It all started with a boat, as it often does in Hank Schmitt’s world. Each fall Schmitt leads the North American Rally to the Caribbean, or NARC Rally, from Newport, Rhode Island, to St. Maarten, and then spends the better part of the winter kicking around the tropics rather than shoveling snow at his home on Long Island. Smart guy.
One of his haunts as he travels to and from the Windward Islands is Dominica. Though it lacks the white-sand beaches (and therefore the number of visitors) of most other Caribbean islands, Dominica is blessed with soaring mountains, lush greenery and delightful locals, including the island’s boat boys. Several years ago, they founded the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services to improve security in Prince Rupert’s Bay, the anchorage at the north end of the island, and to cater to the needs of any sailors who might stop to drop a hook.
The first boat boy Schmitt met was Albert Lawrence, a father of three, who worked the anchorage during the tourist season in a rickety old boat, which he then took offshore to fish the rest of the year. Over the course of a few visits, the two men got to know each other better, and finally four years ago, Schmitt, a former offshore oil worker and fisherman himself, decided it was time to do something about Lawrence’s craft.
Schmitt’s real job these days is running Offshore Passage Opportunities, which matches aspiring crewmembers with delivery skippers and boat owners. It was to the OPO membership that he turned for donations, and raised $6,000 to buy fiberglass and resin to ship to Dominica. What was supposed to be a one-year boatbuilding project turned into two, says Schmitt, but eventually island inertia was overcome, and Lawrence’s new skiff was launched.
Then two years ago, Schmitt stopped by Dominica on his way to St. Maarten from St. Lucia, where he’d just completed the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers. Addressing the lack of a mooring where you could leave your boat for a day or longer to explore ashore struck him as an opportunity to help out not only Lawrence, but the island as a whole.
Schmitt shook the OPO tree again, and this time thousands in donations rained down. The goal was to install 50 moorings in time for the 2016 season. In all, 43 members “bought” a mooring for $375, which entitles them to lifetime use any time they visit the bay, along with a name on a plaque at the PAYS Pavilion in Portsmouth. Additional donations brought the total to $21,975, which covered the shipping of line, mooring balls, shackles, etc., to Dominica.
Each 2,500-pound mooring is made on the beach, where rebar is installed in a wooden frame, and then a concrete block is poured. A payloader drags the block to the water’s edge, where it’s suspended under a wooden barge that was built to float the moorings out into the harbor. Once in place, a pin is released, and the block — with line, float and pendant attached — sinks to the bottom.
The Caribbean being the Caribbean, only some of the moorings were installed by winter 2016. Still, PAYS organized the first Yachtie Appreciation Week (Schmitt’s impromptu name, which no one bothered to change) in early February, and the party was on.
This year, says Schmitt, the rest of the moorings are in, and more to the point, Yachtie Appreciation Week II cranked up in February. During the celebration, PAYS waived the usual $10-per-night tie-up fee. This year, big parties were held ashore at the PAYS Pavilion. Then on Saturday, the government hosted a final bash at the restored fort overlooking the bay.
Ever the doer, Schmitt is talking about new fundraisers and other islands that could benefit from having moorings installed. Cuba is a thought, but there are lots of possible venues throughout the Caribbean.
“If you have good moorings, people come and spend money, and the whole town does better,” says Schmitt.