ST LUCIA TO TRINIDAD JANUARY TO MARCH 2008
 

St Lucia to Tyrell Bay, Carriacou via Chatham Bay, Union Island
We cleared out of St Lucia on Friday January 4th and spent the night anchored off Pigeon Point, we needed to scrape weed off the hull and clean the propellor. At midday the following day we left for an overnight sail of ninety five nautical miles to Chatham Bay, Union Island. We stopped in Chatham a few years ago (to do an oil change) and had forgotten how pretty it is, so we stopped there again. We arrived around 09.45 after some really good sailing, only having to motor for a couple of hours when in the lee of St Lucia and St Vincent.

We left the following day and sailed about 12 miles to Hillsborough, Carriacou to clear into the Grenadines and then sailed another six miles to Tyrell Bay where we stayed for three nights. The highlight was meeting up with David and Sue on the UK flagged Barnstormer, meals aboard both our boats resulted in two mornings of hangovers.

Tyrell Bay, Carriacou to St George's, Grenada
Then on January 10th it was on to St George's, Grenada, another thirty miles. Normally we wouldn't have set out on a fairly windless day but we needed to keep moving south to get to Trinidad by January 15th. It was a lovely day but the fishing was unsuccessful (seems to be pattern emerging here!). It was good to see Grenada back to pretty much normal, the island was a wreck last time we were there after hurricane Ivan. The rain forest has recovered and there were new roofs everywhere. The only thing that hasn't been rebuilt is the main church. Given it was a copy of an old English church perhaps the rebuilding costs are too high. They are however building a huge new marina, Port Louis, in St George's lagoon which means there will be no room to anchor when the marina is completed. St George's is the prettiest harbour in the eastern Caribbean and opinion is divided over the benefits of the marina. Many boats only anchor so the local economy may suffer if they stop going to St George's. On the other hand the marina is being developed for mega-yachts who in theory will bring even more money to the economy. One thing that surprised us was the marina restaurant, it was remarkably cheap with very good food and decent bands.

Grenada to Chaguaramas, Trinidad
The forecast on January 14th was for easterly winds fifteen to twenty knots, decreasing near Trinidad, perfect for a ninety mile overnight trip south. We set off at 14.45 and in fact held the wind until we reached the Trinidad coast. This passage is generally eventful because of the shipping and fishing traffic. This time we had to make radical turns to avoid being run down by a fishing boat and then a large general cargo ship. Both boats (the fishing boat wasn't fishing) should have given way since our tricolour light showed that we were a sailing boat sailing (we have different lights for motoring). It does seem that if you put an engine throttle is somebody's hand their brain is removed - although Mike thinks anybody driving a power boat has never had a brain larger than an amoeba's, or manners, or social awareness or indeed any favourable characteristic. I won't tell you what he calls them, it's too rude. To all friends who own power boats, apologies! On the plus side we had some fabulous sailing that was made rather uncomfortable by an underlying swell, the wave height was only four to five feet but the swells were adding another four feet. As we came through Boca de Monos (monkey) we were greeted by the normal Trinidad vultures and a pod of dolphins, unfortunately we didn't hear the Howler monkeys that are in the rainforest each side of the channel. We arrived in Chaguaramas at 09.46 and cleared in.

Trinidad carnival and a funeral
We had returned to Trinidad for two reasons - to attend carnival, as it's meant to be one of the best in the world and to obtain quotes for some work on the boat. As a brief description of how carnival began I have taken the words that follow from Chris Doyle's Cruiing Guide 'Carnival has its roots in aristocratic society, rich people would dress up as field Negroes and servants and act out 'Cannes Bruless' or Canboulay. This was an event that happened when sugar cane fields had fires - all the slaves would be rounded up and under heavy pressure from whip-wielding overseers to harvest the cane before it burnt. With emancipation in 1838 the ex-slaves got into carnival and made it what it is today. To start off with the ex-slaves would themselves act out Canboulay in groups that had singers, musicians, stick fighters and well wishers, the beginning of the modern carnival 'band'.

Carnival is much more than the two days leading up to Lent. There are lots of events and preparations before carnival and this is why we had made a point of arriving in mid January. At 18.00 on January 21st we set off to visit four Mas camps and four pan (as in steel drum) yards. Mas is short for masquerade and the 'camps' are where the carnival costumes are designed, made and displayed for sale. Pan yards are literally yards, often with a small bar and seating, where the pan bands practice before the national finals held during carnival. One confusing term is that a group of people in the carnival who have all bought their costumes from one Mas camp are a 'Mas band'.

