Mid-Life Cruising Sabbatical

Chapter 18

Our Cruising Log
Part 5

Tobago Cays to Trinidad

See the comments on our cruising log at the start of Chapter 14

My comments to this letter were made in June 2003.


November 3, 1992


"Down Time"

Lat 10o40'N  Lon 61o35'W


Dear Friends and Family,


Greetings from Trinidad and Tobago (again, two islands one country). This turned out to be our hurricane season home this year and an interesting place it has been.  We are just winding up our chores here and getting ready to move on to Venezuela.  According to friends who have come to Trinidad from Venezuela, when we leave here we leave behind such modern conveniences as postal services and functioning telephone systems, so we thought we ought to send you the latest installment of trip news and early holiday greetings from here.


When last we wrote we were sitting behind a reef in the Tobago Cays. For those of you inclined to charter sailboats for vacations, the Tobago Cays are a wonderful area.  The snorkeling is some of the best we have seen and the water is less than six feet deep in some of the prettiest snorkeling reefs.  It is almost like snorkeling in an aquarium.


We mailed your last letter in Union Island, our clearing-out port for the Grenadines.  Mailing the letters was an experience.  I don't think the postman had ever sold 52 stamps before and he was at a lost as to how to calculate the total charge.  As Jim left the post office he was boarding his bicycle-with-a-wicker-basket to deliver the mail.


After we mailed the letters in Union Island we went on to the island of Petit St. Vincent.  This is a private island which is part of the country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  It's a spot for the "rich and famous" and is very expensive.  Normal access is by plane to Union Island and motor launch to Petit St. Vincent.  Each room is a private cottage with a flag communication system: one flag for "room service" another for "do not disturb"!


Just across the channel from Petit St. Vincent is Petit Martinique, part of the next country south, Grenada.  The people here make their living by smuggling (no kidding!).  Apparently they smuggle milk to Martinique and liquor back to Grenada.  We actually saw a new television being taken across from Petit St. Vincent to Petit Martinique in an open boat.


Next we backtracked a little to Carriacou, the northernmost island in the country of Grenada.  Carriacou is VERY "down island", sparsely inhabited with little to no tourism.  The locals live by fishing and building boats for eastern Caribbean fisherman.  Many Carriacou families live on the wages sent back by one or more family members who have emigrated to Curacao to work in the oil industry.  We spent our time there in the town of Tyrrel Bay, a place where large pigs (hogs?) forage for food up and down the main street (only street) along with the chickens, dogs, and cats.  The main industry seems to be restaurants, although we never figured out who was supposed to be patronizing the restaurants.  Curiously, many of the restaurants seemed to be operated by North American and European hippies left over from the sixties who some how ended up in this out of the way place.


We had two of our most interesting experiences in Tyrrel Bay.  One night after going out to dinner (we were the only people in the restaurant that night, and it was Saturday!) we heard a steel band playing and decided to look for the party.  We found a large crowd partying in a restaurant down the road and went in.  Jim had decided he wanted to try the infamous local hooch "Jack Iron", a booze with such high alcohol content that ice won't float in it.  The Jack Iron came from a five gallon jar with mystery leaves and sticks soaking in it.  Apparently each bar flavors its Jack Iron to its own tastes.  We did not ask what the flavoring was, we figured the alcohol content was so high it didn't matter.  The whole town seemed to be in this bar, so we had a few rounds, met some folks and finally stumbled off to bed. It wasn't until the next day that we discovered that we had been at a wake.  It seems the bar owner's auntie had died and everyone had gathered to give her a good send-off.  To show you how far this place was from the "modern" world, here's a little vignette:  When it came time to pay our bar bill we discovered we did not have enough money.  No problem.  They opened an account for us!


Several days later we had our other, less pleasant experience.  We were sitting in the cockpit of our boat early one afternoon when an ex-pat American hippie fisherman we met at the wake came by in his boat to tell us that a man had been swept away by the tide while free-diving off one of the small islands nearby.  All the boaters were going out to see if they could find him and they asked us to help. This was one of those moments when you realize the difference between the U.S. and the Third World.  There wasn't any Coast Guard to call out, there was no 911, no search and rescue volunteer group.  There wasn't anyone to mount any type of rescue operation except a bunch of fellow fisherman and yachties who had a "there but for the grace of God..." feeling to unite them.  The local fishermen with their powerboats scoured the areas close in to the island and the sailboats trolled back and forth across the current where we figured he would have been had he been swept out to sea.  No luck.  We all stayed out there until it was too dark to see and then returned to the anchorage to contemplate fate.  It was finally decided that one of the fishermen would go out the next morning and take one more trip around a small uninhabited offshore island to see if the body could be found.


