Nigel North
Tue 8 Dec 2015 21:18





Thursday 5 November 2015


Hectic it had been; a 1200 mile drive down to Golfe Juan near Cannes with a van load of Rosie’s stuff, the drive back 2 weeks later, this time with a lively 1 1/2 year old and his mum, driving through the night; a few days to get sorted, fix the van which suddenly decided it had had enough and would barely run, winterise it, deliver it to a caravan storage place near Bath, hire a car and transport Mum + Little’un + Nina to Gatwick where we all jumped on a plane, theirs back to Cannes, mine to Trinidad.  


I tell everyone I look forward to the 10 hour flight, I can just sit there with NOTHING TO DO.  Wonderful.  This trip, however, was to prove not so.  

The first hint came as we all shuffled slowly down the aisle making for our seats at the back.  There was a kerfuffle going on, a big bolshy looking man in a check shirt was querying which seat was his, someone was trying to explain it to him but he wasn’t listening, a gentle Rosie-and-Jim couple were half out of their seats looking confused, and this all in the vicinity of my seat, of course.  The check shirt was now blocking the gangway, and actually standing next to my seat in the aisle whilst he, at great length and taking nearly five minutes, fiddled with belongings, happily keeping a long queue of folk waiting.  

I already was really liking this guy.  

‘Thats my seat’.  He gave one of those insolent, innocent blank faced looks and moved forward one, slowly.  

Eventually we take off, the check shirt with seat-back fully reclined contrary to airline procedures, and not picked up by the cabin staff.  Next thing he’s turned round and is complaining about my knee in his back. 

‘Well if you had your seat forward as you are required to do, it wouldn’t be a problem, would it?’ I replied testily. Now his arm is reaching behind and swatting, yes SWATTING my leg. I leave my knee in place… 

He gets up with a crash hoping to do some damage to me - and goes forward to complain to the male cabin crew for our aisle, all sweetness and light.  Returning with the street-wise looking crew member for our section he begins ‘this gentleman….’  and proceeds to accuse me of ruining his comfort.  When he’s finished I point at him for the cabin crew’s benefit and say one word;  ‘trouble’. 

‘I can see that’ says the cabin crew, and turns his attention to the check shirt, calming, soothing, as he’s been trained to do.  

A minute later and the check shirt has his arm behind the seatback again, swotting away at me.  But this time the cabin crewman sees it, and moves in to deliver a real reprimand.  If check shirt was hoping for backup, he’d just lost it.  

This was not the end of it.  Now and then I’d have his bland, pudgy face in mine, or some serious crashing back and forth in his chair  to irritate me - bad enough to threaten damage to a laptop - until finally, after a few hours of this, he moves up to another seat for the rest of the flight.   

No, this was not an enjoyable flight.  


Customs wanted to have a look through my stuff as soon as they saw I was a yachtie but found nothing of interest, and Immigration stamped my passport for just 2 days stay.  ‘You must go to Immigration at Chaguaramas.  You have two days!’ she said.  


Then there ahead is the mighty Lorto, 6’6”, cheery grin and patiently waiting to pick me up as he always did, good friend that he is.   Almost apologetically he explains he is also giving a lift to Cindy. Cindy is a beautiful Trini, a good 8.5 on the richter scale in flowery red dress and still in shock from her first visit to Cuba selling beauty products.  ‘Oh!’ she exclaimed in distress. ‘They have nothing!’   Yes she was relieved to be back ‘in civilisation’.  On a Cuban state national wage of $6 a day it would be surprising if anyone could afford ‘beauty products’.  Or is it $6 a week?  


Next day Tim drops me off at the marina, and there’s Pinball propped up on the hard, still leaning to starboard a bit (I had asked to be straightened), missing me.  The tarpaulin over the boom is still there if a bit ripped, inside are the cockroaches.  The first week back is not something to look forward to and I don’t, but its good to be back.

I cycle around to the other side to Crews Inn where Customs and Immigration are.  The Immigration guy stares at the stamp on my passport for a full minute.

‘You need an extension!’ he exclaims.


‘You must come back on Tuesday.’  

‘Oh.’ I look surprised.  ‘You can’t give me an extension?’  

‘No.  I am new here.’  This became apparent when he spent ages searching the most unlikely places for the necessary form to give me - a yellow appointment slip. 


I return on Tuesday, and the nice looking woman with the immaculately plaited hair is there, who I recognise from 2013.  I show her the yellow slip.

