Admiring the Remarkable Restoration of Fort Shirley: Dominica’s Premier Historic Site

The Cabrits National Park and Fort Shirley (two dots on left hill) are an easy gaze across Prince Rupert Bay from Picard Beach.

The Cabrits National Park and Fort Shirley (two dots on left hill) are an easy gaze across Prince Rupert Bay from Picard Beach.

Over my birthday weekend 2014, I decided that it was high time I had a good look around the restored site of Dominica’s Fort Shirley in

One of  the cannons at Fort Shirley that faces Prince Rupert Bay.  Portsmouth is in the middle distance and mighty Morne Diablotin, Dominica's tallest mountain hovers in the background.

One of the cannons at Fort Shirley that faces Prince Rupert Bay. Portsmouth is in the middle distance and mighty Morne Diablotin, Dominica’s tallest mountain hovers in the background.

the Cabrits National Park at Portsmouth. It would have been impossible to ignore it;  the brightly coloured authentic red roofs of the Officers’ Quarters and the Troops’ Barracks stood out as important reminders when I glanced at The Cabrits  across Prince Rupert Bay from either Picard Beach or The Champs Hotel.

Interestingly, this important historic site served as the base for one of my first forays with ‘Birdy’ (Bertrand Jno Baptiste), forestry officer, local bird authority and tour guide par excellence back in 1997!   While a few structures of the old fort were standing, much of the place was in ruins back then, although some work had been ongoing since the 1980’s. Birdy showed me around, but his main focus was on the natural history, botany and biology of the flora and fauna in the area. I can still remember looking for snakes (there a five types on Dominica) and observing puffed up gecko lizards in action!

In fact, the natural history museum, which is found below the entrance to the fort provides a wonderful overview of this eco-site and its environs.  I am proud to report that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) partnered with the Government of Dominica to open this Welcome Centre in 1996!  Once again, I made a point of briefly studying the  geological exhibits and admiring some of the  archeological relics that had been found in the area.

I had returned to this lovely park off and on over the past 17 plus years, but  it was only this time that I fully appreciated the significance of this important historic site, thanks to a careful and concise restoration of the property, commandeered by renowned local historian Dr. Lennox Honychurch, PhD.DSCF3118

This area, which was formed from an ancient volcanic crater has had residents since 3,000 BC and has continually attracted passersby, such as some of Christopher Columbus’s entourage on his second voyage in 1493!  More dates and details that chronicle the history and development of Fort Shirley at The Cabrits on Prince Rupert Bay can be reviewed on Dr. Honychurch’s web site, by clicking here.

I've been there ,I've done it!  This sign marks the spot where the Waitukubuli National Trail ends in the Cabrits National Park.

I’ve been there , I’ve done it! This sign marks the spot where the Waitukubuli National Trail ends in the Cabrits National Park.

The East Cabrits Trail leads to Douglas Bay and the ruins of  battery there.  It's also the last leg of the last segment (140 of the Waitukubuli National Trail.

The East Cabrits Trail leads to Douglas Bay and   a former battery that is situated there. It’s also the last leg of the last segment (14) of the Waitukubuli National Trail.

It's hard to get lost on The Cabrits - unless you wander off of the well marked trails!

It’s hard to get lost on The Cabrits – unless you wander off of the well-marked trails!

As I strode up the pathway, passing through the  entrance in the  high stone wall, I stopped to look at the interpretive signs en route to the fortification.  I appreciated the directional signage as well as the descriptions of flora and fauna that are found in the area.  While it might be unusual to sight a goat on these two large ‘mounds’ nowadays, there was a time when sailors would leave such animals in this locale to graze so that they would have some fresh sustenance upon their return to this spot.  Hence the name “cabrits,” which means ‘goat’ in French, Spanish and Portuguese!

It's a bit of a climb from the entrance way to the restored buildings at Fort Shirley, but I can assure you that it is entirely worth it!

It’s a bit of a climb from the entrance way to the restored buildings at Fort Shirley, but I can assure you that it is entirely worth it!

I was not alone on this Sunday morning.   A church group lugged their picnic baskets and chairs up the taxing incline, and conducted a service in the covered lee side porch of the Officers’ Quarters while overlooking Prince Rupert Bay and mighty Morne Diablotin in the distance.  To me, their peaceful  and grateful celebration  of life  in such wondrous surroundings added to the serenity and solemnity of this intriguing site.

