Sailing to Trinidad
09 November 2007 | Chagaramas
After a long and wonderful stay in Grenada it was finally time to move on. We had been waiting for a northerly component in the east wind so that we could make Tobago from south Grenada. You need to make good a course of about 130 degrees true to get to Tobago from south Grenada. This is why most folks make the jump from further north, at least as far as Cariacou.
However today we had a prediction from both the IFS Spot and Chris Parker suggesting a gradient wind angle of 70 degrees. A wave was coming through and backing the wind around in front of its passage. This gave us 60 degrees to work with. Even if we lost 20 degrees to the apparent wind as we made our way briskly along we could easily sail 40 degrees off the apparent wind.
Unfortunately you must also take into account the equatorial current. Add to that the fact that waves bring disturbed air and squally weather with fluky winds and it was not going to be a good day for Tobago. As we planned our passage during the days prior we settled on Trinidad. All things considered Tobago is one of those "can't get there from here" places if you're in Grenada and want to sail.
Trinidad is almost a due south shot from Grenada, 177 true from Mount Hartman to Chagaramas for those taking notes. From port to port it would be a nearly 85 nautical mile run.
We set about getting the boat in order the day before but finished things up early this morning after a 5:15 wake up call. Sunrise was 6AMish and sunset was 6PMish so we had plenty of time to make the run in daylight. We left the dock at Martin's Marina just about 6AM and headed south out the channel. As soon as we cleared the reefs we put up the full main and brought out the entire jib.
The forecast called for winds around 15 knots but sailing to weather means you add about five knots to the forecast to get a feel for what you will be contending with. The squalls on the leading edge of the wave were designated as mild and not expected to exceed 25-30 knots. It was going to be an interesting sail, maximizing wind and wind angle while dodging squalls.
As we left the coast of Grenada we could see lots of little systems rolling in from the east. Cumulus clouds all, mostly little bunches of fluff but scattered here and there some towering black columns. A large shadowy mass of cloud cover was moving over Granada just as we left the south coast. It was good we left when we did or we may not have left at all. Hideko and I are fair weather sailors if given the choice and by one hour out we could see that the whole south coast of Grenada was getting hammered by showers from a substantial dark cloud mass condensing as it lifted up over the hills of the island.
In front of us was what Hideko called a complex video game. Given the description I felt well equipped to handle the situation. Swingin' on a Star was heading south across the map at one rate of speed and various clusters of clouds with varying threat levels were moving west at another set of speeds. We had the radar on to help us spot the nastier squalls and our AIS was doing a good job of charting all of the shipping traffic in and out of Trinidad.
We were clipping along at about 9 knots under sail with the starboard engine running. The engine was simply powering the watermaker, radar and other accessories whilst charging the batteries. Normally we run under solar panels alone when passage making but the combination of clouds, and our southern track causing the sails to shade the panels, had us burning dinosaurs for a bit. Shutting the engine off after a few hours only cost us a few tenths of a knot.
Once well clear of the increasing darkness around Grenada I began to focus on the skies ahead a bit farther out. There was a particularly tall and squally bit dead ahead of us. I wasn't sure whether I should head up to let it cross or to give it our all and try to run in front of it. The squalls were moving at about 15 knots with the gradient wind but it is tricky timing them until you come to grips with their distance off and, more importantly, what they are going to do to your wind as you approach them.
Due to their speed advantage we headed right for the squalls when we could. This generally involved us losing way as the wind got strange near the system and the squall crossing benignly in front of us. Hideko snapped a nice picture of a tall block of cloud that had moved off to leeward where the sun lit it brilliantly, exposing showers falling from all different levels and a gorgeous rainbow arcing up from its base. They look pretty from the outside only.
I stood ready to reef time and time again but we continued to get lucky. We basically stayed on course and sailed 8-9 knots with squalls passing ahead and behind across our track all the way. Other than a few light sprinkles we didn't even get wet. The radar was a big help on the few occasions where we had to maneuver.
On the open water we saw nothing but small condensed clusters of clouds, nothing huge and all encompassing. That came as we approached Trinidad.
There are two oil platforms, one normal and one humongous, about 30 miles off the Trinidad coast line. As you close on these, Trinidad, with her tall mountains, comes into view. Shortly thereafter you can make out Venezuela across the Bay of Paria. Just as we were getting excited to see more of the details come into view a large black mass began to move across the eastern horizon. Our destination was Chagarams on the west side of Trinidad. This gives moisture the entire islands width, and Trinidad is a big island, to lift up and condense as the ocean breeze climbs the mountains of Trinidad's interior.
