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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Sailing to Tobago
12/24/2007, Tobago

Today we sailed for Tobago. We had been in Chagaramas for a while and managed to get a few things done but still haven't even started on the big projects. Everyone is either too busy or not working so we decided to stop swimming up stream and come back in mid January. In the mean time Tobago here we come.

The Guyana Current (Equatorial Current, Lesser Antilles Current, or what ever else you would like to call it) makes a strong showing in the gap between Trinidad and Tobago. Most folks Sailing for Tobago from Trinidad hug Trinidad's north coast and then shoot across the smallest possible gap.

There is one other play in the play book however and we were going to try it. The flood tide in this area is supposed to create an opposing current and on a spring tide you can even cancel out the Guyana current, so they say. It was a full moon and max flood looked to be at around 13:30.

I was particularly fond of this plan because it allowed us to leave around 9AM in order to make the channel crossing at 13:30. We already had the boat pretty much ready to go and had all of our routes set up on paper and electronics.

Getting off the dock was an interesting exercise. We had two nasty lines tied out front. We removed the cross ties taking us down to two quarter lines on the stern to the dock. Billy, who lives on his Peterson across the dock from us, helped me with the stern lines while Hideko was out in the dinghy getting the bow lines off of the buoys. I just made sure that we didn't slide into the 100 foot Turkish motor sailer to port.

Once the scuzy lines were aboard I drove over to the fuel dock and Hideko met me there on the dink. Hideko fueled us up while I took the dink over to customs. We didn't have to visit immigration but they want you to check in and out of customs when you go to Tobago or any other anchorage for that matter. I think one of the main reasons folks don't cruise Trinidad and Tobago is that the government makes it a real hassle. Between the north coast of Trinidad and the various anchorages of Tobago is would be a fun place to gunkhole. Sailing around casually like this is almost impossible though because you have to check in with customs every time you go somewhere.

The check out didn't take long and I felt bad for the guys working on Christmas eve. I was their only customer at the time. When I got back to the boat we put the dink up on deck and headed north. As expected it was rather bumpy where the currents cross right as you exit in to the Atlantic but things settled into a 4-6 foot shortish swell after that. Not a dream, but not bad at all either. We stayed close to the North coast to keep out of the current and did a nice 9 knots as we motor sailed along the coast. If we can manage it we'd love to stop at several of the beautiful anchorages we saw along the way.

A story told by another sailor made this sound bureaucratically untenable. The guy told me that upon notifying customs in Tobago that he would be heading back to Chagarams but stopping in each of two anchorages on the way they said, "you'll have to go to Chagaramas first then sail back to the other anchorages". Apparently the Tobago folks can't clear you for Trinidad anchorages. When he told then that he could only sail down wind and that these anchorages were miles upwind from Chagaramas, the official was taken aback, not realizing sailing upwind was difficult. After a moment of reflection he said that he was sorry about the wind but that the sailor would have to go to Chagaramas.

About a third of the way along the coast we ran across a fleet of fishing boats. They were classic looking craft with huge flocks of birds perched all about them, the overflow winging about waiting for a spot to open. Dodging the patchwork lines they inscribed back and forth along my path gave me something to do for a half hour or so. They clearly knew they had the right of way.

We turned onto a heading of about 070 and made for Tobago at around 12:30. At first I was encouraged. It seemed like the tide was holding off the prevailing current. Then as we got further and further into the channel the heading and COG began to diverge. At its worst we were being set about 12 degrees off track and losing as much as a knot and a half of way. So much for the tidal current cancelation theory, given the 12 degree set at a boat speed of eight to nine knots the prevailing current works out to be over 1.5 knots. Even though our current plans didn't work out, it was a blue sky day along our track and a pleasant sail.

We arrived at the anchorage in Store Bay and parked right behind Doris who was still right where I left her. I was happy we would get to meet Stian's family. We had also agreed to join Hideko's friends on Andromeda for Christmas eve dinner at Latitude 11 around 7PM.

We got Swingin' on a Star settled and took showers quickly so that we wouldn't hold up the works. Store Bay doesn't have a jetty or pier to land on but the swell that was on its way hadn't come in yet, so the beach landing didn't look too bad tonight. After getting dressed up (in so far as you ever really get dressed up in the Caribbean) we dinghied over to Andromeda.

Andromeda is a Dean 42. Michal, the skipper, spent quite a bit of time in South Africa working with the factory to get her they way he wanted. She is a lovely catamaran with a great interior. We shared a celebratory glass of Champaign with Michal, his wife Mary, Alexandra their 15 month old, their nanny Bethn, and their friend Courtney who was visiting for the holidays.

