Dominica and Îles des Saintes on the Big Big

March 24, 2021

Reading time: 15 minutes

Back on board we stow the dinghy, with some stress as the winch comes apart and we can’t repair it. It’s starting to look like our easy remaining sailing days may not be that easy after all…

In our last blog, we found ourselves in Dominica. We’d just completed our first border crossing, from Guadeloupe, and gone straight into an exciting tour of Indian River. All of this takes place days after Ailsa’s mum passed away, thousands of miles away.

Dominica certainly managed to distract us…

Day 3 – exploring Dominica

We’re up at our 7:15 alarm and expecting to be picked up by Cobra at 8 am. Instead, we have a message saying it will be 9 am, so we get a leisurely start and lie in bed checking messages.  After breakfast of a baguette, butter and guava jam we gather our bags and get picked up at 9:15. We’re with the same group as yesterday, two French couples who are both cabin-chartering on an incredible 62ft Lagoon from Dream Yacht.

Milton Falls

We drive up towards the big mountain and take a hike to Milton (or Syndicate) Falls, crossing the river back and forth. The falls are amazing and it’s lovely that they’re deserted. The ones in Guadeloupe were typically very busy. Some of the group swim in the rolling water. We’re prepared but not in the mood, so I laze on a rock and explore while Colin flies the drone before the walk back. On the drive back through plantation land our driver Sam stops the car repeatedly. He gathers fig bananas, mangos, star fruit, grapefruit and citronella bay leaves for us. My bag is bursting with fruit!

Calabishie and beyond

Most of the rest of the day is spent driving around the north of the island, with amazing scenery. We eat a good lunch of fried mahi-mahi in Calabishie, then visit the amazing Red Rocks and Pointe Baptiste, a nearby cocoa factory.

Through the afternoon we take a long sleepy drive down as far as the Pagua River. Sam then takes us up along horseback ridge and around the very top of the island before coming back to the west coast. There’s one further stop to see cold bubbling sulphur springs as the light fades.


It’s close to 7 pm when we get back to Portsmouth. Before we can pay we need to obtain cash, so Sam drives us to the ATM. Finally, after a very long day, we get a dinghy ride back to the boat.

Lazy deck dinner

We’re too tired to go ashore to eat. We’re not even that hungry, so after a quick tidy up and shower, we eat a nibble plate of bread, cheese, tapenade and saucisson on deck. It’s so calm that we know there’s fish or something else sploshing around us and we catch a couple of glimpses of more flying fish. We go to bed around 10:30 knowing we’ll have to have another early start. 

Day 4 – Leaving Dominica

Our alarm is set for 7 am and we’re awake before it. We laze reading social media then suncream up and head into town. Unfortunately at 8:30 we’re too early to buy roti for lunch. We get cash (yet again). In the supermarket, we find salt and a bottle of my beloved Ting soda, as well as some peanut punch. Two bakeries provide subs and sweet buns, and at the fish market we buy mahi-mahi. We choose the whole fish and it’s filleted as we watch. We’re amused to be asked if we want the head (we don’t).

Fort Shirley

After dropping everything at the boat and eating some breakfast we dinghy over to PAYS where I pay our mooring fee and drop off garbage. Then we go across to the cruise terminal dock and tie up. There’s a small group of divers nearby, and we’re given strict warnings to keep our distance from a dive instructor. As if we were going to do anything else…

We buy a national park pass and walk up to Fort Shirley, which seems appropriate as that was Ailsa’s mother’s name. The Fort is attractive but not that impressive or exciting. Frustratingly, any amazing photos are ruined by members of a large group of posh British teenagers. They have somehow draped themselves over any wall or viewpoint to sunbathe and stare at their phones. The museum is undergoing maintenance, so there’s nothing to see there either. 

Back on board we stow the dinghy, with some stress as the winch comes apart and we can’t repair it. It’s starting to look like our easy remaining sailing days may not be that easy after all…

Day 4 – Dominica to Îles des Saintes

We use alternate winches and manage to raise the dinghy at least. We set off at 11:40, having been aiming for 11, but make the 22 nautical mile journey in pretty much exactly 4 hours. It’s on one tack, without even having to tack near the end as expected. We see more flying fish, fast becoming a calming familiar sight.

Le Bourges

Because we need to clear in we head straight to the main anchorage at Terre-de-Haut. We had intended to then motor back to the anchorage below Pain de Sucre. The main settlement is so pretty we decide we would rather just stay put. We get onto a ball on the third try which is a nice change. The ones here have big loops that can be reached more easily from deck, and we’re even quite close to the dinghy dock.

We’ve barely opened some crisps and beer when the officials come by to take our mooring fee. We finish our drinks and dinghy ashore then get somewhat lost trying to find the Internet cafe to clear in. I’m in a bad mood because I don’t feel my sailing skills are progressing, and the hunt for the cafe has been annoying. A beer as we clear in helps, and an ice cream even more. 

Back on board, Ailsa’s dad video calls and we chat as we watch the sunset. After bathing Colin makes dinner. The BBQ refuses to light quickly so we end up with an enormous portion of fried mahi-mahi with chips. Bedtime is the standard 22:30ish, even though we can have a lie-in the next day.

Day 5 – Exploring Iles des Saintes

We fail to lie in much and are both awake by 8:30. I’ve had a terrible sleep as I’ve just been too hot, even trying to sleep on deck wasn’t cool enough. It could be the lack of breeze, or it could be the strong punch, fizzy wine, and mountain of fish.

