The World is your Oyster. Except when the Oyster is your world.
Although our initial plan was to spend August in Trinidad and then to sail west to Bonaire in September, in hindsight this plan was a bit on the ambitious side. We had seriously underestimated the amount of work we wanted to have done and kept adding to the list as we got to know the contractors. Just the work that was involved in having a new steel arch built, tweaked and installed was an eye opener. Once the arch had been built in the workshop Mitchell’s men were on board welding in the baking heat every day for two weeks including weekends, fitting the arch and adding solid steel rails as far as the gates midway along the decks. And of course, this was not accounting for the inevitable delays that crop up in real life. For example, when they first brought the arch for an initial fitting they had to take it away again as our boom had been taken
away to be repainted and had yet to be replaced. What’s more, our halyard was holding up the foil in the mast as the in mast furler had also been taken off to be serviced. There was no way to hoist up the arch so the three men who had been hired for the morning to do this job simply had to take it all back to the workshop! We were really impressed with West Coast Welders and Fabricators from start to finish and can heartily recommend them. Mitchell, the manager has a good design that he has worked on and perfected over the years with a number of boats. It’s a very strong arrangement which our friend, Kasia who is a naval architect, examined and to which she gave her seal of approval. Mitchell is also very customer focussed and wanted to get the design tailored exactly to our boat and our needs so that it didn’t look cumbersome and incorporated chain plates for towing the drogue, an outboard lift and fitting for a future wind vane generator. We think that Mitchell and his workers did a cracking job and are very happy with the results.
Once we had our steel arch and pulleys for lifting the dinghy in place it was time to bite the bullet and replace Bagpuss, our old inflatable dinghy, so called because it is baggy and loose at the seams. Despite my best efforts to reglue the backing plate, Bagpuss still offered a non-optional foot spa treatment whenever we took to the water. The clincher in buying a new dinghy came when an oil slick stained the old one. Now we know, it is dangerous to leave your dinghy in the water at Peake’s. Not because of theft… the yard is an extremely safe place thanks to the security gates and fence around the whole complex, but because of the high risk of oil slicks. No matter how much I scrubbed, the old girl was stained Chaguaramas brown. It’s possible to buy dinghies VAT free from Budget Marine if you are happy to pick them up from Customs at a date and hour specified by Customs, of course! We invested in a new 3.20 metre hypalon AB dinghy with a solid, fibre glass bottom. Now we have a speed boat as well as a sailing boat!
The other jobs we had done included the rebuilding of our windlass (Ian at Winchworks), getting new locker doors made for the locker in front of the microwave (Richard at Craftline), installation of solar panels and controller and external bus connections to our batteries (John from Goodwood), a new water maker fibre glass tube, membrane and fittings (Bates) missing buttons replaced on our seats and headlining refurbished in stern cabins (Ken from Ullmann Sails) and caulking on teak decks planed, decks lightly sanded and treated with boracol, washboards, cockpit table, galley, bow cabin, heads and floorboards in galley and bow cabin revarnished, propeller and stern bracket painted with propglide, bilges repainted throughout the boat, sealant replaced around shower and sinks in bow and stern heads, old sealant removed from outer toe rails, cleaned and prepared and new Boat Life sealant applied (Rachel from First Mate cheapskate solutions). I was particularly chuffed that his last job would have cost us $880 US had we asked Peake’s yard to carry out the work.
Life on the hard can be hard
I won’t lie. I found this month to be mostly gruelling, dispiriting (we filled the office reservations book with relaunch dates which we kept pushing forwards again and again) and above all, hot! There is no breeze in the yard and the rainy season broke all records this year by refusing to rain. The local Trinis were complaining of the heatwave in September as we went for days on end with no respite from the baking sun. We had rented air conditioning from the yard which was strong enough to keep the boat cool at night but not during the day. We covered the boat windows with aluminium foil to reduce the greenhouse effect which meant that I lived much of the time like a vampire, sheltering from the heat by working inside the boat in electric light. After a season trying to be productive in this heat, I have the greatest respect for Trinis who work year round in the sweltering heat and humidity, often wearing long clothing to protect themselves if they are working in industry and in the case of Mitchell and his workers, welding in the baking sun. They have certainly deserved the right to party when it comes!
Escape from the daily grind
Trinidad is birder heaven and although I didn’t have time to get geeky, buy a book and hike the island ticking off various species as I spotted them, we did get to visit some of the best spots to be wowed by the island’s colourful inhabitants. The birds were pretty, too!
