Nigel North
Fri 13 Jan 2017 23:51

POSITION   11:99.85N, 61:75.84W GRENADA


THE DINGHY MAN came and had a look.
‘So, what dya think?’ I asked. ‘Can you mend it?
‘Oh yes’, he said quietly, ‘but once the seam goes, the whole lot could go. Might do you for six months?’ This was bad news, if not entirely unexpected. The dinghy problem - i.e. what do I do if it’s lost/destroyed/stolen - had been bothering me recently as there was no easy answer. I’d considered getting a kid’s blow up, a kayak, anything cheap just to get to shore and sort out a replacement, but hadn’t done anything about it. A dinghy is pretty well essential unless you’re loaded and can afford to go to marinas all the time. If Perky gives up the ghost at one of the more remote islands there wont BE any replacement available to buy, and even if there was, it would be very expensive. So the idea of buying a new one here where prices are more reasonable gradually took hold, with the added bonus of keeping Perky as a back up.
So I mended the seam, best I could. Not a work of art but hopefully would do for a spare, folded up on deck, and placed an order for an AB 8’ RIB - the smallest they make and the maximum size Pinball can accommodate on the foredeck.

Re-welding the stainless steel tank was always going to be hit and miss. Weld this bit, and the weld further on opens up a little. To quote Lincoln, ‘you chase the leak’. A third attempt at this last tank made it worse. Lincoln said, ‘you could try sealing it with some 2 part glue made locally called …… I forget the name, but try it I did, and you know what? It worked! One pot of yellow, one pot of black, mix em up and you get green goo…

So that 3 day job of putting the tanks back in the bottom of the boat after the hull repair had now turned into SIX WEEKS, and I only had eight weeks total before Marian and Kate arrive to go sailing, leaving just two weeks to do all the other jobs like painting the hull with anti-fouling, checking and servicing the nine seacocks (a horrid job if you’re claustrophobic) and a never ending list of fixes, not to mention scrubbing down and cleaning. The second quarter berth needed some improvement too as les femmes usually preferred the quarter berths just behind the cabin to crashing in the other cabin bunk, so fitted a good quality fan in there i.e. a quiet one, and generally spruced it all up.

The first planned launch date came and went - we weren't ready. Put the date back 5 days - still time enough to sort out niggles and get ready for some sea-time. The day before launch I tested the engine, for which you need buckets of water for the cooling system as we were not in the sea yet. The engine, a Yanmar 3 cylinder diesel, had always behaved perfectly, never a hic-up, so this was almost a formality. It started first pull, but went straight into a runaway up as if at full throttle - very dangerous for a diesel with no load on, as they will self destruct - and did not respond to throttle at all. Luckily I got to the fuel cut-off before self destruct, or Pinball would still be there. Checked the throttle, seemed ok, not jammed, try again, no start, nothing.
Cancel the launch again..
It was like it didn’t matter what I did, there would always be something else waiting to stop me getting this boat ready in time. Five days left to crew arriving.

Raymond was the man. Raymond does engines, and occupied the bottom half of a small one room building in the boatyard. The mischievously playful and stunning Charmaine in The Office rang him, and he turned up to disappear below, whilst I loitered above in the cockpit like a pregnant father.
‘Run it!’
I turned the key and turned the engine over for a few seconds.
After many runs, the engine coughed into life, ran for a few seconds, then died.
Hope resurfaced.

But it was not good news. By the end of the day the gruff monosyllabic Raymond, with the invisible assistance of the Ever-smiling-one, plus RastaMan - Raymond’s runner - had removed the injectors and pump assembly, emerged from being wedged in the narrow gap alongside the engine covered in sweat, to announce on being asked that the pump had probably seized up, but that he can’t fix it so he’ll send it off to someone who can.

Oh god.

