Sunday, 23 May 2004

London, UK, May 23rd: Final sail to Trinidad

I’m writing this in Kensington, London at Elisabeth (our daughter) and Hugh’s house, so as planned we have left the boat for summer storage in Trinidad and are slowly on our way back to Norway. And with a lot of rain and humid heat in Grenada and Trinidad lately, it is pleasant again to breathe cool, dry European air in long twilight evenings – not to mention the fun of seeing family and friends - and catching up with some classical culture...
After our last report, we remained at anchor in the Lagoon, St George for another week (of daily rain…) and had time to socialize with other yachties. Breeze was the first and last Norwegian yacht we had met since Mindelo, Cape Verde. They had to move on quickly, but we spent some time with two nice couples on the Swedish yachts Miz Mae (Lilly & Thomas) and Malinda (Eva & Leif). The Grenada Yacht Club is an open, friendly, relaxed place where food and drinks, laundry and several other facilities are reasonably priced. No wonder some yachts get their anchors stuck for good, like the French, green and rusty yacht named Boof next to us…We also took the opportunity to see more of St George and the surrounding area by foot. The old Fort George on the hill between the two halves of the capital has a commanding view of the town and adjacent coast, and looks over to the island jail on top of another hill just east of the Lagoon. In the fort’s quadrangle is a bronze plaque commemorating the execution of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and most of his cabinet in October 1983. This brutal action enraged the international community and prompted an invasion of USA-supported CariCom forces. Self-appointed PM Bernard Courd was arrested and thrown in the jail on the hill where he remains to this day. (Maurice Bishop was a Castro-inspired socialist with idealistic visions, but his methods were rough and dictatorial. Courd, a former party colleague, engineered a coup, but proved to be even rougher.)
Posters outlining the history of Fort George (initially built by the French in 1705) reminded us of how the Caribbean islands used to change hands: Grenada was originally annexed by France in 1650 (from the native Caribs, who were more or less annihilated), but Britain took over in 1763, France again in 1779 and British finally in 1783. Independence was declared in 1973, but the country remains a member of the British Commonwealth.
Monday 10th May in the afternoon we cleaned the mud and clay from the anchor, motored outside to drift along Grand Anse Bay and have a refreshing swim before hoisting sails for Trinidad. Shortly afterwards a succession of rain squalls with gale force gusts caught up with us and sent us spinning past the SW cape. The weather settled after an hour, but seas became choppy and the movements as rough as back in the North Sea last July. The reason is a long, shallow continental shelf and a lot of current south of the island. But shortening sails improved conditions inside, and in the wee hours of the morning is was almost comfortable. Dawn revealed the hills of Trinidad looming ahead, an oil rig and several large ships and to the west we could also make out the NE cape of Venezuela.
In the passage we had nearly two knots current against us and made painfully slow progress, but there was plenty to look at and entertain us; lush, green hillsides and lots of birds – the familiar laughing gulls, gannets, pelicans and frigate birds and – for the first time – large vultures. Suddenly we became aware of a high pitched noise. Engine problems? No, the infernal music was from cicadas on land! Just inside the passage we were met by five large dolphins, an encounter that always gives us a feeling of being welcome and never fails to make us happy!
Just before noon we tied up at the Customs & Immigration Dock at Chaguaramas. After a lot of paperwork we moved to a buoy outside Peake’s Yacht Services (PYS). At Peake’s we arranged for lifting out two days later on the 14th, a few days earlier than originally planned
The Chaguaramas area was originally an American naval base, but after they left it has developed into the biggest concentration of yachting and boating facilities we have seen so far on our travels. PYS is only one of several marinas catering for storage on land and repairs/maintenance, but there are also boat builders and a profusion of shops including chandlers and hardware shops. There are also sail makers, carpenters, engineers, welders, painters, and experts on refrigeration, electrics and electronics. The area is well kept and tidy, with hardly any litter (unusual for the Caribbean, I’m afraid). Around all this maritime activity is beautiful, wild rain forest as the area is also a national park.
