Sea Cat’s Excellent Advice
A boat boy from Dominica helps cruisers leave a good impression with the people of his country. "Sailor Profile" from our July 2012 issue.
His name is Octavius Lugay, but like other boat boys and yacht helpers who assist sailors with moorings, diesel, ice, and tours on the Caribbean island of Dominica, he goes by a rather dashing nickname: Sea Cat.
Harriet, my wife, and I first met Sea Cat a few years ago when we sailed Hands Across the Sea, our Dolphin 460 catamaran, to Dominica, the most southerly of the Leeward Islands of the West Indies and not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, which is next door to Haiti on the island of Hispaniola, farther to the north. We’d read in a Lonely Planet guide about Dominica, billed as the “Nature Island” of the Caribbean, and we were intrigued. Mountainous and lush Dominica boasts 365 rivers, rain forest and waterfalls, banana groves, mango trees, and exotic tropical plants. Best of all—uncommon in today’s resort-packed eastern Caribbean—Dominica is mostly as undeveloped as when Columbus discovered it for Europeans on his voyage of 1493.
So it was preordained, when we picked up one of Sea Cat’s moorings close to Roseau, the island’s scruffy capital city, that Sea Cat, one of the island’s best guides, would take us on rain-forest treks, up rivers to wild waterfalls, and across the island for pumpkin stew with Moses, a back-to-nature Rastafarian. But it was while driving home to the boat with Sea Cat after the seven-hour hike to Boiling Lake, a 230-foot-diameter flooded fumarole that churns with volcanic gases, like a giant cauldron on the boil, that our real adventure in Dominica began in earnest.
Back in 2007, Harriet and I had sold our home in Massachusetts and launched into full-time cruising, with a twist: We’d established a nonprofit charity organization, Hands Across the Sea Inc., with the intention of lending a hand to local folks wherever we cruised. A nice idea, sure, but how exactly would we help? Harriet, a former schoolteacher, thought that we might be able to assist local schools in some way. The Commonwealth of Dominica, while proudly independent, doesn’t enjoy the influx of money that other Caribbean nations receive from their mother countries. Thus many of Dominica’s schools lack resources.
“Sea Cat, do you know of a school we could do something for?” Harriet asked, as the tires of Sea Cat’s passenger bus squealed on another turn of Dominica’s steep, winding mountain roads.
“Yah, mon! Take you to my school as a young boy,” Sea Cat shouted over the roar of the bus engine, downshifting into the next hairpin. “Could use some help, mon.”
Sea Cat dropped us off at the school, and he was right. Newtown Primary School, perched above a fishing village a quarter of a mile from our moored boat, needed help. The classrooms and student desks were in sad shape, the schoolbooks were sparse and tattered, and the school had no library or sports equipment. Even basic resources, such as pencils, paper, and chalk, were in short supply.
The crew of Hands Across the Sea sailed Caribbean waters to reach the island of Dominica and there help out Newtown Primary School. Photo: Tom Linskey
But the school’s principal was somehow upbeat, the teachers were making do, just, and the kids were like kids everywhere: bright-eyed and bursting with energy and endless questions. We secured a wish-list of items from the principal and promised to stay in touch via email.
We sailed away the next day, heading north up the Leewards and eventually back to the United States to spend the hurricane season in Newport, Rhode Island. Over the summer, we collected gently used children’s reading books and solicited donations for teaching supplies, including French books and an electric school bell. By diving in and doing it, we’d discovered how we could help.
By the fall of 2008, we’d packed and shipped the boxes of books and classroom materials to Dominica. Then we sailed down to the Caribbean and to Dominica again. Securing our lines to the same mooring ball that we’d left six months earlier, Sea Cat looked surprised. “You came back!” he said.