The day was heating up quickly so I did not take the hikes on the East or West Cabrits Trails.  That would wait for the next time.  However, I did stop to stare with awe at the carefully constructed stone walls and the tidy masonry, apparent on all the buildings.  I could see that there was still some work to be done, but knowing Dr. Honychurch, this labour of love will continue as much as possible.  There actually have been international supporters in this ambitious venture, such as the European Union (2006-07).  The Government of Dominica also recognizes the tremendous importance of this place, as it is a proud symbol of the country’s heritage.

Interestingly, no battles ever took place at the Fort, which was named after Governor Thomas Shirley in the mid 18th century, when the major construction began.  However, the famous” Battle of the Saints,” between the British and the French could be observed from this site on 12th April 1782.  Later, in 1802 there was in fact a revolt at this location by the 8th West India Regiment, comprised of former slaves. It is explained by Dr. Honychurch in this notation right here.

This ancient water pump is located in front of the Officers' Quarters. In the background, people trudge up the hill for a well-deserved picnic!

This ancient water pump is located in front of the Officers’ Quarters. In the background, people trudge up the hill for a well-deserved picnic!

The view of Morne Diablotin from the Lower Battery at Fort Shirley is a remarkable site to behold.

The view of Morne Diablotin from the wall of the Lower Battery at Fort Shirley is a remarkable site/sight to behold.

The Officers' Quarters is a majestic building that often hosts weddings and other special events.

The Officers’ Quarters is a majestic building that often hosts weddings and other special events.

The Troops' Barracks are set up to provide hostel-like accommodation with pre-arranged groups.

The Troops’ Barracks are set up to provide hostel-like accommodation for pre-arranged groups.

These cannons face the entrance to Prince Rupert Bay, as part of its defence system.

These cannons face the entrance to Prince Rupert Bay, as part of its defence system.

I appreciated the fine work that has been and continues to be done at Fort Shirley.  I could easily see that this restoration is of a very high standard (no surprise!). It reminded me of similar restored historic sites in eastern Canada that are known to me , such as the Halifax Citadel and Fortress Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia; Quebec City’s Citadelle;  and Fort Henry in Kingston Ontario.  They were all originally built and occupied for the same reason (territorial military defence!) during the 18th and 19th centuries.

While I followed and read the information on the abundant signage and referred to a helpful brochure, my only  wish would  have been a guided tour, with access to  the interior of the buildings.  However, it was a quiet Sunday morning in the off-season,  and neither Dr. Honychurch nor other restoration team members were on the property at that time.  No matter – I will  return again and continue my explorations of fascinating Fort Shirley in The Cabrits National Park.  Sincere thanks to Dr. Lennox Honychurch, for his exceptional efforts to preserve the essence of this exceptional  landmark and historic site, for the benefit of all!

 

A Healing Weekend at Beau Rive, near Castle Bruce on the East Coast of Dominica

Welcome to Beau Rive! This inviting hammock, which is situated close to the library is one of a number of spots on the property for relaxation and solitude.

Welcome to Beau Rive! This inviting hammock, which  overlooks the ocean and is situated close to the library is one of a number of spots on the property for relaxation and solitude.

In a relaxed frame of mind after my invigorating walk at the Emerald Pool eco-site, which was followed by a fantastic lunch at Islet View Restaurant and Bar, I drove a short distance further to my destination that Saturday: Dominica`s renowned Beau Rive boutique hotel.

As soon as I arrived on the property, Florence and Maxim, the friendly house dogs barked excitedly as Mark Steele, proprietor of Beau Rive strode quickly to my car and warmly welcomed me with a firm handshake and  sincere smile. It was not my first time at this lovely hotel, and I felt instantly “at home” as I gazed around the beautifully manicured grounds. Right away, Mark took my bags and showed me to my room.

I am not a gardener but I do appreciate beautiful, well-tended plants and trees which adorn the property at Beau Rive!

I am not a gardener but I do appreciate the beautiful, well-tended plants and trees which adorn the property at Beau Rive!

There is something about Beau Rive - perhaps its simple  charm and inviting atmosphere that makes me what to return again and again!

There is something very special about Beau Rive –  its tasteful details, private setting and inviting atmosphere make me want to return again and again!