We went first to the Mas camps. Each camp has a different design theme e.g. nautica, earth (the dark side), fiesta. Also each camp has their own king and queen. We saw costumes being made and finished costumes in the display area. The king and queen costumes can be up to thirty feet high and fifteen feet wide, at this point we only saw pictures of them. To say the basic costumes are stunning would be the understatement of the year. One thing we hadn't realised is that to parade in the carnival you have to buy a costume in order to join the particular Mas camp's band. Depending on the popularity of a Mas camp's design it's band in the parade can vary from four hundred people to three thousand. Given that the basic costumes (not king and queen) cost between two to three hundred UK pounds each there is some serious money flying around.

Next we went to watch the pan bands rehearsing. The bands were mainly repeating small sections of tunes with the music director fine tuning the sound level of certain notes. One band we watched had a little boy (see picture section) playing the pan equivalent of lead guitar. Although he was tiny his hand speed was unbelieveable. There was an even smaller boy watching and he obviously wanted to play because he sneaked round to find a pan that wasn't being played, picked up a stick and started tapping the rhythm. His little face, with big eyes, was scanning to see if anyone had spotted what he was up to. We were in stitches. The trip ended at 23.00.

The following day we went to a funeral attended by over two hundred people. Jesse James runs the taxi service (he's also Mr Fixit) here and if you ask about him in any yacht club in the world somebody will know him. The same is true of his drivers who are highly respected and very nice, helpful people. A driver we know, Marlon Francis, was killed when crossing the road. The really terrible thing is that he was only twenty nine and leaves behind his wife and one year old child. We went (along with some other cruising representatives) to the church service, which was simple, and the crematorium where eulogies were given by friends and family. Before we went to the funeral we were somewhat concerned about local protocols and dress, Jesse told us what to wear. When we were told the coffin had arrived and was open for viewing we initially we ducked it, but it became apparent that not to view could be seen to be disrespectful so we did view Marlon both at the church and crematorium. He just looked to be asleep, it was really sad.

On Thursday January 24th we went to Queen's Park Savannah, in the capital Port of Spain, to watch the preliminary judging of the kings' and queens' costumes. This allowed us to see all the costumes rather than just the winners that we would see later. I wrote earlier that the costumes can be 30 feet high and fifteen wide. Wrong. Up to forty feet high, thirty feet wide and twenty five feet front to back. In fact most of the costumes are not costumes as we know them, they are so big and heavy that many of them need two to three wheels to carry the weight and are pulled along. The show started late and we missed a few of the kings even though we didn't leave until 00.30. Although there were some quite amazing large costumes our favourite was a 'small' costume that the king could carry without wheels. Imagine a 35 foot diameter circle, cut flat at the bottom, with sparkling silver irridescant colours, being held up and out by flexible glassfibre rods strapped to the king's body. As the king moved forward the circle decreased in size as the air pressure pushed the rods back. But when he stopped sharply the circle opened out from around twenty feet diameter to thirty five. The effect was absolutely incredible and he rightly got the biggest cheers and applause of the night (from us too).

January 26th and we went to see the judging of the kiddies carnival costumes. Each event starts with Trinidad's national anthem and this time it was played by a small boy playing one pan. For judging there were five age groups: under three years (yep we were surprised too); three to five; six to eight; nine to eleven; and twelve to fifteen. Each costume had a theme that the announcer described although sometimes it was difficult to see the link. Each entrant stayed on stage until the last in the age group had passed before the judges. This meant that some of the kids were dancing for a very long time in an extremely high temperature. Then they all paraded round the stage, leaving for the next group to start. There were a lot of proud Mums and Dads and in some cases very confused small kids. I won't try to describe the costumes I'll simply say that they provoked amazement, jaw dropping incredulity and much more. You can see a range of costumes in the picture section. It seems such a shame that most countries don't do something similar - it brings kids from different backgrounds together with a common aim and national importance. We'd expected something much more low key and absolutely loved the whole day, I think 'wow' was the most utilised word, we would urge everybody to come and see it.

The following day we went to the Pan Band semi-finals competition. The event was broken up into three categories: small bands with thirty five to fifty five players; medium sized bands sixty to ninety players; big bands ninety five to one hundred and twenty players. How they can call a band with fifty players 'small' is a bit of a mystery and when a big band starts up it probably registers on the seismic sensors in Australia. We were there for over six hours and saw a total of seventeen bands in all categories and three were our favourites. The music they play is akin to Phil Spector's 'wall of sound' but often without the music over it, which can become a bit tedious. However it's joy to watch the players moving to the music and the renditions of the songs Thunder Coming and Latin on de Court were special. Overall it was a real spectacle with some bass players playing eight pans, and other sections playing four pans, two pans or a single pan. One hundred players were playing well over two hundred and fifty pans. I was interviewed by Trinidad's Cable Television Channel Three who asked me what I thought about the pan, where I was from etc. It was another great day out.

