Toiling in Trinidad

andromeda of plymouth
Susan and Andrew Wilson
Wed 1 Aug 2012 16:49
Toiling in Trinidad – this is quite a long you might want
to get a cup of tea!

So what do we do all day? We’ve been asked the question, so here goes.
Well we do quite a lot of work but there are a few folks out there who
claim that our definition of work isn’t real work, more like a hobby or an
interesting, though occasionally challenging, past time. As we have to do
things to maintain Andromeda and ourselves, we have the view that we do
“work” in order to keep everything going. However some of those who simply
fiddle with things around the house or garden while slaving from “9 to 5”
for the man, understandably have a different perspective as to what
constitutes work – well who is right we wonder?

What do we do all day? On the hard, as we are currently, ascending and
descending a 12ft or so ladder each time we get on or off Andromeda
(including all visits to the facilities) involves varying combinations of
the following :- tidying, sorting, cleaning, washing, scrubbing,
polishing, sanding, varnishing, repairing, replacing, servicing, making
things, organising specialists, assisting specialists, waiting for
specialists, paying specialists (ouch!), planning and organising trips,
walking, preparing the Net weather reports, being Net Controller, washing,
shopping, cooking, eating, racing on the weekends – being a over 50 years
of age bowman and “pit lady” does take its toll on the bones and muscles
and involves much “hard physical work”, playing Mexican Train Domino’s
when we can (requires thought and strategy...honestly!), socialising with
other cruisers, Line Dancing, getting ice every day, writing the blog,
taking photo’s, listening to the BBC World Service, listening to music,
watching the few DVD’s we have, keeping up to date with news from the UK,
dealing with e-mail and facebook, phone calls, reading books including the
Kindle and the occasional magazine, researching information for keeping
Andromeda well and in good health, searching for new ideas that will help
with the cruising life, preparing for next seasons cruising, and now, most
important of all, planning our return to the UK to see family and friends!

Although we don’t “work for the man” at this time, though funds are
diminishing so you never know we might have to in the future, we do
consider many of these activities as a form of “work” in order to
continue, for a while anyway, the cruising life. In that sweat from our
brows often falls in torrents while we engage in these activities, well a
few anyway, we consider we are “working” in that we are burning energy.
Well that’s enough of that we think, as the sweat drips relentlessly as we
write  and it’s not just the temperature! You know who you are who
challenged us on the “work” front! It’s a tough life but someone has to do

This month (July) has been a busy month. Susan has organised two trips, of
which more later, and we had a hike down a mountain gorge organised by
Mike from El Lobo and Jesse from Members Only (the local tour guide). In
addition we had our final race of the season with Fred and Judy on Wings
and did some liming.

The last but one race was probably the hardest physically of the series,
as it involved a course with fairly short legs and three spinnaker hoists
and gybes – the foredeck was a mass of activity and re-packing the
spinnaker below decks was very hot work and we only just had enough time
to re-pack it before we had to get ready for the next hoist. Andrew was
shattered at the end and at some stage cracked his ankle as he missed his
footing during one of the spinnaker gybes and his leg went over the side.
Fortunately, he was still attached to it and so he got himself organised
and carried on, but it became quite swollen and tender for a couple of
days. Susan, this time, managed to escape with no leaks!

The first trip was down the Guanapo Gorge. This is about 90 minutes from
Chaguaramas and up steep roads (well, pot holes connected by the
occasional piece of tarmac in reality) in the northern range of mountains.
15, hardy, foolish, and maybe misguided souls did the trip – 10 cruisers,
Jesse and one of his brothers, two of their friends, Snakeman- the guide,
and his daughter. After a 6:00am start, fortified by a doubles stop on the
way, we left the maxi taxi to walk down the hill with the two other
vehicles being driven down, the was hill too steep for the maxi to get
back up. 25 minutes of walking down an almost vertical hill (perhaps we
should have gone in the truck after all) brought us to the start of the
gorge where the truck and car were left. Time to refresh ourselves with
some lovely ripe energy boosting mangoes straight off the tree and they
were delicious. We made our way through the rainforest, being careful not
to grab the trees with the tiny thorns all up and down their trunks,
following each other in single file. Not far from the start downhill one
of the cruisers decided to go back to the car as his knee was troubling
him and two of the young men accompanied him up the hill and then ran back
through the forest to reach the rest of the party just as we arrived at
the top river pool.

