The Last Leg - UNION ISLAND to TRINIDAD
Position: Chaguaramas, TRINIDAD N10:37.00 W61:30.00
Friday, 8 June 2012 UNION ISLAND
A bit hot and stuffy when I awoke around 4am as the wind had finally dropped back from 30 odd knots, so put the fan on. Come morning I found it was the wrong way round!
Dream; I’m being shown fire positions and arcs of fire, and there are bodies, our guys, lying around. There is one huge body, a monster of a man, and I say ‘who’s going to be able to pick HIM up?’ and the answer comes back that there’s always someone who can and will. I’m impressed.
Went ashore again in Perky to the Anchorage Yacht Club, had a look at the grib files on the laptop (weather) and they looked ok with winds in the 15 kt range mainly. With decision made, I went to Customs. Funny looking Customs bloke with epaulettes hanging down the front of his shirt, who spent the entire time talking to someone else whilst dealing with my bits of paper, not to me but to the bloke next to me in a very loud voice and all of it totally unintelligible. He seemed to have finished stamping my papers, but didn’t look at me or anything. I hung around, trying to be Caribbean about it. Then eventually I caught his eye and said something middle of the ground like... ‘Is everything alright then?’ At once he launched into an animated story of someone being killed, a criminal was involved or he might be the criminal, but I don’t know. I could hardly understand a word but nodded to oil the wheels. Eventually I was done.
Then it was up the road to Immigration, which was surprisingly quick. About 2 minutes. Had a look in some shops, and bought a few things - they really don’t have very much for sale, just the basics and tinned stuff. No water anywhere. No milk, except condensed milk. I hate it but bought some, better than nothing. Some onions. This is a poor island. Everyone is so lacklustre. Except the woman in the tourist shop: I bought a T shirt and some wooden cup thingies to put your glass on for the boat. No one had any change, so I ended up spending the entire $100 note in the tourist shop. Probably faked? But I don’t think so. I think they needed my dollars..
Then back to Anchorage for a beer and more wifi - nice until that load of noisy bloody guests turned up en masse making a hell of a racket - especially the fat woman. But they didn’t have any change either and I only had 100 dollar bills, so ended up buying a load of beer to make up the difference to $100EC. The woman came running after me with some change. I thought they didn’t have any change!!
Half way back to PW the outboard starts misbehaving, and finally conks out, so I have a really hard row against the wind. But made it. Stowed Perky on the bow. Ate. Tired now.
Saturday 9 June 2012
Up early and set sail out of Clifton harbour as soon as there was enough light, making sure I could see the two nasty little reefs that marked either side of our track. It was a good clear day with blue skies and a nice day to set off for Chaguaramas, Trinidad. My plan was not to go the usual route via Grenada, as it would give me a much better track for Trinidad and save a hard slog from Grenada hard on the wind, but also because I’ve had more than enough of visiting customs everywhere. So the planned track was down the windward side of the islands rather than the more normal lee sides with their flatter water, which I hoped would give us more consistent winds, and so it proved. But to get far enough east to turn south past the reefs off firstly the tiny island of Petit St Vincent, then Petit Martinique - a volcanic conical mound - which lay off the NE coast of Carriacou, I motorsailed against the current with just the mainsail up. Luckily the tide was starting to flood which reduces the west setting current considerably, and the easting was quickly made and a turn onto due south set to pass east of Carriacou - which would be the last landfall really until Trinidad as Grenada was to prove only just visible through a haze. There is a channel between Carriacou and the two Petit’s, which although deep enough according to the chart, was untried by me and could contain uncharted reefs - these charts are based on very old soundings. Why risk it when I didn’t need to? And anyway, Pinball prefers the open sea to narrow passages. As does his Skipper..