Tuesday February 5th we went to the showpiece of the carnival the street parade. We left the boat at 06.45 to get a good slot in a stand next to one of the three judging stations. The parade, the Trinis call it 'playing Mas', started at 08.00 and was due to finish (can you believe it?) at midnight. We are not talking a small parade here, there were probably over thirty thousand people playing Mas, and the largest Mas band we saw (the Trini Revellers) consisted of three thousand people in various coloured and themed costumes. The biggest problem was what to take pictures of. The small Mas bands were accompanied by one pantechnican with sound equipment and the largest by ten or more pantechs. Each pantech carried a big generator and up to 20 huge speakers and the power output of the speakers was measured in kilowatts (a typical loud home sound system is measured in hundreds of watts). The funniest thing was that every forty five minutes or so a pantech would come along with eight portaloos on it for use by the crowd marshalls who would jump on and get off further down the street. As ever it's difficult to describe the sheer spectacle of the whole event so I'll leave that for the pictures again. We stayed watching for six hours by which time large crowds were forming and it might not be a good idea to be around after dark. One interesting thing is how the Trinis organise the carnival. They set a roughly circular route in Port of Spain and each Mas band sets up at a given point on the route, then they all set off at the same time. It avoids congestion both for the participants and spectators. I'll finish by saying yet again we had a fantastic time.

Haulout
Carnival over and on to boat work. During carnival we had briefed and talked to a number of companies and got quotes from them which we compared to the one we already had from Venezuela. We decided to get the work done in Trinidad so on February 12th we hauled the boat out in Peakes, for some extensive work including removing the teak deck, removing the teak capping on the bulwarks, sand blasting the hull and deck, welding some small patches of corrosion under the teak capping, painting (the whole boat) and antifouling. The reason for the work is that steel and teak don't mix well because they expand and contract at different rates and the sealant that keeps water out breaks down. She has had teak on her for years but we decided to be safe rather than sorry. Initially we were going to keep the teak and make repairs but since that is just storing trouble for the future we decided to remove as much teak as possible.

We expected to be out of the water for six to eight weeks and booked into a room at Power Boats yard. We appointed Dynamite to manage the project hoping that they would ensure that workers turned up on time and got on with the job(s) - not a given in Trini. Mike also pitched in and removed the teak capping, it took one and a half days in the blazing sun and involved removing one hundred and twenty five bolts some of which were corroded and a nightmare to remove. He also removed all the deck fittings, a big job. In fact Mike went through the first six weeks working on the boat eight hours a day, seven days a week, I was probably doing half that also. He took the opportunity to paint the anchor locker and check things out under the box the chain goes in to. Also it was a good time to paint some of the engine room. Meanwhile I washed and rewaterproofed every piece of canvas from the boat - plus we needed odd bits and pieces mended and generally 'sorted' and Trinidad is good place for machine shop requirements. We got through large quantities of stainless cleaner also as all the deck fittings have been cleaned up and all the blocks washed thoroughly and cleaned. We only slowed down when we couldn't get on the boat because of sandblasting and painting. One hiccup was that we needed to take the anchor winch off to take off the teak underneath it. There are winch components above and below deck, bolted together, and we couldn't separate them. Eventually it was decided that the only way to get the winch off was to cut out the piece of deck it was on. Not really a problrm with a steel boat because you just weld another a piece of steel in. When taken to the workshop the winch wouldn't even come apart when a twenty ton press was applied to it!!

Needless to say a lot of the workers were as unreliable as ever, they came in late, disappeared for an hour or simply didn't turn up at all. At the end of March we are probably still three or four weeks away from getting the boat back into service. Even when the painting is finished we need to put back all the deck fittings, get the sails back on, put the safety kit back on the rails, test every piece of kit on the boat, clean the inside of her etc etc etc.

Wedding
While the work was going on we did have one Saturday off to go to a local wedding, the bridegroom was another of Jesse's drivers, Ronald. We went to the church service which was very similar to UK weddings except they had a junior bride - a young girl in a bridal dress, but we're not sure what role she had. Also they had three candles on a table and after signing the register the bride (Simone) and groom picked up a candle each, lit the middle candle together and then blew out their own candles - symbolic and rather nice we thought.

Around one hundred and fifty people attended the wedding but the reception was for three hundred people! The venue was the garage of the St John's Ambulance Service but we only knew that because of a sign. The garage had been decorated in Asian style and was quite amazing. Even more amazing was the catering. The families and friends had got together and cooked five curry dishes (including goat), proper Indian home cooking for three hundred and it was delicious. We met Simone and some relatives and had a really nice time, it's always a real honour when local folks invite us into their world.

