Rumours of it had been passing between cruisers for weeks as we made our way down island. Of all the islands in the leewards or windwards, Dominica was the island we knew the least about. Yet, people encouraged us to be in Portsmouth, Dominica from Feb 12 – 19, for the PAYS hosted event called Yacht Appreciation Week.
Motivated in hopes of seeing cruiser friends we’d lost touch with, we pull our anchor in St. Pierre, Martinique and sail for Portsmouth, Dominica. A near perfect sail, its a beautiful day in the Caribbean and as we close in on the town of Portsmouth, on the northern tip of Dominica, a pod of dolphins swim out to meet and play with our boat. A good omen. From our boat the island appears intensely green, verdant and striking, shadowed crevices alternate with pointed peaks pushing vertically into the white fluffy clouds. As we near the bay a boat comes out to greet us, a colourful fibreglass boat with a friendly face asking us if we need assistance entering the harbour. This is our first encounter with the PAYS group.
The Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security and Services (PAYS) Dominica
Dominica had a reputation amongst cruisers, an undesirable reputation. Typically, Dominica was a place to avoid. Crime and harassment had made it a place to avoid. But, that was before a group of guys group rallied together to make a difference, to change perceptions but more importantly, realities. In 2005, 12 of the Indian River certified guides mobilized in an effort to make the bay of Portsmoth safe and welcoming to cruisers. And change it they did. They pulled together to form the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security and Services (PAYS). The PAYS members are fully qualified, registered tour guides with knowledge of local nature, culture and history of the island.
The story of PAYS is inspirational, yet very practical and typical in the Dominican way of handling things. These guys saw a problem, decided to fix it and went about it with enthusiasm and gusto, combining their desire and intelligence, with the information and the resources at hand to make a port, that was once considered unfavourable into a port that is today in this writers opinion, and I am not alone, a port of call not to be missed.
With assistance from a cruiser, Hank Schmitt and his organization, Offshore Passage Opportunities, they were able to come up with the funds to install moorings, get better boats, acquire training and develop a business that became synonymous with security and quality service in Dominica. Today, Portsmouth is probably one of the safest harbours you can pull into.
We arrive in Portsmouth on a Friday evening as the sun was bending towards the horizon. Alexis, who greeted us outside drops by after we anchor to introduce himself and let us know that if we need anything, he is but a call away. The PAYS guys offer tours around the island, have taxis, offer services such as laundry or have house rentals available. Several other PAYS guys drop by and introduce themselves, including Albert and Martin. Their manner is warm and welcoming and as we are to learn, quite typical of Dominica.
Yachtie Appreciation Week
Essentially Yachtie Appreciation Week (YAW) was created last year to attract cruisers to Portsmouth and create an event for them. The PAYS guys host barbeques, offer island tours and hikes and other events throughout the week. It is a load of fun. The first year they had enough people to fill the PAYS beach house, this year the venues were overflowing and the bay is full of yachts.
Shortly after we drop anchor we are delighted to see Patty and Peter, from S/V Serendipitous making their way over to say hello. This week is replete with reunions; cruisers we’ve met along the way and a fabulous bunch of new cruisers.
We spend the next 10 days exploring Dominica with friends, enjoying beach barbeques, carnival, exploring the market, cooking Dominican dishes on the beach, swimming, hiking and finally an amazing bird watching tour.
Memories to last a lifetime
Dominica offers so much in such a short time and I sincerely say that Dominica stole my hear. Of all the places we have visited it will be Dominica that I remember most fondly and will make a concerted effort to return to in the future, whether by boat or land. It is surprising because I knew very little about it previous to YAW. Still, it sprang on me like a soft, warm kitten and curled itself unexpectedly around my heart, and quite simply I am smitten.
Maybe it was the circumstances of finding ourselves there with so many wonderful people sharing fantastic settings, meals and experiences. All the yachties we have come to know and love, the welcoming PAYS guys, the generous locals who welcomed and taught us about their beautiful island. Maybe it was the food, overwhelming in abundance and freshness, with flavours that linger on my tongue and will always reside in my memory as a bowl of callaloo soup cooked on a beach with friends. Or maybe it was those sharp green hills, and a vibrant flash of a wild Imperail parrot that winked impishly at me after pursuing him all day.
The memories of those 10 days are vivid and will always be treasured. Not to sound too sentimental but I can’t help it that Dominica left me feeling good about the world. And if you find a place in the world today that does that then its worth returning.