Tobago Test Run
18 December 2007 | Tobago
Hideko and I took one of the weekly trips organized by Jesse James to the local mall and specialty food store this morning. You could spend a good two weeks in Chagaramas just trying to do one of each of the standard tours and shopping runs that Jesse sponsors. It is always fun to mix with the local cruisers in the van on the rides as well.
The Long Circular Mall was small by super-size-me American standards but there are some neat shops there. The house wares shop was particularly cool. As good or better than any you'd run across back home. Hideko acquired several things we apparently really needed.
The second stop was at the Malabar Meats specialty food store. We found whole bean coffee (hard to come by here), hunks of white chocolate, filet mignons, and lots of great cheese. The place is freezing cold though. I can not understand what they are thinking. It is 80 outside and 55 inside. All of the people who work there wear heavy jackets (which you would never even own otherwise living in Trinidad) and the store manager offers jackets to customers who are shivering uncontrollably.
We returned to Swingin' on a Star around noon and noticed an industrious Norwegian making ready to sail. Stean had been working hard every day for the past several days getting Doris, his 35 Gibsea, ready to go. Both Hideko and I noticed that he seemed to be solo. I asked him where he was going and he said he was leaving for Tobago in a couple of hours. The seas were projected to be 2.6 meters and the wind was projected to be 15-20 knots blowing from Tobago with lots of squalls. Didn't sound like fun at all, especially single handed on a boat just back in the water after 6 months on the hard.
With Hideko's blessing I offered to give him a hand on the trip over. Stean seemed happy to have the help. So I took ten minutes to throw a bag together, jumped on Doris and off we went.
Our first stop was Chagaramas Customs. I was of no consequence because I was not leaving the country but the yacht did have to clear out for Tobago and then clear in again once in Tobago. Stean returned with no problems and we motored out of Chagaramas at about 15:00. We were using the Captain on Stean's laptop for chart plotting with a Garmin GPS. On the way out we noticed the chart plotter had us sailing through the middle of Monos Island. We would need to stay sharp on the traditional navigation and pilotage.
As we raised the mainsail Stean noticed two issues leftover from work by the yard's rigger/loft. The first, two sliders were missing from the top of the sail, which scalloped the main near the head. We had to live with that one. The second was a mix up with the reef lines. Both of the leach lines were going through the first reef point. Since Stean and I were both keen on using the second reef, given weather expectations, we decided to repair this item. While we were untying the line for reef one we began to get out into the cross current where the water flowing through the Chagaramas channel meets the water coming along the north coast of Trinidad. Doris gave us a lively ride through the big chop as we worked on the coach roof. Once in place we set in the second reef and turned to head out along the coast.
Conventional wisdom for getting to Tobago this time of year is: don't. Failing that, sticking close to the coast of Trinidad until you can cut directly across the current between Trinidad and Tobago is plan B. This also keeps you out of the way of the larger shipping traffic plying the local waters and maximizes the island lee affect if you are traveling at night.
It was very overcast and had rained on us twice already as we began to make our way up to the first point along the coast. The wind was from the northeast about 15 degrees off of the port bow, we tried the jib but at the time it was blowing 20 knots and it just wouldn't set in the conditions, so we rolled it up. It would be a motor sail the whole way, as expected.
Doris' motor was a salt water cooled Yanmar with about 3,000 miles on it. The motor was putting out a bit of white smoke, which concerned us a bit, but it sounded great and hummed quietly along the whole trip with no complaints. I don't have any experience with salt water cooled auxiliaries so I don't know what to think about the smoke.
Our first squall came in near sunset pressing the wind close to 30 knots. With two reefs in the main and pointing high Doris paid little mind and pounded through the chop dropping only about a knot in headway. The lee shore affect and failing visibility caused us to stay well off of the otherwise steep to coastline.
