T and T, Tank and Technicalities in Trinidad and Tobago

andromeda of plymouth
Susan and Andrew Wilson
Wed 26 Feb 2014 22:29
T and T, Tank and Technicalities in Trinidad and Tobago

So where to begin? There we were all ready to leave, and in a good old fashioned manner were commencing our countdown sequence, albeit in days rather than hours or minutes. We had just had a lovely Xmas time but now it was time to head out to the deep blue again after our lengthy stay in Trinidad and so Andrew was checking things out and Susan was busy with last minute provisioning, she also had a date with Debbie the swimsuit lady.

Saturday 28th December Susan went off to spend the day with Debbie who was making Susan two dresses, and Susan was to be the live ‘model’. Susan had a wonderful day, making the most of her time whilst Debbie was sewing and cutting, chatting and getting to know more about each other’s lives, being fed and watered by Helen – Debbie’s mother. The dresses Debbie created are wonderful and very different and will be worn a great many times, Susan therefore arrived back in Chaguaramas and back on board Andromeda excited to show them to Andrew. Hmmmmmmm.......well it was a bit of a shock that awaited her.

After Susan had left that morning Andrew continued with his preparations and checks and Chris from Quicksilver had come over help troubleshoot problems with the auto pilot, during the course of this Andrew decided to check the water levels in the tanks, noticed that the fuel gauge was showing practically empty, very odd as he had fired up the engine a couple of days previously to make sure everything was ok and the gauge was showing just under half full. A bit of a check later and he discovered that the diesel on board was now in the bilges....eeeek. Initial thoughts were that the return valve had broken again as per a previous incident but after checking out the engine and finding no leaks there, came to the conclusion that maybe the tank was leaking..... very eeek.

We were now faced with a bilge full of diesel a couple of days before the new year and despite phone calls to various firms no one was available to come and remove it, but hey, at least we were in a marina, in a place where things could be sorted and not out in the Boca near some rocks when our engine wouldn’t go. We had also forgotten to stop off at the fuel dock on our way back to Crews Inn after our haul out, so fortunately had only half a tank of fuel – roughly 250 ish litres on board. Sunday morning Susan talked with Debbie and discovered that Nigel (her husband) worked on boats (a small item of information that hadn’t been previously known) and they volunteered to come over and see if they could do anything. After another search for likely culprits, the tank was definitely suspect and Frame (Nigel’s nickname) phoned a few friends to see if he could speed things up, and put us in contact with Franz, who we already knew from when we had the prop shaft replaced.

Monday morning and visit from Franz and Tin man confirmed what we all thought, it had to be the tank that had failed and deposited all the diesel in the bilge but now to get on with putting it right. This is where the scale of the job became apparent. Andromeda has the one fuel tank on board and this takes about 500 litres of diesel so is pretty big. It was put in place and then other bits of the boat were built around it, getting it out was going to be complicated but first we had to get rid of the fuel in the bilge. Fortunately for us as long as we kept the bilges closed and air con going we didn’t really feel the effects of the fumes unless we spent a long time in the saloon, so we didn’t spend long there, but at least we could still sleep in comfort in our own bunks (thanks Chris and Sharon for the offer of a bed if we needed it). During Monday it became obvious that nothing was going to happen until after the New Year and most likely not until the following week......hey we have been here before. We curbed our impatience. Andre the carpenter did at least come round to look at what needed to happen once the fuel had been removed, it was not going to be a quick job.

It was now New Year’s Eve and Debbie had immediately invited us to spend the evening with her, as soon as she knew we were not actually leaving, Andrew had however, woken up with a raging sore throat, feeling quite unwell so we decided to keep our germs to ourselves and not pass them round the family. Alex, Debbie’s youngest son had been unwell most of the autumn and most definitely didn’t need any more germs just as he was starting to feel better. There was a ‘potluck’ barbeque in the Breezeway at Crews Inn so we decided to just show our faces as they were going to be celebrating New Year at GMT time, 8pm Trinni time and we thought we could manage that. As it happened a good dose of rum saw us able to keep going till Trinni midnight as well, keeping Tom from Madonna company as he played his guitar and we joined in singing along to his extensive and varied repertoire (yes we are that old). Only about 8 of us made it to midnight but we had a great time and it certainly took our minds off things for a while.

In the meantime we also had to sort out getting an extension on our entry visa, our 3 months given at the airport were almost up. This should have been straight forward or so we thought. Our first task was to go and make an appointment with the Immigration Office as they only do extensions on a Tuesday or Thursday. We popped round and explained what had happened – no problem we were told just come back on Tuesday with a letter from Crews Inn, saying we were staying there and we had a repair problem and everything would be fine.......

