10. Grenada and Trinidad
After the Carriacou regatta Alison and I were getting keen to move on again. We had spent our cruising kitty that month (and then some). Our heads hurt and we were all partied out. You could tell that some of the others felt the same way. One night I got a bit of a sign, when I hit a round mooring and flipped the dinghy. I had allowed myself to be pressured into going for a beer run at night. There was my brand new 15hp outboard hanging upside-down in the water. Tom off ¾ Time gave me a hand to get it going again, but I knew that I had done a stupid thing and might have been hurt. As we talked to our friends the conversations turned more and more to where we planned to go next. For us it was Grenada for a couple of weeks, then down to Trinidad. We had more shopping to do, and we looked forward to catching up with Zenetia again. Force Five planned to come to Grenada too, then across to Tobago before coming to Trinidad.
As we sailed out of the bay it occurred to me that Carriacou will always remain with us as one of our favourite places, and favourite times. When we sail to the Caribbean again it will be a difficult decision whether or not to revisit it. As always, the risk of being disappointed would be there. If we stay to our plan then it will have been 13 years before we get there again, and places change. At the time we did not plan to return, and it we felt a mixture of sadness at completing this stage of the journey and excitement at the one to come. Geographically, Trinidad belongs more to the South American mainland than the West Indies, and would mark the next major cruising area.
We retraced our steps to Prickly Bay, Granada, and sailed into the deep bay as the sun set. This was another cruiser haunt, and many boats stay there all summer.
The next day we walked across the hill to the next bay, and were happy to see that the big green Hinkley was there. Zenetia had sailed directly from St Martin to Grenada to maintain their insurance, and had been there a while. A couple of days later Force Five showed up too.
That night we all went to the Tikki bar at the yacht club. It was a good mix of locals and yachties, and there was a full-on steel band playing. Our ‘couple of drinks’ finished at 3am as we listened, talked and danced. It was that night we met Mark and Laurie off Althea, who were on their way to California.
We also met Pat and Colleen off Simmer. I bought a guitar off Simmer and started to learn. It was a struggle, so we took the local bus into town and bought a book and a tuner. Soon the boat was filled with tortured strumming. Al gave up pretty quickly because it hurt her fingers but I still play today. Curt and Mark both play really well, and have a band in California.
One morning I tuned into the weather as usual and heard that there was a severe thunderstorm warning. We were not too worried because they said the same thing quite often, and the weather so far had been beautiful. As the day wore on, though, the day got darker and darker.
Then it hit. Prickly Bay is deep and sheltered, but wide open to the south. The wind and rain hit us hard from the open mouth of the bay. The wind quickly mounted to over 50 knots and the radio began to tell the tale of dragging boats and worried owners. One of the first calls was from Allie— Force Five was dragging and she needed a lift. I jumped in the dinghy and dropped her at Force Five, where Curt was in the water trying to hold his boat off the trimaran behind them. We got him out of the water and they got the boat running and re-anchored it.
In the mean time there was panic in the air. a big Island Packet called Prism ran aground on the rocks at the foot of the bay. By this time there was a swell running and it was heart-breaking to see a beautiful yacht being battered by the waves. Everyone there was thinking that it could have been them. I ran over there but there was nothing I could do, so I returned to True Blue, ran out another anchor, and then returned to Force Five to help them do the same. I was happy to see that we had held. We use a 45lb CQR anchor and 3/8” (10mm) chain even though for our size of boat this is considered too heavy. All the work of lifting the heavy tackle with our manual windlass paid dividends that day. By this time a couple of big fishing boats had shown up and were trying to pull Prism off the rocks. It was a close thing, but they succeeded, and everyone was elated to hear that she was not going to sink. Prism only sustained some rudder damage and her hull was sound. There is a lot to be said for a traditional hull form like the Island Packet, even in a modern boat.
After the storm everyone was pretty keen to get out of Prickly Bay. It brought home to us that there was no such thing as a perfect anchorage. You get complacent in the trade winds because the wind is so constant, but it only needs a wind shift to catch you out and you can lose your boat.
It was time to check out with customs and leave. The customs official, while having prominent religious sayings and a Bible on his desk, kept suggesting donations to the ‘Soccer Club’ collection box on his desk. We did so, giving him the benefit of the doubt, but we were offended by how insistent he was. Perhaps it was a cultural thing. We were soon cleared out and were ready to move around to Hog Island, where we planned to stage out from.
Staging out was a practice we had adopted from the start. What you do is tell everyone you are leaving, say goodbye and have the last meals and drinks with those you are leaving behind, then sail around the corner and chill out for a day so that you are rested for the next passage.
Hog Island is a pretty island that sits inside a maze of coral reefs. Navigating in was tricky but the guidebook was accurate and we were soon safely anchored. Force Five and ¾ Time were there already, and the honour bar opened at 4. Soon a full-blown jam session was underway with everyone blowing off some steam from the excitement of the day before. We were saying goodbye to Force Five here as they were moving onto Tobago. We decided to skip Tobago as it was quite upwind, and we were keen to move on. It was a bit of a shame because we later heard that it was a highlight of their trip. Next time around….