‘You must come back next Tuesday’ she says, expressionless.  

‘You can’t give me an extension?!  I’d not expected this. 

‘No.’ she said, avoiding eye contact. ‘Its a public holiday. You must come back next Tuesday’ and started on another yellow slip - 1130 Tuesday 17th  


The following weekend I spent at Tim’s, as he had kindly offered the convenience of his well equipped high-rise flat in Port of Spain whilst he jetted off to the USA for a simulator week.  I had fully intended to  leave on the Sunday, but Fraser said ‘why not stay tonight and we can go for breakfast tomorrow, then I’ll drive you back.’  So, weak-willed, I stayed.  I should have gone back.  

At 1750 on Monday I thought…’it is Monday today.  Isn’t it?’  I looked at my phone.  It said Tuesday.  

Immigration shuts at 1800, which is when I arrived on the bike. They were shut alright, and I’d missed my appointment and was in the poo.  There was a number on the door for out-of-hours business at Port-of-Spain Immigration which I rang and explained how big a plonker I was, half expecting to be told to report to them immediately, involving a taxi ride if I could find one, and a hefty fine. 

After a noisy shouted conversation with his colleague, he told me to go back in the morning. 

‘Ok,’ I said, relieved. ‘Can I have your name please?’

No, I couldn’t.  

Next day I was given my third appointment by the immaculate plaited hair.  


It is hot.  That does affect your brain, especially in the first couple of weeks until adjusted.  Thats my excuse.  Also, when half dead cockroaches drop onto you at 3am it does interrupt the sleep pattern, which affects the brain. Honest!


Coral Cove Marina and Hotel is a fairly ramshackle establishment with a smallish boatyard, token pool, shower and loo block in serious need of refurbishment and no laundry. But I like it more than the better equipped and substantially larger Peake’s where Pinball was stored in 2013, as it has a few Skippers like me working on their boats, and best of all, the boatyard is right next to the marina, and therefore water, so cooler and more interesting.  The dozens of feral cats and kittens would please some, and fit well with the dozens of feral humans, like me.  It also has a small corner store of little use, but a great little cafe ….with wifi!  All cruisers want wifi.  The marina has theoretically got wifi but you have to have a turbo charged nuclear powered router to stand any chance of a connection.  

There is another, basic cafe/restaurant on site, but it’s always empty.  No wifi!  


The boat opposite me, The Crystal Road, I swear was in exactly the same place and condition 2 years ago, draped in tarpaulins from boat to the fence alongside the marina under which lies a substantial workshop and outdoor living area complete with a well equipped kitchen, several tables and work-benches and various machines, and vast quantities of tins and bottles.  Some Skippers just like working on their boats.  Sailing them is ok, but always in the hope that something will go wrong so they can work on them some more.  


I don’t.  I like a boat that’s fixed, works, and can move about the world.  Which isn’t what I’ve got at the moment.  This time in its a major refit, the big thing to do being fix the leak.  Pinball was always a dry boat, but no more. Romantics can skip the next bit. 


Somewhere, sometime ago, a leak started which requires a daily pump out or the tinned tomatoes are soon afloat.  By filling up the hull with water whilst on dry land it was apparent that the leak is somewhere inside the stern tube - a pipe inside which the propellor shaft enters the boat, via a rubber seal.  Hopes were that it was the seal, although I could find no evidence of a leak there whilst at sea, so first thing to do was remove the PSS seal, measure the apertures and order a replacement.  This took 2 weeks, not because its difficult, but because I couldn’t get the rotor to move down the prop shaft as it should with the grub screws removed, and it took 2 weeks to discover that there are two grub screws in each hole.  As half expected, nay dreaded, no evidence of failure could be found, which means the leak is somewhere else; somewhere hugely more difficult to get to.  The stern tube is about 3 foot long and runs out behind the engine and underneath the fuel tank. 


The other things that need attention are the main genoa sail - which got shredded sailing along the lee of Dominica in 50 knots - the ageing but still useable sprayhood - needing new straps and perspex, and both zips of the main sail covers rep.  These are currently with Ullman Sails across the way, for a reasonable sum - about a third of the price quoted to me in the US Virgin Islands.  


Rawle came round, peering up at me having registered Pinballs heavily oxidised green hull, and offered to paint it.  He wanted $3500.  

