.  Through my binoculars I see only a single person now and then near a house.  A lone vehicle travels along the shoreline.  And later, a motorcycle.  

Houses extend up the mountainsides

In the darkness, only a smattering of lights appear on shore nearby.  Farther south along the bay the town of Portsmouth can be discerned by its lights, although all is dark on the mountainsides above.  At night, one would not guess that people live on the mountainsides.  
The PAYS building, repairs underway

Where Do We Begin?  So, where does one begin in Dominica?  Our chosen axis point is an organization called PAYS. Years ago, security was somewhat of an issue on Dominica, I am told.  There were thefts from boats and many cruisers were thus put off by concerns about safety.  
PAYS Security boat

A competent group of Dominican men known as Indian River Guides formed  the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services (PAYS) and since that time there have been no thefts in the Prince Rupert Bay off of Portsmouth. Throughout the night hours, the northern harbor of the Bay is patrolled by PAYS boats to ensure sailboaters' safety.
Under the PAYS roof, laying concrete as base for wall.

PAYS members provide a number of services all of which are focused on making cruisers welcome in Dominica. PAYS built and maintains a dinghy dock, used almost exclusively by cruisers.  Our group helped to rebuild a portion of it. 
Repairing end of the dock

The PAYS building is open-air and is next to the public toilets, convenient for cruisers. With an outdoor grill and a new chest-high bar that we have helped to build, it will be a welcoming sort of place for cruisers to gather on the sand. 

We took a break and went on the Indian River tour. Knowledgeable guides.
Prior to the hurricane, PAYS had WiFi on site and tables with computers for internet access as well as a TV for cruisers who want to catch the game.  A PAYS member greets boats upon arrival, provides information about hiking and/or tours on the island, picks up the boats’ garbage, helps sort out someone to take the boats’ laundry, provides information about places to eat, provides water taxi as needed and in general, does everything they can to make a cruisers’ stay a pleasant one. 

Alvin quietly rowed our tour boat, to get us close to birds
PAYS is certainly an organization that will encourage cruisers to return to Dominica.  We want to support PAYS for all of the ways in which they help to make a cruiser's visit to Dominica the best it can be. 
Blue Heron
They are here to share their knowledge of the island's wildlife (iguanas, rare birds including two parrot species that are endemic to Dominica); amazing plants and trees (like the blood sap tree which bleeds red when cut); the reefs and sea life as well as the culture of the people here, (including the only indigenous group remaining on the island known as the Kalinga or Carib, as they were called by the European explorers.)

To help lure sailboaters to return to Dominica, our group can help in this way--beneath us in the azure water of the bay lie 50 concrete moorings placed there by PAYS.  Since the hurricane, none of them are attached to mooring balls at the surface, however.  Those were sacrificed to the yaw of the hurricane as it clawed through beautiful Dominica. 
North end of Prince Rupert Bay

With plenty of room for 50 boats on moorings, or perhaps even 100, I see instead only nine at anchor today, half of those here with us to render assistance as able.  Among us we have divers which can help to attach the mooring chain to mooring balls at the surface.
Man at street vendo
When those moorings are safely attached by 3/4” mooring chain, a sailboat will be able to weather any storm during the sailing season (November to June) without fear of dragging. A boat that can get a mooring may choose to stop in Dominica as opposed to bypassing the island enroute to one of the other islands within a days' sail. 

A safe boat is a boat that can stay longer once here, and Dominica wants us—needs us to come, to stay a while and spend some of our tourism dollars here.  

A street in Portsmouth, Dominica
As I write this, mooring chain is still desperately needed—3/4” mooring chain in lengths of 15 - 20 feet.  Chain for another 35 moorings is needed. 

Portsmouth Hospital and clinc
Our little group has brought supplies: food, school items, water purification tablets, children's toys, toiletries, eyeglasses and some basic medical supplies. A few of us made some stops in town to deliver the supplies that we carried with us on our boats. 
One of our group plays with the

The medical clinic/hospital accepted our bandages, pillows, etc. and while there we learned that they are in need of a portable ECG machine, and a nebulizer machine, both of which are no longer working.

Students from St. John's Academy

 The local Catholic school, St. John's accepted our school supplies, toilet paper, and bags of candy for Christmas (just in time for their school Christmas party)  They are in need of all manner of books, school supplies, art supplies and playground supplies--balls and the like.

Student from public school
St. John's Elementary school expresses interest in having a sister school in the U.S. What a wonderful benefit that would be to both Dominican and U.S. students! 

As we work alongside the PAYS guys (colloquially known as the "boat boys") we learn about the resilience of the Dominican people.  The men appreciate our interest and presence, and when I attempt to help with something that I am not very good at, they kindly help me learn how to do the task and caution me about safety with tools. I smile and think, 'they're letting me believe that this ol' white lady is being helpful.' What a kindness this is to me!
One of our group assisted by PAYS guy

We see storefronts that are open and people working on new construction. Much debris remains but slowly it is being cleared away. 
Saturday market

The open market is smaller than it was but still active. Portsmouth's international medical school, Ross University is gearing up to bring the students back after the hurricane.  They were evacuated onto a medical ship before the hurricane made landfall.

We went on an Indian River tour.
We hear music playing at night on shore.  We see families enjoying the beach and the water on Sunday. Leaves are growing back onto the broken trees. The island is greening up again. Dominica is damaged, but not dying.  
Foliage is returning to the trees

Plenty of needs still exist throughout Dominica, obviously.  Our tourist dollars help to address the needs.  Come—visit Dominica! Stay a while! Bring your binoculars, your snorkeling or scuba gear, your hiking shoes, your appetite and enjoy a naturalists' paradise in Dominica.   

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