Friday, August 30, 2013

A Completely Unspectacular Night

Dock in front of Peakes Yacht Services.

With all the new gear installed and the genset happily purring away, it was time to depart Trinidad. We had enjoyed Trini a lot, but our main focus while there was fixing boat things and not on enjoying ourselves.

On Friday, August 30 we slowly began the progress of extricating ourselves from the hornet's nest of lines we had established to keep the boat from smashing into the dock. Doing the math of how to leave the dock was interesting. Our stern was only about three feet from the dock and the waves wanted to constantly push us back, so letting any slack off either our anchor line or our safety line was problematic.

Getting off the boat required some Nadia Comaneci-style gymnastics.

We first had to reel in about 300 ft. of yellow floating line that had been our safety line to the buoy (since our anchor had been stuck). The harbor water is filthy and the line collected all sorts of goop as we rewound it in on its spool. Next we had to untie the two stern lines from the bollards and rerun them as loops so we could let the line run free when we exited. This time our planning worked and the final step of hauling up the anchor, whose chain was encrusted in all sorts of marine life, was fairly undramatic.

At about 6:00 pm we pulled out of the harbor and began motoring northwest through the little islands surrounding the northwest tip of Trinidad. During this time we had to recalibrate the new fluxgate compass for the autopilot, which involved making several 360-degree circles in the water until the lights on the autopilot lit in the correct sequence. This was a lot of fun given the sideward current that flowed between the islands. We did ovids rather than circles but the compass still seemed to calibrate correctly.

We had filed a "float plan" with the Trinidad Coast Guard hoping to avoid the late night antics of our trip across and it must of worked since no one called us, tried to ram or board us.

There was only about 2 knots of wind and the sea was so glassy so we could have water skied the 80 miles to Grenada. We watched a beautiful sunset and as the twilight quickly turned to darkness we quickly dropped into   our nighttime cruising mode.

With a totally uneventful crossing (the best kind) we smiled at the familiar coastline of Grenada came into view and we slowly motored into Pricky Bay, anchored, and cleared into Customs. Then we went back to the boat to try and catch up on one night's worth of sleep.

Safely back home in Prickly Bay.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Taste of Trini … 60 Different Ways to Gain Weight

Once again beset with generator problems, we feel like we’ve been held captive on the boat waiting for the repairmen to come at various hours (yesterday was his birthday, today is his wife’s). When hearing an announcement on the morning Cruiser’s Net for an all-day island food tour, we immediately signed up.

Jessie James, a local cab driver, is so much more to the cruisers community in Trinidad. He is a one man chamber of commerce extolling the virtues of Trinidad, a tour guide, the “guy who knows where to find everything,” and creator of a variety of interesting tours and guided trips on the island. One we had heard about was the Taste of Trini a 10- to 12-hour tour of the “best of Trini.”

Jesse picks us up at 9:00 am in his air-conditioned van along with 3 other cruising couples and we set off from Chaguaramas towards downtown Port of Spain. The idea is Jesse stops at his favorite roadside stands, eateries, or even mango trees to offer his guests a taste of the island’s delights.  He shows us a map of the island and outlines a rough itinerary starting at Chaguaramas, then into Port of Spain and then looping around the east shore of the island, up into the mountains, and returning through the coastal plains.

Jesse James points out the route we're taking during the Taste of Trini.

Just outside of Port of Spain Jesse pulls over with a wry smile on his face and runs into a local restaurant, returning with a bag of food. Setting up shop on the platform between the two front seats, he unveils our “breakfast” selections, a roast bake (bread) a choice of salted cod, swordfish, and boljol, a mixture of salted codfish, tomatoes and hot peppers. Plates are passed forward from the back of the van and each of us in turn gets to savor the salty flavor of local fish spread on a delicious baked bread. “This would be the typical breakfast for a Trinidadian,” says Jesse.

The cover over the van's engine serves as our impromptu serving table.
A classic Trini Breakfast:  Roast Bake bread with a choice of salted cod, swordfish, or boljol.

