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September 18th, 2002
The Ups and Downs of Chaguarmas (and Maybe Me Too)

We hadn't been out of La Vache long when were greeted by a family of dolphins. There were three, and one had a tattered dorsal fin. They played in our wake for awhile before disappearing from our site, somewhere below the surface.

Trinidad's north coast provided a dramatic landscape to take-in as we sailed westward toward La Boca. There, we would make a ninety degree turn to port, and slide through the narrow passage aptly named for "the Dragon's Mouth." But, as our luck would have it, dense ash colored clouds curled over the cliffs above us just as we were about to make the turn. The winds brought rain howling down the hillside to send us reeling from their force. In the blink of an eye, the boat just ahead of us- already in the cut- was moved from the far left side of the passage, to the right. In no hurry to get to our destination, Curt relented to my suggestion… we waited outside, in the safety of the open sea, for the squall to pass. I crawled out to the mast to drop our sail, and tied it down to the boom while the winds paused to take another breath between gusts. In a gray haze, we slipped through the channel uneventfully and rounded the corner for Chaguarmas. We had made the right decision to wait.

It was late afternoon when we arrived and what an unpleasant site. The skies were still heavy with gray humidity as we looked around to take-in the sites and sounds of a commercial port. Freighters and shipping barges were everywhere you looked. The coast was lined with travel lifts, and chain link fences, and docks covered with rubber tires serving as fenders. The horizon literally held a forest of masts from sailboats sitting on supports on dry land. The amount of trash in the water was unthinkable. We dodged soda cans, and logs, and plastic bags, and soup cans, and a million other things. We considered perhaps the boat in front of us dumped their trash as they came in to port, but it couldn't be, since it was quite simply everywhere we looked.

This was no time to consider any of that in too great of detail. We scanned the anchorage to find a spot to drop our hook. Aha! John and Al from True Blue were ahead, with a nice open spot next to them (just left of a huge barge). They caught site of us and waved an eager "Hello!" as we let out chain to drop the anchor. Curt still on the bow, I backed Force Five up to put pressure on our anchor and dig it into the sand below. But this time, the landscape around us slid forward as our anchor didn't catch to hold us in one spot. Force Five just reeled backwards freely with the power from her engine. We hadn't caught any sand at all. I let her pause in neutral while listening to the "clackety, clackety, clackety," of Curt raising the anchor back up to our bow. We deliberated again before choosing another spot and trying a second time. The engine mumbled while waiting for the hook to dig in. Curt stayed at the bow. I backed down on the anchor. We slipped backwards without so much as even a characteristic pause as the anchor at least tried to dig in. Our friends on ¾ Time were topsides now and had come up to say hello and watch as we searched for a third spot to try.

All told, we must've tried to anchor five times with only mild success on our final attempt… and this perhaps because we didn't back down on the anchor at all. As our friends watched the show- by this final time, my jaws were clenched tight and I could only submit one word terse replies to Curt's diatribe from the bow. With each attempt, my patience thinned, and with each attempt, Curt became more cautious and deliberate, only to my boiling irritation. No spot would be perfect. No patch seemed to want to grab hold. We settled on "good enough" and hoped it really was. When we finally pulled the engine chord to settle in, I grabbed a bottle of Orange Stoli and took a swig straight from the bottle. "Oy," I thought. "Why on earth are we doing this to ourselves?" Parking a semi truck legally on Union Street in San Francisco couldn't be this tough. No battle with traffic on the Bay Bridge could have ever put me in this foul of mood.

The warmth of friends long lost melted my sourness. True Blue and ¾ Time came over and helped us polish off Curt's trophy Mahi-Mahi. As we shared stories of how we'd passed time since we last met, toasts were exchanged at the good site of each other's smiling faces. We were pleased to learn that our experience with anchoring in Chaguarmas served only as a welcome to Trinidad. Everyone was part of the same crummy anchorage fraternity. From our cockpit, we saw three boats drag, and then finally, raft together. Veterans by this time, True Blue laughed as the tide rose and the bay toiled and turned. For kicks, Curt turned on our knot meter (speedometer in boat talk) to find there was a two knot current passing under our keel, though the boat was stationary.

I was so exhausted from my brain to my heart, to the tips of my toes, and now to have to worry about dragging, I just felt like crying. How can I rest? When will enough be enough? When did I ever think that such a fundamental thing as, knowing my bed wouldn't move while I slept, would ever even enter my mind? And so, another sleepless night passed. I dosed and roused myself to look around. Dosed and woke. Dosed and woke. Until I watched the sun come up over the sea of trash, and barges, and commercial docks.

Though Trinidad and Tobago are one nation, it is required that the captain is needed to take the ships customs and immigration papers from Tobago and turn them in to Trinidad. As a commercial port, they take this business very seriously. But alas, at 8am the next morning, the tide was at it again, and neither Curt nor I felt confident about our anchor. Certainly, we are a bit paranoid from the events of late… but it was what it was. We opted that he should stay with the boat and I would go in to customs and bat my eyelashes, hoping to bend the rules, "just this once" Given my bleery eyed state, the last thing I wanted to do was go head to head with a power hungry civil servant, but- what choice did we have?

