Trinidad, finally here, after all these years.

For years friends have sung the praises of keeping their boats in Trinidad for the summer season. Trinidad is the most accessible spot to the Eastern Caribbean that is outside of the hurricane belt at 10 degrees north of the Equator. And, nowadays that’s an even bigger deal with the coming hurricane season looking like it will be one of the busiest on record. While Grenada is also popular, technically, and even though it’s only about 80 miles farther north, many insurance companied do not recognize it as a safe place for the summer season and won’t cover boats there without all sorts of restrictions.

My late friend and fellow SDSA board member, Rick Palm, once told me that most cruisers do the north-south run from the US for a limited number of years, perhaps three, and then decide to keep the boat south, skip the Caribbean altogether or head elsewhere. With Pandora, I have been making the run south in the fall and back north in the spring for over a decade and I have to say that I am tired of it. While moving Pandora to Trinidad cost time, the north-south run adds something like three months aboard each year just moving around. That’s a huge commitment of time and doesn’t even address the wear and tear on boat and me for more than 3,000 miles of arduous ocean sailing.

So now, with all that and the need to have important work done on Pandora makes the decision to keep her here in Trinidad this summer an easy one.

As of yesterday morning Pandora was on a mooring in Chaguaramus, Trinidad, after an overnight sail from Bequia, one of the islands of St Vincent. As is often the case, I underestimated Pandora’s speed and we realized, shortly after departing Bequia for the 150 mile run, that we would make landfall well before dawn. The authorities in Trinidad do not like boats entering the country in the dark. And to come into a port where I had no personal experience was not a good idea. I filed a float plan prior to departure and to deviate from that wasn’t a good idea so we had to do something to slow down. I put two reefs in the mainsail and rolled up the jib most of the way. It didn’t slow us down much but finally, with the wind dying as we approached Trinidad, we only had to loaf around for about two hours waiting for daylight.

Before we headed out to Trinidad, Steve and I had a number of meals ashore in Bequia. It is a very pretty place with clear water and plenty of dining options. This view of the sunset the night before our departure was memorable.

The run was a total of 150 miles and we headed down the windward side of all the islands which made for more consistent wind, avoiding the “shadow” that you get when heading down in the lee of these mountainous islands.

As we hovered offshore waiting for sunrise, we were treated to a particularly memorable sunrise, making it worth waiting for to see the new day dawn.

The “cut” from the ocean, less than 2/10 of a mile wide, looked pretty daunting on the chart and to try it for the first time at night seemed like a bad idea.

However, in “the light of day”. Not so bad and it was over 100′ deep.

We had heard that the Trinidad Coast Guard was pretty touchy about arrivals and that our friends had been boarded a few days earlier in that same cut. However, nothing happened.

The cut, with it’s near vertical sides, looked like something out of Jurassic Park or Avitar, with trees clinging to sheer cliffs.

In the cut some homes that reminded me of our time in Cuba.

And a few that defied understanding. A home? Resort?

And one that looked like it would fit right into a high end Brooklyn neighborhood.

And, of course, the Trinidad Coast Guard. These cutters don’t look like they mess around.

Lots of evidence that the local economy is driven by petro-dollars.

Heavy hardware everywhere catering to oil and gas. This rig looks like it came from the set of “There will be blood”.

How about these piles of anchor chain? Each link is surely hundreds, more likely thousands, of pounds. I guess that they are used to anchor the oil rigs offshore as it is way to deep to have them sit on the ocean floor.

The harbor water is not clean, with a light light sheen of oil on it and the air has a faint smell of petrochemicals. I was told that in past years the pollution was much worse. However, I don’t want to paint a bad picture of all this as the people are incredibly friendly and eager to help and the landscape is quite dramatic. I am told that we can take an excursion to the rainforest and see an amazing array of wildlife. Perhaps I can fit something in like that before I depart.

I was struck by these boats and there are a lot of them moving around. It seems that they are fishing boats from Venezuela and that they come over to Trinidad to sell their wares. The reminded me of some of the government fishing boats that we saw in Cuba, but much nicer.

I guess that there is a fairly large middle class here if the number of small private fishing boats is any indication. And, there are a good number of quite nice late model cars in the lot.

This sort of rack storage is common in the US but not in most areas of the Caribbean.

I had no idea what our arrival was going to be like except that I had been told that clearing in was a lengthily process with lots of carbon paper. The experience did not disappoint, taking about two hours.

One of the required forms required six copies and as I interlayered carbon paper with the pre-printed forms, I felt like I was making a “clearance sandwich”. And, in spite of bearing down on my pen like a preschooler learning to print, the three lowest copies were mere smudges of blue.

The process was not particularly unpleasant and in each case, Immigration and Customs, the many forms were dutifully check and rechecked by officers that carefully recorded information on their computers. I have no idea what they were doing for all that time but it seemed very serious. As each sheet of paper was declared “done” an official stamp was applied with a loud, surely satisfying and very official “thump”. In Customs alone, our passports were checked three times, by two different people. Perhaps all that was to ensure that each carbon copy sheet was legible. Many surely were not but none were rejected. I guess the official count, the right number of pieces of paper, was the key.

In addition to all the forms, I had to testify that there was no disease aboard Pandora, or stowaways or dead bodies. Other than that, same old…

Oddly, after all that, more than two hours of shuffling papers, no fees of any sort.

Oh yeah, I was told that the process was much smoother because of the copies that were made for me in the Marina office and as a result of advance work by a guy, Jesse James, who acts as an informal liaison between cruisers and the government. More about the nuts and bolts of working with marinas and Jesse in future posts.

All and all, our arrival in Trinidad has been very interesting and I will surely write more about it in the coming days.

Oh yeah, one more thing. Having no idea what to expect when I arrived, I had pushed out my haul date for several days, assuming that getting Pandora ready would take time. However, once I got here and saw how hot it was out in the harbor, which is sheltered from the prevailing winds by high hills, I decided that I wanted to be hauled AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Amazingly, the office fit me in at the end of the day and now Pandora is on the hard.

And, the air-conditioner is installed and pumping cold air down below. So much for “island time” so far. I arrived in the morning, checked in, arranged to have Pandora hauled with AC was installed before the end of the day. Setting aside the clearance process, this place is pretty efficient.

The AC unit is quite creatively designed with a unique, clearly custom made, fiberglass plenum that fits over an open hatch.

After that a widow AC unit is slid into place and a LOT of duct tape is applied to make it weatherproof. It doesn’t look particularly pretty but is very functional. Down below, a remote control gets things going. And go it does…

Today I will begin my meetings with some of the vendors who will be working on Pandora in the coming months. Some of the big jobs have already been quoted so I am hopeful that I won’t have any surprises. As far as getting the work done, let’s hope that their view of “island time” is like the boat yard and not like the clearing in process as I plan to move Pandora back to Antigua in early November to greet the Salty Dawg Caribbean Rally fleet when they arrive.

Today Steve and I will begin the process of getting Pandora cleaned up and then pull down the sails so they can be cleaned and stored. The dink motor will also go out for service. For now, I decided to keep it in the water for a few more days so I can explore the harbor a bit. That will be fun as I am here for another week before flying home.

Now that I am here I realize that I could have booked an earlier flight but until now I had no idea that I was going to be able to get things done so fast. Sadly, to change the flight now would be quite expensive so I will make the best of it. At least I have Starlink to talk to Brenda any time I want. Not quite the same as being there but surely better than email.

So, here I am, in Trinidad, after more than a decade thinking, “perhaps I should leave Pandora in Trinidad.” Now she is here…

We will see how it goes. So far, I’m optimistic.

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