Monday, 1 September 2014

Simply Hummingbirds...

Preparing a boat for long term storage in the tropics

We’ve left Temptress before for long periods however laying up ashore in the tropics is a very different proposition to leaving a boat in it's marina berth in the UK for a few months. High humidity and temperatures mean mildew, moulds and UV deterioration are a very real threat as are infestations of termites, cockroaches or other pests attracted by any food residues left inside the boat. So not only must we pack up the belongings we think we might need over the coming months (tempered by our 2 x 40kg baggage allowance) but also Temptress must be spring cleaned inside and out so that as little salt, crumbs and dust as possible remains to hold the damp and thence attract the mildew.

Just as in the UK everything below decks must be left so that air can circulate around; upholstery and mattresses, lockers, doors and drawers have to be propped up or open. And, as there is still a very real risk of hurricanes until mid November sails and canvas work has to be removed, rinsed with fresh water if possible, dried and stored below deck. A yacht gardiennage company Island Dream Yacht Services will look after Temptress for us, checking her over once a fortnight and ensuring that the battery charge is still being kept up by the solar panels. They have provided a lengthy list of things we need to do in order to prepare our home for a hot sticky spell on the hard including such advice as taping something permeable over the hole where the log  fits - any rain ingress to the hull has somewhere to drain out but equally rodents and insects can't gain access via the same hole. The company will also remove the tarpaulins that will help protect the decks from the fierce sunlight and the rain if a storm is forecast. In addition to laying up the boat we have tasks like packing to ensure we take with us whatever we might need over the coming months; winter clothes, summer clothes, work clothes, gadgets and chargers, paperwork and driving licences.

The list is endless and just as you think you can cross off a task you think of another one; all perishable food stuffs must be got rid of – we have donated many of our unopened packs of lentils, pasta, flour and nibbles to other cruisers, all the tins and jars have had their best before dates checked, their bilge storage boxes wiped clean and contents repacked.  The galley stock will be thrown away, the many plastic or glass containers washed before we haul out on Tuesday morning. Even the galley rug has been washed and dried. Elsewhere bookshelves need thinning out so that they are not jammed against the hull potentially trapping condensation – a crate under the saloon table has taken one shelf load so once cleaned and dried that shelf can take half the books from the opposite one.

The removal of a galley drawer to retrieve something that had slipped down behind revealed another dust mecca – it was added to the list of things to do as was the chart table “pocket” usually a dumping ground for small items like keys and padlocks, a hand bearing compass and the ships pencil case in addition to the VHF. This rarely dusted "hidey hole" revealed a treasure trove of fuse holders, screws, washers and more oddments lurking in its depths; most now have been filed away correctly with their chums.

On deck lockers are gradually being emptied and cleaned, the freshly scrubbed and deflated dinghy had to fit in one of the big cockpit lockers meaning the usual contents - warps, fenders etc- will have to shuffle to new homes. For now they are occupying the cockpit floor and seats whilst they dry. At the end of each downpour we hasten to spread warps and seaboots in the sun to continue the drying process. Sails, bimini, sprayhood and the new dodger need to be stowed down in the guest cabin. The anchor locker has to be emptied and cleaned out, a good opportunity to re-mark the chain – we’ll do this once ashore.

In a small space the logistics are akin to a crazy 3D sliding puzzle – bags we need to pack for travelling were being used for storing items like oilies, our dirty laundry and a duvet currently not in use. To hang up the oilies in the aft head which also doubles as a wet locker (ie the place to hang the oilies), the head had to have a final thorough clean. To sort out tinned food required the retrieval of a crate of remaining ocean passage supplies buried under more frequently used boxes in the storage cabin. Everything was then merged into the bilge stores with the exception of a few tins that now occupy the crate under the saloon table that had been home to packets of lentils and dried beans since we left Lanzarote, the latter having been gifted to cruising friends. Whilst we were at it we made an inventory of our remaining stores so when we next need to know how many tins of corned beef or baked beans are on board there will be a list to refer to. And there are lots of lists as we think of things still to be done or must take items like those pesky bank security code generators,a purse of sterling notes (all £15.80 something but it will purchase us a meal at Gatwick should we need it) and our driving licences.