Soon Carriacou was behind us, and apart from the odd glimpse of an outline of Grenada, we were very much in the open sea and I was happy with that. Our speed was good at 5 knots with all sail set, but later in the day we started to pick up some strong gusts so I decided to double reef the main which was how I wanted to be anyway for the forthcoming night passage. It was safer to be canvassed for the gusts and a bit slower than be caught out in the middle of the night with too much sail up.
So I began the reefing process which is all run very safely from inside the cockpit as PW is fitted with single line reefing, but nothing was working right. Normally a 5 minute job, this time it was taking ages as I couldn’t get tension on the luff. So a trip up to the mast was called for and revealed a bolt tight reefing line which was preventing the reefing process from proceeding. I released it, cursing myself for not having carried out the right procedure in the first place. But still I could not raise the sail properly after reefing it. Another trip up to the mast; then I saw the problem. The halyard (which pulls the sail up the mast) had been allowed by me to get much too slack at some stage and had taken the opportunity to blow back around the wrong side of the crosstrees where it was now firmly jammed. To get it back in front again, where it should be, would be near impossible against the wind, although I tried. But it was impossible. There was now nothing for it but to drop the sail completely - which would take the weight off the halyard - and then sort it out. This all took some considerable time, and by now I was distinctly unhappy with myself as all this was avoidable. It achieved the distinction of being the worst and slowest reef I’ve ever mishandled; I was later to be grateful that this had happened in daylight and not in the middle of the night.
Before it got dark - and there was to be no moon until after midnight - I
made myself a proper hot meal and settled down to the normal watch system of sleep 25 minutes, up and check, sleep again. It was better to get this going early, in daytime, so that there was some in the bank for when I really needed it in the early hours.
One concern was that Trinidad being an oil and gas producing country, it is surrounded by rigs. But where exactly were they? Rigs have an exclusion zone around them and I didn’t fancy infringing that. A couple were marked on the chart, but not on the chartplotter software, so I transferred their positions onto the plotter up in the cockpit, and set a course of due south to remain well to their east until clear, before turning SW for Chaguaramas. As we got closer through the night, AIS (Automatic Identification System) returns started appearing on the plotter showing me where all the ships traffic was heading, and how close to me they would get. AIS is amazing. Transmitted automatically on a VHF frequency, it gives a mass of information, including importantly how close, and how soon. PW only has a receiver and therefore would not appear on anyone else’s screen, but we do the avoiding anyway; it’s a good way to stay alive. All the traffic was just running along the north coast of Trinidad, and not therefore a problem to me coming down from the north. And I could now see the lights of the two rigs ten miles away to the west burning bright.
But then in the early hours I saw something strange on the AIS chartplotter screen - a ship, with a name, but moving at just 1.5 knots. It also said‘unable to manoeuvre normally’, was out in our 2 o’clock, and according to AIS, we were going to be very close on passing. Hmmm…. But that wouldn’t happen for another hour or so, so it was kept under observation. But out relative positions stayed the same throughout which proved AIS right….we were going to be close. Dawn shed some light on the matter and I could see it was a huge great beast and probably something to do with the rigs, but still looked like a ship. I decided to wait until it was four miles away before doing anything about it, as I clearly needed to. The only thing AIS doesn’t tell you is if you’ll pass in front or behind. If its in front, then a correction left to pass earlier in front would be a good idea. If behind, then a turn right to pass further behind would be better. I did neither as I didn’t really want to change track, but flashed up the 40HP Yanmar instead and accelerated. We passed nicely ahead.
The gloomy and dark north coast of Trinidad now lay ahead, the high ground being covered in thick heavy cloud. It was time to alter course to starboard onto SW for the narrow entrance of the Bocas that would lead us to Chaguaramas just behind the north western tip of Trinidad.
But as we neared land the wind slowly died away to just a few knots, so sails were furled and we continued under engine. The guide advises not to take the first of the three channels leading south due to adverse currents and difficult winds, but the tides were running well for us and I wanted to see for myself. It was fine. Pelicans flew by in straggly formations, parrots in pairs squawked past, and frigate birds cruised darkly against the sky.
