By Jim Hutchinson
In 1978, Genevieve, one of three women sailing students, and her instructor sailed a small sloop from Ile d’Ouessant, mainland France’s westernmost island, to Brest, arriving around midnight, as dictated by the tide. They wandered the dock and, in the fishing boat section of the harbor, met Dominique and went aboard Lambic, his eight-metre sloop, for wine. The next day Genevieve returned. Just as well, Dominique was a shy man — competent and confident but shy. Thus begins the story of Dominique and Genevieve.
Dominique Weber came down to the sea from the rolling hills and vineyards of the Champagne region to join the French Navy at the age of 16. He was looking for education and opportunity and already knew that he liked the sea. He chose sailing over the war fleet and served aboard le grand voilier Français La Belle Poule, a grand topsail schooner.
Then he and a friend built Lambic, a steel sloop. That’s when he learned to weld.
Dominique and Genevieve made their departure from Brest, France, in 1981. They sailed via Spain, Portugal, Madeira, the Canaries, Mauritania and Senegal to the Cape Verde Islands. They lingered some months in the Cape Verdes then began their Atlantic crossing, prudently, in April.
I asked how the Atlantic crossing had been (“Very nice“) and what authentic cruising adventures she recalled. Not much: heaving to for rough weather in the Bay of Biscay (not unusual for the Bay of Biscay), and arriving off a strange and hazardous channel as night fell, and short-tacking in (many of us have such tales), which she characterized as “suspense.” “Dominique was a good sailor,” as might be expected of one trained in the French Navy, “calm and methodical,” Genevieve says. She tells of dismasting at night in later years while returning from Cumaná, Venezuela. They built a jury-rig, made a sail to fit and sailed on.
Their May ’82 arrival at Martinique had been in classic cruising style: they were short on money. So they fixed and cleaned returning bareboats for a charter company until its annual September shutdown, then sailed south to Union Island, SVG, having lined up a job chartering an 18-metre wooden schooner, Thamilla, as skipper and hostess. They crewed Thamilla for two years then bought her and continued as owners for another two years. Thamilla was old, a 1923 wooden boat, so Dominique worked on her a lot. Then south to Carriacou, where Dominique rented land behind the Slipway shipyard on which to build aluminum dinghies. A second shed was built for the sewing machine. Thus, Genevieve was at hand to stand on an aluminum panel, clamping it in place as Dominique welded. They were still living aboard Lambic. Dominique built more than a hundred aluminum dinghies. Most were Opti-types but also “V” hulls and “W” hulls, some with false bottoms for use as lifeboats. And when someone came in with their own plan, hebuilt that. If you’re cruising the Windward Islands you’ve seen some of Dominique’s dinghies — aluminum dinghies last until you lose them.
In ’96, Dominique bought a used-up trimaran, the Sea Rose, and converted her into a floating metal shop. Vessels needing work could raft alongside, which has serious advantages.
If it had to do with stainless steel or aluminum, Dominique was the man. If it didn’t, he knew who to refer you to — he was known for that. Sea Rose became a destination, Dominique was a mark. Meanwhile, Genevieve was doing sewing and massage. Genevieve has become known for her massage. She studies it and knows what she is doing. They cast their lot in Carriacou, becoming Grenadian citizens in ’94.
In ’93 they adopted Michel. Lambic was too small, so they bought a family boat, Sanctus, a 47-foot sloop. They sailed Sanctus to Belem, Brazil, and spent seven months going through the adoption process. The passage down had been 11 days, the return five days — current. Sanctus had given Michel, just a baby, his first passage and was now home.
Dominique was an enthusiastic father. I remember a look of pure pleasure when he told me about the first time he took young Michel scuba diving, just sitting on
the bottom near Sea Rose with Michel on his knee. And, of course, Michel had his own aluminum sailing dinghy. Michel became a hot sailor… and a hot-dogger as well. And, whereas some might take their dog or even cat for a dinghy sail, Michel sometimes took a goat. He seemed to have a special affinity for nature. I once saw him carrying an injured bird that he was trying to help, and he had a pet iguana aboard Sanctus. (Now 28, Michel lives in Martinique, where he became a charter boat captain.)
I reckon that Genevieve planted the seed for the Tyrrel Bay kids sailing program in ’02 when she organized an all-comers dinghy race for Michel to sail in. It was well attended and a fun event. Everybody won a prize, which was a candy bar.
In addition to his work for yachts and local fishing boats, Dominique came to be in charge of hull maintenance for the country’s two high-speed aluminum ferries, the Small Osprey and the Big Osprey. He also conceived and built many arches for mounting solar panels, wind generators, antennas and fishing gear, for both yachts and fishing boats. Work for me included the repair of my broken mast and a stern rail I am particularly fond of. When I lost a winch at sea, Dominique gave me a small winch off the Sea Rose.