The closer we came the nastier it looked. The radar showed a large black mass, indicative of heavy rain, and with it, typically, squally wind. After a while we lost sight of the island all together. It was mid day and yet we started to see blazing bolts of lightning in the darkness ahead.
The salty dogs can cackle as they may but I was not about to sail into that. We had never been to Trinidad before, and although we had good charts, electronic and paper, and the Doyle cruising guide, we had no local knowledge and a moderately narrow channel to sail through on the way to Chagaramas Bay with a hazard or two mid water. We pointed Swingin on a Star as far up wind as she would sail and waited patiently for the thunderheads to move off as we pinched our way along several miles off shore.
The first system slowly worked its way west. At first we were worried that it was going to just sit there stationary and rebuild itself over the island in an endless stream for a few hours like the fronts that live over parts of the Dominican Republic. After time it began to move out as well as dissipate. Unfortunately another squall was right behind it.
We had a decision to make. Gun it for the entrance in between the squalls or stand off until the blue sky behind the second squall. The problem was we were approaching 16:00 and we still had to sort out our affairs in a crowded anchorage. Hideko made the call, I wanted to chicken out but she said lets go for it. So off we sailed straight for the eastern most cut into the bay. As we approached I tried to gauge the approaching squall to see if we had a constant bearing (and thus an impending collision). As I was focused on the squall I got a dangerous target alarm from the AIS.
I looked on the chart and there was something big coming at us. It was pretty far away but it was moving. In fact I had never seen anything move that fast on the water (other than on ESPN). It was doing 40 knots. It was also totally invisible on radar while it was inside the large black mass of the squall. AIS of course had it pin pointed from a good 12 miles out.
The speeding target turned out to be a huge ferry spouting a giant roster tail, we guess on the way from Tobago to Port of Spain. It crossed well in front of us and was astounding to watch as it flew by. We were doing 10 knots at the time but felt as if we were standing still. I was fairly sure that the second squall was going to hit us but I was hoping to at least be lined up in the channel between the islands visually before it did in order to avoid making the entrance in restricted visibility.
Miraculously the second squall just sort of petered out right before making our position. We sailed through the majestic cliffs guarding the entrance to Trinidad's west coast in dry silence with only a squadron of pelicans on our quarter.
As we came upon Scotland Bay we began to see boats. Lots of boats. Power boats galore to the credit of the locals (who are up in arms about paying $1 US per gallon for fuel) and sailing boats to the credit of cruisers from all over. Rounding the corner of Chagaramas bay exposed a scene consisting of more yachts than we had ever seen in one place before. Yards, marinas and anchorages, all filled to capacity with summering boats, many preparing to sail off into the Caribbean on December 1st when their insurance kicks back in.
We had arranged a stern to berth at Peake Yacht Services where we hoped to get our final work done to prepare for our South Pacific crossing in the Spring. We had about 30 feet of room which is not saying much when your beam is 26' 4". Add to that the task of picking up a mooring to tie the bow off while backing around and not fouling the prop in any of the mooring lines going to the boats on either side of you.
Hideko did a masterful job and with the help of a couple of dinghies to tie off lines and help us around when running the auxiliaries would have been unwise we made it in without hitting anything. The cruiser community here is in top form. You will never find more kind and giving people willing to help you at the drop of a hat.
Once settled onto the dock we brought the main halyard back to rig up our pasarelle and reworked the temporary tie up to suit our needs. If you are ever helping a captain get on the dock don't bother doing anything but making the line fast, because the captain is just going to come around after the boat is secure and redo everything the way he wants it anyway.
To my astonishment power and water are included in the $0.70 per foot catamaran rate. Power is ultimately diesel on the islands, and diesel was cheap here. Water was also coming down from the heavens frequently at no charge. We had not plugged in to shore power since Saint Martin. This was largely because we prefer to stay out of marinas but also because the power south of Saint Martin is 50 Hz. You can always figure out something with funky voltage but not the cycles. Our charger can only do 60Hz so we simply can't plug in anywhere in the eastern Caribbean. Except Trinidad, bless them and their free 60Hz power. We would be enjoying air conditioning and espresso while grinding away at our final refit.