Living on the hard

Sat 6 Jul 2013 18:23
Our days are settling into a pattern. We wake up with the bird song and the morning light. There is so much busyness: tweeting and clucking and twittering, comings and goings. We laze a while until the full bright sunshine quietens them and then it's time to get up and breakfast before whoever is helping us on the boat that day turns up, around 8 usually.

We've moved to a busy corner of the yard where there are lots of workmen around us everyday, they replace the birds as the heat of the day builds, calling out greetings, hammering and chatting, comings and goings, the song of the radio shouting above the hubbub.

Our neighbours, complete with scaffolding Trini style.

Work is moving on well. One of the big jobs is replacing the bearings in the drop keel. We have a centre plate, rather like a centre board in a dinghy, which doubles our draft from a little over 6 foot to 12 foot. We use it when we're beating close to the wind, It pivots down on a big pin and we have to haul it back up again before coming in to anchor (thanks Max for the timely reminder when we were in Las Palmas). It's a bugger to get back up: we have to use a geared winch handle and fight it up inch by inch. The winch is struggling now too, its pawls keep jamming, even though we've stripped and lightly re-greased it, which is a tad inconvenient when we're trying to lift it on the way into an anchorage. Also it clonks when we're rolling at anchor. Clonk - two-three-four - clonk - two-three-four... very annoying at 4am. So Mark from Dynamite and his team are getting new bearings made up for us and we're trying to figure out how to get it easier to pull up. The first problem was dropping it out. The boat transporter transferred us back into the big lift so we could take out the pin and lift the boat leaving the plate on the ground.

Back into the lift.

Plate pivoting down out of the keel.

Pin and bushing out.

As the boat was lifted up the plate dropped out.

We're getting to know the Dynamite guys and they're proving to be great company. Ray has been getting lunch for us most days, saying someone's gotta show us Trini food. So about midday a mystery polystyrene box turns up, sometimes shrimp or goat but mostly chicken. Unless you specifically ask for boneless chicken the chicken looks as if someone simply got a cleaver and diced a whole chicken. You get all sorts of bits of bones that we usually leave on the carcass that I hadn't properly realised belonged in a chicken. It's been different everyday, but always really good, and often delicious. It's mostly mild curries and dhals, full of flavour, served with puri or with rice. We've been looking forwards to lunch times. The first day he was working with us I offered Ray a drink of sorrel concentrate. "Dat's not sorrel" he said "I'll get you sorrel" and true to his word he brought me a bag of dried sorrel flowers and some spices - cinnamon bark, cloves and bay leaves. I boiled it all up and sweetened it with nutmeg syrup to make real rich red sorrel juice.

Around 4 or 5pm work slows down. The workers sit in the shade of a boat and down a bottle of Carib lager or two, relaxing after the work. Some, who have been sanding, are all white with dust, just the strap marks over their heads and the mask print over their nose and mouth still deep brown, with smiling white teeth and eyes. There's an out door shower to one side, well, a hose above head level over a pallet, and one by one they clean off, swap to 'home clothes' and make their way off to their homes or out for the evening. There's no rush, no drop tools at 4:30, they lime a while and wind down, making the gradual shift from work mode to rest mode. 

When the men shower the grackles do too. They hang around all day, picking up scraps at lunch time, busying themselves around the place, hopping amongst the rigging. But when the shower runs they come and drink and bath in the run off, clearly enjoying the cool water, dipping their heads in and shaking the water over their backs.

Finally, the last worker goes  and the radio is turned off. The evening light slants over the rain forest as the birds come into their own again: streams of Parrots, all in pairs promenade each evening, their green catching the light, squawking as they flap their way high over head. Caribbean Martins swoop their aerial acrobatics against the sky and come to light on the rigging. Pelicans and Laughing Gulls put in a little evening fishing, with Frigate birds harrying the gulls. Sitting by the dock, a sorrel shandy in our hands, plantain crisps to nibble on, we are treated to the sight of a Belted Kingfisher, sat on a branch overhanging the shore, watching for fish until the light is gone. Every evening, just as the light is fading, Skimmers arrive. Sometimes it's just one, sometimes a flock. We watch delighted as they make pass after pass over the shallows, grazing the water, a streak in the calm surface showing where they drag their lower beak through the water. When they bump a fish - snap! They've got it. It seems a crazy way to fish but it clearly works for them. They look quite remarkable, having a much longer lower beak evolved for this purpose. There's no way I'm going to be able to get a picture of them as the light is always so low, so I've stolen a couple to show you.


 I'd seen these birds on David Attenborough's Life of Birds but never imagined I would get to watch them. We are so privileged.