We can not believe how time flies! When we arrived in Dominica, we thought we would stay here for about 3 weeks, but it has already been more than a month! It didn’t help that we found water in our bilge a day before our planned departure. We found out it was a membrane from our watermaker pump that broke. Happy to have found the source, but it did delay us!
But first, let’s talk about Dominica.
Dominica is an amazing island. Nature is gorgeous. There are many routes to trek, 365 rivers (one for every day of the year), and even more waterfalls. In 2017 and 2015 Dominica was hit by Hurricanes Maria and Erika, respectively, and you can still see the effects of that. Talk to any local and within 10 minutes either hurricane is mentioned. It has such a massive impact on the people and their livelihood here! Be it with the number of houses and villages it destroyed, crops ruined and fields left unusable, lives lost and destroyed… To date, they still rely heavily on outside money and work to sustain themselves. And in this midst, as in the rest of the world, in comes Covid-19 to make things harder. The island itself is mostly Covid-19 free. That’s because they make it pretty difficult to arrive. For those that do, they make sure you are clear. We needed a PCR test prior to departure, and then they made us do two tests, a week in between while staying quarantined on the boat.
At the moment Dominica only allows you to anchor in the bay in Portsmouth and they only allow 30 boats at a time. The bay is well protected and comfortable, but the anchorage is a pain. The closer you are to shore the sandier the seabed is. However, that’s where most of the mooring balls are too. So you either manage to get in between the balls or, most likely, you’ll put your chain to the test. After 5 weeks in the same place, we can see the scratches and patches over +20m of chain where the hot-dip galvanize protective layer just came loose; Dead coral 1, Saetta chain 0.
On the plus side, when you anchor in Portsmouth there is an organisation, PAYS (Portsmouth Association for Yacht Services) that is located at the beach and keeps an eye out on the boats and dinghies. It’s a service you have to pay for, even if you “just anchor”, but well worth the fee they ask for.
What was not worth the fee we paid for was the agent we were told we needed to use in order to get in the country (remember when I said they made it hard to arrive…). We contacted Cobra Tours & Yacht Services who scheduled the PCR test and did our check-in with customs. Apart from that, they were not helpful… And now we know that you don’t need an agent. You can do things yourself, albeit you will have to have a dinghy to move around.
Portsmouth is on the north of the island. Roseau, the capital of Dominica, is located in the south of the island, and so is Morne Trois Pitons, a big national park where most of the amazing sites and treks are. It takes over an hour to get from Portsmouth to Roseau, plus more to get to the start of the trails. It isn’t too bad, but it can be quite tiring if you want to do it all by public transport! Luckily we met the lovely people from SV Joker and SV Elliot, who we joined in a car ride through the island to visit a couple of cool sites. We can imagine that in ‘normal years’ the places we visited can be very busy, especially when a cruise ship arrives on the island and dumps 3000 people in one go, with pre-booked buses to visit these must sites.. However this year we had the pleasure to have places like the Emerald Pool and Titou Gorge all to ourselves.
In the last couple of weeks, we thought and talked plenty about what to do next. Miguel would love to stay in the Caribbean for another year. Sit out hurricane season in the south and next year travel back up. We had a look at our finances and although it will be tight, it will be doable. But we might get into problems if we need unexpected repairs/maintenance. And experience has taught us, they happen a lot more than you’d like! Like an autopilot, two phones, a drowned outboard engine; to mention just a few of our issues. If we don’t go back now, we’ll have another 14 months of traveling ahead of us. This is non-negotiable, as it involves the timing to cross the Atlantic back to Europe. That means leaving the Caribbean at the end of May 2022, to go to Azores and Europe. For me (Saskia), it feels too long. Plus being on a pretty tight budget means we won’t be able to do the little extras we enjoy so much now.
For weeks we ignored, debated, and talked about this… but time has pushed us to make a decision, and we have now started our way back to Europe. From Dominica, we will head to Statia and St. Maarten. Here we’ll make the last preparation, provision, and checks, and will set sail to the Azores and eventually Europe. Most likely Amsterdam. I know it is the right decision, although I also have mixed feelings. I’ll miss the freedom, good weather, cruisers, exploring, and sailing life. But it also will be good to be back in Europe, see family and friends and get some money in the bank, and plan for the future. I am ready to go back to work. I do miss doing something meaningful with my days. For Miguel this is different: he always has plenty of boat work to do, works on our videos, and keeps himself busy. He has the lead in these things, because he sees what needs to be done, a skill that I miss. I am looking forward to starting my own projects again, start work, give a bit more structure to my days. Lots of people will say I am crazy, for leaving behind what we are doing now, but for me, it feels good. All good things come to an end right?!
It does mean we’ll have another crossing ahead of us, which Miguel is really not looking forward to. The cross from Cape Verde was very challenging, physically and emotionally. And the one to the other side can be even more difficult. Not to mention much longer and prone to storms. Miguel might write some more about this later. Right now, we are thinking if we want crew or not, to make it a bit easier. Other than that there are only minor things for us to do. And we can start provisioning again, hurray 😉
And now back to the watermaker
Having a watermaker aboard was by far one of the best decisions we ever took. I had no idea how much I would like it. We go for a swim around the boat and always rinse off with fresh water. Washing dishes with saltwater? Only during passages and when the weather is too cloudy! And how nice it is that I don’t have to dingy jerry cans or have to move from anchor in order to fill the water tanks. Sounds silly; that can’t be that much of a hassle. But it is! Once you lift anchor, you pretty much lose your spot. That might mean going a bit further or to a more rolly anchorage. Plus, some anchorages are difficult to find a good spot to drop anchor; too many rocks, coral, tide, or whatever. All this to say, the watermaker has been a luxury, and we’ve been using it every day! But it breaks too, it seems.
Maybe we used it too much because a membrane on the pressure switch ruptured, and now there is water coming from the pump. It’s only dripping, but over hours and days, you’ll notice it! When we did, we removed about 10 liters of water from the bilge.
Unfortunately, in Dominica, there are only a few shops for spares, and none of them have the part that we need. A new part could be sent via mail, but it will take at least a week. That’s not brilliant, so we had to improvise. Because this pump always has a vent (ie the watermaker) and is either working or not (unlike the freshwater pump that stops once the tap is closed), there is an option to just remove the pressure switch, and blank it. Unfortunately, I do not have a metal plate for this. The next solution is to glue the membrane back together. Since it takes up to 10bar of pressure, gluing the membrane is not much of an option, as it misses support. However, gluing the membrane to the “plunge” that works as a counterpart, seems to offer the support needed and to stop the leak. So that is what I did. I first superglued the membrane and then superglued it to the plunge. A MacGyver kind of fix, but one that hopefully will last till next week. Then we’ll be in St Maarten, where we can get a new part.
+1 for superglue