Yachtie Appreciation Week started in Dominica as a way for islanders to say ‘thank you’ to sailors for recovery assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Erica in 2015. Three years later, following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, this bond between the local community and visiting cruisers is stronger than ever. In fact, some 70 boats rallied to this year’s event, held February 18 to 25 and hosted by the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services (PAYS), for a mix of sight-seeing and humanitarian activities including the installation of new moorings.
“Fun activities for the week featured tours and dinners,” says Joan Conover, the Seven Seas Cruising Association’s (SSCA) cruising station coordinator, who attended with husband Greg, aboard their Morgan 51, Growltiger. “Monday was the Indian River tour with complimentary drinks at the Bush Bar. This was followed by other day tours to waterfalls, the Roseau Valley and Kalinago Territory. All areas showed damage and recovery of the foliage. While the lower vegetation is growing back rapidly, it will take years for the tropical rainforest to mature again. There were also potlucks, BBQs and reggae music on the beach. PAYS BBQs, where cruisers share tables with their PAYS friends over rum punch, robust green salads and Jerk chicken, are always fun-filled.”
Many cruisers, who represented organizations such as the SSCA, Ocean Cruising Club and Salty Dawg Sailing Association, equally took part in charitable projects. In fact, some volunteers dove the Portsmouth Bay area prior to the event to help clear debris and roofing from the seabed so as not to obstruct navigation. Roofing and framing, digging out foundations, painting the local primary school, in which the Conover’s participated, and trail clearing were among the work projects.
“Our crew helped to clear segment 13 of the Waitukubuli National Trail,” says Hank Schmitt, founder and chief executive officer of Halesite, NY-based Offshore Passage Opportunities (OPO), who has spearheaded the philanthropic project of establishing a mooring field in Portsmouth to encourage more yachts to visit Dominica. “Just as we have an adopt-a-highway program in the US and a company will take care of cleaning a mile or two of highway, the owners of Mango Cottages, where my wife and I stayed for the week, took it upon themselves to clear this section of the trail. We had seven yachties, three locals and Sylvia, who with her husband Eddison Vaville run the cottages, all hike 45 minutes into the trail carrying chainsaws, fuel, water, and each a cutlass. We cleared about two miles of the 17-mile trail. It’s important to get the trails open so visiting hikers will return.”
Dominica is indeed open for visitors in the wake of last fall’s hurricanes, especially to those who arrive by sea. Earlier this year, Schmitt’s OPO group shipped 30 new moorings to the island from the Gilman Corporation in Gilman, Connecticut, USA, which makes buoys with sturdy mooring floats guaranteed to last for 12 years. The floats are big barrel types, where the mooring pennants can sit on top and not in the sea to grow grass, which can dirty decks when pulled in. There are 20 smaller buoys and ten large ones. Each is signed with PAYS on top. PAYS is a non-profit organization that provides services and security to visiting yachts. The mooring floats arrived two weeks prior to Yachtie Appreciation Week, so only a few were installed off the Purple Turtle Beach location in Portsmouth by the time of the February event.
“I’ll be back in November to make sure all 30 moorings are in place, but in the meantime, cruisers are most welcome,” says Schmitt, who cruises aboard his Swan 48, Avocation. “There is internet at Smithy’s a short walk from PAYS. The PAYS pavilion and office is open as are the toilets and showers. The Sunday BBQs are running and the Dominicans are very welcoming.”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.