We spent the rest of the evening enjoying a wonderful dinner at the splendid Latitude 11, a short walk from the beach. I had the Christmas special with fantastic turkey, stuffing and gravy not to mention the other four courses. Others enjoyed fillet mignon and wahoo. It was a great evening and a wonderful chance to interrogate the very experienced Andromeda crew. Everyone had a wonderful Christmas eve, even Roq who greatly appreciated the fillet left overs.

Trinidad and Tobago
Nasty Lines
12/23/2007, Chagaramas

We were prepping our boat for a trip to Tobago today and we decided to check on the lines as we got things ready to go. We had recently purchased two brand new 100 foot long inch three strand nylon lines to use as coconut tree lines. They had never been used prior to our arrival in Chagaramas but they came in handy for tying the bow off to the buoys out front.

The photo here shows what one month in the water at Chagaramas did to our lines. We are going to let them sun bleach for a couple days and then soak them in soapy water for a couple more to see if we can get them to recover. The huge amounts of hard growth (barnacles and what not) totally amazed me. Glad we have fresh bottom paint.

Trinidad and Tobago
White Christmas
12/22/2007, Chagaramas

Defrosting the freezer gave us a chance to see snow. We have been running the freezer (24/7) since October of 2006. The ice was starting to encroach on our ice cream space. My best guess is that we acrued about 1 cubic foot of ice per year. We have added a defrost to our annual maintenance list.

Trinidad and Tobago
The Peake Dock
12/21/2007, Peake

The Peake dock is a temporary spot for most folks and perhaps the least desirable of the several docks in Chagarams. We ended up here because all of the other docks were full. This dock is out in the bay a bit more and gets more swell and a lot more wake from the power boats coming and going. Crew's Inn would be my first choice if reserving a spot in Chagaramas.

The Peake dock is very reasonably priced though and offers free water and power.

Trinidad and Tobago
12/20/2007, Chagaramas

When I returned from Florida I went through the boat a bit to make sure that she was ok after being plugged into the dock for a few weeks.

As I reached up to turn on one of the halogens in the saloon using the little twist bezel I noticed something I didn't like. There was an electrical burn running straight through the plastic from the base through the twist bezel. Not good.

My assessment is that due to the design of the lights it is very easy to leave them almost on. Almost on means possible arcing, heat build up and bad things down the line from there.

These lights have some pros. They can be individually turned on and off, they are bright, and they dim nicely. On the down side, the bezels pop off easily and can get hung up making it hard to figure out how to turn them on or off, they are power pigs, and due to the less than positive on/off switching they have the burn problem depicted here. The last two items are the nails in the proverbial coffin.

Our friends on Andromeda have 12 LED composite lights that are the exact same size. My original concern was that the LEDs would not dim due to the voltage sensitivity but Andromeda's do. My last LED discussion was a year ago with a friend on Shanty in Exuma and voltage sensitivity was still a big issue. Looks like the LEDs are coming of age.

I am now scouring the Internet for a dozen or so LEDs to replace all of my halogen lights.

Trinidad and Tobago
Tobago to Trinidad
12/19/2007, Store Bay

I woke up at 08:30 feeling a little bruised and crusty after the previous evening's escapades. Doris was happily rolling in the swell coming around Buccoo Reef to the north. Stean woke up and immediately offered me chocolate chip cookies. Of course I ate them.

Seeing as how my Tobago side trip was fairly unplanned I was not exactly sure how I was going to get back to Chagaramas. Stean indicated that there were flights almost hourly to Port of Spain from the Tobago airport and graciously insisted that he pay for my fare.

After watching a swarm of fish boiling out of the blue water we set about putting the boat in order and launching the dinghy. Some of the other boaters in the anchorage directed us to the best beach to land on just north of the Coco Reef Resort. We tied the dinghy to a tree on the south end of the beach and walked to the north end of the beach where the road to town comes through. It was a nice walk to the airport.

We waited in one room for a while to buy a standby ticket and then waited at the airport proper to trade that for a boarding pass. The grand total was $25 US. I couldn't see how the airline turned a profit. The cab to Chagaramas from the Port of Spain airport cost more.

It had been less than 24 hours but I already missed Hideko and Roq and was glad to be getting back. I said a hearty goodbye to my new friend. I hope we catch up with him and his family before they leave Tobago.

Trinidad and Tobago
Tobago Test Run
12/18/2007, 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 ( 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.

Trinidad and Tobago

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