We head down the Western Main Road and stop at another non-descript diner. Again, Jesse jumps out leaving us to talk about what he might return with.  Setting up shop once again on the engine cover between the seats, he pulls out his serrated kitchen knife and expertly sub-divides another bake, this time a coconut bake with sausages in a Creole sauce and some cheese pies. Excellent. But we wonder, it’s only 10:00 am and we’re already feeling full. What could be left to eat? Oh, we were so naïve early in the trip.

It’s only a short way down the road but again Jesse has pulled over and hopped out before we even know what’s happening.  Shortly later, jumping back in the car with fervent of a master chef on The Food Channel, Jesse is opening new packages:  this time a fried bake bread and sada, a triangular fried Indian bread. Since Trinidad has a fairly large Indian population (after the sugar cane crop died following the infestation of witches’ broom landowners replaced the African slaves with workers from India to work the cocoa, citrus, and other agricultural products). Opening several Styrofoam cups, Jesse extols the virtues of various toppings, such as bodi (green bean), melon choka, plantains, crli (a pimply type of cucumber with a bitter taste), pumpkin, and bok choy.

Our next taste includes fried bake and sada bread, bodi, melon choka, plantains, crli, pumpkin, and bokchoy.

The food is exotic and delicious, but seriously, we are getting full. After a short ride we whip over the to curb again but this time follow Jesse into a roadside diner. He’s getting excited now and orders BBQ’d salted pig’s tail (with some added hot sauce on top), macaroni and cheese, and a rice pilaf.

BBQ'd salted pig's tail and hot sauce.

Oh my God, it’s not even lunchtime yet and we’re all ready for the Barclay lounger. Now driving towards the North Coast Road we’re caught in a torrential rain, but that doesn’t this slow Jessie down.  Certainly not. He pops into a shop packed with locals (must be good) and returns with four plastic containers with potato salad, chicken pilaf, bhaaji spinach rice, and stew fish.

More food:  potato salad, chicken pilaf, bhaaji spinach rice, and stew fish.

Along the way we hear about Jesse’s other passion, his hope that Trinidad can lessen its food imports from foreign sources and develop it’s own home agriculture.  “It’s ridiculous that we import most of our food. The big importers provide lots of funding for local politicians so there’s not a lot of government support for local agriculture.” Looking out the window at the expanses of verdant green hills covered with banana trees, mangoes, avocados, cocoa, figs and the flatter coastal areas that used to be home to massive sugar cane plantations, he sighs at the potential. “Just look at how rich that earth is,” as we pass recently plowed hillsides.

We stop for a fruit break of silk bananas, chikito bananas, golden apple (an apple with a complexion problem), and mangosteen. I’m not a big fruit eater but Meryl seems to be in heaven.
The next stop (I have no clue where since I’m slowly entering a food coma) produces more Styrofoam containers, this time with boiled cassava, bhaaji spinach, and curried duck. We wash it down with my favorite so far, a local red-colored drink from the sorrel herb. Wow!

What we’d all been waiting for was rumored to be just up the road, the famous Deborah’s Hot & Tasty doubles. Trinidadians speak of doubles with reverence. It was hard for us to understand, but we were all waiting for the opportunity to try some. Typically consumed as a breakfast meal, doubles are also eaten at all times of the day, but are harder to find as the day progresses. A double is essentially two pieces of small Roti-type breads overlapping with a dal mixture of lentil beans, vegetables, and hot sauce. Ours was so hot (physically) that we had to wait for them to cool. Much like a good hamburger, there is no polite or tidy way to eat a double. The bread is somewhat delicate and by the time the sauce had cooled enough to roll the bread around it like a burrito, the sauce had softened the bread. Oh what the hell, we just slurped them up and delighted in the delicate tastes of the various spices.

The all time favorite food in Trinidad: doubles with garbonzo beans and HOT pepper sauce.

After a quick stop for some Brazil nuts, complete in their own pod-like container, we continue up the North Coast Road with the ocean on our right.

Jesse meets with a vendor to check out his "straight off the tree" Brazil nuts.

Jessie explains how the Brazil Nuts come prepackaged in their very own nut case.

