Beyond Beauty: the Exemplary Miss Dominica 2013, Leslassa Armour-Shillingford

Naturally lovely Leslassa personifies beauty inside and out. Her name actually means 'harmony' in an Ethiopian language.

Naturally lovely Leslassa personifies beauty inside and out. Her name actually means ‘harmony’ in an Ethiopian language.

When I caught up with Miss Dominica 2013, Leslassa Armour-Shillingford, she was in the midst of organizing a Dance Showcase, the first fundraising event for the

charity that she created,  called DREAM (Dominica Realistic Education Arts Movement) Foundation,        to aid  young students with benefiting from holistic education.

As well as having a deep desire to help others, she admitted that she has always been “obsessed with dance,” as a way of expressing herself.  Although she had

Leslassa organized a Dance Showcase as one of her DREAM Foundation initiatives to help children realize their holistic education goals.

Leslassa organized a Dance Showcase as one of her DREAM Foundation initiatives to help children realize their holistic education goals.

 scoliosis, which is a curvature of the spine, she never allowed that health challenge to prevent her from dancing.  When she began her dance studies in Barbados at The Dance Place at the age of nine, she focused on classical ballet training and went en pointe  ( as in the poster) at the age of sixteen.  Amazingly, she was able to further work on technique after she left Barbados by watching YouTube videos and receiving some coaching from renowned American/Dominican diaspora dance instructor Watmora Casey when he was visiting the Nature Island.

 In classical dance style, she had prepared a routine as a poetry/ dance segment about a character  who sheds pain as she becomes free from child abuse for the Ms Jaycees International competition in July 2013, where she won the crown. One of the poses is seen in the poster above. 

Then in September,r this unique ballet presentation (without the spoken word part) enabled her to go on to the  Talent Finals as one of the top twelve out of 130 contestants in the Miss World Pageant in Indonesia in September 2013. 

With all of this information about Leslassa’s background, I was still amazed when I saw her performances at her Dance Showcase, where she crossed over into folkloric, contemporary and Latin genres!  There is no doubt – among her many exceptional traits is a superbly gifted dancer! You can read more about this initiative and  my review here.    Her non-profit organization is receiving sponsorship from some private and corporate sponsors, but there is much more to be done and she is spearheading this noble endeavor with great enthusiasm.

Leslassa presents a vibrant dance pose at Fort Shirley in teh Cabrits National Park for one of her sponsorship posters.

Leslassa presented  a powerful dance pose sequence at Fort Shirley in the Cabrits National Park for one of her sponsorship posters.

As well, she is the regional spokesperson for the Innocence Project and she told me that she had a number of presentations to make  around Dominica where she intended to  unhesitatingly speak out against child abuse.  And according to all the media reports that I’ve read late in November 2013, she did just that, in clear and concise words! Among other things, this young woman is an articulate speaker and she  presents the facts and her feelings about unfortunate social issues that demand change with conviction.”But there is a lot more to be done,” she asserted. 

When Leslassa looks back over the past several months of her reign as Miss Dominica 2013, she feels proud of what she has accomplished. She did realize her intention of bringing a strong social message to every pageant, whether about endangered animals, child abuse or holistic education. Her platforms were well received ,as she became the winner of three  challenging regional competitions in 2013: Miss Carival, Ms. Jaycees Queen, Miss Caribbean Culture Queen,  as well as first runner-up in Miss Caribbean World. She even represented the Nature Island for the first time in 35 years at Miss World 2013 in Indonesia  in September.  There is definitely something extraordinary about this young lady!

Gwendominica and Leslassa pose for a photo by the pool of one of her sponsors, The Nachorage Hotel.

Leslassa and Gwendominica pose for a photo by the pool of one of her sponsors, The Anchorage Hotel.

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Leslassa posed beside a Sperm Whale skeleton, which forms part of the Research and Education area at the Anchorage Whale Watch and Dive Center.