Next time he came he was talking $5500.  Now thats inflation.  I thought he looked a bit shifty.  


Saturday, 28 November 2015


Having ordered a new stern tube seal from the USA, I receive a phone call 4 days later to say that the FedEx agent was at the marina gate, get that!  The agent thrust a sheaf of papers at me, got my signature, got in his van and was driving off…

‘Oih!’ I bellowed. ‘Where’s the PACKAGE then?!!’  

‘Oh…its at the airport.  Address is on the form’.  


Next day, by pure chance, my nephew and his girlfriend would be arriving via Cruise Ship at Port of Spain.  Tim had offered to take me for the pick up, and now on hearing of the astonishingly prompt arrival of the new seal, offered to take me to get that too from the Airport before the pick up.  ‘Stay the night,’ he said, ‘we’ll leave at 7am, get the seal, and should be back in time to catch the cruise ship at 10am!’. 

We left on time, drove the 10 miles to Piarco Airport past 10 miles of solid unmoving traffic coming the other way on the four lane highway, found the shed, paid the fee, then went and sat down with the rest to await the delivery of the package to the Customs shed.  Owners were summoned by unintelligible tannoy alerts.  Only by watching to see if anyone moved could you stand a chance of gaining any useful intelligence.  An hour and a half later and there was one long tannoy announcement;  one guy moved out.  But it could have been multiple calls… Tim said ‘I think i heard the word ‘marina’.’  

‘Right.  I’ll go and ask’.  

I wandered round the back where several ladies sat at desks in the warehouse behind sliding glass windows, one of whom had rank on her shoulders.  I went to her. 

‘Hi.  I think I was called, but not certain’.  She jerked her head in the direction of the other two ladies.  ‘Ask them’.  

I asked them.  ‘Nigel North.  Coral Cove Marina?’  

‘No.  Don't have that.’  Then she had a shufty through the latest tray of papers out the front of her window.  ‘Oh, here it is’.  

It was 0925.  35 minutes to get through ten miles of solid traffic and meet the nephew..  

But it wasn’t solid any longer, and we made it only 25 minutes late.  


The plan, such as it was, was to go for coffee, a walk up to Edith Falls,  visit Pinball up on stilts at Coral Cove Marina, and a nice lunch at Sails in Power Boats Marina.  

‘We MUST be back by 4pm’, said Alex, meaningfully. 

‘Oh.’ It was already midday as we drank coffee at Crews Inn, and the heavens had opened in a tropical downpour of impressive proportions.  ‘What happens if you’re late?’ 

‘They leave your passport and go without you’.  


The walk was binned, which left Pinball, and lunch.  

The ladder resting against the side of PW is one half of a B&Q ladder, and not long enough - an inadequacy brutally pointed out by the gas-refiller man when he brought my cylinder back. 

‘No, but I’m long enough’, was my witty reply. 

Dressed in beach clothes and flip-flops, and faced with a two foot gap at the top and a lifeline to cross, for my guests it was not the most welcoming of entrances, but the position of the 9 foot pole supporting the wind-generator is most handy to grab, rather like the fabled fire-crew poles.   Pinball, being in refit, is chock-a-block full of sails, boom, wind vane steering gear and general mess, as the imperative priority has been given to getting the work going on finding and fixing the leak, without which the boat cannot be floated.  And floated is what is needed.  A boat afloat is a joy to live in, cool, gently rocking, alive.  A boat on stilts is a storeroom, workroom, and dead.  So no doubt I’ve done a good job in damping any embryonic desires to sally forth into the briny by presenting Pinball at his cluttered worst.  So be it. 

Lunch was pleasant, sitting at a table for four alongside a busy waterway at Sails  up the road. 

It was decided that Tim, Alex and Caroline should depart at 3pm, leaving a solid half hour in hand for the 30 minute journey back from Chaguaramas to Port of Spain.  

‘Yeah, that should be fine!’ sayeth Tim the Expert.  

It wasn’t.  The traffic was solid, not moving.  At all.  At 3 minutes to 4 o’clock they hadn’t moved in half an hour, and still had over a mile to go. 

‘You’ll have to walk it’, said Tim.  ‘There’s the Hyatt, your boat’s next to it.  Off you go!’  

They ran it, in flip-flops.  Five minutes after their arrival the ship pulled its gangways and left for Barbados.  



NEXT:  LEAKS, IMMIGRATION, COCKROACHES and other exciting things