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
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
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
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
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
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
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
and cable, and water aside.
But later, I vacillated between feeling
a huge weight being lifted from my shoulders and being near
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
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.