As an award-winning  2012 graduate of the International Baccalaureate programme at the   Rothesay Netherwood School in New Brunswick, Canada, she smiled as she reminisced about it: “I enjoyed my time there,”   she said. She mentioned that although the school was small, students were strongly encouraged to try new things.  She won the ‘Paddy MacAvity Award’ for Fine Character, Sportsmanship and Scholarship‘ as an all-around student. Apart from a heavy academic course load, she found time to choreograph a musical, participate on a rugby team, go camping and partake of other outdoor adventures in Canada’s wilderness.  Her classmates certainly respected this exceptional young woman as she was also voted ‘Head of House’ in her second and last year there.  She still believes that was a special honour bestowed upon her by them.  She was very appreciative, but preferred to share the  extensive  responsibilities with another colleague that included monitoring the  overall morale, discipline, comfort, room cleanliness and  compatibilities of 50 girls.

Leslassa really sparkled in the evening wear segment of the Miss Dominica 2013 pageant.

Leslassa really sparkled in the evening wear segment of the Miss Dominica 2013 pageant.

Although she subsequently received scholarships from Boston University   and Rider University, as well as acceptance offers from the American University, University of Toronto and Ryerson University  in Toronto, she decided to come back to Dominica for a year to try different things.  She had originally planned to take a massage course here, but friends Jeanne Royer (also a Miss Dominica 2013 contestant) and Chad Astaphan ( a ‘rising star’ in the music industry) persuaded her to enter the Miss Dominica 2013 pageant.  With the scholarship that she won from it, she intends to “do good things for Dominica.”   She is particularly interested in agricultural economics  and development, which she believes need more attention on the Nature Island.  She  hopes to apply her new-found knowledge in the organic sector after she completes her studies. 

I am convinced  that Leslassa is definitely her own person and is comfortable in her own skin.  She is a life-long vegetarian (as are her parents, Yvonne Armour and Henry Shillingford) and she is a naturalist in the truest sense: “ Nature is our connection to everything. It’s our purest form.  We all come from the earth – that is our foundation,” she emphasized.

When asked about how she has managed such intense pressure both on and off the stage for the past several months, her response was straightforward and genuine: “It’s all about how you handle it.“  She refuses to allow negativity or negative emotions to influence her.  As well, she was determined to go out and have fun and not dwell on her performances when they were over. ‘This is my life’s philosophy,’ she admitted, “ We have one life to live and I won’t change my beliefs to fit into any specific role.”  Now there’s wisdom in abundance for all of us from this young soul!

Leslassa`s traditional costume was designed by her aunt, Carla Armour and friend Amala Sorhaindo.  She is seen here during  Costume Parade of Dominica`s Carnival 2013.

Leslassa`s traditional costume  for the Miss Dominica pageant was designed by her aunt, Carla Armour and Rothesay Netherwood classmate and  friend Amala Sorhaindo. She is seen here during Costume Parade of Dominica`s Carnival 2013.

She credits her family , the essential members of ‘Team Lassa’ as being her strongest supporters and advisors. She is especially grateful to her aunt, the very talented and creative Carla Armour who was her chaperone and coach for Miss Dominica 2013 and at the various regional pageants. In addition, she is extremely appreciative of  friends, neighbours and  the many Dominicans who offered her assistance and encouragement so that she could realize these incredible accomplishments over the past year.  She is tremendously proud to act as an ambassador for the Nature Island.

Leslass took time for everyone to have a photo op with her, during Dominica`s Carnival 2013 costume parade, including me!

Leslassa took time for everyone to have a photo-op with her during Dominica`s Carnival 2013 Costume Parade, including me!

As a true Dominican, Leslassa `played mas`during Carnival in a colourful sensay outfit.

As a true Dominican, Leslassa `played mas`during Carnival 2013 in a colourful Sensay outfit.

Leslassa is intent on living out her dreams  as she so desires.  There is no doubt in my mind – if anyone can realize a truly authentic life, it is this remarkable young Dominican woman named Leslassa.  You go, girl!

You can follow Leslassa on Facebook here.

 

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Daring to DREAM: Miss Dominica 2013 and Friends Dance for Holistic Education on the Nature Isle*

Leslassa organized a Dance Showcase as one of her DREAM Foundation initiatives to help children realize their holistic education goals.