Passing the Narvia Swamp on the right, one of the largest wetlands in the Caribbean and home to manatees, we stop on one of the gorgeous east shore beaches for lunch. Jessie spreads out a variety of foods on a fallen palm tree, although many of us are simply too full to eat. We did try some drinks, a delicious peanut milk and the somewhat antiseptic tasting Mauby drink (well liked by Trinidadians), as well as passion fruit juice and orange juice.

Beautiful beach on the North Coast Road.

As a chaser of sorts, we stop next to some watermelon fields tended by two somewhat wild looking locals who market themselves under the moniker “Stairway to Heaven.” Apparently these guys are big Led Zeppelin fans. That said, the watermelon was absolutely delicious. Just like the Brazil nuts, there is a vast difference in the taste of fruits and vegetable bought in a store and those purchased in a farmer’s field.

Dallas' Stairway to Heaven watermelon stand.
These guys were really serious Led Zeppelin fans.

Now on the road heading back towards Port of Spain, we pass some rudimentary farming efforts where Jessie spots his favorite vegetable, the crli--a cucumber with the complexion problem. After trying some string beans and peas, one of our group mentions that they’ve never tasted sugar cane (Jessie is obviously now on the homeward stretch and on a quest to break his record of 58 foods in a day). Out come the machetes and down comes a stalk of sugar cane.  A little tough to chew but definitely sugary as we suck away at the stalks.

"Sugar cane, you've never tasted sugar cane?"

We stop at Harry’s Water Park where Jessie produces a dessert with macaroni strudel, coconut roll, and sweet bread. Next we had pholourie balls, little donut centers with a spicy sauce. This is followed a little later with coconut cake, coconut tart, and something called a Ballerina, a dessert roll with layers of red colored coconut. Seriously, I’m just eating crumbs at this point.

Further down the road we approach Jessie’s home village, Gran Couva, which he purports grows the best cocoa in the world. Someone challenges him, saying a place in Grenada made the same claim. Jessie counters with the fact that he once hosted Mr. Mars (of Mars Candy and M&M’s fame) and Mr. Mars said he always added an amount of Gran Couva cocoa to the lesser cocoas from Brazil and Guyana to get the trademark Mars chocolate taste. Touché, Jessie. We even send one of our own down into the dark jungle to retrieve a cocoa pod so everyone could taste the sweet pulp that surrounds the cocoa bean (it’s too bitter to taste raw).

Just west of Gran Couva Jessie stops a various roadside vendors asking about their offerings, finally settling on a colorful stand displaying a variety of pepper sauces. Now I really like hot sauces, but I was cautioned by many to stay away from the red-colored “Scorpion” and settle on the less lethal yellow pepper sauce. Haven’t tried it yet but it looks promising.

We were told that the red pepper sauce could kill a small animal. Probably why they named it "Scorpion."

Our second to last stop is on the outskirts of Port of Spain, now choked in rush hour traffic, where Jessie loads up on “dinner,” including calabash, jerk pork, dasheen, lamb, and macaroni salad. We were beyond satiated, but we ate out of sheer habit. I was too tired to photograph food any longer and Meryl was too tired to write down the names. Thanks to our fearless scribe Zach from South Africa, he did report we had topped 60 foods during our Taste of Trini.

Jessie, seeming satisfied, drove us back to Chaguaramas has we watch miles after miles of bumper-to- bumper traffic.  Trinidad has abundant offshore oil, and diesel fuel here is about $1/gal (we’ve paid as high as $8 while cruising). There is also little public transportation so it seems everyone owns a car. It’s said that the average Trinidadian spends up to four hours a day in traffic. I could have stayed in Seattle to equal that statistic.

