Sixteen years in the past, Hubert Winston was standing on a seashore in Dominica’s Prince Rupert Bay, watching a string of yachts sail by within the distance. “It regarded like a flotilla,” recollects Winston, who had simply moved again to the island from Florida.
“They have been touring between Martinique and Guadeloupe, however not one in all them ever stopped right here. I didn’t perceive that. We had a lot to supply.”
With no marinas or worldwide airport, the plush, mountainous island represented an enormous X on superyacht charts. Captains have been reluctant to enterprise to Dominica in case they’d engine issues or couldn’t discover a first rate anchorage. They’d somewhat go to its French neighbors, with loads of marinas, than gamble with the unknown, alluring because the inexperienced island regarded from the gap.
Even now Dominica stays a tightly held secret amongst superyacht house owners. It seems that the crews—usually younger, stressed and adventurous—began going to the island for R&R, then knowledgeable their house owners about what an unspoiled paradise it’s. Nicknamed the “Nature Island,” it provides a pure bounty of mountain terrain, rainforests, dormant volcanoes and coastal reefs that’s unparalleled within the Caribbean. The locals present the identical genuine welcome—a bit cautious however unmistakable—I skilled on different islands 30 years in the past, earlier than it evaporated with trendy growth and stock-market booms. No condominium commandos have invaded Dominica, due to its relative inaccessibility.
That aura of untouched remoteness has confirmed to be a siren track for superyachts, which usually collect in Prince Rupert Bay and smaller, extra intimate anchorages, the place the one different vessels are a number of sailboats and the native fishing fleet, with its brightly coloured picket hulls.
Named by Christopher Columbus, who first sighted it on his second voyage to the hemisphere, in 1493, Dominica was colonized by the French after which traded backwards and forwards between France and England throughout the 18th century. Gallic vestiges endure, although the few fortresses on the water have been constructed by the British to repel French assaults. The nation gained full independence from the UK in 1978. Prized for its bananas, grapefruit and oranges, it has in any other case remained a largely unspoiled Eden. “Rustic attraction,” cliché because it sounds, describes the island completely. Waterfront cafés with names like Keepin’ it Actual and Cocoyea serve seafood caught from close by bays and just-picked tropical-fruit juices. Scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean have been filmed throughout the island due to its unsullied magnificence.
Dominica “is for a sure type of shopper who likes to expertise nature up shut and private,” says Gina Robertson, a constitution dealer with Fraser Yachts, ticking off journey experiences that embrace canyoning, kayaking and mountaineering nature trails. In Dominica’s favor: It’s not the identical outdated usual. “These days, charterers don’t wish to do exactly the milk runs, and plenty of are on prolonged charters, so can have extra time to discover islands in depth.”
Andrew “Cobra” O’Brien was one of many pioneers who launched Dominica to the superyacht neighborhood. To compete with different islands, which have bustling marinas offering all method of conveniences, he based Cobra Excursions & Yacht Companies, providing gas, provisions and mechanic providers, in addition to customs clearance and personal excursions of the island. Cobra Excursions was instrumental in opening up Dominica by demonstrating that, even with out a marina, seafarers could be properly cared for. “We used to go to yacht reveals in Monaco and Ft. Lauderdale to unfold the phrase about what an important vacation spot Dominica is,” he says. His agency joined skilled teams, together with the Worldwide Superyacht Society, to assist bolster the island’s repute amongst constitution brokers. “Final season was the perfect for superyachts we’d ever had. We serviced 30 or 40 of them.”
Usually, he provides, they arrive after having their fill of purchasing and upscale eating places on Antigua or St. Barts. “Now 95 p.c of the yachts don’t simply hit upon Dominica,” O’Brien says. “It’s a vacation spot.”
A number of different corporations that provide visiting vessels have emerged, together with Winston’s Dominica Yacht Companies. Winston, who labored in Florida’s marine trade, amongst different issues, earlier than returning to his homeland, noticed an untapped market. “There was a disconnect again then, however we acquired the phrase out to the yachting world,” he says. “We modified the entire notion of getting caught in Dominica.”
The island has since attracted the late Paul Allen’s 414-foot Octopus, Nat Rothschild’s Planet 9, Andrey Melnichenko’s 390-foot Motor Yacht A and the late Steve Jobs’s Venus, amongst others. Invoice Gates, Robert De Niro and Edward Norton have been noticed on superyacht tenders in Prince Rupert Bay. 5-star resorts, together with Secret Bay and Cabrits Resort & Spa, with a pier on Douglas Bay, have welcomed yacht house owners to their bars and eating places.
Pre-Covid, in fact. The principles have modified, with a damaging PCR check required 24 to 72 hours earlier than arrival; a customer additionally takes a fast check upon arrival, and it should be damaging to enter. Then the customer should quarantine at a government-designated spot and take yet one more check on day 5. If the outcomes are damaging, one is free to go anyplace. For house owners or constitution friends with time constraints, sitting on the yacht for six days is a non-starter, particularly with that gorgeous however untouchable backdrop. However in Dominica, the notion of quarantine isn’t fairly so inflexible as elsewhere. The authorities have arrange the “Protected in Nature” program, wherein guests might keep at among the island’s most unique resorts and see the permitted sights (the perfect on the island) with a non-public, Covid-certified information. Not each resort permits friends off-property, however the two the place I stayed—Secret Bay Resort on the north finish and Jungle Bay Resort & Spa on the south—do. I used to be not solely capable of transfer comparatively freely across the island but additionally to switch between the 2 resorts over the six days.