No worry. The Trinidadian agents were as nice as any we'd encountered. They greeted me with wide grins and stamped our papers with no other words other than suggesting perhaps we invest in renting an air conditioning unit during our stay here.

Perhaps Curt knew me better than I knew myself by now. He saw that I was on my last strand of patience, and that my eyes were swollen and blank- whatever the cause (lack of sleep, or maybe it was from a private tear here and there). I wasn't even pretending to enjoy the last few weeks of cruising, but rather trying only to say nothing at all. I sometimes wonder if he can read my mind when I'm silently staring off deep in my own thoughts. He was set on the idea that we would check into a marina, where we wouldn't need to worry about the boat dragging, about lugging a bag of water into the cockpit to shower, whether we had generated enough power to have a cold drink. My thoughts on the idea ranged from fear that this was too much too hope for, to enchanted glee, to not wanting to remember an easier way of life and then have to return to anchor, to worrying about the costs. He didn't give me a choice on the matter. We were going to book a week at Crew's Inn. The best marina Chagauramas had to offer.

However bone tired I had been when I watched the sun rise that morning, once we were secure in our slip, I was wide awake again. The receptionist slid a shiny folder across the counter as she explained the amenities. We had power, cable, and unlimited water- dockside. There was a receptacle next to our slip where we could put our trash to be collected each day. The paper would be delivered to our cockpit every morning. There was a pool with a small bar (charge the drinks to your slip!). The gym was right around the corner. Thursday was potluck night at the gazebo- bring a dish to share. The small shopping center had a market, bank, salon, boutique, travel agent, and restaurant. A small snack shop served breakfast and lunch from a porch right above our boat. There would be a "Managers Reception" and cocktail party next week. "Here's the invitation."

I couldn't believe it. Curt couldn't believe it. It was like landing in the middle of a desert oasis. We had breakfast on a porch overlooking Force Five. It amounted to less than $10 dollars for both of us. We meandered over to the Hi-Lo market about fifty yards from our boat. They had food we hadn't seen in weeks! There were fruits of all sorts, vegetables, chips, cookies, and cereals. A cooler was stocked with lobster, fish, chicken, steak, ground beef, sausages, cheeses. Cold cuts and sandwich meats were wrapped in plastic packaging with names of major brands emblazoned on the front. It wasn't like the recent islands where there was a freezer in a back room where you sorted through zip locked frozen meats with their contents written in black Sharpie on the bag. These were logos we recognized from home! We didn't even buy anything that day. We just walked the aisles picking stuff up and saying, "No way! Oreos! Can you believe it?" "Remember feta cheese? When's the last time you saw feta cheese?"

We were practically giggling as we decided to check out the rest of the grounds. We walked through a manicured landscape of lawn and flowers using our electronic key to get through the gate into the marina. The newly constructed, brightly painted buildings housed a token operated laundry, or- they had a service that could do it for us. The bathrooms were air conditioned with hot and cold water and clean, private showers. The pool was small by most standards, and the walls were peeling- but it was palatial compared to anything else around here. Within the Crew's Inn complex, life was like Disneyland. Or at least, one step closer to the comforts we had at home.

And the very best part of all? That afternoon, I was completely blindsided by the squall that came ripping through. With Force Five safely tied to the dock, I hadn't been absentmindedly searching the skies for the telltale clouds throughout the day. And once the wind and rain started, my stomach didn't grow tight, and I didn't need to touch the engine key to be sure it was where it was supposed to be if we needed it. I didn't anxiously peer out our windows to see what was going on outside. As a matter of fact, Curt and I laughed. "HA! How's it feel not to have to give a hoot about the weather?" No question- it felt great. It felt better than anything else about staying in a marina. That one afternoon alone validated the whole decision… showers, and cable, and water aside.

But later, I vacillated between feeling a huge weight being lifted from my shoulders and being near tears… this would only be temporary. Poor Curt. One minute, he'd think he was seeing the "old" me, laughing with a spring in my step, and the next, I'd be silent. I didn't know what to think myself really. I want to love our cruising life, but it's certainly not a life of luxury and abandon. There are extremely high highs, but there are also some quite trying times to counter them. I was in a low spot, and at the time- tasting a bit of a simpler life seemed like someone was teasing me with what I couldn't have and what I'd left behind.

But I tried to just be happy with the moment. Enjoy the ease of not having to worry about Force Five. Take half an hour hot shower in the air conditioning and loofah your shoulders to your heart's content. Don't buy a thing more than fifteen minutes before you plan to eat it, and choose from a cornucopia of choices. And after a few days, I got used to it and stopped worrying so dang much.

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