With everyone semi-comatose on the ride home, we’re jerked awake as Jessie stops along the road and asks “Cookies and Cream” ice cream or “Carmel Crunch?” I can’t believe we take him up on it. Maybe he had been keeping his own count and knew we were only at 59.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Sebrina's Hot Roti Stand

Sebrina is ready to serve you.
Since arriving in Grenada, we kept hearing from our cruiser friends that we needed to try a roti.  Roti is  an Indian bread, made from stoneground wholemeal flour, traditionally shaped into a round flat tortilla shape and wrapped around various meats and vegetables to make a meal.  They are consumed in Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.  Many of the Caribbean islands have a large Indian population that influences the variety of foods available.  Back in my early Pan Am flying days to India and Singapore, we used to partake in early morning masla dosa's. A dosa is a flat bread stuffed with lightly cooked potatoes, onions, green chili and spices.  A love for Indian food has brought me to many an Indian restaurant wherever I may be.

We never found a convenient stand until we were down in Trinidad.  The Lonely Planet guide mentioned one between our boat yard, Peake's, and Power Boats next door.  So eager to try a new dish I ventured out to the main road and found the stand right on the corner.  Fortunately, it was still early in the lunch hour and after waiting for a number of locals and other cruisers to be served up she still had a variety of offerings but had just finished serving her last Roti. No worries, I ordered a dish someone ordered in front of me, rice & beef with a salad medley for Walter and rice & lamb for me, all for only 20 Trini dollars ($3.25).  I hurried back to the boat and Walter and I savored every yummy bite.

Yummy Rice and Lamb lunch.
Next time, I decided to try a breakfast roti with scrambled eggs, potatoes,  pumpkin, and hot sauce.  That also was a winner, plus I didn't have to cook breakfast. 

By now I was sold on her stand and we chatted each time. I found out she has been in the business for over 12 years and is well known in the community.  She told me she gets up at 3:00 am each morning to get her pots going and opens each day by 6:30 for breakfast fare and then sells out by 2:00 or 3:00 pm. 

I finally timed it right and bought two chicken Roti's, with vegetables, and hot sauce.  Sampling the chicken roti, I have to say I am hooked and will be on the look-out for another stand here in Grenada.

Monday, August 19, 2013

We Splash at Peakes

Preparing the boat to go back in the water was easier than getting it ready to haul out. We basically just put all the food back in the cabinets, took the protective covers off everything, and brought all our valuables out of their secret hiding places (I'm sure there's still some stuff we forgot hiding in some nook of the boat.)

On Aug 19th the crew came with the blue hydraulic lift truck, picked up Flying Cloud, and moved it the 1/8 mile back to the big Travel Lift, which lifted it off the hydraulic truck and gently plopped it in the water.

We wanted to stay at the dock again, but all the inside berths were full so we were forced to do a Med-moor on the outside of the dock. A Russian boat had lost his anchor in the stormy weather the day before and had taken both outer buoys to tie his boat off, so we were forced to drop our anchor and back into the main dock, something I’m not very good at. We couldn't seem to get the angle right so we tried to reposition the anchor but it was stuck to something on the bottom.

Making a good situation out of a bad one we figured the anchor wasn’t going to move so we wouldn’t have to worry about smashing into the dock. We took another couple of tries backing in against the side current and thanks to some very patient dock guys we finally got our two stern lines tied to the dock.

The next day a French single-hander tried to Med-moor next to the Russian but managed to bang into him several times as he attempted to back in against the current. Made for some interesting international relations.

We ended up calling our old friend, Eric off of Gabber, who rescued Meryl’s glasses before we left for Seattle and asked him if he wanted to try to rescue our anchor. Eric loves a challenge and spent 40 minutes with his dive knife trying to untangle our anchor from a mess of large lines littering the bottom.
Again he wouldn’t take any money so we just forced it on him with a smile.

Once all that was sorted out and we were feeling fairly good about our new bottom paint, polished topsides, and newly varnished hatches and companionway ladder, I made the mistake of trying to start our genset. Unbelievably it was seized, meaning the piston was rusted in place inside the engine and wouldn’t turn. This was the genset that we spend hundreds of dollars rebuilding just a few months ago in Puerto Rico. I made a couple of calls and found some local guys who work on gensets and asked them when they could come over. “Sure mon, how about in10 minutes?”  Now no marine vendor in my lifetime has every said he could come work on my boat in 10 minutes. As the British would say, I was flummoxed.