Grenada to Trinidad.
It was 80 miles from Grenada to Trinidad, so we left in the afternoon to arrive the next morning. We sailed out through the reef to an east wind and made good time well into the evening. This was our first overnight passage since St. Martin, and I was please that we seemed to fall into the old routine right away. As midnight came the wind continued to diminish, but we had made such good time that we needed to slow down anyway.
Trinidad broadcasts notices to mariners over the VHF, and one of the warnings was that there was a geophysical survey ship operating in the area, towing a 9000 meter tow! We had heard of boats hitting tow lines and being destroyed, so we kept a good eye out. In the early morning a tower of light became visible, getting bigger and bigger. It was impossible to tell in the black night how far away it was, or if it was the survey ship. We decided to give it wide berth, but it seemed to be between us and Trinidad. I had my heart in my mouth for hours until we got close enough to see that it was an enormous oil platform.
Finally it was behind us and I could get some sleep. The sky got lighter and the South American mainland loomed in front of us. Trinidad is a huge continental island that continues the mountain range that forms the top of Venezuela, and is at the mouth of a body of water called the ‘Mouths of the Dragon’. Nice. Morning came and we sailed through one, trying not to feel swallowed.
As we motored east to Chaugaramas I was excited. The area was dominated by mountains, the water was dark with nutrients from the rivers, and the air had the humid feel of a tropical continent. Two pilot whales about 10 feet long escorted us as we motored along. Granada was the normal limit of the American cruising area, and we had a sense that we were back in adventure mode.
The feeling soured a bit as we approached the town. Thousands of masts poked up from the dozens of marinas and boat yards. A few years before Trinidad had made a concerted push to attract boat building and maintenance work with good facilities and low rates, and it had worked. Trinidad is very strict about customs, so we tied up at the customs wharf and I went up to the office to check in. This was a long, expensive process. We wanted to do some work on the boat here, and the anchorage was terrible and there were no moorings available, so we did something we had not done since the USA, and something that made me incredibly popular with Alison- we checked into a marina!
For ten days we swam in the pool, shopped for the boat, bought cloth for new cushion covers, replaced lines and sheets, bought a new main block, had some work done on the engine, drank cold beer and ate roti for a couple of dollars a time. We explored the capital, Port a Prince, and soaked up the blend of African and Indian cultures. On a whim we bought a DVD player, and some movies and a TV. We soon discovered, though, that our electrical system was not up to the load, and we had to run our engine for an hour to watch a movie.
We spent so much money on boat gear that my bank stopped my card in case it had been stolen. Soon True Blue was, if not pristine, certainly in better shape. Now we were broke and it was time to go out on anchor.
While we span around on anchor in the harbour we tried not to think of all the metal from WWII that littered the bottom there. We had been there a day or two when we heard a hail. In came Force Five, fresh from Tobago. They made their way to customs and then checked in at the marina. During that time Allie wrote a lot of the content for her web site, sitting in the air conditioned reading room at the resort. We hung out around the pool drinking cheap beer.
Trinidad was a great opportunity to fix the boat, despite the heat and rain. It was summer in the tropics and the heat was oppressive. We stocked the boat with an incredible amount of provisions as our next stops were all to be deserted islands. By the time all our chores were finished we were exhausted and we craved some solitude, so as usual we went off on our own for a while. We checked out and sailed a few miles west to the island of Chacachacare, a steep wooded island with a deep bay open to the south.
It was difficult to find a good place to anchor. The water dropped off steeply and the bottom was hard and covered with coral rubble. We ended up putting out two anchors and tying our stern to a tree on shore. I dived on the anchors and tried to set them as well as I could by hand. The water was the colour of tea from all of the vegetation. That first night we were utterly alone. As night fell the jungle came alive with little lights as the fireflies came out. We sat quietly in the cockpit with the lights off and couldn’t believe how different it was from the town.
In the morning we explored the ruins of a leper colony at the foot of the bay. The jungle was already taking over. Then the skies started to darken and we returned to the boat. A tropical wave was coming in. I put out our third anchor by rowing it out on a long rode. An hour later and the wind rose to gale force, blowing us towards the rocks. There was little we could do but watch the distance between us and the rocks, ready to cut free and try to motor off if we started to drag. For the hundredth time I gave thanks for our oversized ground tackle. Hours passed and we didn’t move, so we had dinner and took turns sleeping as best we could. Finally the wind abated and we could relax.
We stayed a few more days in Chacachacare. We felt absolutely secure on the anchors now, for the simple reason that if we hadn’t dragged by now we never would. It was a dramatic location, and we had it pretty much to ourselves, with only one other boat joining us for a night or so. There was a history of crime in the area. A couple of years ago pirates from the mainland had robbed and killed some people there, so each night we locked ourselves in and set our motion detector alarm. We relaxed then, apart from a nagging concern, secure in the knowledge that we had done what we could and that life was never without risk. In fact we had probably been in more danger crossing the road in the city. Finally we woke one morning and started packing up. It was time to leave. Next stop: Venezuela.
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