On the hard in Trinidad

When the plane touched down on Trinidad, Margrethe and I knew we had a lot of hard work ahead of us. I guesstimated that we would need the rest of the month to get Stella Polaris ready, but hoped we would finish faster. Having your boat on the hard in Trinidad usually means that you’re doing work on the boat, so most people think of Trinidad as a place you work your ass off. For us it was to be no different.
Our boat was on land in Chaguaramas at the Power Boats boatyard. A lot of people have endless complaints about Trinidad, but I have only good things to say. The people are terrific, the food is good and it’s probably one of the best places in the World to work on your boat. The reason it’s such a good place to work on the boat is that you have everything you need nearby: 3 well stocked chandleries, easy access to skilled labor: welders, mechanics, electricians and just about anyone else you’d need to work on your boat, as well as any material you need for fixing and modifying anything you might have onboard. Everything is within easy walking distance, so time isn’t wasted in taxis and busses. On top of that there’s a friendly community of fellow sailors that not only help with advice, tools and anything else you might need, but also create a social scene that makes working here easy.

I can’t paint it all rosy red, because there are two things that can make any stay on Trinidad challenging, the first one is the heat. It’s stifling. When we were there it hovered between 28-34 degrees Celsius, day and night, so we were suffering. The second thing that can be challenging for us punctual northerners is timekeeping: we joke that they are on island time in the Caribbean and it is just as true with Trinnies. If you have an appointment at 09:00 and they show up by 11:00, you should feel blessed that you’ve found the one punctual Trinny around. We solved it by having flexible schedules: “drop by when you have time, we’re on the boat working all day”. That worked well, because I never felt any frustration with waiting.

Margrethe and I landed at 22:00 and were picked up by Ian (the same driver that drove me to the airport in February). For TT$400, he drove us the hour it took to get from the airport and straight to Stella Polaris. We climbed onboard and dove to bed, after doing an initial inspection of the boat. Everything looked well and with the dehumidifier running, it was nice and dry inside, so there was no hint of mildew or anything else that might have ruined our day. We came from a “steaming” 7 degrees Celsius in Stavanger to a nighttime temperature of 30 degrees Celsius on the first night. Throw in a 92% humidity and you know that anyone of Viking stock will be in a challenging environment. We attempted to sleep inside, to stay away from blood sucking mosquitoes and unbeknown to us: a dehumidifier heats up the air it dries, so the effective temperature inside the boat was quite a few degrees warmer than outside. We were boiling, but were able to sleep, the side effect being that we woke up at 06:00, which we would continue to do for the rest of our stay in Chaguaramas. The next morning we went through the boat and made a list of things that we needed to do. It doesn’t matter if you buy used or new, you end up with a long list of things to do. There has never existed a boat owner that doesn’t have a long list of things he should be doing or fixing and our list never really shrunk, it kept evolving and growing as we completed things and discovered new things that needed addressing.

Margrethe went to work cleaning out all the cupboards, closets, drawers, and storage spaces, both to make sure they were clean and to throw away old stuff we didn’t want or need. This gave us a good overview of the inventory we had bought. I went to work on changing the shaft seal, because it was leaking. It involved loosening the propeller shaft and pulling it back far enough to enable me to replace the seal. It took two days of sweating and cursing to accomplish. This was when I first met Joe, our neighbor, who would be like a mentor for me for the rest of the stay. Joe had “Bear” an Amel 46 in the spot right next to ours and was getting “Bear” back in shipshape. Joe knows basically everything there is to know about fixing up a boat and because he’s meticulous as Hell, you’ll end up doing the job properly. Whenever I was stuck, needed advice or a helping hand, Joe came to my aid.