The narrow entrance of the Bocas slowly widened and the channel running off to the east that I was looking for soon became apparent. Motor boats roared past. I motored on for another mile or so, and a large anchorage and boat storage area appeared in our eleven o’clock and I wondered what it was called - I hadn’t noticed another yachtie area on the guide - and continued past it. Then it dawned on me that this was in fact Chaguaramas - the very place I was supposed to be going, but somehow I’d arrived there a lot earlier than I had imagined. A sharp turn to port and I was heading in towards the dozens of moored and anchored boats and ships, whilst the sky darkened and an increasingly heavy rain started. Just when I didn’t need it! Given the choice of continuing and getting soaked, or waiting, I turned the boat and slowly headed back out of the bay to wait the shower out. Then I was contronted by a motor vessel with two men in, one of whom was shouting at me and pointing over to the Port of Spain area further ahead around the headland. On the side it said PILOT. From what I could gather above the din of heavy rain, he was suggesting that it was full up here in Chaguaramas and to proceed on to Port of Spain. I indicated that I was quite happy here, and would continue in to Chaguaramas, several times. This incident didn’t make any sense: the guide stated quite categorically that all customs and immigration for yachts had to go through Chaguaramas at Crew’s Inn, and also that the anchorage at Port of Spain was not very safe. So I ignored the Pilot, if that’s what he was, and eventually he went away.
When it stopped raining I took PW into the inlet which led to the Customs dock where new arrivals are required to moor, and spun PW round to moor port side to. This put us downwind, but the wind was light and PW comes alongside much more easily port side to using‘propwalk’ - an effect from the propellor which pulls the stern in sideways when reverse is selected.
Crews Inn is a purpose built area for yachts with a marina, restaurant, café, shop, customs and immigration. The usual forms were filled out in quadruplicate, but this time with a helpful Immigration Officer, then across to the next building with the same for Customs - usually a painful time but not at all bad here in Trinidad. It was hot, and humid, and a drink would have been nice but I wanted to find the boatyard I’d organised to take PW first and get moored up for the night.
Motoring along the waterfront weaving between moored and anchored boats I soon found it - Peakes Yacht Services had a nice big boat lift with their name emblazoned across it, and next to that were a series of pontoons. Three boats were moored end on to the pontoon, one on the outside with his stern to the pontoon, the other two smaller yachts inside the pontoon and moored bow to. All had lines attached to buoys keeping the other ends of their boats perpendicular to the pontoon, and also preventing them touching it. I groaned. This was not an easy pick up for a singlehander.
So I didn’t bother. I just came alongside another pontoon on the other side but still Peake’s and moored up to that. It was a Sunday and no one seemed to take any notice whatsoever of me which was fine, as I just wanted to chill out, get some sleep later and sort everything the next day. But then, later on, along came a handsome French Skipper who politely informed me I was on his pontoon. I explained that it was difficult for me to pick up a buoy and moor bow to the pontoon on my own, and could do with some help. He said he’d go and find some help for me.
So I waited.
