Hurricane Season in the Caribbean runs from the 1st June to the 31st October – it is great that nature can be bound so simply between 2 dates. With this approaching time of year, a very frequent topic of conversation between boaties is “What are you doing for Hurricane Season?”.
The map shows the hurricane expectations for 2023. It is a balance of history, blended with the current effects of El Niño and the climate models.
The answer is therefore mixed, as our insurances require us to be out of the hurricane belt for this period of time but we would like to remain sailing without taking any risks. We need to head for areas where the insurance companies are happy and/or we are able to continue our relaxed and carefree lives without being a part of an avoidable natural disaster.
It is certain that nobody wants to end up either at sea or in a marina when a hurricane passes by. The power of nature is awesome and not to be treated lightly.
Commercially, the insurance companies want to play it safe, so they are not obliged to pay out for the stupidity of a sailor who has no respect for nature. To discourage us from remaining in the Caribbean, our insurance is void if we are hit by a named hurricane, should we be at 10 degrees or more of latitude and the premium and deductible are increased.
To go below 10 degrees of latitude means Brazil, Colombia, Surinam or other locations in South America. The safe havens at the bottom of the Caribbean include the island of Grenada, Trinidad & Tobago and the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao). Unfortunately, these are between 10.5 and 12 degrees latitude, so officially still in the zone that the insurance companies want to keep us away from. As you can see from the 2023 expectations, we are taking a calculated risk by being in these locations where the hurricanes are uncommon, considering the tracks of hurricanes (hurricanes; yellow, orange red and tropical storms, blue track).
To go further than these islands at the extremity of the Caribbean is a large additional journey to make so a degree of risk has to be taken.
We are all a little unsure of how much risk to take, so we keep asking each other where to spend hurricane season and when sailing south.
Like most other boaties, we have had a fantastic season island hopping up the Windward Islands and onto the beginning of The Leeward Islands. We are a little bit like kids in a sweet shop, we want to try everything and don’t want to miss out on anything. However, we are learning that quality time spent in one place where we can connect with an island and its people is much more rewarding than hopping from mooring to mooring and ticking off all the islands. Nobody is very interested if we have been to 5 or 10 islands as it is the experiences that we share that are the most important. Whether it is a ride in a local bus, seating officially 10 and carrying 18 as we squeeze in between some large ladies as we zig zag up mountains and teeter along the edge of cliffs (the Amalfi Coast is just childs' play in comparison) or the shear raw beauty of the nature untamed.
At this slower pace, we have spent almost 2 weeks in Dominica, which was absolutely fabulous and slowly working our way around Guadeloupe and finally up to Antigua – where we have currently set our northerly limit for this season before we head south for hurricane safety.
Getting back to Dominica, I must say that Dominica has been an absolute delight to visit. The local population is very friendly and courteous, we have always felt safe and comfortable. The island is well tended with clean and tidy towns and villages and some outstanding natural beauty.
I did have an interesting encounter with one roadside vendor of fruit as I was on the way to the local market a few days ago;
“How are you, welcome to Dominica.”
I was not so happy with being approached in this way as suspected what may be coming.
“Sir, please buy something from me.”
He had a roller suitcase with half a bunch of green bananas sticking out. I gave a not interested look and tried to be polite but not to encourage him too much.
“Sir, I am not a thief, we are not thieves on Dominica, but please buy something from me. I am poor and need money to eat. I have been sick and I am slowly recovering.”
As my hard heart is melting, I asked what he had to offer.
“Sir, (with a big smile on his face) I have bananas and a mango and some passion fruit.”
Well, passion fruit were an attractive option – I still have some bananas and mangos are everywhere now as the mango season is starting.
He looked in his roller suitcase, out came the green bananas, the only mango, but no passion fruit.
“Sir, I live over there, please wait and I will bring you some passion fruit.”
I said that I am on the way to the market and I would see him on my way back.
“Thank you sir, please don’t forget me.” and he was off in one direction and I went in the opposite direction.
20 minutes later, I was looking for him on the way back - well he found me.
