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by Dan and Jan Ahart

Chapter Forty-Seven

Trinidad: February 2002. After more than three months in Tobago, Trinidad seems like a large metropolis. Our trip from Tobago took one day and it was a sailors delight. The winds and waves were perfect for a nice leisurely sail. We arrived in Morris Bay just before sunset and anchored for the night. Morris Bay is on Mono Island, which is just a few hundred yards from the main island of Trinidad. It is a nice quiet bay surrounded by pretty homes. There are no roads on Mono Island and all homes are accessible only by boat. The next night we motored about a fourth of the way around the island and anchored in Grand Fond Bay, which is a bit larger with fewer houses around. We enjoy our privacy and found Grand Fond Bay to be very comfortable. The next day, we motored over to Trinidad and tied up at the slip we had reserved in Coral Cove Marina.

The marina we chose is just one of seven in the village of Chaguaramas, which is an area that caters to cruisers. The area is interesting in that it comprises about 10 square miles of the northwestern tip of Trinidad and is still technically under lease to the United States. In early 1941, the United States "loaned" some 50 destroyers to the British (Trinidad and Tobago were then colonies of Great Britain) in exchange for a 99 year lease on the area of Trinidad known as Chaguaramas. As soon as the U.S. went to war, the U.S. Navy promptly built a large installation in the area. Many of the buildings are still used today by the Trinidadian Government. Others are leased to private companies. There is a stone monument with a large brass plaque beside the road just outside Chaguaramas marking the entrance to the old naval base. I suppose in 2040 all the businesses in the area will finally get a clear title to the land.

We timed our arrival in Trinidad to coincide with the annual carnival activities that draw to a conclusion just before lent. Carnival in Trinidad is only vaguely analogous to Mardi Gras in the states. The Trinidadians or "Trinis" have developed carnival to a high art form. It includes contests for costumes, singing, dancing, comedy, marching, limbo and of course music, with heavy emphasis on steel drum or "pan" bands. Contestants number in the hundreds and competitive performances begin on January 2 of each year, with the final winners of the various categories selected by Fat Tuesday. Each category of talent has men's, women's, boy's and girl's categories. The whole process is so highly organized and so popular that a special stadium has been built for the performances, which includes a museum of past winners photographs and memorabilia. Five nights a week for approximately six weeks, performances are held in the stadium, where tickets can be purchased for both open and reserved seating. Various categories of talent are held on various nights and each nightly session lasts about four hours. After the contestants perform on stage and are officially judged, they march and perform in the streets for those, who do not wish to attend the stadium performances. Temporary roadside stands are constructed, but many people simply stand on the sidewalks and watch the activity. The performances are also televised live from the stadium. All of this activity and process of elimination finally culminates with winners of each category. The winners then put on a special "champions" show on what we would Call Mardi Gras day. The champions are truly incredible. And the winning costumes are colossal. They must be movable by the contestant without power assisted machinery, but that is about the only limitation. The 2002 winning costumes of the men's and women's categories were incredibly complex. Each costume was about 15 feet high and 20 feet wide. Obviously a metal frame on wheels is required to support such a "costume," parts of which included fireworks and moving parts. They have to be seen to be believed. The limbo dancers defied gravity, squeezing under flaming torches just inches above the stage floor. The dancers and musicians were impressive. And the winner of the male vocals was outstanding. He sang about four songs, one of which was a wonderful rendition of God Bless America, which, I am sure, brought tears to the eyes of all Americans in the audience. But far and away the most impressive expression of talent was the huge steel drum bands. The overall winning band for 2002 included over 100 players, who played an extremely complex original composition with such coordination and timing, that it was breathtaking. Obviously the contestants practice year round for carnival and the composers of the music and designers of the costumes of winners are held in the highest esteem.

After all the excitement of carnival, getting back to everyday cruising seemed anticlimactic, especially, in our case since it included a great deal of work to do on Sojourner. Our work included having louvers put in four closet doors and having a door installed with a pull out storage drawer in a space previously occupied by an icemaker that never worked correctly. Every cruiser can use more storage space. We also removed our wooden rub rail, which in our case was about 125 running feet of mahogany measuring one inch thick by three inches wide that surrounds the outside of the boat to protect it from rubbing against piers and such. It was held on with counter sunk stainless screws which were hidden behind mahogany plugs. There were about 120 screws in all and many of them had begun to rust, which left rusty streaks down our nice white hulls. So, all 120 plugs had to be dug out, the screws removed, many of which broke off during the process and had to be drilled out and the rub rail removed and cleaned. It was a nasty, dirty and time-consuming job, but now it is done and we should have no more problems with rust streaks for many years to come. We also had our davits, which hold the dinghy up out of the water when we are sailing, reinforced. That required removing them and taking them to a welding shop and then re-installing them. Those were the big jobs, but we had many minor ones also that included replacing a navigation light and installing an electric cut-off switch for our propane gas system, which is a safety feature that is highly recommended on boats. Essentially, it shuts the gas off at the propane tank so no gas gets into the cabin unless a special switch is turned on, which then enables the range, stove or water heater to operate.

We were in the marina for six weeks getting our various tasks completed and it was a relief to get back at anchor. Marinas are convenient, but they are crowded, noisy and dirty. Our current plans include sailing north to the French island Martinique for a few weeks and then back south for the hurricane season or sailing directly west to the Venezuelan island of Margarita. Stay tuned.

Dates: 2002-02-01,
Locations: Trinidad, West Indies

The Ahart Odyssey 1999-2004 Dan and Jan Ahart. All rights reserved.