Leslassa organized a Dance Showcase as one of her DREAM Foundation initiatives to help children realize their holistic education goals.

Miss Dominica 2013 Leslassa Armour-Shillingford  has always loved to dance. According to her mother Yvonne, her daughter just had to  move to music even when she was a tiny child. As one of her innate talents, Leslassa  has made a serious study of this highly disciplined performance art during her young life.  And at the age of 20,  this multi-talented beauty queen is definitely pursuing everything that she has

In this selection, entitled 'Sorento', Leslassa 'returns to innocence'.

In this dreamy selection, entitled ‘Sorento’, Leslassa ‘returned to innocence’ of childhood with swift, playful moves.

dared to DREAM!  This was clearly evident at the  Dance Showcase that was held at the Anchorage Hotel, Whale Watch and Dive Center on November 27,2013. There, she and like-minded dance colleagues definitely “used [their] talents to inspire others,” according to Leslassa’s credo.

The lovely young lady organized this fundraiser for her charity entitled the DREAM Foundation     in partnership with the Dominica Institute for the Arts and renowned choreographer Monsieur Christian Gernet of Martinique.Leslassa firmly believes that every child should have the chance to pursue a well-rounded education and she is determined to help!  Proceeds from this unique event were to benefit the Enrichment Programme at the Pioneer Preparatory School     and the Newtown Primary School DREAM Dance Project.   But most importantly,   the Old Mill Cultural Centre’s dance space (Dominica Institute for the Arts)  was the first priority as it is an empty room and the DREAM Foundation is ‎furnishing it with the needed bars, mirrors and other necessities that will make it a proper dance studio.  As she does instruct students there in her capacity as a dance teacher, she felt very strongly about how these enhancements could add to the overall  experience of the young dance students.

When I took my front row seat before the show began,

The surreal backdrop pf the stage perfectly complemented the dances in this unique showcase, choreographed by Martinican choreographer Christian Gernet.

The surreal Dominican backdrop on the stage perfectly complemented the dances in this unique showcase, choreographed by Martinican choreographer Christian Gernet.

I admired the dreamy backdrop at the back of the makeshift stage, which was positioned above the back of the swimming pool.  In front,  little boats with lighted  candles drifted on gentle ripples and rose petals floated

placidly on the water’s  serene surface.  The surreal mood was captured right from the start – I was already transported to dream-like place.Then Leslassa’s brother Dafar warmly welcomed the audience and  clearly explained the impetus of the Dream Foundation. And, as if by magic,  the dance began.

The Martinican Biguigne Haute was the first piece of  several choreographed by a son of the soil - choreographer Christian Gernet.

The Martinican Biguigne Haute was the first piece of several choreographed by a son of Martinique – choreographer Christian Gernet.

The first  piece certainly set the tempo for this sensational performance.  The traditional Biguigne Haute from Martinique filled the space with energy and vibrancy.  It was hard not to mark time with my feet as the dancers swirled around to  the sexy beat.

Then came the three guys  of BFree who showed us what strength and agility is all about in their contemporary hip-hop/break-dance selection.  Talk about athletic prowess and rhythmical gymnastics – need I say any more?  Those young men were fantastic!Unfortunately, my camera could not capture their bold moves in black outfits, but I can assure you their performance was awe-inspiring!

Then Leslassa and Ghandi Robin  of BFree came out to show us their (and M. Gernet’s) interpretation of Enfants de la Rue. Flowing movements, strong poses

The innocence of being cildren at play was easily captured by Leslassa and Ghandi.

The innocence of being children at play was easily captured by Leslassa and Ghandi.

Leslassa presents a peaceful childhood moment in repose in Sorento: Enfants de la Rue: A return to Innocence.

Leslassa presented a peaceful childhood moment in repose in Sorento: Enfants de la Rue: A return to Innocence.

Leslassa and Ghandi express a playful pose in 'Enfants de la rue'.

Leslassa and Ghandi expressed a playful pose in ‘Sorento: Enfants de la rue’.

both individually and as a couple and some static postures captivated the audience.