After some brief instructions about the room’s features and details about dinner, Mark left me to my own devices. I took a little time to unpack and then admired this sensational setting before a planned  nap.  Pretty anthurium lilies in a vase complemented the beautiful Nature Island painting by local artist Marie Frederick.  A quiet ceiling fan circulated cool ocean breezes around the room.  But  I was most enraptured with the expansive balcony and its captivating view: far below, a gentle, rhythmical surf pounded against ancient rocks that

At Beau Rive, every room and cottage has a spectacular ocean view.

At Beau Rive, every room and cottage has a spectacular ocean view.

formed a tiny promontory. As I gazed further out into the mighty Atlantic, several shades of blue blended into the cottony cloud-covered sky.  With the veranda doors wide open, I lay down on the bed, but resisted shutting my eyes.  I just couldn’t stop gazing at that magnificent scene right from my propped-up pillow!

When I arrived at the upstairs dining area just before 7 p.m., Mark met me there and asked if I had had a good rest.  I chuckled as I told him that I did feel more refreshed but that I had been unable to close my eyes because I was so entranced by the view!

Mark had already asked me about food preferences when I made the reservation.   He  and his staff had graciously prepared a delicately seasoned local tuna dish with fresh vegetables.  The appetizer did contain tomatoes, but I hadn’t mentioned that they can be problematic sometimes.  As it was only a starter, I did sample this popular fruit  which lightly topped a  delicate pastry crust – and  it was divine!  I had already requested smaller servings so that I could enjoy everything and let nothing go to waste.  Of course, I savored every morsel, including the rum-flavoured chocolate cake! (Unfortunately my camera could not capture the details of these appealing plates in the evening light).

In the background, a mix of  easy-listening tunes – R+B, jazz, opera arias and instrumental medleys complemented this superb dining experience.  In the foreground, the strong waves made their presence known and nearby  tree frogs greeted the evening with gusto. But the melodious blend of sounds did not interfere with an interesting conversation about books between me and Allison, another repeat guest at Beau Rive. We were enveloped in soft candlelight at our  adjacent table settings and our exchange flowed easily. She confessed that although she is Barbadian by birth  and now resides in the U.S., Dominica is always her first choice for a vacation – but not only that – in her mind it has to at Beau Rive, and nowhere else! When I queried this seasoned traveller further over the weekend about the essence of her attraction to this lovely hotel, she always responded with, ” There is nowhere else like it. It is so unique.  It is different from everywhere else.”   We both agreed that  one can get away from everything and quietly rejuvenate here in complete comfort.

Mark Steele obviously has a special gift and a magic touch that has enabled his quaint hotel to attract guests from all over the world.  Many return to repeat their exceptional experiences and some even invite him to visit them in their homelands!  It is obvious that careful thought, meticulous attention to details, consistent dedication to the highest standards possible as a hotelier, and of course, a love of, interest in and concern for his guests and his staff have resulted in regular  highly ranked recognition on Trip Advisor.   At this writing, Beau Rive is the  number one hotel in Dominica (June 2014). It’s not the only time he has placed first and he has also  previously received a number of other awards for his renowned hospitality endeavors.  If you stay at Beau Rive, you will quickly understand why!

Almost immediately after I ate, I returned to my room to read for a while.  It wasn’t long before I drifted off to sleep to the crash of  the distant surf and the pattering of a

Young Maxim welcomed me at the top of the stairs as I made my way to breakfast.

Young Maxim welcomed me at the top of the stairs and put a big smile on my face as I made my way to breakfast.

light rain on the roof. I awoke early to enjoy a muted sunrise amidst some gray clouds.  At about 7:45 a.m., I left the room for breakfast on the upstairs patio.  The dogs greeted me along the way and I also met Frederick the frisky ginger-coloured kitty.  These pets really gave me some extra cheer and lessened the pain of the loss of Tia-pet,     my cherished cat of 16 1/2 years.

This is the 'starter' to breakfast at Beau Rive.  Fruits of all kinds - in juice and salad, along with homemade yoghurt and local honey.  There was also a lime curd, if desired.  Then came toast and sweet rolls and home-made condiments including christophene jam!

This is the ‘starter’ to the healthy breakfast at Beau Rive: fruits of all kinds – in juice and salad, along with homemade yoghurt and local honey. There was also a lime curd, if desired. Then came toast and sweet bread and creatively concocted condiments including christophene jam!

As I took my seat overlooking that spectacular ocean scene, a huge bowl of mixed fruits was placed before me.  Mark enjoys growing his own fruits and vegetables and some of his labours were in the mix.  On the second morning, he proudly told me about his success at producing cantaloupe.  It’s very uncommon on the Nature Island and here I was enjoying it at that very moment!

