Tobago Tour

Sun 26 Feb 2023 22:08

With our self-steering back in operation, we needed to do something different so decided to take a trip to Tobago. We had been given dire warnings about the crime there but both the Fishcakes and Peter and Linda on Koka Chin had been enthusiastic about it so, on Monday evening before it got dark, we left Prickly Bay for the 80 mile leg across to Tobago.  We wanted to sail overnight to be sure of arriving in daylight.  I had no pilotage information for Tobago and only the electronic charts. For the first time in my sailing career, I sailed a passage without having a paper chart to record progress on, or for backup.  The leg over was close hauled in the north easterly wind and we arrived off Man Of War Bay around 10 am  and anchored in Pirates Bay with only two other yachts in sight.

We had only just got the hook down and the boat a bit ship-shape with the Tobago courtesy ensign and Q flag hoisted when two ladies in an open boat pulled alongside.  These turned out to be the customs officer and the port health official who quizzed us over our health and the animals we were carrying and wanted to make sure we intended to visit their offices to clear in with them and immigration.   The ladies, in muffty, it turned out later, had been helping with some net fishing when they saw us and our Q flag.

We duly got ourselves ashore in the dinghy and found the offices and were presented with a myriad of forms on different coloured paper for heath and customs to complete. The health form included question on the number of stowaways and how many deaths had occurred on the passage.  Several forms had to be completed in quadruplicate, some forms had carbon paper. Unfortunately the immigration officer was not present and  we had to call back again the following morning with two photocopies each of our passports and the ships papers – their photocopier was out of ink and we could get copies in the library next door.  The library was an oasis of cool and calm and we joined so that we could use their wifi.  The following day we turned up, slightly later than the immigration officer was expecting and we had to wait for her to return with her lunch in bags for later.   Another plethora of forms and the final knockings of customs clearance because they couldn’t actually  sign off the forms we completed yesterday until immigration had been completed.

We also discussed clearing out and were going to leave on Sunday but that would have incurred an overtime charge so arranged to clear out on Friday morning with a 24 hour ‘window’ enabling us to leave on Saturday.

After this we tried to find somewhere for lunch without success but there was a large gathering of people at an open-air eatery event in the village square which turned out to be a church fund-raising lunch with an exotic menu of local foods most of which we had no idea what they were.  We queued to buy tickets but then had to go and buy beers to get change because they couldn’t change our large denomination TT $ notes.   Queued again for tickets and then exchanged the tickets for cutlery and a deep plastic plate. Then joined the queue which by now completely encircled the stalls serving the food.  The slow progress around the queue did allow us to talk to the other diners and get info on some of the menu items: callaloo – a bit like spinach,  cou-cou – a polenta-based solid cake,  dumplin, pigeon peas, casava and plantain were more familiar- with choice, or combinations of pork, shrimps, chicken and fish to top it off.  The ladies fund raising for the church were operating a dozen different serving stations but kept disappearing to get plates filled at different stations and also to make up plates for associates/friends not in the queue.  It was operated by volunteers for a good cause but made the system in the customs shed at St George’s where we collected our Hydrovane rudder look positively slick. The food was good, and we didn’t need anything later in the evening.

Finding the tourist office enabled us to organize a hire car for the following day and we drove along the coast with amazing views of the bays from high promontories and then across the island to the Gilpin walking trail in the UNESCO World Heritage rain forest.  The walk was a bit muddy underfoot, but we had the place to ourselves most of the time and the peace and serenity within the forest was therapeutic. We could hear birds but didn’t sight many.  Bizarrely, I received a phone call from customs to say could we clear out today because the immigration officer now wouldn’t be available on Friday. I explained we were in the rain forest, and it would be difficult.

We carried on with our road trip via a lunch stop: shrimp, fish, pork or chicken the  only options, always served with the standard vegetables: cou-cou, casava, plantain etc, etc.  and that was OK but afterwards stopping at a roadside ice-cream shack with an astonishing view, the highlight was hummingbirds sampling from the flowers just outside the open window we were enjoying the view from.

On to Scarborough, the capital, and back along the Atlantic coast which was more developed and with more agriculture, to Roxborough and Speyside before crossing the high, forested ridge back to Charlotteville and immigration.  I explained I didn’t have the ships papers because we thought we had an appointment tomorrow, but she made us dinghy out to get them and waited for us but then doubled the clearance fee because we were outside of office hours.

On Friday morning after the clearing out debacle we took the car back to Speyside and explored a bit there before handing it back. We couldn’t find the hire car business but were eventually flagged down by the hirers mother who had phoned her neighbour to stop us and make us turn around.  We the walked to Gemma’s Tree House for lunch.  As the name suggested it was an open-air, first floor restaurant built around an enormous and ancient almond tree on the beach front.

The sail back, with a free wind on Friday night, was very fast and we arrived early off the Grenada coast on Saturday morning and had to take the headsail off to slow down and wait for it to get light.  There is little or nothing in the way of  navigation aids here.

Despite the dire warnings about security, we were impressed by Tobago: the people were friendly (discounting immigration) and the scenery and rain forest spectacular and undeveloped and tourism seemed invisible.  We were offered a lift by a local after we had returned the hire car, people went out of their way to recommend places to eat or visit. The car hirers’ mother would have taken us in for a beer because she was worried that Gemma didn’t sell alcohol in the Tree House.  While we were away, someone also re-secured our dinghy for us on the landing stage when one of my lines had come adrift.


Pirates Bay - Scathach in the far distance
Forms for clearing out. When did you last see carbon paper?
The beach at Speyside from Gemma's Tree House
Brian wondering if he can fit in a swim
Jungle colour