Covid or not, Dominica stays largely undiscovered in comparison with the closely boated islands. With 260 sq. miles of hills and mountains, and nearly all of its inhabitants of 74,000 dwelling on the coast, many of the inside is rural or undeveloped. “All people has cruised the [British Virgin Islands],” says Winston. “We have now one thing completely different, one thing particular. Company simply fall in love with our serenity.”
For yachts, the motion is concentrated on the northern and southern ends. Bays on the north aspect of the island supply chic, light-blue water, wide-open anchorages and quick access to the city of Portsmouth by tender. The bays usually stay as much as their names. With its two seashores and reef coloured by tropical fish, Secret Bay actually is. Although it’s simply across the nook from the a lot busier Prince Rupert Bay, captains are inclined to keep away from it due to publicity to shifting winds, and as an alternative drop anchor on its edge and ship in tenders.
North of Prince Rupert Bay, the street follows a string of extra bays—Douglas, Toucari, Marceau and Connor—that make postcard-perfect anchorages, with inland locations like Chilly Sulphur Springs (a dormant volcano crater that emits caramel-colored, sulphur-infused water) and Chaudiere Pool, a 30-foot-deep pool beneath a waterfall, being among the many north’s pure wonders. 4-wheeling up slim mountain roads to Chaudiere, we move tiny farms with pineapples and coconuts. Round each nook there’s one other distinctive ocean view.
For a comparatively small island, Dominica has numerous terrain. The Indian River is like an Amazon tributary, with slow-moving brackish water and thick vegetation on the banks. I spend a number of hours with “Hearth,” a fiftysomething Rastafarian, rowing a hand-crafted purple, yellow and inexperienced picket boat upstream. Hearth recites the English, Creole and French names for just about each tree and flower we move. On the high, we cease at a plantation, an indication on the empty café studying: time stands nonetheless on the bush bar. That’s the sensation I’ve all week.
The variety of outsiders visiting Dominica is a sliver of what it could be throughout a traditional season, so I appear to have the river—and virtually every- factor else—to myself. At Secret Bay resort, with its give attention to privateness—there are simply 10 villas, all overlooking the ocean—I’ve a private-chef expertise with Fábio Fernandes. The resort’s govt chef is a Lisbon native who educated at a Michelin-star restaurant in Portugal and labored at award winners in Austria, Africa and the UK. He plans each day menus round me, as I dine alone on the open terrace of the Zing Zing Restaurant. Fernandes makes use of regionally sourced tuna and kingfish, to not point out farm-to-table greens, and elevates them many ranges, with inventive displays and fusions of unlikely substances. His signature Zero Miles Tuna, with sustainable substances, blends sushi-grade fish, shado beni emulsion, mango and ginger gels, and pumpkin puree.
The southern a part of the island is all concerning the water, even inland. Trafalgar Falls, Titou Gorge and Boiling Lake virtually beg to be photographed and shared, whereas the southwestern nook is likely one of the world’s highest-ranked dive and snorkeling websites. The realm south of Champagne Seaside all the way down to the protected arm of land at Scott’s Head is a part of the Soufrière–Scott’s Head Marine Reserve, so yachts should anchor north in L’Anse Bateau. Guests even have to rent native guides for diving and snorkeling. The reserve is generally a haven for reef fish, however pods of dolphins and even sperm whales are occasional guests.
“With good circumstances, visibility is 80 ft beneath the floor,” says Weefers Jules, my information from Jungle Bay resort, who has been a Dominica dive grasp for 20 years. With a entrance having simply handed by means of, the normally clear waters of Champagne Reef—so named as a result of the volcanic gases venting by means of fissures kind bubbles—are muddied, so we kayak to L’abym, or the Abyss, beneath Witch’s Level, the place the shoreline reef transitions right into a vertical wall that drops 1,000 ft. The water is cool, and wind gusts are pushing us offshore a bit, however the fins propel me by means of the reef. Faculties of sergeant majors, physician fish, angelfish and noticed moray eels swim round us, whereas a number of stingrays flee into the deep. 100 yards away, a bunch is free-diving.
With hundreds of dives beneath his belt, Jules says he by no means tires of the marine life in Soufrière Bay, the island’s dividing line between the calm Caribbean Sea and the a lot fiercer Atlantic. Inside a comparatively small house, the Soufrière reserve—an UNESCO World Heritage Web site—provides a half-dozen world-class dives, comparable to Scott’s Head Pinnacle, starting with a rock formation referred to as Swiss Cheese, and resulting in a volcanic crater that drops so far as 2,000 ft on the middle. “There are a whole bunch of soldier fish on the entrance,” he says. “Once you flip sideways, there are lobsters and eels within the partitions’ cracks.” On the northern fringe of the Soufrière crater, 5 underwater peaks referred to as Dangleben’s Pinnacles host loads of reef fish and likewise supply glimpses of turtles and horse-eye jacks.
The Atlantic aspect of Dominica has but extra dive websites, together with the spectacular Mountain Prime, and the northern finish of the island has almost a dozen others, together with one, referred to as Elephant’s Ass, so secluded that almost all locals don’t even learn about it. There are additionally alternatives to swim with sperm whales. Due to Covid-related cancellations, the almost three-year look ahead to the expertise could be nearer to a couple weeks.
After snorkeling, I return to Jungle Bay, my dwelling on the southern finish of the island. It’s an eco-resort with personal villas constructed of native wooden and stone, two yoga studios, a restaurant overlooking the water and a Zen-like spa. Nature trails, banana crops and stone partitions, plus a big Buddha, outline the resort. Like Secret Bay, it’s an ocean sanctuary.
That feeling of sanctuary, with a heightened sense of exclusivity, is finally what attracts superyacht house owners to Dominica. And why they’re not telling their pals.