Two Trinidadians showed up and spent the better part of an hour trying to get the engine to budge. Finally, Ricardo, the tall thin one, asked me if I had any Coco Cola. Thinking he was thirsty I went to fix him a drink but then I found out he wanted to pour it into the engine. I quickly said “Hey Ricardo, we have all sorts of parts looseners like PB Blaster, WD-40 ….”  He cut me off mid-sentence, stared at me and in his best Barry White voice said, “Get me some Co--Co--Co--La,” pronouncing each syllable like a third-grade teacher. Not having any Co--Co--Co--La, I jumped off the boat and was prepared to run one mile to the convenience store when I saw a big sport fishing boat offloading some fisherman on the dock next to us. “Excuse me, skipper, can I borrow a Coco Cola?” He laughed and said “Are you that thirsty,” and I replied, “No, it’s for my engine.” A plastic bottle of Coco Cola came soaring through the air with me back pedaling down the dock like an NFL defensive back going after a one-handed reception. Richard smiled as I handed him the Coke. Turns out Coke has phosphoric acid, which does a great job of dissolving rust without ruining the surrounding metal.

So for the next week we went through daily soaks of Coca Cola, with the engine moving just a little bit more each day. After several more exotic concoctions involving motor oil, ATF fluid and God knows what, Raymond, the chief mechanic, threw in the towel and said they had to remove the engine and take it back to their shop. I was getting fairly good at taking gensets out of my boat so we had it in the dingy in less than 30 minutes. It helped that one of the helpers was from Guyana was built like a NFL tackle. He could lift the genset by himself for short distances.

To make a very long genset story short, the guys took the genset apart (again), used a metal torch to free the frozen piston and rings, reground the cylinder walls, and put it all back together. More importantly they discovered the cause of the problem:  from Day One the exhaust riser (which I had rebuilt twice) was designed wrong. The riser takes the exhaust gases from the engine and mixes them with the hot cooling water and pushes them out the side of the boat (that’s the water you see splashing from the sides of boats). On the original design the exhaust water entered the downhill side of the exhaust loop, so salt water would drip down on the valves and into the cylinder head causing rust to build up. As long as you were using the genset everyday, the rust would be burned off, but leave the boat for a month and it would rust itself shut. The new (third) riser was built with a higher loop to prevent water from backing up and with the water intake on the downhill (farthest from the engine) side. The genset now runs great and reliably, but something tells me this isn’t the end of the genset saga.

After a long day working on the boat in the Trinidad heat we looked forward to a cold beer and an outstanding hamburger.
To help mitigate our trauma over the genset issues we retreated to the Zanzibar Restaurant at Peakes Boatyard. Normally a restaurant in a boatyard would be terrible, but this one had a great view and a great chef.  As Americans who know their hamburgers, we complemented the chef on one of the best hamburgers we’d ever had. As I’ve always said: a great hamburger dims the anguish of a broken genset.

I had become fond of drink called Sorrel, which is made from the red flowers of the Sorrel plant. It's usually brewed during Christmas time as a celebratory drink, but I found out they also made a beer out of it. I was in seventh heaven.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Return to Trinidad

After a flurry of last minute trips to gather up various parts, including our “must have” autopilot that was late in getting fixed, we finally made it out to SeaTac Airport on Aug 15th for a 7:00 am departure to Houston. Again we had four large cardboard boxes stuffed to the brim with provisions and boat parts; I’m sure the gate agent thought we were off on a six-month expedition to the Amazon.

As we arrived at the gate we noticed the flight was running one hour late, which meant our connection in Houston to Trinidad would be super tight. With no control over anything, we just sat down and read our books. When we finally boarded we hoped the pilots would be able to make up time, but we arrived in Houston exactly an hour late. The connecting flight, naturally, was at the other end of the sprawling airport and we got to watch it pull out of the gate just as we arrived. Knowing that our boxes would have never connected, we accepted our fate and pulled out the computer to start looking for hotels.