I enjoyed the energy of the Mazurka and the precision of Leslassa and her colleagues as they presented this folkloric dance of Polish origin. I could see how it resembles the more commonly known polka.  They were moving so quickly I couldn’t get a proper shot!

Then came Ghandi again with a hip-hop/break-dance piece inspired by Martinique’s BBoy veterans.  It is a shame that I could not photograph his powerfully impressive moves.  Well, it is too bad for you.  As for me, I couldn’t have taken my eyes off him anyway!

Leslassa demonstrates teh challenge of being in balance with her own strength in 'Promenade'.

Leslassa demonstrated the challenge of being in balance with her own strength in ‘Promenade’.

When Leslassa performed a modern piece called ‘Promenade’, her interpretation of the challenge to be “in balance” with her own strength was clearly evident.

Leslassa's introsepctive pose in 'Promenade' also demonstrates her strength and flexibility and her innate ability to express the idea behind the dance.

Leslassa’s introspective pose in ‘Promenade’ also showed her strength, flexibility and an innate ability to express the idea behind the dance.

In 'Promenade', Leslassa gracefully presents some very strong poses.

In ‘Promenade’, Leslassa gracefully presented some very strong poses.

Her natural grace, flexibility and strength complemented each expressive pose.

This dance piece, entitled 'Caco' is called an amalgamation of light and love.

This dance piece, entitled ‘Caco’ is called” an amalgamation of light and love.”

While I did enjoy every  piece in the Dance Showcase, I was especially moved by Claire and Colette’s performance of ‘Caco’. In this modern dance, the symmetry of the moves and poses of the two dancers was spellbinding.

I loved teh mirro-like reflective movements of Claire and Colette in 'Caco'.

I loved the mirror-like reflective movements of Claire and Colette in ‘Caco’.

I felt again transported to a dream-like state and I meditated on their precise movements, which perfectly mirrored each other.

I was awakened from my surreal suspension by the playful ‘Folie Chaise‘, wherein the ladies Leslassa, Clair, Colette, Anne and Claudine engaged in a game of musical chairs.  It looked like so much fun that I wanted to play too!

Leslassa and her dance friends revelled in a game of musical chairs.

Leslassa and her dance friends reveled in a game of musical chairs.

Although the  entire programme was less than an hour, the audience was enthralled with the well performed selections.  As a finale, they were treated to a hot ‘Salsa Exhibition’ and actually invited to join in. Choreographer, Monsieur Christian Gernet directed the dance from front and center stage, as he instructed the dancers and participants en francais  as to which way they should turn next, while moving to the Latin beat.  Those on-stage in were certainly glowing along with the dancers when they finished this set!

Leslassa partners with M. Gernet in some fast and furious Latin moves.

Leslassa partners with M. Gernet in some fast and furious Latin moves.

Martinican chorepgrapher Christian Gernet leads the dancers and audience members in hot Salsa moves.

Martinican choreographer Christian Gernet leads the dancers and audience members in hot Salsa moves.

I waited for a short while afterwards to congratulate Leslassa on her  superb organization of this wonderful Showcase of Contemporary and Folkloric Dances, which was produced and performed at a very high standard. The hours of preparation, rehearsal and dedication of all the participants was not lost on me.

Then I left the Anchorage Hotel on a  high note, knowing that the proceeds from this exceptional evening would be helping other young students to realize their dreams.

The audience also got carried away with the spirit of the Salsa dance.

Audience  members also got carried away with the spirit of the Salsa dance.

Thank you Leslassa for this gift to help  holistic education on the Nature Isle.  I hope you’ll do another event like this one very soon.  You certainly know how to make many people smile. : )

*And with extra appreciation to you, Miss Dominica 2013 for taking time from your busy schedule to  review this piece so promptly before publication. Best wishes for your continued success in whatever you do!