After failing to get anyone to come and remove the fuel from the bilges we eagerly awaited for 6 January and a chance to get on with things. After a few phone calls the guys from Tank and Fuel were going to come the following morning (7th) and take away the diesel........hurrah......Off we went to the marina reception to let them know our limited progress. This was to be a frequent conversation for us over the next 5 weeks, we had no idea how long we would be around as until the fuel was removed we couldn’t get the tank out, until the tank was out we couldn’t see the problem...... and as we had no fuel on board and couldn’t start the engine we couldn’t go anywhere else.....you get the picture. Crews Inn was at this time very busy and the pressure was on to find berths for a lot of boats being launched for the season.

Now the more technically minded of you may already be thinking of various solutions to the problem, and one of the suggestions we had was.....just take the top off the tank, clean it out, put in bladders (two to make life easier) – fill with fuel and replace top...go. Sounded very good as a proposition and quite a bit quicker than a new tank - Problems.....well Andromeda is now 37 years old and the way they built her tanks was to make them from heavy stainless steel, then they riveted it including the baffles inside it, then molten lead was put over the rivets.... it wasn’t going to be as easy as that.

Meanwhile Debbie was doing her best to keep us occupied with other things so we didn’t wear our fingers out twiddling them. We had suggested she create a ‘catalogue’ of the swimsuits as she made them, to make it easier for people to decide what they wanted her to create for them, this had led to the idea of a website and this in turn, as an opportunity for premises came about, led to Debbie deciding to expand her business and take on staff........wow...... So Susan and Andrew were kept busy helping sort through the myriad things that needed doing and researching. Susan spent quite a few days over the following weeks going into Port of Spain and then taking a taxi to where Debbie would pick her up (it’s a round trip of over an hour in good traffic to Chaguaramas and back). There she would help cut out numerous table covers ready for Debbie to sew or help do things for the website. Andrew in the meantime was hard at work creating all sorts of documents for Debbie. He produced many spreadsheets and tables as well writing letters and a business plan. We were so delighted to be part of Debbie’s exciting new venture, she is so talented and a wonderful person and deserves every success, we hope that we have contributed in a small way to it all and are looking forward to getting regular updates as Debbie’s business grows.

In between all of this there were the regular shopping trips for supplies and even time for Susan to show other cruisers round Port of Spain and especially Jimmy’s for some lycra material. She also managed an evening trip to the Mas (Masquerade) Camps to see the costumes for this year’s carnival, the highlight being allowed to try on a very fancy headdress, orange of course as you can see from the photos. There were also visits to several pan yards to listen to the bands practising their tunes for this year’s Carnival competition. Watching all the preparations for the Carnival we wish we could have stayed but we have a bit of ground to cover this year.

We woke up early on 7th January full of anticipation and excitement, things should start happening, hurrah. As soon as Andrew had delivered his weather report on that mornings’ net we headed up to Immigration to sort out the extension. We were greeted and asked to fill in forms as usual and then it went a bit pear shaped. The Officers decided that because we had cleared into the country through the airport after our trip to the UK, that we had a tourist visa, they couldn’t extend this and after a phone call to the Immigration Office in Port of Spain, confirmed that we had to go down there to get the extension. We were a bit surprised at we knew other cruisers who had done the same as us but not had to travel into the city but things do change and so does the staff, we felt a bit annoyed but confirmed we didn’t have to go straight away so Susan could go on her trip to the supermarket, and Andrew would be there whilst they took the fuel out.

By the time Susan returned with the supplies 47 gallons of fuel had been removed – this was 47 gallons of lovely clean golden fuel – or so it had been when we had our tank cleaned in the summer – now unfortunately, as it had been swilling in the bilges for 10 days - it was mixed with all sorts of things including oil from various nooks and crevasses –and not recoverable. At least stage one was now done and we had other workmen in the wings.

Our trip to Port of Spain was going to be a routine matter, just a bit of a nuisance really until we got to the offices and were refused entry on the grounds we weren’t properly dressed. As we had come from one office to another we didn’t expect a problem, but Susan had a dress on that they interpreted as being a halter neck (it wasn’t) but her shoulders were showing, and Andrew had long shorts and flip flops........off to the local shop for a quick purchase of a top, a pair of trousers and some shoes....... This time we made it in the door and then spoke to the guy who had said we needed to come down there. After asking us questions and us confirming that we had come in through the airport but that we were on our own boat we had a bit of a wait, he then called us over to tell us that he couldn’t do our extension as he didn’t have a cashier available and we would have to come back the following day. Arrrrggggggghhhhhg, After confirming that Susan alone could come the following day off we went.

