22nd to 29th February
The last post said I’d go north. I’ve come south. Why? (Apart from this being “…The unreliable journal of a sailing boat…”)
Ah well, the reason ‘why’ could become a fairly long story,but, briefly, the fact is that after hours of failed attempts to submit an online US Visa Application, stubborn perseverence paid off and I finally succeeded. (Magic trick was to submit a passport type photo from my camera, not the iphone ‘selfie’ that I’d started off with [US Homeland Security clearly rejects the iphone ‘selfie’]….better method: rig up Henrietta’s saloon as photo studio, subdue lighting, white bed sheet for portrait backdrop; set off camera shutter with 10 second timer; dash round saloon table; sit and smile…oops, DON’T smile…this is a USA visa photo…) Edit photo…Find wifi hotspot. Try submitting again. Done! It worked; success!
….Alas! that’s just the first stage. Payment, interview, approval (or not) comes next. Furthermore, I was in Grenada at photo shoot stage, where none of the next stages were possible. In East Caribbean, if you want a US visa, there’s the choice of Barbados or Trinidad for next bits, ie. to pay the fee and attend interview. Futher hurdles to jump: Barbados was about 130 miles east and straight into wind, waves and current; Trinidad about 80 miles south, more favourable winds but with recent yacht bordings by Venezuelan robbers a concern. (I researched this robber trouble a bit and find all will be ok if I send ‘float plan’ to Trinidad Coastguard, choose a course well east and away from Venezuela and choose a fairly rough windy night – pirate types apparently don’t like choppy seas.) In a bit of a rush then, and as forecast was promising, I quickly exited Grenada customs/immigration, sent email to Trinidad coastguard, upped anchor and was off….delightful overnight sail, albeit a hard beat for the first 40 miles or so, out and round a brightly lit gas field…..(I always feel a thrill heading off-shore, out into the open wave-swept spaces and away from the workaday bothersomeness of life on land). As promised and before dawn, Trinidad Coastguard called me on VHF – checking all ok.
A few hours later on a clear bright morning, Tobago-Trinidad high speed ferry growled/roared past (memories of the Condor craft entering Poole Harbour – you hear them from miles away!).. … we head on and arrive at Chaguaramas, in the north of Trinidad. It’s the yachting mecca of Trinidad, if not the Caribbean – at least for maintenance work. Being far enough south to be out of main hurricane belt it’s a popular place for fixing, storing, and living on boats while hurricanes threaten more northerly islands. (Not sure how long this historic popularity will last given more competition from Grenada, plus some strange unfriendly immigration folk, and appalling arrival dock, and higher prices! But for now there are around a thousand spaces on land and every conceivable yacht skill on offer.)
Henrietta is out of the water, as, waiting for local US Embassy interview, I’ll work on her. On land in a giant boat yard I have a waterside spot . There’s a medium length list of chores and checks before relaunching, including anti-fouling, anodes, radio, rigging, solar panels, deck, ………… Oh! The 16 year old and heavily stained and beholed genoa finally had to go (delaminating) and a pristine new white one is up at last. We’d brought it all the way from England.
With time ashore to meet people and see more (and despite my negative views of immigration service), I come
to like Trinidad more and more. Totally different from other Caribbean islands (did you know it is relatively wealthy with oil/gas, half population is of Indian extraction, around one and a half million people live here, and the local English comes with a pronounced Welsh accent?) It has a high murder rate too -per capita, I’m told, more than Jamaica – but not a problem if troubled gangland spots in Port of Spain, the capital, are avoided. There are many boats and yachtie folk in the yard and anchored off, so social life is as full as you like. Most of us work on boats much of the day or take trips to Trinidad’s interior (more about that another time). It’s not really a touristy sort of place though; there seems a more businesslike and serious-minded approach to life. (The Carnival, earlier in February, with its liberal dose of music, sensuality and all-round hedonism, being an exception to the general way of life.)
Port-of-Spain is a traffic-plagued, overheated and bustling city, with gems of Colonial architecture and an occasional cruise ship, and good shops and exceptional market. I’ve visited twice so far. Traffic congestion thankfully keeps mini-buses (locally called ‘maxi-taxis’) to a less terrifying pace than elsewhere in the Caribbean!