Each task seems to turn some or all of the boat upside down. The cockpit is full of damp warps which have yet to dry thoroughly due to the frequent downpours. Cabin floors are now home to stuff that was stored on bunks or in lockers. The saloon table, a mess of lists of things to do.

Some tasks cannot be undertaken until we are out of the water. The fenders and some of the warps are currently in use so can’t be rinsed down with fresh water. Matthew from Prickly Bay Marina will “winterise” the engine for us ensuring freshwater rather than salt fills the raw water side of the engine cooling system. Mark from Island Dreams needs to know where to find the batteries and battery switches as well as review with us the state of his new charge. Roach traps and buckets of dehumidifying crystals will be set up just prior to us flying out. And we are still sitting on the saloon cushions so can’t stack them so as to permit an airflow round them. Likewise defrosting the fridge and the last of the laundry will have to wait until Tuesday or Wednesday.

Behind all of our preparations the crew are in a state of mixed emotions, sadness at leaving our home, grief at the death of Kevin’s father and a low key anticipation of a potential future in Singapore together with trepidation at the chore of relocation to somewhere as yet unknown.

A Voyage North With Heavy Hearts...

Kevin's Father Noel in Jo'berg - Jan 2006
Another spectacular Caribbean sunset
Once we’d dropped our guests off at the distant Port of Spain airport we returned to clear the decks and prepare Temptress for the voyage north to Grenada. Kevin’s father had been very ill for some time and that combined with a job opportunity for Kevin overseas has led us to make the decision to lay our home up on the hard for a while and visit family back in the UK rather than spending September and October exploring South America with the Nereid's Rally as we'd planned. Sadly just as we arrived back at Crews Inn from our 3 hour airport trek we heard that Noel had died earlier that day; it was with heavy hearts that we motored round to Scotland Bay for a few hours prior to sailing north to Prickly Bay.

The trip between Trinidad and Grenada is for most Brits like crossing the Channel to France or the Channel Islands, momentous the first time you make such a crossing but after that well you know where you are going, you’ll see some shipping, some fishing boats and a few oil installations and the boat must point a bit east of north to make the destination. The glow of Trini just about fades by the time the gloam of Grenada appears over the horizon. For the first few hours Temptress motored in light winds, the crew taking two hour watches. Eventually north of the Hibiscus Oil Platform and clear of Trini’s wind shadow the south easterly trade was sufficiently strong to sail. A bit of jib was unfurled to add to the reefed mainsail and as the wind rose Temptress began to romp downwind – she was in her element and her crew were enjoying actually sailing somewhere. It was a dark old night with the sliver of new moon mostly hidden by the clouds, although the lightning flashes to both east and west were a little unsettling but those storms failed to reach us. It was warm and pleasant sailing; we’d tucked in the first reef as we set off and soon had to put in a second. However the cooling breeze failed to reach below decks; the off watch was grateful for the fan stirring the air in the aft cabin whilst they tried to rest.

Having made good time, at around 3am, we furled the jib to continue more slowly under the reefed main alone, not wanting to arrive until daybreak so we could easily pick our way through the reefs that feature strongly off Grenada’s south coast. The entrance to Prickly Bay is lit but with the Porpoise rocks to the east and a strong current prudence is called for. We’d booked a berth in the marina to make the laying up tasks easier and planned to tie up to the diesel pontoon to wait for the marina and customs offices to open so were somewhat bemused to see a huge superyacht over 120 feet long moored stern to our intended destination! A motor round to the far side showed us that this blue hulled sleek monster had a beam pretty much the same as the length of the dock so no room for Temptress’s mere 46 feet alongside. We dropped the hook a few yards further south and waited for Grenada to wake up.

In the short month we’d been away Customs and Immigration have finally implemented the Eastern Caribbean’s SeaClear system providing online clearance for cruising yachts and their crew. A friendly giant of a customs official explained how to create an account and left us to it – the system is extremely easy to use; create a boat record supplying all the miscellaneous info from our ships papers, then a record for each crew member including passport numbers etc. Finally create a Notification, in our case of arrival, adding the boat record and both crew records with clicks of the button and inserting our last and intended next port of call plus the reason for our visit and save it. All the same info in fact as the original paperwork but no carbon paper and no pen required and one set serves both immigration and customs – the customs man printed out three or four copies, stamped and signed them. Immigration had not yet arrived at the office so customs took our passports on his behalf. Kevin anyway would have to make the trip to the ATM to extract some EC$ to pay the various fees.