My plan for a Sunday outing was a long overdue refresher tour of one of Dominica’s principle historic and cultural sites: Kalinago Barana Aute (Carib Model Village).  It was only a 20 minute drive through the Kalinago Territory from Beau Rive, and Mark felt this would be an opportune time to visit, as it would be quiet on the road on Sunday morning and it was also low season, meaning there would likely be fewer people there.

I left not long after breakfast.  I had already informed Mark that I would probably be a couple of hours.  I will report on that incredible experience in the next blog post, but suffice it to say that when I got there, I was informed that my tour would be delayed as the guides were waiting for a French group to arrive and I would go along with them.  Being familiar with Mark’s concern about his guests, I immediately called him and informed him that I would be later returning than I had earlier predicted.  He was very grateful for my message.  I knew that he would worry if I didn’t show up as planned.

When I arrived back at Beau Rive about four hours later, Mark was at his garden for the afternoon and it seemed that no one else was about. (The staff were in the kitchen quietly preparing dinner)> .  I lay down for a few minutes until I heard the sound of a familiar pick-up truck in the driveway.  Lo and behold, it was Dr. Ronnie and Dr. Nausima, my favourite veterinarians!  Mark mentioned earlier that they might be around to check on his

pets (including a cow tethered  near his garden).  I was surprised to see them and it was very meaningful to spend some time with the vets in a more relaxed setting since the cat had passed away.   After they attended Florence, mother of Maxim, they went to meet Mark and check on his cow.  I was supposed to go along, but after my lengthy morning tour and slow recovery from chikungunya, I opted for a little down time in my peaceful room.

Husband and wife veterinary team Dr. Ronnie George and Dr. Nausima Paul attend to Florence, beloved pet of Mark Steele at Beau Rive.    These wonderful vets can be contacted at their clinic (767) 440-8387 or by mobile at 277-4811/275-4935.

Husband and wife veterinary team Dr. Ronnie George and Dr. Nausima Paul attend to Florence, beloved pet of Mark Steele at Beau Rive. These wonderful vets can be contacted at their clinic (767) 440-8387 or by mobile at 277-4811/275-4935.

The timing was perfect, because when they returned about an hour later, they called me to join them for a drink on the patio. Mark prepared and served our preferred beverages. Then he joined us.  We discussed all manner of things, including, health, family, world affairs and of course, animals!  While Mark is usually reticent to disclose much about his earlier life (he is an accomplished professional pianist), the British expatriate told us about some other fascinating posts  and travels he had previously experienced in different countries.  He explained that all of his past endeavors contributed to  the realization of his dream of creating Beau Rive in Dominica.  I won’t give anything else away – you’ll have to ask him yourself!

Our conversation segued into the dinner hour.  The vets  took their leave and I sat down to the most delicious pumpkin-coconut milk soup imaginable.  That was followed by a big bowl of pasta topped with a  creamy goat cheese/sun-dried tomato sauce (made from scratch, naturally!), and then  ice-cream and cake for dessert.  I was full, but I ate it all – I could not resist it!  Allison and I chatted over tea for a while and again shared reasons for our enduring fascination with Beau Rive.  The conclusion was the same as before:  for our purposes of rest, relaxation, tranquility, character, charm, hospitality and price, it just doesn’t get any better than this!

Then Allison went to the library to watch a DVD and I stayed in the upstairs lounge for a little while longer to get better acquainted with Frederick the cat.  We played for a few minutes and then he was off  on a night-time prowl.  When I passed the library door, Mark asked me if I would like to see the movie, but I declined.  I was sleep-walking and could only just make it back to my room!

mark steele

Mark Steele, proprietor of Beau Rive has successfully created a casually elegant oasis that holds appeal for all those who have had (and will have!) the pleasure of spending time there. Photo contributed by Mark.

On my last morning, Mark departed after breakfast, taking along guest Allison to run  respective errands in Roseau.  I was told to take my time checking out and I did linger a little longer,spending half an hour doing mini-laps in the pristine pool.  In these peaceful surroundings, the swim in tepid water did ease the arthritis-like pain that persisted with chikungunya.

As I headed back to Roseau feeling very refreshed and revitalized, I reaffirmed that a little time spent at Beau Rive is definitely a healing tonic for body, mind and soul!