It was getting clear to us that the old watermaker (Schenker Modular 30 liter) wasn’t going to work for us. It had been installed in the aft end of the engine compartment, which meant that you couldn’t service it and you couldn’t see the gauges in order to run it properly. It also meant that you had salt water in a compartment you don’t want salt water. I wanted it under the bunk in the starboard aft cabin, where it would be out of the way, but the Schenker wouldn’t fit. We reduced our loss by selling the Schenker and bought an Echo Tec watermaker. I had come across the Echo Tec units when I was researching watermakers for my old boat (Baluba), but price and the fact that they were produced in Trinidad, had ruled them out, despite stellar reviews. Now I was able to walk down the street and talk to them directly, so Margrethe and I decided to splurge and bought a 12 volt, 50 liter unit. This will allow us to produce 50 liters of fresh water an hour from salt water using just our batteries. Granted it has a 38 amp draw an hour, so we need to be fully charged before we start, but it should allow us a much higher level of freedom when sailing, because we won’t have to worry about running out of water. When the unit had been delivered, I spent the next week installing it. You might wonder why it took a week, but let me tell you, getting the different parts in place, making a solid base for the high pressure pump in seaboard (a hard plastic material cut at Mark One), getting all the piping and electrical cables in place takes a lot more time than you’d expect. Everyone at Echo Tec were excellent to deal with and both Darryl and Amrit really went the extra mile. Amrit came onboard three times to ensure that the install would be successful and inspected it when I was finished.

When we were going through the boat, I took a look into the 15 jerrycans of diesel that were stored on deck and in an aft locker. The diesel contained water and a lot of sediments. We talked to Sean at Chute d’Eau Marine LTD and he advised us to crack open an inspection hatch to take a look inside our fuel tanks to see if the situation was the same there. The tanks were filthy from the contaminated fuel, so we hired in Sean to clean out the tanks and remove the old contaminated diesel. I had to pry off the tank lids, which turned into quite a job, because they hadn’t been opened before. Sean did an awesome job cleaning out the tanks, so as long as we’re diligent and always use a filter when we fill, we shouldn’t have any problems in the future. He also helped us out by refueling our tanks with fuel he had polished, so we knew we were getting the very best in our tanks … at a great price, because he charged us the same price gas stations do, which is half of the marina price.

The water tanks also had some challenges, because in most marinas around the World there’s a lot of chlorine in the water and if you have aluminum tanks, the chlorine can react with it, so Margrethe cleaned out a lot of white chunks from them that looked like small shells. When she was done, we refilled them through a new filter I put together, where any water we fill from land has to go through a 10 micron carbon filter, which should remove all chlorine and contaminants we don’t want in our tanks. As soon as we start producing our own water with the watermaker we will never have these problems again, because we’ll never add chlorine to them.

We opened up the inspection hatch to the windless and found a rusty mess inside, so we let the local “winch whisperer” Ian unscrew it and take it home for pampering. He retuned it in excellent condition and mounted it on seaboard, so that we won’t have any problems with metals reacting with each other. We also cleaned up the anchor chain, but since they don’t have a shaker here on Trinidad there was no point in getting it regalvanized.

The old batteries were fried when we came onboard and after refilling them with 4 liters of water and giving them a proper charge, followed by an equalization they still only showed a voltage between 10,4 – 10,6 volts after letting them rest 12 hours. There was nothing left to do than suck it up and buy a new battery bank. We opted for 6 x 6 volt Trojan (golf cart) batteries that we bought from Brian at Caribbean Marine Electrical LTD. Brian was very helpful and made sure that the install went well. The 6 batteries gives us a total house bank of 675 amps worth of 12 volt power. These batteries are supposed to be top notch, so I look forward to using them.

We have a windvane on its way to Curacao, and in preparation for it, we had Mitchell at West Coast Welders weld a new base for it on the transom. This will make it easy for us to mount the windvane and will make it a breeze to inspect all the bolts, and an added bonus is that we don’t need to install any hatches into the void space in the transom. Mitchell also made an antenna base for us that I was able to install the Iridium antenna we bought from Ocens, so now we should be getting great reception when we’re out at sea. We actually got good reception in Chaguaramas, so on the open sea we should be getting top reception. Mitchell also made a dinghy hoist for us, which will make it easy to lift the 18 hp Tohatsu from the railing to the dinghy. Up till now we’d have to lift it by hand which was a heavy proposition when there only was two of us. I have to add a little thing about Stella Polaris dinghy and outboard situation: we have two dinghies and three outboards!!! The dinghies: An AB 9,5 RIB with aluminum floor and a Zodiac roll-up one. Then we have the following outboards: 2 hp Honda, 5 hp Mercury and an 18 hp Tohatsu. We could start an outboard outlet.

Fixing up your boat isn’t a cheap prospect, but depending on how you do it, you can put people in three categories: The people that do virtually all the work on their boats themselves, those that have someone else do all the work, or those that land somewhere in between. We’ve saved a lot of money by doing some of the things ourselves, like the watermaker install and fixing the chart plotter: It had a control wheel that was broken, but by opening up the unit and replacing a $30 part, I saved us having to buy a new $3000 unit. There were things we didn’t have the skillset for, so we got others to do it: Sean at Superb Canvas made new cushions and pillows for the cockpit, so that we can sit on new cushions that are tailor made for Stella Polaris.

