If you are a cruiser and you decide to stay in the Caribbean in summer (or hurricane season) then you have a few choices of where to stay to escape being in the traditional hurricane path. Most people choose this period to haul out if they need work doing on the boat as we did. If staying close to the Antilles, the most popular choices are Trinidad, Grenada and Curacao. Of these three, our insurance only covered us for named storm damage in Trinidad or Curacao. Of these two, we chose Trinidad as it has a long tradition of catering to sailors. It is a hub for boat services with most providers located in the same cluster of boat yards at Chaguaramas in the north of the island. Trinidad quoted the most affordable rates for haul out and storage on the side and very importantly, yards here rent out air conditioning units to help folk to live on the hard while they work on their boats. Peake’s boat yard in particular is very well geared up for long distance cruisers. The boat yard is like a little village with on site, convenience shop, laundry, chandlery, internet cafe and best of all, shuttle bus service which takes you any where you want to go for no charge. We arrived with a long list of boat jobs that we wanted doing and an impossibly ambitious goal to be relaunched within a month. The boat list predictably grew as we stayed and the completion date was pushed back first by two weeks, then by four… We are currently aiming to relaunch in mid October having hauled out on 2 August. What takes the stress out of the process is that in order to reschedule the relaunch date we only need to stroll to the office and let the friendly staff know. ‘No problem’. From the beginning we have felt really well looked after here.
Getting hauled out here is an impressively efficient process. The yard is used to hauling boats of all sizes and shapes and have the capacity to lift out large commercial boats, so we felt that the Princess was in very good hands. They send a diver down to check that the lifting harness is not over any thing that is going to break. We were greeted by the air conditioning unit rental guy, Richard, before the boat was even lifted and to our relief the unit was installed before lunch time. We would have liked it to keep the boat cooler, it’s true, but without it we would have found the experience of living on the hard really unpleasant. As it was, at least the boat was cool at night and in the morning and we have always been able to get a good night’s sleep.
We got cracking with some essential jobs immediately. One of our big jobs to tackle was our main sail furling system. We had been advised by two riggers to change the swivel at the top of the mast and had been sailing with only the two head sails for the last few weeks. Chris showed us how to service the winches and got working on reconditioning the motor for our main sail furling as well as taking the old swivel off and replacing it with our new one, custom made by Furler Masts and shipped from the UK. He serviced the bearings at the top of the mast and replaced the seals on the motor. He went to the top of our mast while we were out of the water, something a European rigger would never do! Here in Trinidad that is apparently all in a day’s work for riggers whose clients are almost all in storage in the yard.
We got the propeller serviced and cleaned and again, got the engineer, Paul, to show us how it was done. He also fitted a grease nipple so that we will be able to grease the prop under water. Simon then hired Paul to help him with work on the generator. Together, they became a whirlwind of efficiency. In one week they installed new mounts, replaced the sea water intake valve for the generator which was looking a little corroded, flushed the heat exchanger, replaced the fuel lines, fitted a new exhaust elbow and changed the impeller on the engine. The packing around the stern gland was also changed. We took out the generator panels, resprayed them and replaced the insulation with thicker, better quality material. We are hoping that once we are back in the water, our generator will purr like a kitten.
We got Peake’s to repair a few little dings in the gel coat both around the hull and in the cockpit as well as to improve the patch on the side of the boat that had possibly been repaired with paint rather than gel coat. And we finally got around to getting the boom repainted where it had been scratched on our Atlantic crossing. We had had the scratch sealed by primer immediately in Saint Lucia to prevent it from oxidising, but hadn’t got around to getting it repainted until now. Our spinnaker pole was completely resprayed and came back looking like a work of art, perfectly white and gleaming. It hung beneath the boat for a few days while the boom was down and I personally breathed a sigh of relief once it was fitted back on the boat without getting scratched once more!
Is there life outside the boat yard?