The Crew Arrive

Piarco Airport, Trinidad’s International, is a fair way east of Port of Spain, and I wanted to meet Marian and Kate, so rang up Econo-car.
‘When do you want the car?’ she asked.
‘Friday the 16th’
‘Okaay. No problem. That will be $150 a day, plus $50 a day if you want insurance..’
‘$150 A DAY!’ That’s massive I was thinking. Then it clicked.
‘Is that $150 TT?
‘Yes’. For a mo I was thinking she meant $US. TT was about £17 a day. Gift!
I cycled over to pick it up from Crews Inn, cycling now being a dangerous sport as not only do the gears not work but the brakes have gone on strike too, the only retarding effect left being a flip-flop against mother earth. After the paper-work, we went outside to inspect Datsun Sunny PCA 9134 to agree on previous damage. Walking round with Sanya, an Indian-origin fireball, I was finding it hard to establish any areas of bodywork that weren’t damaged, and dutifully called out the worst, all of which was ignored by a slightly bored Sanya. But when I looked at the diagram, she had drawn a continuous squiggling line or two all the way around the bodywork.


The seatbelt alone would have failed any MOT, being 30% shredded. The ABS caption was permanently on, as was the red seatbelt-not-on warning light. The radio remained silent. There was no longer a temperature adjuster on the Air Con, but it still worked. Potholes were to be avoided, as the nearside front kingpins were knackered and made a hammering sound. Most intriguing, and straight away a challenge, was the automatic gearbox. Over the week and a half total I think I can say I made a ‘good’ change up into second…once. Maybe twice. I tried being gentle with the throttle but it thudded into second, I tried accelerating hard then easing off, but nothing would happen other than the revs screaming whilst the car barely moved. In the end I settled for gentle, and guessing when to ease back; thats the once I got it right. Maybe a psychologist could explain it, but this was my kind of car. I loved it.

Next day Saturday I did The Big Shop at Massey’s, a large Supermarket. All the Supermarkets are Massey’s. Tinned stuff, rice, loo roll, drinking water, the basics. Then Peake’s for hardware, lots of padlocks for the security bars, new engine and dinghy.

Sunday 18th December was pick up day. It was about an hours drive from Chaguaramas providing the traffic was alright, and being Sunday it proved problem free, for once. I arrived a bit early, as did the aircraft, so stood expectantly in a barren chair-less Arrivals. After an hour the only encouragement was that I was not the only one waiting. An hour and a half after the plane’s arrival, the two girls in matching green tops and white pants appeared at last like it was a Panto, waved and all hugged before piling into PCA 9134 setting course back to Port of Spain.
I said ‘you two look like you’re part of an Irish netball team!’ thinking how witty am I.
‘NIGEL!’ Indignant sucking in of breath. ‘These are PINBALL WIZARD CREW SHIRTS! Haven’t you NOTICED?’
Luckily for us all, having returned to UK on leave Big Tim had very kindly offered his top notch 12th floor apartment ‘in case Pinball isn’t ready’, which of course it wasn’t, with bits of engine sitting around awaiting Raymond’s return. So after my faux pas with the crew shirts, closely followed by the bad news that Pinball wasn’t even in the water yet, let alone working, it was a saving grace to be able to take the Terrible Two to Tim’s sumptuous abode and assuage my failures.
‘Ooh…this is nice. Wow. Don't mind staying here for a bit eh Kate!’
‘Ooh…beer. Want a beer Kate?’
‘God yes’.
‘Have you seen this fridge!’
‘Blimey! Think we might survive here for a bit.”

It was not all wonderful. The hot water was not playing. Having just flown in from Miami (‘Hated it!’ Just sat in the hotel. Never again’) showers were needed, but Fraser, living in an even bigger apartment in one of the other blocks, had kindly offered his facilities, so after enough beer had disappeared I took them down the lift, across the inner walkway showing them the swimming pool on the way, then up to Fraser’s. The most genial of hosts, and always charming, it was not long before ‘Dark and Stormy’ cocktails were in full production, and showers delayed not least by the fact that Louise was in it - another victim of shower failure.
That evening proved most congenial, as it always is with Fraser.