Wednesday and Andrew was expecting the carpenter to come over and start to take apart the galley so that the tank could be lifted. Maria from Cattiva went into town with Susan as they were planning to do some shopping after the Immigration visit. Susan and Maria arrived at the office just before 10.30 only to be told by the guard on the door who recognised her, that the guy they were to see had just left, of course she said that she would go and wait....after all this needed to be done...and as he had asked her to return she was sure he wouldn’t be long. Oddly the guy was there behind the counter when they went into the waiting and he seemed very surprised when he looked up and Susan there. After explaining again why she was there he asked if he could just deal with a few things and could she wait, of course she said......after all she is British.

Sitting down in a room full of people she waited to be called but after over an hour decided to go and see what was going on, a you may have guessed the guy was now getting ready to go to lunch but said if they went to lunch and came back at 1 he would be able sort it out. Susan and Maria were back before 1 and waiting for him to appear – still more waiting, questions and the need for phone calls and eventually at 3.30pm Susan was told that she had to go back to Chaguaramus as they had the necessary paperwork to issue the extension.... and she was told to go the following morning and ask for a specific person.

Arriving back in the marina Susan was hoping that at least some work had been started but no.......tomorrow.

Wednesday and bright and early up to the Immigration Office we went and eventually were issued with our extensions, though not until a bit more fiasco occurred, knowing that the extensions should cost $100TT each they offered the money only to be told no you don’t need to pay, then just as they were going out the door, oh yes you do. Whilst the receipt book was being retrieved from the safe Susan asked what they should have done differently to avoid all the running around and was told ‘You did nothing wrong’. Just before we said good bye Andrew asked how long the extensions were for and was told, 3 months Mr Wilson, yours runs out on 4th April and Mrs Wilson yours runs out on 9th April as you came in at a different time.......We just looked at them and said, we were on the same flight......Back went the passports again to be amended and carefully countersigned and now at least we were legal.

Wednesday afternoon whilst Susan was out again Andre came round and it took all afternoon to remove the sink unit and wood work and put it all in the cockpit...another little challenge for us.

Thursday Susan and Maria went into Port of Spain and as she was leaving Tin man and a companion came round to remove the tank, it took them half an hour to release it from its location but another 4 hours to get it off the boat, having to take apart the companion way, sliding hatch, canopy and spray hood, there was just half an inch to spare.....but then it took another 2 hours for Andrew to put the stuff back so we could get up and down safely and have some security.

We were now at the end of the 2nd week, surely the end was in sight. You would hope so. But as we have experienced before there were delays, more delay. Having eventually pressure tested the tank and discovered 3 leaks an attempt was made to repair it but the tank started to crystallise once heat was applied to it for welding......a new tank it would have to be. We toyed with the idea of having two tanks made this time but that would have entailed a lot more work with extra pipes etc needed for the second, as well as more materials overall so settled for a new one just a bit smaller than the old one to facilitate getting it in or out another time. Foolishly having said, yes to a new tank, and yes to the price quoted, we thought they were getting on with it. It was only when we were asked for a deposit that we found out that work hadn’t been started. Then there was a big fishing tournament up in Grenada and nearly all the folk working on boats had gone including the guys making our tank....eventually Andrew was taken to see the work in progress. Another few days and he was shown the tank looking finished and we started getting excited, however it still needed pressure testing and other bits and pieces so it wasn’t until Thursday 6th February our shiny new tank was delivered and carefully placed on board. By now Andrew was extremely good at getting the companion way apart having been told several times previously in the week that it was about to arrive, but now it was here........

Tin Man came round on Friday morning and after much tooing and froing the pipe work was eventually connected. At one point Tin man had to race off to Lincoln who had made the tank but not put in any in-take pipes for the engine – on the grounds he said, that there weren’t any in the original tank.....difficult to see how the fuel got out before, but Tin man made sure we had the necessary one and once they were connected and a bit of fuel was put into the tank, Tin man bled the system and the engine started up first time, yabba dabba dooo.

Finally also on Friday Andre the carpenter came to put the galley back together again, and a bit of a job it was too, and everything was looking hunky dory until he said ‘I don’t do plumbing’.......fortunately a quick word with Debbie and on Saturday morning Frame came round, sussed it all out, and even took us to get a new part for the drain as the original one hadn’t stood up to being removed. We could now wash up properly again.......... Thank you so much Nigel for doing that.

We were now getting all excited and thought we might head out of here the following Tuesday but first we had arranged for Falco to come round to check over the engine and generator for us. Falco really loves our old Volvo engine and was eager to make sure she was ok.

Monday morning Falco arrived and checked the engine.....she was running very sweetly so he turned his attention to the generator...and even though it had started up with no problems just weeks ago it just wouldn’t go. Falco eventually traced the problem to a broken fuel filter sight glass and, after a new one was purchased and fitted, up she fired. Monitoring the generator during the afternoon it didn’t appear to be doing any charging and also looked like the starter battery might not be any good so that evening when Debbie came over to see us she kindly took us to Pricesmart so we could get a new one(thanks again Debbie). Meantime Falco had contacted Avi the electrician for us.