One of the specialities of Trinidad that you must sample when you visit is the steel pan band music. Trinidad is the home of steel pan (sometimes called steel drum elsewhere). There are oil fields around the coast of Trinidad and the economy here is not based on tourism as in all the other Caribbean islands we had visited so far, but on oil and steel. Steel pan instruments were originally made from the discarded oil drums. The music is taken very seriously here, with a lot of friendly competition between bands. We were lucky enough to hear two great steel pan bands at a concert scheduled before Emancipation Day, the public holiday which celebrates the end to slavery. The concert was called “Emancipate Yourself Through Steel”. Difficult to imagine a more joyful and ingenious music.
After a year of being live aboard cruisers, suddenly finding ourselves living in a boat yard was certainly a change of pace. Although we were geared up for a bit of grafting in hot conditions, sometimes you need a break from it. It always did me the world of good to get out of the boat yard from time to time to visit the island. We were hugely lucky to make friends with Dave and Diane (Tiki Tour) on our way down to Trinidad. They invited us to stay over whenever we wanted in their lovely apartment on route to Port of Spain. Staying with Dave (Diane and the kids made a trip to New Zealand to visit family in August) on the weekend was a total Godsend! A bit of air conditioning, luxury and even a pool! It was like staying in a five star hotel. Thanks for the hospitality, guys! It was also the opportunity to swap a few hundred e books for a few hundred movies and download everything onto our hard drives. We even had time to sort everything into a well ordered library… well, almost!
Thanks to Dave we had our first introduction to the picturesque part of Trinidad and got to taste a Trini speciality, the famous Bake and Shark on Maracas beach. It certainly gives Fish and Chips a run for its money! Delicious..
In search of the leatherback turtle
We were told that we might see leatherback turtles coming to lay their eggs if we got a move on and made the trip to the north of the island. It was the end of the season, however, so we rented a car for the weekend and booked to stay in a hotel in Grande Riviere on the north east coast. When I called the guest house the land lady warned me that the season was finished, but that I could see baby hatchlings being collected and put in a tub if I liked. She warned me that Sunday could be a bit rowdy and suggested we stay on Saturday night instead. “We have Sunday School. It be a bit noisy for the guests” she said. I guessed that it might not be the same kind of Sunday School that I had grown up with. We rented a car from a resident of the boat yard and set off for the Churchill Roosevelt Highway.
The journey across the island from west to east coast is an adventure in itself. As soon as you leave the Highway you find yourself on a winding country road that passes through increasingly stunning countryside and past some intriguing seaside spots. Trinidad is truly the party island. Its diverse ethnic mix (Indian, African and South American) means that there is a melting pot of celebrations. We saw three street parties in one weekend on our drive. When we arrived at Grande Riviere we discovered a party taking place on the turtle beach. We did indeed get to see a man harvesting baby turtles and sorting them into tubs according to size, possibly to release them later for tourists. I actually went for a three am stroll on the beach to try to spot baby turtles but didn’t see any. Maybe they had been summoned up early by the dj on the beach?
This trip along the north coast will remain one of my favourite memories of the Caribbean. It was the first time that I had been to tourist spots with no fair skinned tourists around (except ourselves). Trinidad is not developed for tourism although it has spectacular scenery, a vibrant and welcoming culture and wonderful wildlife and birds galore. The beaches that we visited on the way back from Grande Riviere were among the most unspoiled and wild. However, they are Atlantic beaches with waves and wind, great for body surfing but not the tranquil, white sand beaches on a leeward coast that attract tourists from overseas. It was a treat to enjoy these beaches (Sans souci.. without a care) with a few local families who were out enjoying the waves.
This island is, we decided, underrated. With so much to visit that we knew we wouldn’t have time to see everything (as we were here to work, after all) I’m so happy that we chose Trinidad for our time out of the water. It’s an island of contrasts; industrial and wild, famed for its high murder rate but full of friendly and welcoming people, sleepy in the heat yet with the most vibrant party culture surely of anywhere in the world. Our lives here would be a mix of hard work in uncomfortable hot conditions and fun, meeting fellow cruisers and exploring this lush island.