Father and Son Dubai 2011
Since then we have been washing down and tidying up Temptress from end to end. All our provisions with the exception of tins and unopened jars have to go. Some we’d given to John and Deb of SY Orion 1 before we’d left Trini as they intend to join the rally we’d forsaken, some SY Perry are happy to take off our hands, the rest mostly part used items will be binned. We simply don’t want to leave anything that might invite an invasion of ants or roaches. We have however discovered a welcome stowaway from Trini – a tiny brown gecko who seems to like dwelling with the lines under Temptress’ hollow deck, though both it (he/she?) and I had a bit of a fright when I moved the spinnaker halyard ends the gecko was resting in and he jumped wriggling onto my bare leg! Hopefully he’ll stay with us even in the boatyard and feast on any insects that try to board. 

Temptress will be hauled out on Tuesday 2 September and we fly out bound for Gatwick the following Saturday, the earliest date there is a direct flight to the UK. Then after the overnight flight we change terminals for Belfast. We are sad to leave but being with family at this time is more important and all being well later this year the cruising kitty will start to receive a much needed boost in the form of a regular income for Kevin; another adventure in our wanderings to look forward to.

Trini Guests

Sitting in cold rock with icy water pounding round my shoulders; no Temptress has not run aground in northern parts but is safely tied up in Coral Cove, Trini whilst her crew enjoy the delights of the wonderfully cold Maracas river just down from the enormous, eponymous falls. It being the rainy season the falls themselves were a stupendous cascade of water dazzling in the midday sun, and at over 300 feet tall, are the highest on the island. Kevin, Nick, Annie and the kids joined a local gentleman who was indulging in his weekly “massage”, whilst I paddled and took photos.  A little further down the river tumbles over the rocks in gentler drops providing a series of jacuzi pools in amongst the lush rain forest to cool us off after our leisurely 50 minute trek up the mountain to the base of the main waterfall. Jerome our guide was not only very knowledgeable about the plants, insects and birds we spotted but patient with Zach and Joely’s inquisite questioning and pace of exploring.

Apparently Trinidad’s northern range of mountains which reach over 3000 feet in places is an eastern spur of the Andes. If that sounds a bit exotic it is - the flora and fauna of Trinidad is closer to that of S America than the other Caribbean islands with howler monkeys and parrots as well as many black vultures (the locals call them “Corbeau”) who spend their days soaring over the mountain tops or checking out the local rubbish tip!

After the noise and bustle of the boatyards of Chaguaramas our next anchorage was Chacachacare, the furthest west of the islands of Trinidad and Tobago and a former leper colony only abandoned in the 80’s. The island has no inhabitants except occasionally the lighthouse maintenance staff. We trekked up the islands only road to picnic on the verandah of their breezeblock quarters under the gaze of thirty or more vultures perched on both the lighthouse and the adjacent radio mast. We were also able to pick a few avocados and some mangos from the trees there before descending back to sea level during a heavy deluge, grateful for the trees that sheltered us from the worst of it but happy to get soaked and therefore cooled.  Zach and Joely made some new friends in the form of two French boys of a similar age from SY Tadorne. Their parents, teachers from French Guyana who are at the start of a year’s sailing sabbatical, were equally glad that their boys had new playmates, there was endless swimming back and forth between both boats during the two days we were at anchor there.

From the peace and quiet of the leper colony to the seclusion of Scotland Bay where the Chaguaramas National Park reaches down to the sea; unfortunately this deep, sheltered bay is within easy reach of Port of Spain so the shores are littered with polystyrene plates, beer bottles and other BBQ and camping debris. The view upwards however is incredible – high peaks of green rainforest, many trees in pale flower looking like a sprinkling of snow, cloud clinging to tree canopy in the valleys. We also didn’t have it to ourselves for long as from lunchtime onwards motor boats sped in prior to either waterskiing or anchoring to take advantage of one of the several rope swings. We were surprised that most kept their music volumes low and their speed reasonable when passing through the anchorage – the youngsters of Trinidad are obviously better boaters than those elsewhere in the Caribbean.  Thursday night was unforgettable firstly the fish eating bats came swooping after the fish started jumping, then a fish landed in the dinghy with a splat and finally after everyone had retired to bed a huge thunderstorm lit the sky prior to one of the heaviest downpours we’d experienced on the boat; sleep was hard to come by.