So Tuesday morning, bright and early, we had Ian from Layla over to take off the bag he had put on the prop, to keep the barnacles off. Then Richard arrived to take the aircon away, followed by Avi who came to look at the generator...at first it wasn’t looking good and getting out of the way Susan high tailed it off to Port of Spain to help Debbie with some cutting for the last time, and was so delighted to get the welcome news that after a new capacitor and some adjustments everything was good to go.

Wednesday morning February 12th........now we could get organised, there was still so much to do. After a very early start and a lot of stowing etc., Susan went off for the very last provisioning trip in Trinni, Andrew was busy stowing all the various canvas awnings and sunshades down below. Andromeda was washed down, filled up with water, the duty free was collected and our final marina bill paid, well we actually got a refund because we pay in advance and all of a sudden it was time to cast off....Maria and Maurice came and gave us a hug, Donna and Rick waved and Fast Fred from Liberty, with his dinghy, came and acted like a bow thruster and in a few minutes we away sailing into the sunset once more, heading to Scotland Bay for quiet night before an early morning start on the passage to Grenada.

The end of 6 weeks of ups and downs again, the job (as always) took much longer and was more complicated that first appeared and that estimate at the beginning that we would be out of Chaguaramas by the 2nd week in January was way off base. We would like to say a big thank you though to the cast of many people who did their best for us, Franz, Nigel, Lincoln, Tinman, Andre, Falco and Avi. It’s been great to work with you all and have your expertise there to help us.

Other news....the auto pilot you might be thinking......well eventually we got Dennis to come and have a look once Andrew had tested everything else to bits. He did what Andrew had done then took the ‘brains’ away to test elsewhere and came back with the news that it is irreparable as it is an old version.......and a new one could be had for lots more dollars and a wait......at that point we didn’t want to add any more delays to our departure so have decided to manage without it till we get to St. Martin to replace it.

To cheer ourselves up we went to see the The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug at the local IMAX with a bunch of cruisers; and very good it was too. Looking forward to the next one now!

And our flat.....well it went to the wire with our tenants....having not responded to any of the requests, court orders and solicitor letters we had the go ahead to send in the bailiffs.....at the eleventh hour they tried to made a defence and halt proceedings but a week after that the order was enacted and we now have possession of our property again.

Now it time to say bye bye Trinidad and Tobago, we have such wonderful memories of our time here, though our stay was enforced it gave us time to get to know Debbie and her family even more...it certainly helped keep Susan occupied, after all there is only so much time you can spend doing water aerobics in the pool. We also got to meet other folk who we would otherwise have missed, so more new friends to keep in contact with. Jessie and his team from Members Only provided their usual excellent service and it was a joy to go on their various trips, Susan especially will miss Stanley and his big smiles, and she did enjoy decorating Jesse’s office door on his birthday.... Thanks as well to the staff of Crew Inn, they were very patient with all the headaches we gave them, we certainly recommend the marina as a good place to stay, especially if you book early. And not forgetting Nick, Greg and the crew in Peakes!

We also want to say thank you to the cruisers we have met in Trinidad who’s stories, tales and experiences have made our time here all the more worthwhile – Rih Malti, Piano, Kiss, Liberty, Black Elise, Quadrille II, Rocking Horse, Tusan Tak II, Leahona, Cattiva, Cape, Arawak, Madonna, Quicksilver, C- Drifter, Wings, Fair Passage, Oriole, Magic Dolphin, Receta, Mistress, Abraxas, The Dove, Jabulani, Native Dancer, Island Time, Just Now, Just Imagine, Flyin Low, Freya of Clyde, Aries Too, Bad Kitty, Saltwhistle, Evenstar, The Vagrant, Cinnamon Teal, Alberta Crewed, Tiger Lilly II, Mr Mac, Panchita, Lady of Avalon, Sturmvogel (a Contest 42 no less), Joana, Cinq a Sept, Vagabond, Breezing Up, Hoyden, Unicorn, Soulmates, Tihani-Li, Fawkes, Allegro, Layla, Laurelie, Explorer, Ocean Angel, Wind Shepherd, Idea of London, Bolero, Spirited Lady, Ann-Louise, Blue, Persephone, Nancy Ann, Partners---- (there may be one or two missing – apologies if so!) – we will miss many, and hopefully see a few up island.

Thank you Debbie, Nigel, Helen, Megan, James and Alex for all the friendship and support and love you have sent our way, you are treasures.

More in due course,

Andrew and Susan
Andromeda of Plymouth