Meanwhile those magical, mysterious yet malfunctioning parts of the engine were away for an interminable week, arriving back just a few days before Christmas looking neat and tidy with all holes plugged, clean and like someone had at least taken an interest, to be re-fitted by a laconic Raymond and his team, no doubt to just shut that Captain up who kept ringing him daily. I hung around, in the way but not far away as Raymond had a habit of demanding things.
‘CAPTAIN!!’ I appear from on deck.
‘I need a 5/16th open ring spanner.’
‘Ok I’ll have a look’.
‘..and you need to change this fuel hose.’
‘Is it leaking?’
‘No. But you need to change it.’
‘Well what’s wrong with it then?’
‘Nothing. I just don't like it. I don't like sending my Captains to sea with things I don't like’.
Looking at the sleek RastaMan calmly sitting in my cockpit doing nothing very much, I said how I wouldn’t mind his job. He liked that. Job envy. As far as I could see, his job was solely to be there in case the sweating, bulky Raymond wedged in the narrow gap next to the engine compartment wanted something. A Gofer.

Next day, whilst I left Tim’s couch early to drive back to Pinball before the traffic to Chaguaramas clogged to a standstill at Carenage, Fraser took Marian and Kate up to the North coast for some solid beaching at Maracus - a beautiful bay pounded by the Trade winds, that I have yet to visit. Poor Captain.. For the next four days I would work on Pinball until dusk, badger Raymond if I could get him to answer his phone, then drive back to Tim’s in Port of Spain for the night.
After a few days of this, Marian complained..
‘Nigel its lovely being here and Fraser has been great, a real gentleman, but we’re not just here to go sailing, we’ve come to see you too, so if Pinball doesn’t get fixed then we want to spend some time with you ok?
‘Well I want to spend time with you, but you’ve come a long way and spent a lot of money to get here, to go sailing in Pinball. Pinball will be fixed!’ I probably sounded more confident than I felt. Would my lovely Yanmar engine ever work again? Was Raymond any good - I didn’t know him, no one had recommended him. It could all go horribly wrong, and the thought of all those bits of engine lying around……

Wednesday afternoon, four days to Christmas when everything shuts down for a week or more, Raymond rang at last.
‘The parts are arriving tomorrow. They are fixed. I will come and fit them tomorrow afternoon.’
It was not until late on that Wednesday that the Yanmar, with a gutsy roar, burst back into life whilst I tried to keep up with its thirsty sucking up of coolant water from the three buckets arranged next to the engine. A bucketful last about ten seconds, but what joy to hear it running normally again. Apparently, it had been ‘stuck at max fuel flow’.
I had already booked a launch for 1030 next day, an act of faith and optimism reinforced by pragmatism - this was the very last launch time available before the Christmas shutdown.

‘I really want to see Pinball’s launch’ Marian informed me. We arrived back at Pinball’s location next to the Office and shower block by 0900 - loads of time - only to find the full team of launchers sitting around waiting, whilst the smaller boat lift that works like a long forklift was already being positioned in the narrow space that Pinball occupied. Well, it was Christmas and they wanted to get away ASAP.
‘You ready Captain?’
‘Yup’. And I was. Good job I’d done the prepping yesterday…!
Marian was very excited, but not as excited as me. Launch time is always a bit stressful for the Skipper. Had I forgotten anything?
Pinball was then transferred from the small boat lift to the full on 60 ton boat lift that would lower him back into the oggin, and was soon trundling noisily down to the launch area. Marian, with a gay wave, said ‘just popping over to the wifi for a minute’ and was gone, such was the ’lovely Gary’s appeal. When she returned it was all over. Pinball was afloat.
‘You missed it. Thought you wanted to see it go in?