A mini vacation at a hotel with a real bed and hot showers.
The rates went from “you’ve got to be kidding” to a great rate at the Hyatt Houston North, which turned out to be United’s crew hotel.  The hotel was fairly nice and we got our suits on and went down to the pool for the rest of the afternoon. Given the hectic nature of our Seattle trip, we treated this as a little mini vacation. At the restaurant that night I had one of the best corn chowders I’d ever had and we collapsed into a real bed and watched TV for the first time in months.

Naturally the Houston to Trinidad flight the next day was running an hour late, but we were in no rush to get back to a hot boat in humid Trinidad so we just went to the Red Carpet Club and gorged ourselves on cheese and crackers. The rest of the trip went well and we arrived in Trinidad around 8 pm. Getting our four large boxes from baggage to Customs was quite a balancing act with the trolley, but after a 30-minute delay they gave a us piece of paper and told us to report to Marine Customs at Chaguaramas.

Jesse James, our faithful cab driver, was there to meet us and off we went to Customs. Someone had told me the trick with Customs is to overwhelm them with paperwork, so when the agent asked me if I had any receipts I pulled out four one- gallon baggies packed with hundreds of receipts. He merely sighed and said OK. We were through Customs with no duty or fees to pay. What a huge relief given the value of the stuff we were bringing in.

The next day we hauled the four large boxes across the yard and used the outboard motor hoist to lift them the 15 ft. up onto the boat that was still on the hard. We were so proud of the space we had gained when we took the four large boxes off the boat when we left and now we were returning with an equal amount. You can’t win sometimes.

Saturday, August 3, 2013


One of the joys of returning home is seeing your old friends. When you are sailboat cruising you develop very intense friendships, simply because of mutual interest, the sheer amount of unencumbered free time, the magical places you visit, and the mutual dependencies bred by the environment.

With old friends you share history, memories, and the opportunity to get caught up with each other's lives. Sometimes for cruisers it is difficult to get your old friends to truly understand what you are doing. We frequently are asked: "What about pirates?" "What about storms?" "Where do you get food?" With cruisers conversations frequently center around broken boat parts, heads that won't work, and where to find real whole milk. They say you can't go home, but we give it our best shot once a year.

We met our friends Randy and Monique at a wonderful Italian restaurant out in the boonies of Woodinville. Meryl and Monique used to fly together for Pan Am and share that elan vital that only former Pam Am flight attendants seem to have. Randy and Monique were about to depart on a 3,000 mile motorcycle ride from Seattle to Sturgess and then on to Milwaukee for a Harley Davidson rally. Monique rides her own Harley and graces a set of leathers like a Hollywood movie star.

Our next stop was and overnight visit with Jim and Mary Ann who live on Beaver Lake in Sammamish. Jim used to crew on Phoenix, my 26-foot Thunderbird sailboat and Jim and Mary Ann visited us on Flying Cloud when we were in the Exumas. We enjoyed sitting on their veranda overlooking the lake and talking about the good old times racing with the Thunderbird fleet. Jim and Mary Ann, along with their daughter Megan, took us on a tour of Beaver Lake in the 12-foot aluminum fishing boat. Great fun!

We also had the opportunity to have dinner with Paul and Irene, who also visited us on Flying Cloud while we were in Hope Town, The Abacos. We had a wonderful time exploring the environs of Hope Town, including Meryl taking Irene on her first kayak ride and me snorkeling with Paul. We spent the night sipping wine and laughing about all the fun times we've had together. I've always admired Paul's undying optimism and Irene's infectious laugh and endless stories about her extended family.

Our final get together was with a group of former Thunderbird sailors who are now known as "The Old Salts." The boats included Zephyr (Rod and MaryHelen), Nutter Butter (Don and Jan), Mahina (Larry and Ann), and Alio (Gary and Sheri). As always we relived old races and laughed at all the fun times we had together cruising. It was also wonderful to see Gary's wife, Sheri, who is making great progress recovering from a stroke she suffered one year ago.

And when we talk about friends, we can't leave out Jim and Chris, and Annie and Tryg, who are more like family than friends. They all have offered us their houses, their cars, and their hospitality over these past years. We are fortunate they have had a chance to visit us on Flying Cloud and we sincerely hope they will be back again for more visits.