With the prospect of the weekend crowds filling Scotland Bay and a forecast of more southerly winds which would make the bay uncomfortable, the following morning Temptress headed out for pastures new.  Chris Doyle’s Guide failed to furnish a phone number or VHF channel for our intended destination and a quick search online once a mobile service was gained only delivered a “wrong number”. Regardless Temptress ploughed on; the seas lumpy but not too much so, the wind on the nose making sailing impractical. We rounded the southern end of Gaspar Grande, the island that forms the southern boundary of Chaguaramas Bay and enjoyed distant views of Port of Spain, an oil rig and various commercial vessels whose purposes we could only guess at – oil rig supply vessel, cable layer, gas carrier, deep sea tug?

On the south east corner of Gaspar Grande (aka Gasparee Island) lies a small harbour, Bay View Resort and Marina. We thought that having a restaurant and a swimming pool as well as an inviting beach according tot he aerial photo's it would be an ideal spot to spend the weekend. Turns out that the place it up for sale, a residents association is currently maintaining the many holiday homes ashore and the newish manager is trying to revert this lovely rather forgotten corner of Trinidad to a profitable business. A fisherman who fancied his chances as an entrepreneur charged us $30US per night for using “his mooring” (we later discovered we probably shouldn’t have paid anything). The concrete quay is a bit tumble down but we could securely moor stern to, though we hauled ourselves well off over night to avoid any potential damage if the wind should get up. The marina is not insured so we are here at our own risk. Everyone is very friendly, happy to share this bit of paradise. The pool has been “renovated” to the point where it is cool, clean and usable though the kids were a bit surprised to find it filled with salt water – the fresh water supply on the island is purely what can be captured in giant rain barrels, every dwelling has several lined up alongside it. Some of the houses are well maintained brightly painted in primary colours with trimmed lawns and plants, others are at the start of a long decline overgrown, paint peeling whilst more than a few are held up only by the fact that their tottering wooden walls support each other. 

The Bombshell Bay CafĂ© served us huge portions of Bake ‘n Shark or wraps and fries for lunch – none of us could manage supper later, though the crew’s nightly dose of Mexican Train dominoes was accompanied by the remainder of the wraps together with the last few squares of squishy strudel chocolate cake. Following in the tradition of every group of mexican train domino playing cruisers we’ve met Temptress has adapted the rules to suit our circumstances, we started play at double six and are enjoying just a couple of rounds per night until Zach and Joely are ready for their bunks. 

The following few days were spent swimming and having fun, we even managed to get ourselves a berth in the upmarket Crews Inn Hotel and Marina for the last weekend of Nick and Annie's stay with its large swimming pool, lawns and supermarket. Too soon the holiday was drawing to a close but we had time for one more treat. Having invested in a rent-a-wreck for the second time in their holiday the six of us headed to Yerette to get up close and personal with some of the many species of hummingbird that live in Trinidad. Yerette is a private villa high up in the Northern Range not far from Maracas Falls and welcomes pre-booked groups for lunch. Theo gladly introduces their visitors to the amazing life of the hummingbird – the only bird that can fly upside down, backwards and straight up as well as hovering like a helicopter. These tiny birds drink nectar or the 25% sugar solution provided in the many feeders hanging around the garden devouring huge volumes during the day but actually spending more of their time at rest than flying. After a lovely soup and salad lunch provided by Gloria and plenty of opportunities to attempt to photograph the birds Theo entertained us with a presentation of the very bet of his own collection of photographs – we were simply stunned by the beauty he had captured. Check out their Facebook page for some of these.

During the trip home we made a small diversion to Zipitt a zipwire-tree canopy adventure Zach and Joely had been wanting to do for several days but we’d not been able to squeeze in due to the horrendous traffic delays on the sole road into and out of Chaguaramas. They and their father Nick were dressed in safety helmets, industrial gloves and harnesses over hairnets and latex gloves, then after a quick briefing headed up to the treetops. There are seven interconnected zip lines and a great time was had by all as Annie blagged some Carib from a local heading home for the three of us who remained on terra firma!

One postscript; our take on the semi-comic service at Crews Inn's restaurant where we attempted to eat one evening can be found here