From this pool the entry to the river involved an 8 foot jump into 12 feet
of water, and Susan, as she has a waterproof camera was called to the
front of the line to lead proceedings. Taking a deep breath she leapt into
the water, bobbed up and drifted down the river to find her feet and
managed to do a bit of photography too. After this everything was
completely wet and involved scrambling, walking, sliding, climbing,
slipping, falling over and swimming down the river. We finally reached a
pool where we were to rest for lunch where some of us explored another
little branch of the river having not quite got wet enough. It was
beautiful here with the sunlight streaming through the trees, a lovely
spot to have our lunch, so naturally the rain set in and, having managed
to keep our sandwiches dry to this point, they got a bit wet all the same.
Still it dried up a bit and we could see all the fish in the pool and
before long set off back to the cars. This involved a 90 minute hike, and
boy, was it a steep climb back up the hill and through the forest,
slipping and sliding all over the place. The reward was another mango or
two and then half the party started the long slog up the hill to the maxi
taxi. Andrew and Susan had volunteered, along with some of the others, to
start the walk up,on the understanding that the vehicles would ferry the
first group up the hill and then come back for us.......after a long slog,
with many stops to catch our breath we eventually saw the pick up
approaching and were pleased that we wouldn’t have to walk much further,
then discovered when the truck stopped, that we were only about 50 feet
from the top so we managed to get all the way up the hill by ourselves,
and rounding the last bend were greeted by a cheer from everyone else.

After changing our clothes and getting a little bit dryer we were treated
to pineapple and mango chow made by Jesse and his brother, which was
excellent. Chow is an unusual combination of pineapple, mango, garlic,
salt, pepper, lime juice and chaddon bennie, which is similar to
coriander, but more intense. Sounds strange, but it works and tastes
Despite the rain and the fact that we were wet from head to toe, we all
thoroughly enjoyed our really exhilarating trip. we saw a mountain crab,
couscous growing wild, mangos (which were delicious), local wild cherries,
chaddon benny, bamboo, mahogany, and a huge variety of rain forest plants
and trees, including bread fruit and coconut, and a very small nest with a
tiny chick and a second egg. Bethany, from Cape, found part of a snake
skin recently shed. We also heard a Bell Bird, very elusive but which has
the loudest call of all the birds on the island, it’s also very
territorial, and, when it was raining, we heard lots and lots of frogs
calling. We also saw a snake in a tree, not a poisonous one though.

This is a hike only to be undertaken with a local guide and with
favourable weather – the gorge is not a place to be caught out in during a
flash flood or a heavy thundershower – there is no way out other than
downstream. Safety is very important. The river does, however, boast
several species of catfish, of which several were seen. The folks from
Cape, Papillon, El Lobo and ourselves had a great, though physically
exhausting, time. We slept really, really well that night after Jesse had
driven us all back to our various boatyards, what a great day.

The last race of the season on Wings the following day, was delayed by an
hour due to a squall coming through as part of a Tropical Wave (forecasted
by your local weatherman  ) bringing heavy rain, very poor
visibility, 25+ knot winds and 1.5 – 2.0 metre waves – not what folks come
to the Caribbean for. When the start time came we found ourselves in very
light winds and a long beat to the top mark in short choppy seas. However
the sailing, though initially slow was fine and, when the wind did kick in
and the seas calmed down, it was great with several good spinnaker gybes –
we knew we would get them right in the end. However we didn’t break
anything this time out, nor did anyone leak. We have thoroughly enjoyed
the racing and are really pleased that Fred and Judy have continued to
allow us to race with them as we have certainly learnt quite a lot.
Although Wings was designed as a racing boat, it is also Fred and Judy’s
home. It’s been both excellent and a privilege to get onto the water and
race with a great bunch of fellow cruisers.

The first trip Susan organised with Jesse was to see how a steel drum was
made, known locally as a pan, and then onto the Angostura Bitters factory
in Port of Spain.

Tony, who has made pans all his life and has been instrumental in the
development of the pan, showed us how they were handmade and how they are
tuned. They do all start with metal barrels which are then cut to whatever
scale is to be used. After the drum is created, well beaten really, it is
partially tuned and then sent to be chromed, otherwise the pans would
rapidly rust. Some of the Pan bands have up to 120 musicians and some play
multiple pans. The base drummers can have up to 9 large drums to play, so
an awful lot of drums per band are required. It takes a skilled tuner
about 3 days to make a pan, excluding the chroming stage. Most of the
musicians can’t read music so an arranger and conductor put together the
notes necessary for a particular piece, and then get the band members to
practice like crazy for the Carnival in February, which is the pinnacle of
the pan playing season.