Then there were jobs that we were happy to let someone else do, because it was cheap and time consuming. For example the antifouling needed a touch-up, so we got a lively local guy named Ricky to lift it by 10 cm, so that we’re ready for the necessary provisioning (read: boxes of rum and crates of beer) for the Pacific. He also finished up the rest of the antifouling and prepared the newly welded windvane base, as well as the area around the windless. Ricky was both friendly and entertaining, he looks like Martin Lawrence and taught us everything from local songs (“Trinny to da Bone” being a favourite), to recommending local cuisine.

For the first few weeks we either had cereal or doubles for breakfast. Doubles is a Trinny specialty where two small tortillas are folded around some chickpeas, with some hot sauce thrown in. It sounds simple … and it is, but it’s a great way to start the day. Doubles are sold by the roadside for TT$4 and the nearest guy we found was standing just outside the gate to the yard on most weekdays. The last week we were on the hard, we also tried another slightly larger breakfast, which was made by a lady on the other side of the entrance from the doubles guy. She made some amazing beef, garlic and mango wraps which were to die for. We felt quite spoilt, having this for breakfast and then eating the “workman’s” lunch special in either the Sails restaurant at Power Boats or over at Wheelhouse Pub by Coral Cove, in both places it cost TT$45, but it was worth it, to keep the motivation up … and not have to cook while the boat was on land. On 2 Saturdays we went to Wheelhouse Pub and had “shark and bake” for dinner. Basically a fish burger made from shark. We both enjoyed it, but the meal that came out as our favourite was the Wednesday swordfish BBQ at Wheelhouse Pub. Huge amounts of freshly caught and BBQ’ed fantastic fish. How can you possibly go wrong?

Though the list I spoke about earlier seems long, there are countless other smaller tasks that also took up a lot of time, because we had no problem filling our days from around 06:00 till between 18:00-21:00 every day in the 3,5 weeks we were on land. We eased into a routine, where we got up around 06:00, ate breakfast and worked till lunch. After lunch we returned to work, till the evening, when we packed up for the day. After a snack, we showered, planned the next day, sent off an email or two, and hit the sack before 22:00. I mentioned that the temperature was high, but we mitigated this partially by sleeping outside in the cockpit, which was the only place we could get a small breeze. The problem with sleeping in the cockpit were the mosquitos, so we sprayed ourselves with DEET repellent, burned mosquito coils, and were fairly successful in avoiding the mosquitos. We weren’t quite as successful with the tiny gnats, but they don’t carry dengue, chickenganya or Zika, so while annoying, weren’t nearly as bad.

17th of May (Norwegian Constitution Day) came and went without us having a chance to celebrate it properly. We were the only Norwegians in Chaguaramas, so a parade, while fitting would have felt a bit odd … So we let it pass in silence. Margrethe had bought a nice bottle of Prosecco, but we decided to save it for the day we went on the water, because that would be something to celebrate.

We spent 3,5 weeks on the hard in Trinidad and accomplished a lot. Trinidad really is the place to get things done, even if it is hot as Hades down here. The prices are still cheaper than anywhere else in the Caribbean if you need any work done, so it’s worked out well for us. We are in the Power Boats yard, which has Peake on one side and Coral Cove on the other. We’re happy to be in Power Boats, because it seems like the better yard to be in. The girls in the office are a delight and everyone working there are friendly, so we really can’t complain.

It was a bit funny, because our launch date was always being pushed. I kept being overly optimistic and had to keep pushing it back by a few days at a time. In the end, I think we pushed it back by almost two weeks from what I had initially thought. Having said that I expected us to spend a month here, so we were still within the expected period, but that didn’t stop me from trying to get on the water as fast as possible.

When we finally launched, it was perhaps a day or two too early, but then, that would have been the case no matter when we would have gone in. You get to a point where you are ready enough … and then you launch. If you expect everything to be ready and perfect, you’ll never get on the water.