Splendour, Creativity and Pageantry: Dominica’s Carnival Tuesday Costume Parade 2013

Dominica’s Carnival Tuesday Parade 2013 was, without a doubt, spectacular.  Brilliant costumes, organized bands of all ages, sensational stiltwalkers (bwa bwa), flag wavers and hundreds of people  in disguise: playing mas.  It was a sight to behold.  Two  visiting friends   from Canada (Jean and Pam) were completely spell-bound by this feast of creativity and pageantry. Joy and merriment overflowed in the streets of Roseau.  It was definitely a supremely festive occasion.

Here –  you can see for yourself!

The delightful Flag Wavers opened the parade, just ahead of the Carnival Queen and Calypso King.

The delightful Flag Wavers opened the parade, just ahead of the Carnival Queen and Calypso King.

Vibrant Miss Dominica Leslassa Armour Shillingford exudes a queenly demeanor in her traditional costume.

Vibrant Miss Dominica Leslassa Armour-Shillingford exudes a queenly demeanor in her traditional costume.  Other contestants’ costumes can be viewed here.

Dominica's King and Queen easily captured everyone's attention.

Dominica’s King and Queen easily captured everyone’s attention.

Calypso Monarch Dennison 'Dice" Joseph is a force to cotend with as a six-time champion.

Calypso Monarch Dennison ‘Dice” Joseph is a force to contend with as a six-time champion.

The popular band called FANATIK provided the music on the road for the groups near the start of the parade.  The incomparable Cornell 'Fingers' Phillip (right) is in teh keyboards.

The popular band called FANATIK provided the music on the road for the groups near the start of the parade. The incomparable Cornell ‘Fingers’ Phillip (right) is on the keyboards.

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Lovely Little Carnival Princess.

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Miss Teen Dominica Kaymaya Bertrand has a smile as brilliant as her costume!

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Even the Dominica State College had its own pageant!

Amidst the bold colours, a band adorned in white outfits and balloons provided a serene contrast within the gaiety around it.

Amidst the bold colours, a band adorned in white outfits and balloons provided a serene contrast within the gaiety that surrounded  it.

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The stiltwalkers (bwa bwa) were greeted by onlookers with awe and amazement.

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Some of the stiltwalkers become proficient at an early age!

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You can see why Carnival Corner won the 'King of the Band' award.

You can see why Carnival Corner won the ‘King of the Band’ award.

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The Kalinago indigenous people formed a segment of the Thunderbirds “Viva South America’ band.

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The 'Thunderbirds' won the Band of the Year Award with their 'Viva South America' theme.

The ‘Thunderbirds’ won the Band of the Year Award with their ‘Viva South America’ theme.

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This was my favourite Thunderbirds Costume. I expect it was very hot! Hats off to the ladies who represented this aspect of South American culture!

Yu never know who will be 'playing mas on de road'.  Guess who?

You never know who you might meet ‘playing mas on de road’. Guess who?

My Carnival Tuesday Grand Finale - a photo op with Carnival Queen Leslassa as she pauses for about a thousand (!) pictures on her 2nd lap ofthe parade route!

My Carnival Tuesday Grand Finale – a photo op with Carnival Queen Leslassa Armour-Shillingford as she pauses for about a thousand (!) pictures on her 2nd lap of the parade route! Photo taken by Cecily Lees.

Natural Beauties: the Gorgeous Ladies of the Miss Dominica 2013 Pageant in Costumes and Gowns

Dominica's Carnival Queen 2013 Leslassa Armour Shillingford models her beautiful evening gown during the Miss Dominica pageant on Feb. 8, 2013.

Dominica’s Carnival Queen 2013 Leslassa Armour Shillingford models her beautiful evening gown during the Miss Dominica pageant on Feb. 8, 2013.

In Dominica, another Carnival and its annual Queen Show have come and gone.  By now, the results of the Miss Dominica pageant are old news.  Nevertheless, I am posting some of my photos of evening gowns worn by contestants during the show, as well as their traditional costumes, which could be more clearly photographed on the streets of Roseau during the Carnival Tuesday Costume Parade.

It was challenging to take photos on the evening of the Queen Show, as it was very rainy and the lighting on stage was less than desirable for clear photos, at least on my camera.  However, the show was entertaining and spectacular.  Seven beautiful young ladies vied for the hotly contested crown.  They all did a splendid job and I commend them for their hard work and tremendous efforts in preparing for this very popular show.