The next morning the fisherman went out and found John, the missing diver, standing on the shore of the island, waiting for someone to look for him.  It seems that John had spent six hours in the water the day before, being swept back and forth between two islands by the current.  After six hours the current finally swept him close enough to one of the islands for him to swim to shore.  At no time had he seen any of the twelve boats looking for him.  The best part of the story is that John was found on his fortieth birthday.


From Carriacou we sailed (yes, we put the white things up and powered the boat!) on to the island of Grenada.  On the way one has to avoid an active underwater volcano whose position is not exactly known and which may erupt at any time.


Grenada is called the Spice Island and for good reason.  Grenada is the third largest nutmeg producer in the world.  They also grow cloves, cinnamon, allspice, pepper, and a tremendous number of herbs.  We took a tour of the island that included a visit to a nutmeg factory.  This place was bigger than a football field with storage cabinets over five feet tall covering the floor.  The cabinets were used to store the mace, the lacy strings that grow on the outside of the nutmeg.  Imagine the amount of nutmeg that passes through that place!  And every bit of work, from removing the mace and sorting it by color (an indication of its quality), to grading the nutmeg (sorting it by size) is all done by hand.


Grenada's capitol is one of the oldest cities in the Caribbean.  St. George was ravaged by fires several times in the 1500's and the government, tired of constantly rebuilding the place, finally ordered that all buildings had to built from stone.  As a result much of the town is over 400 years old.  Just to keep it interesting the old cart paths have been turned into paved roads; lanes big enough to hold two mules are now home to two Nissan twelve passenger vans barreling towards each other at break neck speeds.  We have used public transportation on every island we have been on.  Grenada is the first place I have found myself wondering if we were going to live to tell about it.


While we were in Grenada we debated leaving the boat there to fly home and finally decided to move on to Trinidad.  From Grenada to Trinidad is an 80 mile overnight sail and we decided to do it while our sea legs were still with us, rather than after spending a month in the States.


We arrived in Trinidad on July 3rd, just in time to attend the U.S. Ambassador's 4th of July party.  To get tickets to the event a posted notice at the yacht club directed us to a boat called Rainbow. Rainbow's owner, Carol Nemeyer, is a former Deputy Librarian of Congress Jim had worked with during his OCLC days.  When we went aboard Rainbow Carol couldn't believe she actually had known Jim in a previous life and I don't think she really believed he was Jim Barrentine until he showed her his passport.  That is what a full beard and fourteen inch long hair will do to you, I guess.


Trinidad is legendary in boating circles for being a place where you can "go broke saving money" and we are not immune to its charms. Since we came back from our stateside visit, we have been constantly engaged in painting, repairing, and replacing various parts and pieces of the boat.  With luck, we will finish tomorrow and actually have some time to see the rest of the island before we leave.


Our friends who are still in Trinidad tell us that the yacht servicing industry has exploded over the last ten years with new boatyards and US style marinas.


Not that we have only worked.  Last weekend we attended a national steel band competition in Port-of-Spain.  The steel drum, or pan, as it is called here in Trinidad, is the national instrument of Trinidad. For those of you who don't know, steel drums were developed here in Trinidad from the 55 gallon steel drums the military brought here during WWII.  The drums were initially outlawed here as subversive by the colonial government.  Nowadays, pans are not only legal, they are revered.  Every neighborhood organizes and supports its own steel orchestra.  Each year a series of competitions beginning in the fall gives the bands an opportunity to tune up for Carnival, the biggest party of the year.  The competition finals we attended offered the eight best bands playing both calypso and classical pieces.  We were amazed at the quality of the performances.  With the right choice of classical music it is possible to forget you are listening to steel drums.  The classical competition is only held once every four years and we feel lucky to have been here during the right year.  For your next trivia contest, the winners were the "Desperados".  In mid-November a pan jazz festival is scheduled and then the bands start tuning up in earnest for the big calypso season from Christmas to Ash Wednesday.  The bands we saw had 50-60 players and played on a stage. During Carnival, the same bands will have over 100 players each and will play while marching/dancing their way through the streets of Port-of-Spain throughout the entire night.


Within the next week or so we will leave for Venezuela.  Our course will take us along the largely uninhabited Paria Peninsula and we will enter Venezuela at the island of Margarita.


For those of you wishing to contact us you can write to us at:


P.O. Box 1947

Starkville, MS  39759


You can call us through Jim's father at 601-323-5781 or directly through AT&T High Seas (not Virgin Islands Radio as we said in our last letter).  The procedure here is to call 1-800-SEA-CALL and say you want to call the sailing vessel "Down Time", call sign WTA2000.


They'll do the rest.


Please note that all of this contact information is years out of date.  I have left it in so you can see the entire letter we sent.  The email address below is the correct way to contact us now.


Happy Holidays !!


Jim & Diane

Send comments to: jkbarrentine@earthlink.net

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