I was not going to hang about. With a go time of around 1600 for an overnight passage to Grenada, there was time for final preparations, load up the food from the car boot, visit Customs and Immigration over the other side at Crews Inn, with time to spare. But Immigration wanted to see my crew, this after filling in countless forms. I rang Kate on my UK phone, who were on the boat.
‘They need to see you both. So can you walk out the gate, turn right and down the road by about 400yds then right again up the road to Crews Inn, and I’ll meet you. Quick as you can.’
They got lost in the boatyard. After half an hour they’d just about found their way out, it was raining, welcome to cruising..!
The clearing process took a tedious hour and a half, so it was dark before Pinball reversed out of the launch area and slipped past the nearest moored yachts, an eager crew starting to gather up the mooring lines.
The red warning light on the engine console for Coolant Water failure glowed bright, whilst the accompanying attention getter horn was deafening. I tried to turn the horn off so I could think straight, but heh…you can’t!
‘ Well we’ll just have to go back, and try and sort it out’ I said trying to be positive. But to do this I needed the engine, and you’re supposed to shut it down immediately. Tough. Just have to keep the revs down..
I tried to nose back next to one side of the launch area that was accessible, but with the cross current running Pinball just kept drifting off and the girls couldn’t get a line ashore, and there was no one around to help either. After three failed attempts, complicated by having two pilings to drift onto and subsequently between, we opted for the refuel dock where the current would now be helpful drifting us on.

By next morning I had established the cause - loss of coolant due to a corroded and now useless hose clip on one of the hoses. No problem. But then, on further inspection, I found fuel dripping from that very hose that Raymond had urged me to change. It would have to be replaced. Trouble was, it was now 1150, and I knew Budget Marine would be closing early, probably 1200 for Christmas. I rang Kate and Marian who were wifi ing boyfriends.
‘I need another fuel hose. Can you go right now to Budget and ask them for one foot length of 5/16th fuel hose.’
‘Ok, text me the details’.
Marian, top girl, ran all the way in the pouring rain, arriving soaked and see-though, and got the part. The shop closed at 1230.

When you ‘clear out’ with Customs and Immigration, they stamp your passports, and the Skipper gets a ‘clearance’ - more paper. Then you’ve got 24 hours to go. Strictly speaking, thats 24 hours to be clear of National waters i.e. the twelve mile limit.
With the Yanmar fixed, test run for an hour or more, and no further problems, we set off again a day late, having missed the good ‘weather window’ of the previous day, and just 30 minutes to go the 24 hour deadline. However, I’ve never seen a Customs Officer look out the window yet, let alone go checking on boats. You’d think they would wouldn’t you?

As always, it was good to be on the move. From the busy industrial port of Chaguaramas we motored a few miles west on flat water past various anchored merchant ships until reaching the ‘Bocas’ - one of three inlets through the high ground to the north, each leading to the open sea. It was dusk as we left Trinidad behind and set course NNE motorsailing against a strong ENE wind with rather too much North in it. By using the engine and just a fully reefed mainsail Pinball could motorsail as close as 30 degrees to the wind, the sail producing some help for the engine, and stability in roll. The seas were ok initially, moderated by the landmass, but as we slowly drew away - we were only making 3 - 3.5 knots against the wind and swell - the sea got rougher. There were at least two swells running, one easterly, one northeasterly, with a further swell bouncing off the landmass behind, making a most unpleasant motion. Pinball was stable, firmly under control from the excellent autopilot, and the windspeed not excessive at around 25kts, but later on, after many hours of smashing into these nasty seas, the wind increased to 30kts steady, gusting 35kts. Kate had long disappeared below, I thought to sleep - the best way to cope with such conditions, if you can - but in fact I was informed later had buried herself under a blanket and was hanging on by her fingernails. Marian sat rigid opposite me in the cockpit in a Mae West and attachment harness, and was not enjoying herself.
‘Nigel. I am terrified’.
‘Ok, well no reason to be terrified, this is not dangerous, its just really unpleasant seas. REALLY unpleasant.’
Marian was then sick in the bucket, which took a while as it was a good meal that she’d had, before announcing she now felt better.
I made to get up to get something..
‘I’m not going anywhere, I’m just going to get something..’
‘I don't WANT you to go anywhere. I want you to stay here. I AM TERRIFIED!’
I stayed put. Then a bit later after a very brief visit to the cabin - explained to Marian in advance - I returned and was promptly sick in the bucket too.
‘Well you know things are bad when the SKIPPER IS SICK!’ announced Marian, with considerable perception.
Ten hours we’d been going, and had only just made the gas rigs - about a third of the distance. At this rate of progress it would be a 30 hour transit of hell on earth, arriving in the dark again. It should normally take 16 hours.
We turned around.

