It had been a few years since I picked nutmeg, and cocoa beans in the lush tropical forests of the West Indies. I had forgotten what an evening of spiced rhum under the bright stars was like, after having spent the day spearfishing for lobster. I had these expectations when I flew to Dominica.
Dominica, (no, not the Dominican Republic) is a small, magical island tucked away between the overwhelmingly popular destinations Martinique and Guadeloupe. The indigenous inhabitants named it Wai’tu Kubuli, which means “tall is her body”. That name is quite suiting since Dominica boasts vast mountainous rainforests with peaks reaching almost 1,500 meters tall. I thought I had seen wild, lush tropical rainforests on other islands in the Lesser Antilles, but Dominica, appropriately named the “Nature Island”, did not disappoint.
Just nine months after Category 5 Hurricane Maria devastated large portions of the island, Dominica was as beautiful in my eyes as any other island I had seen. The evidence of this powerful storm was obvious as entire trees were uprooted, boulders the size of homes strewn across roads and reefs showing signs of damage and collapse. Yet, in just a few months both the resolve of the Dominicans and the nature itself had restored its beauty, and I can only imagine how it will look nine months from now.
The view of Soufrière Village, Dominica from Blue Element's platform. Pristine blue waters tucked away behind vast green mountains. Photo by Sea to Sky Freediving.
The freediving in Dominica
And the freediving?
Like most of the Lower Caribbean Islands, the western side is the most suitable spot for diving. The south-west side of Dominica is nothing but spectacular. In fact, it redefines what you consider “good diving conditions”. I am of course used to diving in the frigid, murky waters of the Canadian Pacific Northwest, where I learned to freedive.
When I showed up in Soufrière (a 30-minute drive south of the capital Roseau) my jaw dropped, I could not believe how calm and clear the Soufrière Bay was. In a 30 second swim from the shore; a deep, clear, blue abyss down to 60m awaits divers in pristine waters with no current and usually no surface waves. Less than a 3-minute swim out and you have a drop of over 150 meters.
It’s almost hard to imagine how this Bay is so calm, when the Atlantic winds are ripping through Scott’s Head, just a 10-minute drive south from Soufrière. On the north side of the Bay, by “The Pinnacles”, you can stand on a boulder with your head above the water and look down at a marvelous vertical wall. You’ll see coral and marine life that extends to 70 meters, and likely beyond.
Canadian record-holder Sheena McNally enjoying a leisure dive in Champagne Reef after a long day of training. Photo by Sea to Sky Freediving.
Becoming an AIDA instructor
It was here that I met up with Jonathan Sunnex and his team at Blue Element Freediving to do my AIDA 4 and AIDA Instructor Courses. Johnny, Jimmy, Jon and Sofia, were just fabulous and inspiring people to be around, and not just for the freediving, but even for just kicking back a few too many midnight ti-ponch (look it up it will change your relationship with rhum).
I learned a great deal on freediving, from a technical, but also a philosophical perspective; lessons I will pass on to my students in the future. After almost three weeks of intensive course material, I finished my time in Dominica with spearfishing for lionfish at Scott’s Head, arguably some of the most beautiful reef I have seen in my life and of course the usual evening in the sulphur hot springs.
I can’t wait for the moment to return to Dominica, hopefully for this November’s depth competition, and maybe, with some luck this time I’ll have an encounter with a sperm whale, a frequent visitor at the “Nature Island”. Check out www.dominica.dm for more info on this magical island and reach out to www.jonathansunnex.com for more info about this fall’s upcoming Blue Element 2018 competition.
The beach at Soufrière Village, Dominica. From here, a short swim brings you out to the platform where over 160m of depth is easily accessible. Photo by Sea to Sky Freediving.