As we started to put our eta together it was looking like we were going to average 4.5 knots. Stean had a fairly pessimistic 3 knot model working when he departed. Unfortunately this was going to put us into Store Bay in 14 hours at the end of our 65 nautical mile run, very close to sunrise.
After sunset the wind died almost completely. The sky was still very overcast and looked fairly ominous. We could see some nasty black patches here and there in the distance. There were some lightning flashes to the west now and then but fortunately we did not run across any on our track.
We passed the time with various tales getting to know each other. I was intrigued as Stean described his school in Spitsbergen (http://www.unis.no/). Building a University on an island inside the arctic circle seemed like a unique project. Apparently you have to train all of the students in sub zero survival skills so that they don't freeze to death on the way to class. They also learn how to drive snow mobiles and how to handle large caliber rifles in case of polar bear encounters. It reminded me of the store I was at this morning. I would love to visit Spitsbergen one day, maybe in the summer.
After a couple more nice patches and a couple more squalls pressing 30 knots we decided to start the watch schedule. We had pealed off the Trinidad coast for Tobago before running across the 10 fathom shoal that lies about 30 miles down Trinidad's north shore. Stean hit the hay first a bit after 22:00. My watch was wet but uneventful. One squall, one calm and a stretch with 22 knots, some of everything. Visibility was often very impaired requiring a more focused lookout. The radar didn't help much when in the middle of a squall. Fortunately we hadn't seen any shipping once we were about a third of the way across to Tobago.
I woke Stean up around 01:00 with a little under four hours left on the GPS ETA. We had tacked, or I should say that the wind tacked for us, and we were now running with the current and the wind on the same side of the boat. The direction change typically signaled something interesting about to happen, but so far it was setting us right into the anchorage. The wind had been a steady 20 something for a while with an accompanying drizzle. After a clean hand over I went into the saloon and took probably a whopping 2.9 seconds to go completely comatose.
I woke up around 03:00 with the boat slamming fairly regularly. Stean had everything under control so I tried to catch another 50 winks. Then Doris started heeling hard over to port and began to slam with a little more purpose. There wasn't much main up and she had stayed fairly upright with 30 knots blowing. I got up and scrambled over the windsurfer and other gear bouncing around the cabin. When I asked Stean how it was going he said, "oh just a nice little 43 knot squall", as he wrangled with the main sheet. I guess I'd better get up.
As the first order of business after getting up I had to hit the head of course. Doris has one head in the bow. That was fun. Five points of stability required. I got back to the companionway, where Stean and I typically sheltered under the dodger from the stinging rain, just in time to watch a cascade of foam and water pile over the dodger at the perfect angle to stream precisely between Stean's head and the color of his foul weather jacket. I didn't laugh, though it took some effort not to.
We were coming into Tobago but not close enough to get any shelter. Visibility was still pretty bad and I spotted a fish trap going by a few feet off, far too late to do anything about it. Neither of us wanted to entertain the possibility of losing the auxiliary at this point. I took the helm and disengaged the autopilot, slowing down a bit as we closed in on the anchorage. Doris was still moving along at 3 knots and after a while the wind and rain finally started to relax. We were coming in on an uncharted hotel just south of Store Bay and looking for a sector light indicated on the chart. As the rain abated we spotted the airport, which is right at the south end of Store Bay, but we never saw a sector light, and the new hotel turned out to be a tanker on the tanker mooring.
The good news was that we were coming into the protected anchorage, the bad news was that it was 04:30 and rather dark. The main Store Bay anchorage is fairly deep. Picking out the shades of other boats anchored or moored (several without lights) we found a spot in 8 meters, a bit deep but as close as we could get without driving through the other boats. Stean dropped the hook and it set well on the first back down.
As we sat down to take a breather we both noticed how pretty the anchorage was. Tobago is certainly a much more idyllic island that industrial Trinidad. Even in the poor light we could see how blue and clear the water was. Two chocolate chip cookies later we were both sound asleep in the saloon.