RELAUNCH AT LAST, AND A HARD LESSON
POSITION 11:99.85N, 61:75.84W GRENADA
THE DINGHY MAN came and had a look.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wednesday afternoon, four days to Christmas when everything shuts down for a week or more, Raymond rang at last.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
NEXT: SECOND ATTEMPT AT GRENADA