From the conventional return to Europe in May we have plumped instead for staying in the tropics in hurricane season and braving pirate alley for a sail down to Trinidad, that close neighbour to Venezuela. Are we mad?
When we first set out to do our transatlantic crossing our plan was clear. Enjoy the Caribbean in the winter months then sail back to Europe in May 2019. After 5 whole months we would obviously be bored of sandy beaches and palm trees, right? The eminently sensible thing to do would be to sail back across the Atlantic via the Azores to arrive back in Europe leaving in May 2019 to keep well clear of the hurricane season.
“Shouldn’t you be heading south by now?”
It is now June 9th and we are in Martinique. We have waved goodbye to friends as they have headed back to Europe or north to the US. Our friend Paul on Corryvechan has already left the Azores after a few weeks of proper seamanship and long distance sailing some of which has involved wearing wet weather gear and ski goggles to weather the horizontal rain. Wet weather gear! The very term is nostalgic for me now. Remember that? Thermal gloves that get soggy and multiple layers of socks under my sailing boots and still my toes used to go numb. And that was on a spring bank holiday sail to Weymouth! We read his diary blog with growing respect as he described grappling with storm conditions, making multiple repairs at sea, proving bread in the engine space (the only warm place on the boat) and being slightly alarmed as the skin started peeling off his hands due to the constant sea spray at the helm. What an adventure! Let’s do it later. Like a whole other year later.
We are thrilled that Paul has expressed interest at joining us on board the Princess to cross the Atlantic back to Europe again next year. With his experience we will certainly be lucky to have him! If he wants to repeat the experience, that is.
Time flies when you’re servicing the generator
Back in March we realised that far from being bored with the Caribbean, if we were to head back to Europe thisyear we would have to start planning it and gearing up for it once our friends Rob and Sally had gone home after joining us for three lovely weeks of cruising from Martinique to Antigua in March. Hang on! Leave already? We felt that we had only just started to recover from the passage over and had only scratched the surface of all there is to see here. Far from being bored with soulless touristic beaches with posh hotels and identical palm trees, every island is so different and offers so much to see and do. And we were running out of time! I hadn’t even been for a dive yet! (I didn’t count scraping the hull clean despite the fascinating and abundant marine life that was growing all over the keel).
This is the magic of the sailing life. You are transported to a different dimension where time and money have different values. I won’t talk about the money here, but you can guess which way it goes with a boat (I have heard that boat is an anagram of “Bring out another thousand” but also “”Bend over and take it”!). Living on a sailing boat means that you have a different relationship with time. I’ve seen a few sailors wearing a t-shirt that says “Live slow, sail fast”. They are obviously the person in the family who came up with the idea of buying the boat. The gift of the sailing life is the gift of time; time to enjoy the journey, time to relax at anchor and enjoy the sunset, then time to try to locate the worrying whiff of diesel that just popped up on the passage over, time to put the leaky dinghy in the water to trek across a lagoon in search of a chandlery with the right tool to dismantle the bit of the engine that is in the way of the other bit of the engine that might (or might not be) the origin of the suspicious diesel whiff, time to return without the tool you wanted in the dark and self-medicate with rum punch. But not necessarily time to visit everywhere you had on your list. I know my blog hasn’t always focused on these less glamorous aspects of the live aboard’s life, but I’ll ‘fess up now. Sailing around the world is not just swimming with turtles and enjoying sundowner cocktails. Sometimes it is grinding rust off an old outboard lock with a multitool which took three trips to buy to later find tiny rust particles magically embedded in the fibre glass all over the cockpit. These rust spots will continue to turn up weeks later despite hours of scrubbing with expensive polishing compound. To quote a fellow cruiser, “Patience is not a nice-to-have on a boat”.
Five months in the Caribbean sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Several lifetime’s worth of Caribbean holidays in fact! How to explain to anybody who doesn’t own a boat that five months in the Caribbean is just enough to scratch the surface.
Or maybe we are just rationalising for being a bit lazy and a bit greedy. We like it here. More palm trees, turtles and sundowners please!
Pros and cons
We were methodical about our laziness, of course. We drew up a list of pros and cons for each of our three possible summer plans. We could have gone north to Chesapeake like our friends on Rum Truffle (but we didn’t have a visa, Chesapeake sounded hot and windless and it would have been a lot of sailing up and down the coast coming back against the prevailing current). We could have sailed back to Europe to the Med (but … cold, hard work, cold, etc). Or we could stay in the Caribbean. The pros included:
Staying longer in the fabulous trade winds. Although they die down in summer, the sailing winds never disappear as they do in the Med. And some folks on Cruiser’s Forum said that the Caribbean was a gentler place to sail in summer, less crowded and always with the possibility to peel off to the ABCs in plenty of time to avoid a hurricane.