While waiting for hauling out, we motored the two miles around the peninsula to the Carenage anchorage. This was rolly and uncomfortable at first but towards evening became beautifully calm as described in our guide. Then we also noticed a number of people fishing along the shore. They kept hauling in long, shiny fish, but we could not make out what kind exactly. Well, we soon found out, for as Diana and I took a row ashore to the yacht club a long, flat and shiny fish with large teeth suddenly jumped into the dinghy! (And Diana nearly jumped out!) But the fish met its end with a quick blow from the oar and was eaten for dinner next day (tasted OK, but too many small bones). The fish looks a little like a flat snake mackerel, but with the wrong tail. (We still do not know its correct name, if you recognize it from the picture, let us know!)
PYS proved to be as efficient and professional as their reputation, we were safely and quickly lifted out, pressure-hosed and placed beside other catamarans in the back of the marina. Diana and I stayed aboard while Eli moved into the small hotel run by the Bight Restaurant at the waterfront. So for the last few mornings we woke up to calls and songs from a variety of birds, including parrots and the yellow-breasted kiskadee – named after its characteristic call. In between a lot of boat work and packing these last days we did a little sightseeing. However, the centre of the capital Port of Spain late one Sunday afternoon had a lot of emaciated street dwellers and beggars and did not seem very inviting to us. But our trip to the Caroni Swamp was a real adventure. The ranger who drove the boat was excellent and pointed out many “hidden” animals in the mangroves and the brackish waters. – Among these were a large snake hanging above us in a ball, an ant eater that looked a bit like a teddy bear and a cayman (alligator) with only eyes and nostrils showing. But the main object of the trip, the scarlet ibis, national bird of Trinidad & Tobago, did not need pointing out! In the evening this brilliantly coloured bird returns from the beaches to roost in the mangroves; 15.000 in this area alone! With the red ibis also come flocks of white and blue herons, and with the bright green mangroves as a backdrop, the whole migration is a truly colourful spectacle.
Rain the final day was a nuisance, but by midnight and after a lot of hard work, the boat and we were finally ready. After a short sleep a taxi collected us at 4 am, so in the early hours of 19th May we patted White Admiral goodbye, see you 1st September!
BWIA brought us to Barbados where we had almost the whole day before the Virgin Atlantic flight to London in the evening. But Dora Herbert had kindly invited us to Port St Charles for lunch with some of her family, so in spite of yet more rain this turned out to be a most enjoyable day. Eli had a good sleep, Diana a long swim and a jog on the beach, I had a good work-out in the PSC gym and we all had an excellent lunch; thank you Dora!
Main event here in London has been the Ocean Rowing Society dinner Friday 21st. 100 people made it a capacity crowd at the distinguished Army & Navy Club, Pall Mall, and ORC Director Kenneth Crutchlow was in his element. The dinner was honoured by the presence of the Governor of Barbados and his wife. And we enjoyed meeting again nearly all the rowers we had seen leaving La Gomera Jan 20th , most of whom we also met again in Barbados. Two rowers missing, however, were Henry Dale and Louis Ginglo, who had only reached Barbados his week. (Louis as the last rower arrived the day before the dinner (to Kenneth’s great relief) after spending 121 days at sea! It was a night especially for the rowers and their relatives. Speeches and prizes were given, and we on White Admiral were also shown appreciation for our support.
That was two days ago. But yesterday also provided a special occasion for Diana and I. We left Eli to watch the FA Cup final, and secured last-minute tickets to the English National Opera were we saw The Valkyrie by Richard Wagner. It is our first live Wagner opera experience and it was amazing. With two intervals the performance lasted 5 hours. But there was never a dull moment as the drama, the music and the singing was enthralling, almost overwhelming. Afterwards, on our way to the Underground Diana and I walked hand-in-hand in the cool, clear night past famous landmarks like Trafalgar and Leicester Square, and lots of others enjoying London’s sights and shows by night. We talked in awe about our great musical event, and felt very privileged and happy to share such amazing experiences from such different environments as the Caroni Swamp and the English National Opera…
23 May 2004 by Stein & Diana

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