Dominica and Fort Shirley

Feb 23, 2020 - Sea Cloud


We motored into the newly refurbished dock at Prince Rupert Bay in Dominica shortly after 7 a.m. Dominica was named for the Lord’s Day by Columbus, who saw it first on a Sunday and christened it “Dominica.” We boarded minivans en route to our destination of Morne Diabolotin, the “Devil’s Mountain,” passing through the town of Portsmouth. As it was Sunday morning, most of the town’s citizens were at church.

The hour’s drive up to the heights of Morne Diabolotin—the tallest mountain on the island and second tallest in the Antilles at 4,775 feet—was wondrous. We entered the rainforest in three groups. The island in its wettest parts receives over 300 inches of rain a year. Today, however, it was sunny and dry.

In the time before Hurricane Maria, we would have been in a dark, cool rainforest. However, now because of the extensive damage to the vegetation caused by 200-mile-per-hour winds, the sun penetrated the canopy all the way to the forest floor. Despite the savagery of the hurricane, nature has recovered and we saw a wonderful variety of plants. We also saw an enormous number of trees, called by their Creole names: the massive gommier tree, the kwe kwe wouge (the "red" kwe kwe), the bwa bande (the hard wood), the blan pistole (the white pistol tree), the bwa kaka (the “poop” tree), and the zel mouche (the fly’s wings).

Flowers were everywhere: hibiscus, anthurium, orchids, poinsettias, croton, morning glory as well as mangoes, papayas, bananas, oranges, grapefruits, avocados, coffee, and coco trees. We saw bullfinches and purple-throated Caribbean hummingbirds, and my group heard parrots, but the chicken hawks (kuku manioc) flying about kept them from venturing out.

After a scrumptious lunch, we visited the 18th-century British fort, Fort Shirley. I gave a brief overview of Cabritz point and of Fort Shirley. The massive fort, built entirely by local slaves, was begun in 1774 and finally completed by 1820. It spreads across most of the 200 acres of the Cabrits’ headland, and its canons could sweep the entire area in front of the town of Portsmouth— but it never saw action. The Fort was abandoned in 1852 and lay derelict within the jungle until a good friend of mine, Dr. Lennox Honeychurch, a native of Dominica, undertook restoration in 1982. Lennox is still working on the restoration and has accomplished miracles.

After our visit most of us took advantage of the excellent snorkeling directly from the pier. An abundance of fish, too numerous to name, were everywhere.

We cast off at 6 p.m. and settled just off the Cabritz headland for a fabulous dinner served al fresco on the Lido Deck.

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About the Author

Tom Heffernan

Historian

Tom, a native of New York City, who has had a life-long passion for travel and exploration, is the Kenneth Curry Professor of Humanities at the University of Tennessee and the founding Director of the university’s Humanities Center. His areas of interest are anthropology of religions and historical linguistics.

About the Photographer

Alex Krowiak

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

A childhood surrounded by the woods and streams of Pennsylvania initially sparked Alex’s curiosity about nature. That curiosity eventually led him to pursue degrees in biology and environmental studies at Boston College. During his time there he conducted research on carnivorous plants in Iceland and kelp forests in South Africa. Together these diverse experiences provided him with the background and passion to become a teacher. 

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