Heartfelt congratulations are extended to  our new ‘Queen’,  the very lovely Leslassa Armour Shillingford, who captured the crown with her consistent

Miss Dominica 2013 Leslassa Armour Shillingford displays her winning traditional costume in Carnival Tuesday's Street Parade.

Miss Dominica 2013 Leslassa Armour Shillingford displays her winning traditional costume in Carnival Tuesday’s Street Parade. It was designed by her aunt, Carla Armour and former high school classmate Amala Sorhaindo. It was called ‘Spirit of Real Mas’.  She dedicated this unique creation to the memory of the three men who lost their lives in the 1963 Carnival fire.

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Miss Dominica Leslassa Armour Shillingford is very poised and graceful in her attractive gown.  She also won awards for Best Talent, Best Swimwear and Best-in-Swimwear.

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Miss Dominica Leslassa Armour Shillingford was most gracious in permitting the enthusiastic crowd to take hundreds (probably thousands!) of pictures of her at the Carnival Tuesday Costume Parade.

performances throughout the evening.  She was sponsored by the Anchorage Hotel, Whale Watch and Dive Centreand Auto Trade Limited.  I was delighted with her win, as I had already predicted it in my review of the Carnival Opening Parade, which you can refer to here.  I think she will represent Dominica very well at regional competitions and other international events.  I’ll keep you posted and tell you more about her in due course

As the pictures do speak for themselves, I will include minimal text in the captions and will refrain from other commentary in this post. I hope you will appreciate the plethora of natural beauties on the Nature Isle!  Many thanks to the Dominica Festivals Committee for providing me with a media pass for the Miss Dominica pageant.

Kelshia Breezie was first runner up.  She also won the awards for Miss Amity and Best-in-Costume.

Kelshia Breezie was first runner-up. She also won the awards for Miss Amity and Best-in-Costume.

Kelshia Breezie's Costume was entitled "Breath of Fresh Air'.  She is seen here on the stage behind the TV cmaera crews.  Her outfit actually showed up well on the dark stage!

Kelshia Breezie’s costume really did resemble the wings of a hummingbird. She is seen here on the stage behind the TV camera crews. Her outfit actually showed up well on the dark stage!

Nikisha Philbert won the Best Response to a Question Award

Nikisha Philbert won the Best Response to a Question Award.  She says that she supports geo-thermal energy as long as proper procedures are followed.

Jeanne Royer's costume also showed well on the dark stage.

Jeanne Royer’s costume also showed well on the dark stage.  Unfortunately I did not get a shot of her evening gown. She was the first contestant on the stage and the insufficient lighting unfortunately posed a huge problem.

Jeanne Royer won the Miss Photogenic Award.

Jeanne Royer won the Miss Photogenic Award.

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Daina Matthew was second runner-up. She won the awards for best evening gown and best-in-evening gown.

Daina Matthew was second runner up.  Her traditional costume is entitled 'Carnival Ball'!

Daina Matthew’s traditional costume was entitled ‘Carnival Ball’!

Kelshia Breezie's traditional costume certainly was 'A Breath of Fresh Air'!

Kelshia Breezie’s traditional costume certainly was ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’ on the streets of Roseau!

Melindaa Ulysses looks lovely in her blue gown.  I just love the clour and design of it!

Melinda Ulysses looked elegant in her blue gown. I just love the colour and design of it!

Fatima Noel is striking in her shimmering gown!

Fatima Noel was striking in her shimmering gown!

Nikisha Philbert's volcano-themed costume represents the geo-thermal energy potential that is abundant around her village of Laudat. It was designed by Dominican cultural guru Alwin Bully.

Nikisha Philbert’s volcano-themed costume represented the geo-thermal energy potential that is abundant around her village of Laudat. It was designed by Dominican cultural guru Alwin Bully.

Fatima Noel's costume is reflective of the pan tropical dolphins that ply the waters around Dominica.

Fatima Noel’s costume was  reflective of the pan tropical dolphins that ply the waters around Dominica.