 

 

‘Living a Healthy Life on the Nature Island’ featured on ‘Retirement and Good Living’ Web Site

Gwendominica is thrilled to hear Carimi (a Haitian Compas Band) warm-up before the start of the SUnday night show at the 17th annual WCMF.  Photo taken by Kim.

Gwendominica is thrilled to hear Carimi (a Haitian Band) warm-up before the Sunday night show at the internationally renowned World Creole Music Festival. Photo taken by Kim.

The folks at the Retirement and Good Living  website asked me to write a post about ‘retirement’ on   Dominica from my perspective.  I

Dominica is called the Nature Island for good reason - pristine rainforests, majestic mountains and beautiful rainbows are just part of the attractions!

Dominica is called the Nature Island for good reason – pristine rainforests, majestic mountains and beautiful rainbows are just some of the attractions!

was delighted to do so, of course! You will find it here!

Gwendominica at Titou Gorge which is the start of the Boiling Lake Trail near Laudat.  Photo taken by fellow 50+ hiking enthusiast, Liz.

Gwendominica at Titou Gorge which is the start of the famous and challenging Boiling Lake Trail near Laudat. Photo taken by fellow 50+ hiking enthusiast, Liz.

It is a pleasure

to contribute this article about my perspectives on  Dominica to  Retirement and Good Living.   This web site covers a range of important and relevant topics for those of us in what I call the “50+” category of life.  Subjects include travel, retirement locations, health, exercise, the latest news of interest to the older and wiser crowd, and more!  I’ve really enjoyed reading many fascinating and well-written pieces on their site.  Check it out!

Gwendominica really enjoys Creole Day . Photo taken by Izzy of Images Dominica.

Gwendominica really enjoys Creole Day . Photo taken by Izzy of Images Dominica.

Interested readers who might like  further information about  visiting or relocating to Dominica can  also refer to the following web sites for information: the Discover Dominica Authority; the Invest Dominica Authority Expat Blog Dominica ; Escape Artist Dominica ; and the Government of Dominica  web portal.

Who knows – maybe we’ll meet one day on the Nature Isle!

Gwendominica takes a 'sea bath' at Coconut Beach near Portsmouth.  Photo taken by Edwin.

Gwendominica takes a relaxing ‘sea bath’  in the calm Caribbean Sea at Coconut Beach near Portsmouth. Photo taken by Edwin.

A ‘Whale Watch’ Adventure off of Dominica’s West Coast*

Because of my recent August birthday, I decided to take a little break from writing and partake of some Nature Island activities that had eluded me for some time. What was especially fitting for my self-imposed week of celebration was a gift that I had received  in June as part of my Hike Fest surprise  prize package.  It was a complimentary pass for a whale watch excursion from the Anchorage Hotel, Whale Watch and Dive Centre, which I had held on to for a fine day.  It would  expire by month’s end, so when the sun shone strongly on  the morning of Wednesday August 28th, I called the hotel around midday and reserved my space on the boat for the outing that afternoon!

The Anchorage Hotel Whale Watch and Dive Centre are Dominica's whale watch pioneers.

The Anchorage Hotel Whale Watch and Dive Centre is known as Dominica’s whale watch pioneer.

When I arrived at the hotel, I was amazed to see about 20 enthusiastic people of all ages waiting for this special trip.  While I noted that there were a few tourists, I observed that some resident Dominicans had made a party out of the event, while there were others who appeared to be visiting members of the diaspora.

Captain Philbert gave us somew background information about Sperm Whales before we boarded the boat.

Captain Philbert gave us some background information about Sperm Whales before we boarded the boat.

Just before 2 p.m.,  Boat Captain Philbert Daisy called us together in front of the on-site Research Centre  that houses a beached Sperm Whale skeleton. There, he welcomed us and gave us a few instructions. “You may not see any whales,” he cautioned us right from the start, “this is not Marine Land.   These are creatures in the wild and we never know where they will be.”

Of course, we collectively remained hopeful that there would be a sighting, as there seems to be a pod of Sperm Whales that are resident in the area year-round. But I appreciated why he mentioned that important point right away to avoid disappointment or misunderstanding.  My experiences in recent years were exactly that: no whales were seen, but I did enjoy the sighting of and being surrounded by a ‘super-pod’ of dolphins in July 2012, which you can read about here.

