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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
200 Ton Masters Coursework
11/22/2007, Fort Lauderdale

I have relocated to the Embassy Suites right next door to the IYT headquarters where all of the course work takes place for the 200 ton masters program. The hotel is very nice but I am not seeing much of it. The class room part of this program runs Monday - Sunday and seems to ignore Thanksgiving (perhaps it's because the British are running the place?).

We have an exam every morning except Monday. Those applying for the MCA and USCG licenses must get a 90% on the Colregs and Navigation exams and 70% on the Ship Stability and Construction, General Deck Knowledge, Weather, etceteras. So far the program has been a great refresher in some areas and has improved my knowledge substantially in others.

Trinidad and Tobago
11/15/2007, Fort Lauderdale

The MCA (British Maritime Coast Guard Agency) seems to be leading the way in yacht licensing. The professional yacht crew space is growing rapidly and no one else has stepped up to put standards in place so much as the MCA.

Currently to work on most boats in the Caribbean you need to have STCW certification. This includes Sea Survival (inflating life rafts in a freezing swimming pool at night), Personal Safety and Social Responsibility (what? we need to teach people how to be responsible?), First Aid (standard CPR/First aid) and Fire Fighting. The STCW program composed the first week of the 200 ton masters course.

All of the courses were fun and interesting but I really learned a bunch in the Fire Fighting bit. Day one is class room and day two is all practical. Our Fire Fighting portion was taught at the Resolve School in the Fort Lauderdale port. Oddly the Non-SS Manatee (plumbed every which way with propane lines so that they can burst any part of the vessel into massive flames on a whim) is located a couple hundred feet from huge petroleum tanks inside the port. I suppose the port planning engineer was on vacation that day.

We put out lots of kinds of fires with various types of fire extinguishers but the exercises that put you in an enclosed space with raging flames were the most eye opening for me. The hot box bit where you are in an enclosed steel room wearing full fire gear and breathing through a mask with a load of burning pallets bringing the ceiling temp to several hundred degrees was particularly intense.

Trinidad and Tobago
Fridge Fixing
11/14/2007, Chagaramas

At 8am, a rigger was supposed to come to see about bringing our reef lines to the cockpit and he finally showed up at 3pm. At least he came and he seemed positive about the job.

The refrigerator guy was here at 11:30am as promised by the office lady that I spoke to this morning (because he didn't show up yesterday). We have had a little water collecting under our refrigerator and we wanted to find the source and stop it. The refrigerator's leakage was identified as a place on the coolant pipe that was not insulated and thus causing lots of condensation. They cleaned things up and hopefully fixed the problem.

This gave me a chance to clean up back there for the first time. I found playing cards from the MacKenzie kids visit in the process. It is amazing the places kids can get to. It made me smile to think of them.

I have been asking a lot of cruisers around for contractor recommendations. Advent Endeavour who was next to us when we first came to the Peake dock left early this week to anchor out but came by this afternoon with their dog. They gave me a few recommendations from another boat that I spoke to earlier who is now anchored near them. Advent Endeavour is leaving early tomorrow morning for Grenada. It is always sad to say good-bye to the people you have become friends with, even if over a short time. They also knew that Randy was gone so I felt like they looked after me.

A couple of days ago, a French couple came in across from us on the dock. I helped them dock here and they invited me for a cocktail. We had some nice French wine and salmon with bread. They were a very sweet couple. Their nephew is coming soon from France and then they will head North before Randy comes back.

Trinidad and Tobago
Busy time of year
11/13/2007, Chagaramas

The internet connection here is not great but, as best I can, I will update you all on how I am doing in Trinidad with Roq while Randy is gone.

The first thing I did today was of course, make a latte. I am getting better at it but I can't seem to make the foam all that fluffy. I guess I am not meant for making lattes. There are certain tasks that Randy and I divide on the boat. He does mechanical and weather and etc., I do food and cleaning stuff and etc. I guess latte making must be mechanical or something.

I did not reazlie how busy boat yards can get. I went to three upholstery places for new cushions and a cockpit enclosure today and they all told me that they were booked until January. One rigger that I was recommended told me the same. Fortunately, I found another rigger that might be able to do the work and the guy seemed to be very professional and knowledgeable. He was a sailor years before he started working at the shop, which means he understands the importance of his work (not all are or do).

I spent the afternoon checking out a chandlery and getting fresh milk, very challenging in the Caribbean but no problem in Trinidad. I came back to the boat and waited for a refrigerator guy to show up but he didn't come. He had rescheduled a couple of times already. I don't know if it is good that I am having to wait for a guy who is in demand or if I should be using someone who shows up when he says he will (perhaps this person does not exist down here?).

Trinidad and Tobago
Crew Quarters
11/12/2007, Fort Lauderdale

So it turns out I'm staying two doors down from the Porn Megaplex. Er, perhaps some background is in order.

Hideko and I had a one year plan to get prepared to live on a yacht and cruise around the world. I think we, especially Hideko, did a good job of executing that plan. It involved the entire ASA program except Celestial Navigation and Passage-making, although I did take the Celestial course. We also completed the IYT Master of Yachts Coastal course.