The pan was developed from bamboo drums as a response to hearing big band
music during the 30’s and 40’s, Tommy Dorsey etc. They wanted to get the
range of notes an orchestra can cover and use the steel drums, which were
very common back then, to cover the full octave ranges. This has developed
over the years to where the pan is now, and they are being made in China,
India, Canada, Sweden, etc. amongst other countries. Naturally the best
are from Trinidad! As plastic drums are taking over, steel drums are
becoming scarcer, Stainless Steel is the next major development if they
can get the presses and the quality right. Tony’s tools range from an old
cannon ball to a range of hammers and punches. Sadly, few youngsters are
taking up the craft.

A really nice start to our day.

The second part, and deliberately the second, as the visit involves
tasting a variety of rums, was to the Angostura Bitters plant, the only
place they are made, although found the world over. The factory also makes
a variety of rums, sauces and mixers.

The recipe for the Bitters is a closely guarded secret known to only 5
people, known as Manufacturers – they are not allowed to be in the same
place, nor travel together, at any time. When a batch is needed, one of
them enters a room called the Sanctuary, where they put together the
recipe. The ingredients then drops into a very large mixing “bowl” to
which industrial strength alcohol is added. Later in the process distilled
water and caramelised brown sugar is added before bottling. Interestingly,
there is an agreement with Customs that the packages of imported herbs and
spices are never inspected, lest the secret be discovered. The herbs and
spices themselves are actually shipped from Britain to Trinidad and carry
no identifying labels, instead a code that the Manufacturers understand
The secret mixture of herbs and spices is steeped in the alcohol for three
months before being bottled when demand is needed. No one has managed to
get close to the recipe, though many have tried.

Invented by Dr Siegert in 1824 when he was Surgeon General to Simon
Bolivar in Venezuela, the name comes from the village he lived in on the
Orinoco River until he died, after which his sons settled in Trinidad as
it was a lot more politically stable than the Venezuela Simon Bolivar
fought to liberate. In the museum at the factory there are a lot of
artifacts and historical items on show – well worth a look.

Long established in the cocktail scene, Angostura Bitters are an essential
ingredient in many well known cocktails, such as the Manhattan. They can
also be used in cooking, which we are keen to try, where they act as a
flavour enhancing agent, so we will let you know. They were originally
developed as a medicine, where they have a good reputation for stomach
disorders. There is a story as to why the labels are too large for the
bottle, but that’s for another day. A good trip with lots of history, and
the rum was pretty good was well! The factory also boasts a very
impressive butterfly collection containing over 8000 specimens from
Trinidad primarily, but also a few from Venezuela and other parts of the
world. Some are very rare and most are absolutely stunning and the colours
are beautiful.

The second trip was to the La Brea Pitch Lake way down to the south west
of the island. The Pitch Lake is unique in the world and one of only three
where “oil tar” is found naturally. The second is in Venezuela, the third,
in Los Angeles. The lake is some 250 feet deep and contains some 10
million tons of pitch, and parts are mined on a regular basis then allowed
to recover. However there is only so much recovering it can do so the lake
level is lower than when discovered and is now below sea level. It is
unique because it is the only lake where you can walk on the surface and
paddle in the pools that form. Some are rain water pools, which you can
take a dip in, other ones are formed as the lake recovers from when mining
trenches are dug, and tend to be less friendly to mortal souls. Not a
place to take a dip as you will sink a fair way down, and they tend to
bubble with sulphur gas escaping. Some even boast three species of fish,
including guppies. The surface is some 4-6 inches thick before the
natural pitch is found. It is like walking on a piece of firm foam or
sponge, quite peculiar to start with, and it’s easy to leave foot prints
when you stand still for a while! There was no mining going on when we
were there as there was too much surface water, it is after all the rainy
season. After the pitch is dug it is heated for 16 hours before it turns
into bitumen and is exported to pave our roads, but the main export
markets are currently China and Japan. The pitch will naturally turn to
bitumen when left exposed to the sun, but the boiling tends to deal with
the impurities and sulphur and water content.

After the pitch is dug up and it begins to refill the holes, the local
village occasionally has earth movements which can buckle pavements and
roads, and can cause houses to develop cracked walls. This is because the
lake is fed by a number of underground “streams” of pitch which move as
the pitch works its way to the lake itself. The pitch lake often throws up
bits of trees which were consumed when the original volcano on the site
erupted. Sir Walter Raleigh thought the pitch was rather good as he
caulked his ship with it on his way to discover El Dorado, and he sent a
ship back to the UK full of the stuff to impress Queen Elizabeth the
First. As a quick aside from the natural history perspective, we also saw
naturally growing cashew nuts – not quite what we expected, and two pairs
of nesting lapwings, a first for us.