I was a nervous wreck when they lifted the boat up and drove us in a big half circle to the area where they dumped us in the water. As soon as we were in the water, I opened all floorboards and looked for leaks. When none were apparent, I fired up the engine. I was unsure if it would clog up from crap in the pipes, but it started without a problem and was purring like a kitten. The guys on shore threw us our lines and we backed out and headed out towards our mooring. Simon (aka. Rastaman) had reserved us a mooring in a prime spot, so we took aim for it and tried to pick it up. I was on the helm, with the bimini and dodger blocking my view. Driving through a packed anchorage was nerve-racking, because I had no idea how the boat maneuvered, how the current was setting, how the windage was, etc. Margrethe was left to fend for herself on the foredeck and picking up a mooring when you have no idea how to, is no easy feat, but as luck would have it, Simon swung by and helped us out.

Well secured on the mooring we could finally breathe a huge sigh of relief. We hadn’t sunk, we were on the water where the boat belongs and we were finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Next on our list was rigging sails, which went without any problems. The stackpack on the mainsail was a real POS (not short for Port of Spain). The zipper broke when I looked at it, so until we get to Curacao and pick up our new stackpack, we’ll have to lash the sail to the boom.

The dinghy proved to be a joy to use and the 5hp Mercury surprised me, because I expected it to be crap, but it seems to be quite OK. We didn’t get to test the 18hp Tohatsu, because it is a beast and Mitchell completed the outboard lift right before we left, so we (read: I) look forward to testing it when we get to our next port of call.

The pace slowed down when we got out on the water, which was welcoming. We spent the entire day two in Port of Spain, shopping stuff we needed for the boat. It was nice to have a break, away from the boat. We did have a bit of a scare in the evening, when one of the through-hulls was leaking. I had unscrewed it when we were on land, and had missed the threading by a bit, so now water was coming in. When I tried to fix it, by tightening, the leak got worse, so by unscrewing it and putting it back on the problem was solved. It sounds easy when I write it, but I can promise you that I had a tense hour while trying to figure it out.

We had an Inmarsat Fleetbroadband 150 satellite phone with an antenna on the arch, but it is expensive as Hell to use, forcing us to pay over $370 a month in subscription if we want to have it active, so I was itching to throw it out, but we needed a reliable back-up system to the Iridium GO which is our primary satellite communication. That problem was solved when Ole, a fellow Norwegian that had settled in Chaguaramas, came by and asked if we were interested in his “old” Iridium 9555 satellite phone. We got it for half the normal used price and were very happy, because now we had a reliable back-up system and I could dismantle the FBB 150. I traded it with Rainer at Elctropics for a wi-fi booster, a new Pioneer stereo, a top of the line waterproof handheld VHF and lastly got Rainer (the MasterVolt distributor in Trinidad) to come out on the boat for almost two hours going over our system. A great trade if you ask me, for a system I was ready to throw away ☺

On day three we went on a test sail, which was excellent. We hoisted the main and pulled out the genoa and did 6 knots in 10-11 knots of wind on a flat sea. We were flying along enjoying life. I used the chance away from the anchorage (which is filthy) to try the watermaker and am happy to report that it works, doesn’t leak and produces water that tastes sensational. At the end of the sail we stopped in Scotland Bay and drifted while we went for a swim. It was our first swim since coming down here, so it was definitely overdue. Needless to say, it felt fantastic.

The plan was to sail to Martinique to install a Watt & Sea generator, because we have the chance to buy one at a great discount, but it will still cost us €3000 + around €1000 to install. I have gotten second thoughts about buying it, because our power current set-up is pretty sweet, with solar panels, wind generator and a Yanmar KMG65E generator, which is mounted straight onto the engine. It seems like we will have more than enough power, so the Watt & Sea is looking more and more like a luxury product that we’ll only be using on long passages. We’ll see where our next entry comes from: Martinique or Bonaire.

No matter which way we go, we’ll be avoiding the Venezuelan coastline like the plague, because there have been a couple of “pirate” attacks on sailing yachts. Two sailboats en route from Grenada to Trinidad were boarded in December and Peter (a lively sailor from Wales) was held at gunpoint for several hours, when they were boarded while trying to sail to Margarita Island in Venezuela. He was almost sure they would kill him and he isn’t the type to exaggerate. We’ll do our best to avoid that!

If you’re reading this, it means you’ve persevered through all this boring talk about working on the boat … Sorry about that, but this will be a good record for us how our time on the hard in Trinidad was. From now on the entries should be filled with more fun stuff, but in order to get to do the fun stuff, we need a boat that functions well … and that’s what we have worked hard on achieving.