Asa Wright Bird Reserve
Tucked up in the hills with gob smacking views over the Arrima valley this old plantation is now dedicated to the conservation of birds and a favourite guest house for birders around the world. Sadly the prices are prohibitively expensive for tourists to stay overnight but a guided walk and a spot of lunch while pricey make for an affordable day out. Just sipping a beer from the balcony you can enjoy the spectacle of dozens of hummingbirds feeding from the suspended nectar feeders and other dazzling birds such as the bright blue banana creeper. The guided tour was more fun for meeting local Trinis than seeing birds I would say, although there was much excitement at sighting a dull, brown bird whose name I have forgotten. If it aint bright blue or a toucan, my socks don’t go up and down. The guide was very strict and almost barred us from doing the tour as we weren’t wearing closed shoes. We were warned in the strongest possible terms about the danger of venomous snake bites. However, a different ranger confided in us that the only snake bite incident they had ever had was back in the 1970’s and that had been after the guest was “bothering the snake with his foot”. We did see one little snake along our walk disguised as a twig. Unless it was a twig. Anyway, we left him alone and survived our little guided amble down a wood path and back again unscathed.
Yerette. Home of the hummingbird.
If only seeing three or four different species of hummingbird close up is not enough, then a visit to the Yerette bird garden is a must. As everybody knows who has visited this beautiful, private garden and sat through Theo’s four hour talk about hummingbirds, followed by his hour and half slide show about hummingbirds, there are 18 different species of hummingbird alive and thriving in Trinidad and Tobago of which 14 species can be spotted in Theo’s lovely garden. We had been warned by a friend that this visit would involve sitting through a lecture but hadn’t expected the delivery to be quite so long! Never mind, as Theo, a retired teacher (you would never guess!) slowly gave his pedantic talk we could watch the floor show. Scores if not hundreds of dazzling hummingbirds dart around the many feeders around the garden, living their lives at light speed as Theo paused for effect before asking another rhetorical hummingbird based question to several people over again in the group. What a sorry excuse for a hummingbird student I am- I cannot remember any fascinating hummingbird facts at all. However, I can report that tropical rain doesn’t stop them from feeding and they really like glucose water. We were a little afraid that there would be a test at the end to check that we had been paying attention and were slightly scolded for asking permission to leave early in time for another tour. Maybe there was an exam?
A fantastic excursion which is great value for money is the trip out on the Caroni swamp. A three hour boat trip in the late afternoon takes you out into the mangroves where you can see boas in the trees, caiman (little crocodiles), owls and anteaters all of which we saw except for the latter. The trip culminates in the impressive spectacle of seeing the scarlet ibis flocking in their hundreds to roost on one of the small islands in the swamp. This flamboyant red/pink bird makes the flamingo look a bit on the dull side and is the national bird of Trinidad (much to Theo’s disgust). It was one of those occasions when I wished I’d had a zoom lens for my camera! We were extremely lucky to have the best seats, right at the front of the boat and to have a private guide sitting just behind us who was happy to answer any questions we had. Apart from anything else, after weeks of living on the hard it was therapeutic to be out on the water again.
Bamboo catherdral/ Maqueripe bay
One of the upsides of staying in Chaguaramas is that you are on the fringes of the Chaguaramas National Park. Parrot o’ clock is the time of day to put down your tools and enjoy a cold beer as the vocal green parrots fly overhead to roost in the green hills behind at dusk. I did have early ambitions to cycle regularly to Maqueripe bay along the stunning Tucker Valley road, a beautiful straight road through the heart of the park surrounded by forest and only an hour’s cycle ride from the yard. It is a little disconcerting to see road signs along the way marked “Share the road. Each life matters” it’s true. However, my failure to go for regular bike rides into the park was due to fatigue and heat rather than concerns for road safety. We loved the “Bamboo Cathedral” walk, an old road built by the American military who used to have a base in Chaguaramas but now a tranquil spot to stroll in the shade of the giant bamboo arches that make extraordinary creaking noises all around. We were lucky enough to see a Capuchin monkey tribe cross the road in the trees above us. After this walk, a dip in Maqueripe bay looking out onto the lush rainforest that comes right down to the bay is very refreshing. The water here is orange rather than blue, but not with pollution. The run off from the red soil of Trinidad along with rich nutrient bearing soil carried across from the Orinocco river in nearby Venezuela stains the water a distinctive orange brown colour. If Trinidad had any tourists this might put them off swimming. The only tourists on the island are home grown and this makes for a much livelier beach experience with loud Socca music and plenty laughter as families get into the water for a dip more than a swim. Maqueripe is lively even on a Monday afternoon.
Port of Spain
It wasn’t all birding and walks in the forest. One of the things that I really like about Trinidad is that it has a life and economy that have nothing to do with tourism, a rarity in the Caribbean, and a capital city worth visiting. We were pleasantly surprised and a little home sick to visit the posh bit of Port of Spain around the Queen’s Park Savannah, a big open park in the heart of the city that reminded us for all the world of Hyde Park. The surreal spectacle of Anglican churches dotted around a buzzing Caribbean city was similarly a bit of a surprise. And we were blown away by the Centre for the Performing Arts, a building on a par with the Sydney Opera House. The botanical gardens are also lovely and free to visit and offer a taste of the familiar mixed with the exotic as you can enjoy the landscaping and benches familiar from St James’ Park with views of towering Royal Palms and the last flowers of the flamboyant. Strange to think that summer was over and that we had blue skies and refreshing Christmas winds and a whole season of hurricane free sailing to look forwards to! Surely we would be relaunching very soon….