Nibbles on the way down consisted of aloo pie (a tasty combination of
potato and chick peas in a wrap with a little spicy sauce) with lunch
being huge roti’s - beef, goat, chicken or vegetarian. Dessert was channet
berries and Jesse’s Aunt later provided star fruit and limes from her
garden. When you go on a trip with Jesse, food is always involved, always
a high priority and always worthwhile trying.

The return to Chaguaramas saw us stop at two Hindu temples. One was built
in the sea to avoid a passionate Hindu, who had survived a bad trip back
from India and made a promise to his gods for a safe return, from running
foul of the British administrators for, whom land meant only sugar cane
and nothing as important, to the indentured Indian workers to whom it was
as a temple. It was completed by the community after he had passed on, but
he built by hand the causeway and island and temple foundations. Nearby,
the last fires of an open air cremation were slowly dying down – this
tradition is still practiced by the Hindu community on the island. All the
flags you can see in the photos are prayer flags to the various Hindu
gods. The second temple was also hand built and hand carved. A large pink
building that you could almost believe was made from icing sugar, with
very intricate carvings. It also boasts the tallest, at 85 feet, Hindu
statue in the western hemisphere, known as a “murti”. All in all a long,
but enjoyable day with a bunch of like minded cruisers and an opportunity
to see a different part of the island. We hope the photos of the various
trips do them justice.

Our last little adventure of our action packed week was to go liming at
the BP Renegades Pan yard in downtown Port-of-Spain. So, what exactly does
that little bit of gobblygook actually mean?

Well, when Trinidadians, or Trinis, relax with friends in a bar, their
home, at the beach or in a restaurant, etc. it’s called liming. The BP
Renegades Steel Pan band had a liming session with three other bands in
their headquarters in a not terribly salubrious, nor safe, if on our own,
part of Port-of-Spain. We arrived around 7pm and left around midnight,
slightly deaf, having seen the PG Sheikers, the Witco Desperados, the
Trinidad and Tobago All Stars and the BP Renegades playing some of their
favourite pieces. Each band had about 25 – 30 players of varying ages and
the energy and sound levels were astounding. Fortunately for the folks in
the nearby flats the session ended soon after midnight, but they have to
be fans of the pan to want to live there. It was good to see professional
bands playing as the quality of the playing was excellent with very
complex rhythms, time changes and abrupt stops and starts, and having seen
how the pans are put together, gained a greater appreciation for the
genre. Most of the players, particularly the younger ones, appeared to be
really enjoying themselves. The top bands have commercial sponsors and
each has its own yard for practice scattered around the city. If they had
120 players in the yard, buildings would surely tremble! Needless to say
Susan returned with sore feet from jigging about all evening.

The new spray-hood and cockpit canopy have been completed and delivered
and they look very nice and should last for a good many years. We have
also had a new post welded on to the gantry for our other wind generator.
Mitchell did a great job on this as well as making us a boarding ladder
that fits over the anchor on the bow and will make getting on and off
Andromeda so much safer when we have to moor ‘bows to. This means that a
good number of our jobs for this season have been finished and it leaves
us with a manageable number when we return.

So, lastly, we have had Andromeda shrink-wrapped. A framework of tubing
has been put together and covered with plastic. This then has heat applied
to provide a tight and waterproof covering from bow to stern. We don’t
have a full boat cover, so the shrink-wrapping provides some protection
against the rain, which falls almost every day, and Andrew has been able
to get on with removing, cleaning and repairing the hatches, and cleaning
up the remaining teak, without having to regularly duck for cover or
getting very wet. The downside is that it’s like working in a poly tunnel
and it does get quite hot under there so we get hot and sweaty in and
different way. Andromeda will stay covered when we return and until we get
a date for her re-launch.

More as and when, for now we are packed and ready for our flight and we
are so looking forward to seeing folks very, very soon and taking some
time for some liming!.

Andrew & Susan
S/Y Andromeda of Plymouth
Chaguaramas, Trinidad & Tobago

P.S. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing
in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an
hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. "But
why?" they asked, as they moved off. "Because", he said, "I can't stand
chess nuts boasting in an open foyer."

pps running out of time so photos to follow