Terre de Haut by e-bike

After a breakfast of the sweet milk rolls from the Dominica bakery, we make up backpacks and dinghy ashore. We go straight to Green Car and hire two electric bikes for €50 total. We confirm that the shop closes between 12-3, so we have them for around 4 hours. That’s plenty of time to explore the whole island.

Without thinking about maps, we just drive down every new road, enjoying the electric assistance on the hills and freewheeling down. We see the rugged east coast, Fort Napoleon, and lots of sleepy residential areas. We stop for a swim at Anse le pain de Sucre, which involves a bit of a walk but it’s worth it to be refreshed. 

Lunch, on Island Time

By 1:45 pm we’re hungry and have seen everything so we head back to town and aim for lunch at a place with a sign for Bockit, a local lunch dish we haven’t tried yet. Unfortunately, it’s apparently too late, and we find that most places have closed their kitchens. We end up finding a place which will serve us (even though the sign says until 15:30 they start putting tables away at 14:15) and we make do with a croque monsieur. 

After returning the bikes we’re back on board to enjoy an afternoon of swimming (Colin snorkels, I don’t), lazing, calling dad, reading, hair washing and laundry on board by 15:30.

Sunset from our anchorage at Le Bourges

Au Bon Vivre

At a little past 7 pm, we head ashore and go to Au Bon Vivre. There are loads of restaurants to choose from but this one had a menu we’d seen that appealed and looked to have a nice rear courtyard, which it did. We have the surprise menu which is an amuse-bouche of some beetroot mousse, a foie gras starter and a local fish starter (like sardines but bigger and mild), a main of wahoo with plantains cooked in chestnut butter and a coconut veloute, and pudding of pineapple with coconut sorbet. It’s delicious, and perfect, though I’m very tired and hot.

When we get back to Shirley/Barbuda she’s rocking wildly in the swell, it’s going to be a bumpy night!

Day 6 – Iles des Saintes to Point a Pitre

Provisioning run

We’re out of bed by 9 am. Breakfast ashore is a quiche and croque monsieur. The cafe also sells salmon and avocado tartare to go which we buy for lunch.

Moored in les Saintes

After stowing the dinghy it’s a little after 11 when we set off. Frustratingly we can’t use the mainsail as a bracket for a baton has broken – what is it about us and sails? We’re not getting much from the foresail so we end up using the engine the whole way. Lunch underway was sandwiches made with the salmon tartare. Once again I’m having to keep a careful watch for fishing buoys.

Back at Dream Yacht

Successful first fuelling mission

We made it to the fuel dock on our own including tying on and fuelling up, just like a petrol station. There’s only one scary moment when Colin realises he’s slightly off course and has very little water below the keel. It’s our first time mooring alone, and in a busy marina pulling in a large yacht between two others is nerve-wracking. Vincent the charter manager is out to observe. At one point he shrugs lazily and says, in heavily accented English, “I think she is aground, no?” – we don’t think so but it adds to the pressure.

We’re quite surprised that a marina hand in a dinghy doesn’t do a little more either, but eventually Vincent takes the hint. He comes on board to take over and park, and we’re relieved that our little (alleged) beaching was damage-free.

The final tally for the week is 100 nautical miles. It’s been shockingly easy sailing, without a single tack. Being on a decent yacht has made most things stress-free and comfortable, with the one exception of being a little high to reach mooring balls. We’re feeling comfortable. and seasoned.

Au Revioir Big Big

Once we’re docked and our paperwork is done, we chat to Laurie at Dream Yacht for a while. It turns out she’s staying on board unchartered yachts while she’d between land accommodation, She’s been on the Mahe 36 catamaran we’d been keen to charter, so gives us a tour. We feel we definitely took the right option by sailing on the Big Big!

Epic platter at Le 9

After we shower we have a beer at Le Pirate Caribeen for a beer, then go back to pack. Dinner is at Le 9 again, with celebratory champagne. We get caught out by the good security when our pontoon fob won’t work and we have to shout for attention to be let in. We share a final Carib on deck before bed at 11pm.

The next morning, it’s farewell for good to the Big Big, but not to the marina.

Grande Terre

After our week on board, we enjoyed 4 final nights on land near Le Gosier in an AirBnB. We have a hire car again, so do some exploring, but we’re less impressed by this half of Guadeloupe and it’s constant traffic jams. We do enjoy paddle boarding for the first time, and wandering around Le Moule.

The highlight of the final few days is definitely getting to know Laurie. The day we disembark is the night she’s celebrating her birthday, and she invites us to join her. We spend a happy evening at the bars in the marina chatting to Laurie and her friends, and discovering how far our basic French can take us. We meet her again for drinks and lunch on other days, and she gives us a tour of the 62′ Lagoon when she moves on to it from the Mahe. A couple of months later Laurie visits in Edinburgh – finding an unexpected friendship was such a joy at an odd time.

Back to life

When we flew back to the UK, instead of going home to Edinburgh we dropped by our flat to grab some clothes, then went straight to Ailsa’s dad. The next day, we buried Ailsa’s mum in a beautiful natural burial site, with no service, no big floral arrangements and just a handful of family. Much like our wedding, where we eloped, we broke with tradition and we’re glad.

As her husband and children laid Shirley to rest, Leonard Cohen’s Anthem (her choice), played, and a ray of sunshine broke through the clouds. We had passed through stormy weather, and we were ready for the light.


Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in

Leonard Cohen, Anthem