Over the years, Dominique employed three workers in his shop, Johnson, Chris and Noland, all local men, each lasting five years. Noland, still on Carriacou, became highly skilled in yacht maintenance and does the best high-tech paint jobs I have seen.
For many years, Sea Rose was the bay’s early warning during hurricane season. When the Sea Rose went into the mangroves, it was time to check the weather. Sea Rose had a special spot that she claimed early. We knew it was her spot and wished her well — some of us might need her services after a hit. The end for Sea Rose came in the winds of Tropical Storm Karen in ’19. TS Karen wasn’t actually expected to be a problem. Those who went in did so as a precaution. I stayed out in the bay — boy, did I get my butt kicked! The lurching rock and roll was brutal. The wind came from strange directions with powerful gusts. When it was over, the metal shop on Sea Rose had been blown apart. Many friends rallied to clean up the mess and fish tools off the bottom with magnets. It is good to have friends — Dominique had friends.
It was over for Sea Rose but not for Dominique. He moved his tools and stock to his shop ashore, at home, and worked on.
“Dominique has a straight life,“ Genevieve says, “as straight as it gets, as straight as he was: neat, precise, always finding the most adequate solution to suit its work.” Straight. Stick with the woman you found, who also found you, for the rest of your life. Work until the day before you drop. Earn a reputation for being honest, reliable, steadfast and of generous nature and good cheer. Does some of that sound a bit old fashioned? Dominique was a remarkable man in a quiet manner.
Dominique demonstrated that straight doesn’t preclude imaginative, innovative or individual. Witness the home they made for themselves ashore.
I walk up the seldom-used dirt road beside their lot, past the clever three-part door of Dominique’s shop and past a wall of vegetation inside the fence, to the clever gate
with its bell, framed by two tall, flowering oleanders. I ring the bell and am called in. I am on time but Genevieve is doing an emergency massage on a local man in back pain. So I browse the house and grounds again.
Dominique began with a raw-block shell already on the lot, the core of the house to be. He finished it to his standards then wrapped the seaward and leeward sides with a broad veranda, which, functionally, is the living room. The house is full of invention and craft. The more you look, the more you see. The corner posts of the veranda are stout sections of mast from a large yacht, obviously recycled — such masts cost a fortune. The long table and its benches are also stepped atop mast sections. Genevieve’s massage table is around the corner on the lee side. A line of laundry dries under the lee eve.
The outer wall of the veranda is open floor to ceiling except for a handrail. The distinction between inside and outside is weather dependent. Most of the time it is inside. A heavy, gusty rain will reach the table’s outer bench. The inner wall of the veranda, the outer wall of the house, is deemed safe for framed pictures and mementos. One of the models along the wall is a metre-high sailboat, which reportedly sails very well. There are two model ships, radio controlled power vessels. Michel’s radio controlled model airplane, a single engine Cessna, hangs high in an corner close under the ceiling, swaying lightly in eddies of breeze. There is a wall of shelving with
things to be kept close at hand along the lee side, covered with a curtain against stray mist, dust and eyes.
Within the core of the house, proof against heavy weather, are the kitchen, separate shower and toilet, two bedrooms, and the books, including atlases and broad-ranging navigation books.
Many sailors dream of their eventual retirement place ashore — this will do nicely. But life ashore offers far more than a spacious house that doesn’t rock and roll or drag its anchor.
On land, you can grow things! Both ornamental and edible! There are many shrubs and flowering plants on the grounds. Of food, there are three bearing mango trees in the front yard. One, grown from a seed, now has branches nearly touching the eves of the house. And there are a couple of stately coconut palms. In the side and back yards will be found soursop, avocado, rose apple and a shady neem tree. There are also rows of waist-high planters, about 50 metres of them, and a black tank on the upper corner to water them. Collectively, the house cistern and black tanks, fed by substantial roof catchments, hold well over 6,000 gallons of water, 25 thousand liters. Genevieve says they never buy water. There is a small chicken pen. And the bay is close at hand for fishing.
What more could one ask for? The pandemic has reminded us: the pleasant company of our good fellows. Dominique and Genevieve have never been wanting in that regard. They are French Grenadian and became a kind of hub for French and European yachties. In addition to the table for 13, the roomy veranda has many stools of various design to accommodate overflow. Holidays and the completion of projects are cause for celebration. Time was, Sea Rose would be cleaned and decorated for such gatherings.
“Dominique got the death he wanted,” Genevieve tells me, “quick.” He was working to the end. He was an active person and didn’t want to be handicapped. Genevieve, returning from a visit to their son and two grandsons in Martinique, finished her Covid quarantine on the day Dominique went to the hospital. He died the same day, without suffering. Genevieve was at his bedside.
‘Fair Wind in your new life, Dominic… I believe there is another life after this one.’ — Genevy
Jim Hutchinson is the author of One Man’s Sampler, a collection of minor Caribbean adventures. Hutch has been cruising aboard his 24-foot sloop, Ambia, since ’84, mostly in the Caribbean
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