Cheap haul out and boat work in Trinidad. Chaguaramas has a host of qualified engineers and technicians and their quote was substantially cheaper than any we could get in Curacao or Cartagena, Columbia. As for comparison with the UK… we could have our boat hauled out, pressure washed, repainted and relaunched, chocked and stored on the side for a month for the price of a lift out in Gosport.
A more relaxed summer without spending weeks at sea sailing possibly a lot to windward. Basically, it’s weeks of sailing and a lot of preparation to cross the Atlantic, even the easy way. Returning is the hard bit! We’re here now and we might never sail back. We might as well enjoy it!
The cons included:
Possible death/destruction in a tropical storm or hurricane.
Possible death/hijacking by pirates off the coast of Venezuala.
Possibly feeling sweaty a lot.
Sail the world in your underpants
Humans are strange things. We like to convince ourselves that we are rational beings who weigh up the risks and potential rewards of any decision logically and we go to great lengths to produce evidence of this (such as my ten page list of pros and cons). Psychologists know that this is a delusion and that we are really fuelled by impulses which we later rationalise. Really, I think our decision to stay in the Caribbean boils down to a couple of things. I really, really want to visit Columbia and Simon really, really likes to live in a pair of shorts and not wear socks. Ever. The great thing was that we were both on the same page.
How being lazy turned into being brave.
“Sailing south to Trinidad? That’s a bold plan” our friend Mark told us. We poo-pooed his opinion that there were
multiple reports of dodgy men in fast pirogues approaching sailing boats south of Grenada. Surely a lot of those incidents were nervous yachties being approached by friendly fishermen trying to flog some tuna. We emailed Peake Yacht Services in Chaguarama and got a quote for hauling out the boat and storing it on the side for a month, asked for a reservation in August and started to plan all the possible boat jobs, repairs and upgrades we could make. Then we heard about the attempted boarding of an American yacht sailing north from Trinidad in April. Seven men in a pirogue speaking Spanish, all with firearms who not only tried to board the yacht but also shot at the skipper and left bullet holes in the boat. According to the two crew, the men all had firearms. Luckily, the weather conditions were rough and by continuously tacking, the skipper managed to prevent the men from boarding and made it safely to Grenada to tell the tale.
Incredibly, one person on Cruiser’s Forum stuck to the “it was fishermen trying to sell you tuna” hypothesis.
Another person pointed out that with seven men in one pirogue there was not a lot of space left for fish.
Hmm… we had a bit of a rethink. We could always go straight to the Dutch ABC islands (Aruba, Bonnaire and Curacao) which lie north of Venezuela and arrive from the north. Curacao is a popular place for cruisers to spend time in the summer as there is a big lagoon to anchor in which is very protected. The ABCs have never had a major hurricane (although they can be visited by sizeable tropical storms) and Curacao has haul out facilities.
However, at the current time of writing, the Trinidad Coastguard seems to have got its act together and is organising convoys down from Grenada, staying in constant communication with the boats. Several successful convoys have made it over and it is arguably safer to cross now than it was before the attempted boarding incident. Of course, there is no such thing as zero risk, and we wouldn’t consider crossing without being part of a convoy. So we are hoping for company once we reach Grenada. We have filed a convoy request so at the time of writing, we are waiting to see if there are any other bold souls looking to cross the waters to Trinidad in July.
The allure of Trinidad
There are old sailors and bold sailors and there are sailors seriously tempted by the affordable and varied range of boat facilities in Trinidad.
This is what we know about Trinidad.
Nobody who has been there seems to like it.
There is torrential rain in August and the humidity is through the roof.
Chaguaramas is smelly and industrial.
There is nowhere to cruise on the island really. Scotland bay is reported to be noisy with the party boats.
There is a risk of piracy in the area.
It’s cheaper than anywhere else in the Caribbean for haul out, on dock storage and according to reports, riggers are good and know what they are doing.
Maybe it’s because the skipper is a Yorkshire man brought up in Scotland that we are planning to go for it, rather than our fearless natures. Sign us up!
Until we get to the waters known on cruisers’ networks as Pirate Alley, we will hopefully enjoy cruising back down the Caribbean chain, sometimes in the rain (after all, it is the rainy season) and sometimes in the tropical sun, stock up on goodies in the Carrefour supermarkets that we find on route, sit back in the unusually tranquil anchorages and dodge the squalls as well as we can. Summer in the Caribbean is the path less travelled until you get to Carriacou and Antigua in May felt positively eerie in being completely abandoned by its super yacht clientele. However, the French islands are a bit livelier and we have relaxed into our project. We didn’t plan to do it without a mainsail (our furling system was declared in need of replacement by Antigua rigging and we were told that we were “rolling the dice” every time we used our mainsail, so have stopped using it). However, so far we have done very nicely with only genoa and staysail going to windward. One of the biggest challenges about sailing is that it requires constant planning and yet the unexpected always puts the cat among the pigeons. One of the nicest things about sailing is that you can always change your plans. Trim the sails, put a reef in, shake a reef out, adapt your course. We might have to dash out of the path of a storm yet. Prepare for more tweaking!