Captain Philbert then pointed to the female Sperm Whale’s  skeleton and explained some significant points about its anatomy.DSCF0551DSCF0554 I was particularly fascinated by the fact that this species has some flexible ribs, which collapse as this animal dives very deep (up to 1,000 metres) for its main food source, the deep-sea squid.  He also told us about the whale’s  large ‘nose’ and the oil inside it called spermaceti, which is used for buoyancy and echo-location, as whales cannot see in the dark depths of the ocean!  I was familiar with some of what he said, as I had written a piece about the Dominica Sperm Whale Project and a Canadian whale biologist named Shane Gero who has spent thousands of hours in Dominica researching these underwater mammals.  You can read more about Sperm Whales and current research about them  here.

The Miser's Dream is an all-equipped cruiser with 360 degree views on the top deck.

The Miser’s Dream is an all-equipped cruiser with 360 degree views on the top deck.

Then we boarded the boat, Miser’s Dream, and after the mandatory safety instructions, Captain Philbert explained that we would travel a few miles out to sea and then he and the crew would use a hydrophone to listen for whale ‘clicks’ , which is a sound that these mammals make in the depths to  echo-locate their food (squid).  They use other clicks, called codas to communicate with  each other.  You can read further about this amazing characteristic in the web site of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project.

I chose to stay in the rear of the cruiser so that I could take pictures of Dominica as we headed due west.  Most people went to the top deck so that they could be on stand-by for any sightings.  As a veteran whale-watcher, I knew that the crew would be checking the hydrophone from my location, and I wanted to be able to listen in for those elusive ‘clicks’.

The first time they checked, we were a fair distance out from Pointe Michel, a village south of Roseau, the capital. Captain Philbert and Crew Member Martin listened hard for the whale sounds (with me in the background).  No luck, but what they did note was that they

Captain Philbert (r) listens on the hydrophone for whale 'clicks' while Crew Member Martin drops the 'microphone' part of it into the sea.  It can also determine direction of the whale sounds.  The clicks are very loud and can be heard from several kilometers away - so there would be no mistaking the sound!.

Captain Philbert (r) listens on the hydrophone for whale ‘clicks’ while Crew Member Martin drops the ‘ underwater microphone’ part of it into the sea.  The clicks are louder than a jet engine (!) and can be heard on this machine from several kilometers away.

could hear the engine of a ship which was anchored near a quarry close to Pointe Michel.  Interestingly, the crew told me that they had in fact seen whales in this area a few days earlier, but they had definitely moved off. I was intrigued by this situation, because in one of my previous conversations with Canadian whale biologist Shane Gero, he mentioned to me that whales were easily stressed by noise pollution, ship engines being one of the sources.  As sound from their clicks is vital for their communication and food location, I wondered to myself if these creatures had gone somewhere quiet.  Gero did tell me that there is so much noise in the ocean in general, that for whales these days, “it is like living in a rock concert.”

From the sea, I am always reminded about why the Kalinago people called Dominica 'Waitukubuli when they paddled up here from South America over  athousand years ago.It means 'tall is her body'.

From the sea, I am always reminded why the Kalinago people called Dominica ‘Waitukubuli’ when they paddled up here from South America over a thousand years ago.It means ‘tall is her body’. Scotts Head (far right) is the southernmost point of land.

The Captain decided that we should try our luck further up the coast (north), so off we went.  While the day had been clear,

A misty rainbow appeared in the Layou River mouth area.  I enjoyed the plentiful shades of green as well.

A misty rainbow appeared in the Layou River delta area. I enjoyed the plentiful shades of green as well.

mid-afternoon moisture-laden clouds shrouded the mountains.

I always like to look upon Morne Anglais, which stands behind the populated area where I live south of Roseau.

I always like to look upon Morne Anglais, which towers above the populated area where I live south of Roseau.

Morne Diablotin, always a sight to behold from any vantage point, is Dominmica's highest peak at almost 5,000 feet.

Morne Diablotin, always a sight to behold from any vantage point, is Dominica’s highest peak at almost 5,000 feet.

By the time we approached the lee of mighty Morne Diablotin, Dominica’s highest peak, we were about nine miles out to sea, off of the village of Colihaut.  The crew was going to try for the third time to find whales by hydrophone, when all of a sudden Martin gave a shout: ” Whales at 9 o’clock!”  We all turned to look in a westerly direction (further out to sea), and sure enough, spray from a whale’s blow-hole could be clearly seen. Captain Philbert steered the boat slowly and carefully in that direction, but he didn’t have to go far – a few whales were coming towards us!