“Sir thank you for coming back” as he fumbled in his deep pockets and produced 4 beautiful looking passion fruit.
“That will be 5 EC please sir” - that is less than €2.
“What” I said ! “5 EC for 4 passion fruit ? “
“Sir, there are 5 passion fruit, but is just that I don’t have the 5th one – I will owe that to you sir, once it is ripe.”
Of course, I could not do anything else, but pay my money and wish him an excellent day.
A little sad, but so much better than just begging for a hand out. He was happy with his sale. I was happy with my passion fruit – honestly, I would have paid double if he had asked.
It is a small reminder of how fortunate we are, no money or health worries and not having to struggle day to day, just for a meal.
Anecdotally, we tried to eat the passion fruit about a week after purchase. The fruit were empty or contained very few seeds without any flavour, they were all thrown away. I still have no regrets to buying them, but it would have been better if I could have said that they were delicious !
As a part of our discovery of Dominica, Ingrid and I rented a small room in the southern end of the island, a little up in the hills and completely surrounded by rainforest. Other than the rain aspect of the rainforest, it was amazing to sit and listen to the rain on the tin roof and listen the thousands of frogs that whistle their special rainforest song. As the rain got heavier and louder, it seemed that the frog song became even louder to keep ahead !
The “Signature Hike” of Dominica, (the Boiling Lake), started close to where we were staying and Ingrid kindly organised a guide to take me to the top. It was known to be difficult and not something that would give her any pleasure. Our guide Hubert, a young Guadeloupian lady called Tressy (who was very fit and had long legs to easily step over the big boulders) and I set off in the pouring rain – well, we were in the rainforest, so we could not complain. Up several large mountains and down into the valley between was a tough hike at the pace that Hubert set. Tressy kept up well and I lagged behind but managed to keep up. The path was quite clear most of the time and we scrambled up and down large boulders, river valleys, small vertical drops where we had to use ropes to keep us safe.
After 2 hours we had made it to the Valley of Desolation where sulphur and hot gasses from the magma below escape through fissures in the earth. The heat they bring makes the river water hot, to the point where eggs can be cooked in 5 minutes.
After hour 3, we finally came to the Boiling Lake – well it is really an amazing sight to see. The crater of the volcano is filled with water from the rain and it is about 30m in diameter. The water just boils as it is heated from the hot rocks below, rising in an ever-moving ring, swirling and creating steam that at times obscures everything. You can really sense the power of nature at this location.
Almost as good as the experience of seeing this boiling lake was a half hour rest and soak in a natural spa. This was in one of the hot rivers that we crossed as we returned towards our starting point. We were tired and really could have spent many hours to enjoy the heat of the water as it relaxed our bodies. The hardest part was getting out, knowing we had 3 more hours of hiking ahead of us !
Another amazing location on Dominica is Champagne Reef. It is a location where the hot rocks warm the sea and gasses bubble through the sea water, giving the appearance that you are swimming in a large glass of champagne. Quite the inverse of a chilled glass of champagne we used to celebrate Ingrid’s special birthday but almost as enjoyable. Unfortunately I did not take any photos as I forgot my underwater camera !
With all the rain that makes the rain forest, there are also an abundance of waterfalls which are quite magnificent and magical. Especially when we were lucky to avoid the crowds and we felt like we had the places to ourselves. There is always the opportunity for a swim, sometimes cool, but definitely refreshing !
For a number of reasons, we took guides almost everywhere on our trips. We want to give back to the country, keep safe, find the points of interest and have the best views of the sites we wanted to visit and experience. All of our guides were trained, kind, courteous, well experienced and had a good general knowledge of Dominica’s history and the natural world that we were visiting. Even when we were out of money one guide took me on a short hike that I could not have done without him – he just wanted to share his beautiful country with us.
On from Dominica to Guadeloupe to pick up Jolanda – Ingrid’s sister for a 2-week holiday with us. This is our first holidaying guest, we will let you know how it went on our next blog while we cruise and relax around Guadeloupe and The Saintes. Though the first impression of Guadeloupe was not very good - we hope it improves.