Tin Tin's Sailing Calendar

Monday, 7 May 2018

The Commewijne River

Friday 4th May dawned, and we motored down the Surinam River with the tide, and after three hours turned right at Nieuw Amsterdam and up the Commewijne River. We were heading for the restored plantation house at Frederiksdorp, and also looking for the best way to get Richard to the airport that evening. We had prearranged to meet our taxi driver, Ram, at the fort on Nieuw Amsterdam point at 4pm, and motored close in looking for suitable places to get ashore. There were several water taxi landing stages which might do.

Busy water taxi landing stage

Surinam jungle at the river's edge

House on the Surinam river

Attending to the fish traps

The waterfront at Paramirabo
Colonial houses and the Castle, Paramirabo
The Commewijne River was flowing fast against us now so, despite motoring at 7 knots, we were struggling to make headway. The name of the river is thought to derive from the local language meaning Tapir Water. There are River Dolphins here, and tourists come on trips in the long river taxis to watch them. We spotted a few dark shapes curving out of the brown water in the distance.

We found a good landing dock at Frederiksdorp Plantation but, with the river running so fast, it took three attempts to get the anchor to hold reliably. Then getting ashore in the dinghy was fun, as we barely made headway, ferry gliding across to the bank and then hugging the mangrove roots to stay in slower water.
Frederiksdorp Plantation House
The Plantation was a pleasant surprise with a grand, balconied, house in white with a red tin roof, matched in style by the doctor's house, and other buildings from the original establishment. These were augmented by tasteful additions to provide accommodation for visitors. We had a good wander round, and then enjoyed lunch on a shady terrace surrounded by Dutch tourists. The hotel were able to arrange Richards airport trip via water taxi and car, so we cancelled the previous plan.

After lunch, Richard organised a guide to take us for a walk into the wilderness, and we were delighted to see macaques leaping from tree to tree, the big footprints of capybara, bubbles and a sudden swirl as a cayman submerged in the swamp, brightly coloured jacana lily trotters flying by and lots of iridescent red and green dragonflies. There were also black and yellow Weaver birds which had made long pendulous nests. Later research showed that these are not Old World weaver birds from Africa and Asia, but a New World bird that has independently developed similar coloration and nesting behaviour.

Our guide showed us a map of the region, marking the dense grid of plantations that had once lined the river, each with an identical 500metre frontage and extending back for 5km. They had once grown sugar or coffee, until that was wiped out by the coffee borer insect plague, and most had been abandoned. Each had a system of drainage canals which provided a transport infrastructure to move crops to the river.

Finally we waved goodbye to Richard, as the river taxi set off the mile across the river to the waiting taxi, sorry that he couldn't spend longer with us to explore further afield, but very glad to have shared the only bits of South America that Tin Tin has reached on this voyage.

Richard takes the water taxi 

That night the moon was very bright on the wide waters of the Commewijne River, and it seemed very peaceful anchored out near the middle, but for the first time we locked the hatchways down and locked ourselves in. This was because the staff at the plantation had been worried about us in the wake of the dreadful piracy attacks that had taken place on fishermen just off shore Commewijne district. Four boats had been attacked and twenty fishermen forced to walk the plank, some with batteries tied to their feet. A second attack had occurred the previous day, and only five survivors had managed to get ashore and make their through the muddy mangrove swamps to safety. Whilst I was reasonably confident that this was gang warfare between fishermen, it seemed best to take precautions.

I'm glad to say that we had an undisturbed night!

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