A Sperm Whale's blow hole spray alerted the crew to their close proximity  to the boat.

A Sperm Whale’s blow-hole spray alerted the crew to their close proximity to the boat.

We quietly cheered with glee. I was still at the back of the boat, but not for long.  Crew Mate Jefferson immediately offered to help  me to skirt the narrow starboard side of the boat so that I could see the magnificent animals ‘up close and personal’ from the bow.  I was the first one on the front of the lower deck.  A few other younger people joined me momentarily.  I guess they felt that if a lady of a certain age (50+ club) could make her way to a more open area on the boat, so could they!  I was only a little worried when one of the girls – a Canadian, in fact, mentioned that she couldn’t swim.  Mentally, I took quick note of the nearby life-preserver and that fact that Crew Mate Jefferson was right beside us.  She was so excited about seeing the whales, that I think she temporarily forgot about her fear (but I kept one eye on her as she was seated right beside me)!

A young juvenile poked his/her massive head out as we looked on in awe and wonder.

A young juvenile poked his/her massive head out as we looked on in awe and wonder.

It would be fair to say that these gentle giants are very curious and are familiar with boat loads of human beings coming by to say “hello” and/or to study them.  It seemed even more evident to me when Jefferson tapped on the side of the boat, and a couple of the whales came very near, as would a domestic dog or cat.  I think everyone on the boat immediately fell in love with them –  especially  the calf, who was perhaps learning about this type of event in his/her young life while his mother stayed close-by.   One man was so excited that he scrambled from one deck to the other to film the lovely creatures and tripped over some ropes. He almost fell on the deck.  Thankfully, a number of us caught him, but it is a reminder that safety is always the first priority.

It is a little hard to tell, but yu can see that end of the whale's flukes (tail) as it was making a deep dive. You can see other complete whale dive photos on the web site links noted in this post.

It is a little hard to tell, but  if you  blow up this photo, you can see the edge of the whale’s flukes (tail) as it was making a deep dive. Other complete whale tail dive photos can be found on the web site links noted in this post.

We had plenty of time to observe this pod – referred to as “the group of seven,” which is the average size of a whale family –  notably all females, with  perhaps the exception of the calves. The mature males roam far and only return during mating season. More information about the whale families seen off of Dominica can be found in this section of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project. 

When Jefferson knocked on the side of the boat, a curious juvenile approached without fear.

When Jefferson knocked on the side of the boat, a curious juvenile approached without fear.

A crew member identified one of the whales by the name of ‘Can-opener’.  When I asked him how he knew it by that name, he explained that there was an indent in its fluke that resembled that utensil! (All of the resident whales have been named by identifiable marks on their bodies, especially  the flukes, which are usually noted when the whale is about to make a deep dive and the ‘tail’ appears above the surface of the water). Refer to the Dominica Sperm Whale Project for more information.

It’s been a long time since I experienced such  collective gratitude and appreciation for wildlife as I did on The Anchorage Hotel’s whale watch boat that day.  Everyone thoroughly enjoyed watching these magnificent creatures, as they breached, dove, swam on the surface, interacted with each other and openly approached us with little fear. I tried to get a few photos, but without a sophisticated camera or video device, I did content myself with mostly just looking at the whales.

This pod was gathering together for a chat, it seemed to me.  They had been spread out, but we watched them coming close together after a while.

This pod was gathering together for a chat, it seemed to me. They had been spread out, but we watched them coming close together after a while.

It is intersting to note that we are not the only social creatures on earth! This photo reminds me of a dog swimming towards its owner.

It is interesting to note that we are not the only social creatures on earth! This photo reminds me of a dog swimming towards its owner. Imagine!

After a considerable length of time, the majority of the whales had made  deep dives and would be in the depths for an hour or so before resurfacing for air.  Others simply swam further out to sea. The captain and crew had happily given us extra time  for this wonderful commune with nature. As the boat headed back to home base just before sunset,  I thought hard about this extraordinary experience and how it further enhanced my appreciation. love and respect for all  creatures with whom we share this planet. Perhaps we aren’t so different, after all!

If you are bound for Dominica, you would terribly remiss if you did not partake of a whale watch adventure on the Nature Island.  I hope you will spot some as I did that day.  And if not, you’ll just have to come back again!

*Special thanks to the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association’s Hike Fest Committee and The Anchorage Hotel, Whale Watch and Dive Centre for presenting me with this wonderful opportunity to experience an aspect of nature at its finest.