While the ASA classes were good for recreational boating I felt that the IYT program was much more in line with the needs of someone living aboard. There's a big difference between living on a boat and recreating on a boat. If you are recreating and the weather's bad you tie the boat up and go home or sail the boat back to the charter base or what have you. If you live on the boat and the weather is bad you suck it up and deal with the situation. It is important to be prepared to deal with said situation.

The Master of Yachts Coastal program required real on the water time, night sailing a radio rating and involved a lot of elements I found quite valuable in the class room and practical portion off the course. So as we refined our plan we decided that the IYT Master of Yachts Offshore would be a good rating to have prior to crossing an ocean but after we had a years worth of sailing in the Caribbean under our belts.

I needed to go to Florida for business sometime in November. A few days before we left for Trinidad I began looking into course availability for the Off Shore program in Florida. As I pulled the thread the sweater unraveled and the next thing I knew Hideko and I were discussing whether I should go to Fort Lauderdale to complete the course in a few days or not. We knew there would be a lot of down time in Trinidad while we had various projects completed. Everyone is coming back to Trinidad to get their boats out of the yards for cruising season and all of the shops that should have had various tasks completed three months ago on those boats are scrambling.

In the end we decided that this might be the last chance to complete the final step in our preparations plan. Hideko said go and although I have a hard time being away from my family for a day or two, much less three weeks, I decided that the knowledge and the license were worth the unhappiness in the long run.

The round trip from Port of Spain to Fort Lauderdale was only $500 US and a snap on Expedia. My final task was finding a hotel close to the school because the class was 17 solid days in a three week period with one night in the pool playing with life rafts and 5 days at sea. Fort Lauderdale was packed. I tried several hotels and had no luck. I inquired at the school and they informed me that there were crew quarters that I could stay in. Huh, Crew Quarters, who knew? I called the first one on the list and boom, I was set, and at a rate of $50 a night!

An alarm should have gone off in my head at this point, but no. I arrived at the airport and the crew quarters folks even picked me up. I was very up beat. Then the rules were explained, no parties after hours, no entering the girls part of the house, garbage goes over here, never go in the front door, and on. My vision of a quaint suburban abode with three or four folks relaxing by the pool studying for the 200 ton masters license was deflating. As we arrived at the house the stark reality seized me by the shoulders and gave me a good shake.

The house is, well, ratty. Not that there are rats, well, none that I have seen. What I mean is that the walls are scuffed with no base boards, the carpets are of a condition that inspires you to avoid direct skin contact, the upstairs sports a drop ceiling like a cheap office building, the sheets don't match and have holes in them, you have to provide your own towel (which is probably a blessing), I could go on but you get the idea.

It has been entertaining to some degree. There are little notes everywhere telling you the dos and don'ts. While the experience has been somewhat humbling, which is never bad, I do miss having a desk to study at, my one real gripe. It is very close to everything and I have been able to walk, right past the Porn Megaplex, to the school and there are plenty of restaurants close by. That said, the bottom line is that unless you are under 29 and enjoy staying in a house with 15 other young adults, I would skip the crew quarters and check into the Embassy Suites (I tried to yesterday but they are full up). I enjoyed Animal House the movie, I also liked being able to turn it off and go to sleep if I wanted to.

Trinidad and Tobago
Dog Ramps
11/11/2007, Chagaramas

Randy left at 4am for Florida today to get his 200 ton masters license and take care of other businesses. I was so sad to see him go. At the same time, I am determined to do the best job I can getting the boat work started while he is gone.

After I sent Randy off, I went back to asleep and then got up again around 8:30am. I meant to catch my first Cruisers Net on VHF 68 but when I turned the radio on, all I heard was silence. I made myself a latte which wasn't as good as Randy makes but better than the one I made yesterday (at least I am improving).
I went to the Peake chandlery here at the boat yard to get a bailer for the Little Star but the store was closed. I walked around the quiet yard and then realized it was Sunday. Everything is closed. I ended up having a relaxing day with Roq.

As I was checking the lines and the fenders the next boat over, Avent Adventure, was about to take their dog for a walk. They use one of the Peake provided ramps, a board less than a foot wide which runs from their cockpit to the dock at a 45 degree angle. Their black standard poodle, Tristan was very hesitant to climb down the ramp. It is Sunday and many power boats blast through the anchorage on the weekend creating big wakes causing the boats on the dock to bounce about making things even more interesting. Don and Ellen carefully guided Tristan down the ramp with Don on the nose and Ellen on the tail. Tristan basically did and assisted slide down the wet ramp. Every time I watched this process, I had to laugh but I also thought of Roq.

Roq is not used to our pasarelle and he freaks out when he is on it. After seeing Tristan, I decided to make some adjustments to our boarding ramp. I thought that if Roq feels like there is a wall on one side of ramp and he knows he can not fall he might feel better about walking on it. So I grabbed a skinny line and started to make a net through the wire stanchions. It is not perfectly symmetric or artistic but it is a net and hopefully Roq will not go over board, at least on that side.

Tomorrow, when the ramp is dry, I plan to put non-skid sheets on it. I hope Roq will like them better than the slippery fiberglass.

Trinidad and Tobago
Sailing to Trinidad
11/09/2007, 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.

Trinidad and Tobago

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