Eight hours later after a quite pleasant return trip travelling with the wind and seas, the crew back on form and enjoying themselves and the sailing, we are back at Chaguaramas by 0800 explaining to Customs and Immigration what happened.
‘Where were you?’
‘About 30 miles out’.
‘Oh. Well you’ll have to clear in again then’.
‘So what do I put where it says ‘arriving from’ on your arrival form?
‘High Seas’.
Another hour and a half of form filling and we’re piling into the Crew’s Inn restaurant for a mega breakfast - well deserved by such a brave and uncomplaining crew.
‘Can we have a beer now then?!’
It was Christmas Day.

Before we left, perhaps due to prescience, I had asked the immaculate Ramone in The Office where we could park if we didn't quite make it. ‘Dock A2’ she replied - almost next to Les and Louise’s BALI. So now, bringing Pinball back across from the Custom’s Dock, I dropped off Kate at the refuelling dock to go round and take our lines when we came into A2, which all worked a treat.

Minutes later Fraser appeared, as if by magic.
‘Who rang Fraser?!!’ Poor bloke. Thought he was free of us..
With the boat safe and secure, Fraser kindly took us back to the apartment, and later to his place for Christmas drinks partaken from the wonderful vista of his balcony. Considering no one had had any sleep the night before the crew impressed by having to be cajoled out of Fraser’s flat at 0415 having had to suffer the Skipper playing Fraser’s guitar and singing no less. And not a word of complaint from Fraser - who would that very day be flying out to Barcelona to see his lady love and her daughter. Top man!  

Boxing Day proved great fun. Louise had invited us to their beautiful rented property up in the hills north of Port of Spain, to try our hands at chocolate making. Les picked us up in the sunshine and before long we were having a go at this fascinating process, dressed accordingly. Louise, a human dynamo of energy and enthusiasm, and much travelled lover of the Caribbean, is on the brink of launching her own business and already has scored many successes.

Next day we were due to go sailing with Les and Louise in Bali, but it was cancelled later. However, the following day the Skipper set off with M & K in Pinball to sail along the inner sea of Gulf of Paria to the small island of Chacachacare, there for a swim, some lunch and a pleasant sail back to Chaguaramas. Pinball was cracking along beautifully doing 6.5kts as we passed the Bocas, and it was good to be able to show how pleasant sailing could actually be, occasionally.

Next day, 29th Dec, having spend hours on the internet looking for solutions for their return trip requirements, and having finally managed to change flights from a St Lucia departure to Trinidad, the girls were off, back to the fog, horses, dogs and boyfriends of Shropshire. I drove them to the airport - now back in PCA 9134, having asked for him specially - and we had an emotional parting. Marian - effervescent, ageless, spirited, beautiful, and her ever faithful friend Kate - practical, gentle, brave, resilient, emotional, music loving, I will miss more than is good for one. 

So on the surface, a failed mission.  Reality?  A wonderful time had by all.  Lesson?  Less than two weeks to go on  a sailing trip is asking for upset!  

A rock is a rock; its the people that shine