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by Dan and Jan Ahart

Chapter Forty-Eight

"I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all." Ecclesiastes, Chapter 9, verse 11. Attributed to King Solomon. And so, time and chance happened to us. Just as we were making preparations for leaving Trinidad, our windlass gave us trouble. A windlass is a device used to pull up anchors or do any other heavy line handling on a boat. I suppose the name came from the days of sailing ships. When there was no wind, the device could be used to pull a ship to the quay or whatever distance the rope in use permitted and assuming adequate muscle power was available. Our windlass is essentially an electric winch and it is used to pull up the chain and anchor. One side turns a wildcat, which is a pulley that can be used to pull rope or line. The other side has a gipsy (yes, that's the way the manufacturer spells it), which is a pulley with cogs on it that can pull a chain. It was the gipsy that gave us trouble. For some interesting reason, the gipsy is made in two halves that are kept in alignment with two sheer pins. The pins had sheered allowing the cogs in each half of the gipsy to get slightly out of alignment, which in turn put undo strain on first one cog and then the other as the chain links encountered them, which in turn caused excessive wear on the cogs, rounding them to ineffectual nubs, which in turn caused the chain to jump off. It was the chain jumping off that became unacceptable.

Removing the gipsy naturally became a project in itself. The manufacturer had used stainless steel bolts, which is a good idea, to hold a chain guide called a fleming. The trouble was, the bolts were attached to the aluminum housing of the windlass. A fundamental rule of boating, especially saltwater boating is that metals are never mixed unless plastic or rubber or something nonconductive insulates them. This, precaution was however, not heeded and as a result, the bolts and housing were as one welded piece of metal. Of course the bolt heads broke off when we tried to turn them, so the bolts had to be drilled out and the housing tapped to accept new bolts. The gipsy, of course, required extensive welding work and a week later we had it back better than new - we think.

While the gipsy was undergoing its reincarnation, we decided we would use a smaller anchor and rope instead of chain, which I can handle without backbreaking effort. The wait afforded us the opportunity to sail south to the town of Point-a-Pierre, which is the site of a nice little yacht club on the property of PetroTrin, which is the operating company for Trinidad's petroleum industry. The off shore (marine) oil fields of Trinidad have been in production since the early 1900s and were the source of Great Britain's oil for nearly 50 years. The oil fields are not as productive now, but natural gas is in abundance and the refineries are kept busy refining oil that is produced by marine fields jointly owned by Venezuela and Trinidad. Having grown up in Houston, Texas, we felt right at home amongst all the refineries, tank farms, ships of all shapes and sizes that brought in crude oil and took out refined fuel or liquefied natural gas. Everyone we met in the Point-a-Pierre area was extremely friendly and helpful. In fact, one of the guards at the yacht club personally, guided us to the La Brea asphalt lake. The lake is a unique geological anomaly and is the largest of its type in the world. It covers over 100 acres and is located in a shallow field just outside the town of La Brea. Pure asphalt is pushed up from thousands of feet beneath the surface in a seemingly never-ending supply. As is true of so much in The Caribbean, the lake was "discovered" by Columbus on his third voyage to the new world. He and subsequent explorers used the asphalt to calk their ships, which made the island a valuable resource worth fighting over for centuries by the French, the English and the Spanish. Subterranean pressures keep the lake at a constant level above sea level no matter how much is dug out. The asphalt is shipped all over the world for use in roofing and road building. The surface can be walked on, but if one stands in one place for more than a few seconds, a depression will be left. Also, water stands in large puddles where, surprisingly, water grasses grow in abundance. Cashew trees are also seen at the lake's edge. It is amazing that anything can grow in an almost 100% tar environment, but seeing is believing. The asphalt is dug out in the mornings by large tractors with front-end loaders. By noon, the sun has softened the asphalt to the point that it is unsafe for heavy equipment, so the asphalt that was dug that morning is processed and packaged for shipment in the afternoons. The visitor's center is complete with pictures of heavy equipment that got bogged down in the asphalt and has never been seen again.

Back in Chaguaramas, we made several trips into town (Port of Spain) to pick up some last minute supplies we decided we needed and to visit a dentist for our annual checkups. The dentist was a young woman, trained in London, who had all the latest equipment. We were very impressed. Equally impressive in Trinidad is the "maxi-taxi" system. Cities in the U.S. and Europe could benefit from this system. A maxi-taxi is a high top van that is equipped with seating for 12 to 14 passengers. They follow standard routes, which are easy to identify in that the vans are color-coded. The yellow striped vans follow one route, the blue striped vans another and so on. They stop to pick up or drop off passengers anywhere along the route and they are so numerous that one has to wait no more than three to five minutes for one to come by. They are all privately owned, so the interiors are all different and the music being played varies from gospel to hard rock to steel bands. The price is very low and payment is cash only. Fortunately, the Trinidad/Tobago dollar (TT) is worth about 17 U.S. cents, so fares are all in even TTs, which means no coins, are necessary. The cost into town was four TTs each. The drivers collect the money and the passengers are very polite about getting in and out and handling the sliding passenger door. If an older person has trouble with the door a younger person helps them as a matter of course. It is all very civilized and super convenient. There is really very little need for a private vehicle in Trinidad as the maxis go just about everywhere. If a special location is desired a smaller vehicle or regular taxi can be obtained almost as easily.

We finally checked out of Trinidad on April 10, 2002 after nearly 10 months in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. However, once again, time and chance were at work and we were forced to anchor in Scotland Bay waiting on favorable weather to continue our journey. Stay tuned.

Dates: , 2002-04-10
Locations: Trinidad, West Indies

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