I made a short visit back to the UK in March - trust me to pick two chilly weeks and the coldest Easter for years! However all that was on the list to do has been done and it was good to see my family and also friends Paul and Sarah Brown. I didn't get a chance to see more people as I had to sort some things out on the flat I own and time was short. Apologies to all. The Coleman's Mustard (in tubes) supplies have now been replenished, hurrah!

Odds and ends
Night sailing. Since we left the UK we've spent sixty three nights at sea. The only reason I mention it is because we were talking about it, knew we'd done a fair amount, and decided to add it up - couldn't believe it, two months!

Marine industry plonkers award. We'll forgo the plonkers award this quarter because we discovered a marine product that is so well designed we just had to mention it - a 110 volt plug. We bought it for our air conditioner which plugs into a shoreside socket. You don't need to cut the three wires to different lengths and then squeeze them round corners in the plug (like you normally do), you just cut all three and push the wires straight in. Also, you don't have the fiddly little screws (that always fall out) to hold the wires, the plug has a slightly different design and big screws. For once somebody has actually designed something that is simple and practical. Therefore congratulations to Marinco Shore Power Systems USA (www.marinco.com) for a brilliant product.

Comment (rant) from Mike. Mike noticed Comrade Brown's initiative 'Walking into Health'. Apparently it aims to get "a third of England walking at least 1,000 more steps daily by 2012 - an extra 15 billion steps a year". Mike wants to know, are they goosesteps? He would also like to point out to the Politbureau that type of diet, exercise and genes have little or nothing to do with obesity, it's simply how much people eat - witness you never saw anyone fat in a concentration camp. He reckons that the old quotation, "the difference between a welfare state and a totalitarian state is a matter of time", seems to be coming true.

Made us laugh. Seen on a street sign in Port of Spain. 'The greatest energy saver today is tomorrow".

What a coincidence. The most famous Mas camp designer in Trinidad is Peter Minshall (a Brit strangely enough), he also designed the costumes for the Barcelona and Atlanta Olympic opening ceremonies. A number of Trinis have commented that Mike looks like him.

Murders. When were were in Trinidad two years ago the murder rate was seven per week. It's now ten per week, a UK population equivalent would give just under 600 murders per week! Most of it is gang/drug related and the Trinis (who are mainly lovely people) are up in arms about it. The government meanwhile was not investing more in policing they were more concerned about justifying their recent decision to purchase a jet plane for the prime minister's/government's use. They have now dropped the plane purchase but a couple of locals said to Mike that crime is not being addressed because most of the police and government are corrupt.

Cruisers Net. The daily VHF cruisers net here is always useful if you have boat bits to get rid of or need something. Shortly before I went to the UK we were discussing 'things we wished we'd brought from England'. In four years there have been two items that Mike regretted not buying/bringing. One was a 220v Dremmel (sorted by me getting one last September when I was in the UK) and the other was a 220v drill. We have a rechargeable one which has been fine for most things but we were facing the problem of having a lot of holes to drill in the stainless steel toerail and the rechargeable one was just not practical. Stainless takes ages to drill and the battery would have needed regular recharging. Part of our discussion was whether I should bring a 220v drill from the UK (oh joy). The morning after this discussion on the morning net under the heading 'Treasures of the Bilge' a cruiser said he had a 220v drill he wanted to get rid of. We were quick off the mark and got a call in to him to say we were interested and later that day became owners of said drill. Lucky we were quick because after we called the guy two other boats called saying that they were interested if we rejected it. What a relief!

Pets 1. We saw an owner and his dog playing on a small beach. The owner picked up a large pebble and threw it into shallow water. The dog waded in, stuck his head under water and retrieved the pebble. The owner kept throwing the pebble in, each time in deeper water until the water was about three times the dog's height. At this point the dog dived down, staying beneath the water for 15 seconds or more, and retrieved the pebble. Quite extraordinary, never seen a diving dog before.

Pets 2. One of the boats here has an African Grey Parrot called Rubbish. In the owners early days of sailing, while on passage, the parrot started to make a very strange sound that it had never made before. It was the first time dolphins came to the boat. Apparently Rubbish does the same now every time dolphins approach the boat (he doesn't need to see the dolphins first) and his owners think he is 'talking' to them. He often sits in his cage in the cockpit and if it starts to rain he says "it's raining, it's raining" and they put a rain cover over him. When they stopped in St Helena they had to use water taxis to get ashore, now if a dinghy or fishing boat goes by he calls out "stop that boat". When he wants his cover put on at night to sleep he says "It's time for bed". If anybody knows how many words a parrot can learn please let us know.

Where next?
At the moment we are both really tired from all the work we are doing, so we will probably want to go somewhere to rest - current thinking is to head west again for hurricane season.