When it started getting dark I could see a nightmare scenario building - moving across at night, with someone I don’t know on the ropes, and making a mess of it. I decided to have a go myself - after all, I’m a singlehander, and there must be a way to do it, so I’d just got to figure it out. The problem was this: the buoy, to which my stern needed to be tied holding it out and away from the pontoon, had a metal ring in the top. I had to get a rope onto this, tied on securely, and then drive the boat in to the pontoon whilst paying out the line to the buoy behind as we went, then stop just before we touch the pontoon with the bow, and somehow get up to the bow, hop off, and attach a couple of bow lines to the pontoon before PW drifted off again. I decided to use a piece of kit I’d bought especially for picking up buoys but had hardly ever used - a spring loaded hook with attached line itself clipped onto a special boathook that held the jaws of the hook open until the boathook is withdrawn. The end of this line is then attached to a longer line which was to be attached to the stern when in postion. The rest I’d just have to have a go at! Picking up the buoy wasn’t too bad, and I succeeded in clipping on at the second pass. I then started motoring slowly in with one hand on the wheel, the other paying out the heavy line attached to the buoy behind us. This would have been ok if there hadn’t been a crosswind blowing, which was blowing the bow off to port. Being back in the cockpit it was also hard seeing just how close we were to the pontoon with the bow. But by now the wind had blown the bow off too far anyway and we were now off the end of the pontoon, so had to select reverse, and start hauling the line back in again as we slowly reversed the way we’d just come, heart in my mouth waiting for a bight of rope to wrap itself around the prop. I had considered using a lightweight throwing line which would float on the surface, and so not threaten the prop, but had decided it was too thin for the job. But we made it back without fouling, and I spent some time repositioning so that the bow was further up into wind this time to counter its effect. The second attempt was better, the bow was still on the pontoon but only just. But then the bow collided with the big plastic obelisk of electrical plug in points which sits on top of the pontoon, knocking it sideways at an angle. Whoops!
A French couple came to help. I tied off the stern line and went up for’d to hand them the lines which they tied off - after lifting the obelisk back onto its stand. Phew! I was secure, sort of. I thanked them in best schoolboy French and they wandered off to discuss no doubt the weaknesses of English singlehanders.
Next morning I awoke to find the stern being blown off downwind about 20degrees, putting quite a strain on the single stern line running out to the now fully submerged buoy. I knew the lines stretch a bit when wet, so brought the stern line inboard and around a winch so I could tighten it. This helped, but I was now concerned about the strain on the stern line itself, and in particular the smaller diameter end attached to the spring loaded hook on the buoy. Would it hold? If it broke, then PW would swing around to point into wind to lie up alongside the pontoon, but without any fenders at the bow to prevent serious graunching against the pontoon.
So I decided to run a further line from amidships right out at an angle into wind and attached much further up the pontoon - which was luckily unoccupied. This I hoped would hold the boat across the wind better, and ease the strain on the stern rope when it blew hard - which was usually in the afternoon. It seemed to be working at first, but then, when the wind did blow hard, as well as holding the boat across wind it also had the effect of pulling the boat in towards the pontoon - and bashing the bow. This was no good!
So I eased the new line so that it only took the strain after the boat had drifted off downwind a bit, and this was better. I also fixed a fender onto the pontoon itself for the bow. Better it may have been, but it wasn’t perfect, and we still had the odd nudge happening now and again. A better solution would have been to run a second stern line to another buoy further up into wind, but all these lines would have to be removed again somehow when it was time to haul out, so I was reluctant. I decided to leave it at that.
Next day was better weather, and very warm, and it was lift out day. All lines had held overnight - phew! I decided to move Pinball before the east wind struck up. There was another boat already waiting in the lift out area so I couldn’t go there, but if could get rid of the awkward stern line and move the boat into wind alongside the pontoon this would massively simplify the task of casting off later. In still air you can do just about anything, and the boat was quickly moved without mishap.
Two hours later and Pinball was propped up high and dry next to a long row of boats. I had a week to strip sails, covers, spray hood, dinghy, liferaft and the two solar panels off the upper deck and stow them below, before my flight to UK . It was hot. It was humid. But it was good to be going home soon, and I was lucky that a friend Tim was working here in Port of Spain. He was to look after me with great kindness…
I would be returning in late October to spend the last couple of months remaining of the hurricane season preparing the boat for sea again. To charge the batteries, I left one solar panel tied to the lazerette connected, this being a position where it could not be seen from the ground, and so hopefully not to be stolen.
16 June 2012
Good ole BA flew me back…to the rain! And Wimbledon. And Yeovil Air Day. And to friends and family.
TO BE CONTINUED IN LATE OCTOBER