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August 17, 2005 Update

Trinidad and Hurricane Emily!

We left Prickly Bay, Grenada, on July 2nd with a favorable weather forecast for the overnight passage to Trinidad. A few hours out we had a hit on our fishing lines and landed a HUGE dolphin (mahi-mahi, dorado)! We were very excited about it, because we'd been trying to catch one since the Bahamas. We'd had several on the line but never gotten one aboard. This one was a real prize. Unfortunately, the seas were rather rolly, and I felt extremely ill by the time I was finished filleting it on the aft deck!

At sunrise the next morning we could see the steep, lush hills of Trinidad. We caught another fish, a Little Tunny, as we neared the coast, then passed into some raging current as we entered the "Boca del Dragon" (Dragon's Mouth) passage just west of Trinidad. The scenery was spectacular, with immense cliffs dropping straight down to the sea from high, jungle-covered hills, swirling waters and whirling frigate-birds.

We were prepared to hate Trinidad. We had reports from friends who'd already arrived and told us, "Stay in Grenada! There's nothing here!" And there were some aspects about our visit that were less than perfect, but by and large we had a wonderful time in "Trini".

The main yacht anchorage, Chaguaramus, has been built up in the last few years from a small commercial port into a harbor whose main raison d'etre is to cater to visiting cruising boats. There are several marinas, tons of boatyards and boat-repair businesses, two small grocery stores, a couple of restaurants and bars, and a post office. The anchorage is deep with poor holding and lots of wave and wake motion, as well as floating debris and trash that moves around with the strong tidal currents. Not a fun place to anchor (we dragged the one time we tried it.) However, there are some moorings available at $6 per night. We spent a few nights on a mooring, but it wasn't much better. The wave/wake action was just as uncomfortable, with the added annoyance of the big hard mooring bouy bonking against the hull all night long! We made our reservation to get the boat hauled (so we could paint the bottom) in a week's time and then moved a few miles around the corner to the more remote and peaceful anchorage at Scotland Bay.

Scotland Bay was beautiful. Very jungly and lush. During the day you could hear, and occasionally see, the Howler Monkeys in the trees. Their cry is a very loud and deep "ROAR!" more like an angry lion than anything simian. They howl particularly loudly after rain-showers, and since it's the rainy season there were LOTS of those! In the evenings pairs of noisy parrots flew by on their way to roost for the night, and at dusk huge bats came swooping out over the water.

After a while we joined our friends Clayton and Fiona (on Argo) and sailed to the westernmost Trini island of Chacachacare. It was covered in the same lush jungle, which was rapidly swallowing the ruins of a convent and former leper colony there. It was supposedly haunted, and frightened away the most recent tenants, the Coast Guard, who had a base there in the early '90s. We saw no ghosts, but found a gorgeous Flamboyant Tree in full bloom! The only other buildings belonged to the lighthouse keeper, and one day we made the rather long hike ("sorry, Liv, we didn't know it was this long of a walk!") up to the lighthouse. The views were worth it, however, and we could see South America just a few miles to the west of us, as well as down into the bay where we were anchored. The lighthouse is the second-highest in the world, and the keeper, Jerome, was very friendly. He even let us take some mangoes from his trees. "Peace Out, Jerome!"

Soon it was time to head back in to Chaguaramas for our haul-out appointment. We were also rather nervously watching the weather; a tropical wave to our east had just become Tropical Storm Emily and was forecast to intensify. Although we are supposedly south of the hurricane "box", hurricanes are rare, but not impossible here. Last year's direct hit on Grenada, just north of Trini, proved that. In addition, the National Weather Service was already predicting that 2005 would be a year of many more tropical storms and hurricanes than usual. Back in Chaguaramus, the day before our haul-out, we listened morning and night to the SSB weather broadcasts. Emily was bearing down on us and she was forecast to become a hurricane when she got to the islands! Yikes! It was just sheer luck that we were scheduled to haul out, since being securely on land is one of the best places a boat can be during a hurricane. Other boats scrambled to get hauled out, or sailed 6 hours away to a "hurricane hole" in Venezuela. That day was exhausting: in addition to getting the boat situated "on the hard" and me packing for my flight back to the USA the next day, we had to prepare for a hurricane! We took off the headsail, took everything off the deck, took down the bimini, and were prepared to take off the mainsail and dodger if it looked like we were in for a lot of wind. Towards afternoon, though, we heard that Emily would pass north of us, meaning that we would not be in the "dangerous" quadrant, and would not get terribly high winds. We left the dodger on and lashed the main to the boom anyway.

It was an eerie night. It was very still. The last weather report we heard before trying to go to sleep was that Emily had split and headed north towards Grenada: we'd be even further from the center than we'd thought earlier. Still, we were nervous, and got no sleep that night as we waited for the winds to start.

In the dark early morning hours the winds and, more dramatically, the torrential rains began. The winds never went above 35 knots (and were mostly only around 20 or so) but the boat was shuddering on her jackstands with the weight of the pounding rain. My taxi was supposed to come at 5 am, at 4:30 we got a radio call from some other travelers: the airport was closed and electricity out. When it was light enough we went down to the harbor. The sea was a horrible light brown color from all the run-off from the hills, and boats were jumping around like bucking broncos against their moorings and dock-lines. I felt really sorry the people on board those boats! The huge waves in the harbor were crashing up over the docks and flooding the yard.

We finally learned that my flight had been delayed, not cancelled (although mine and a couple of others were the only ones that left Trinidad that day, since they had to re-close the airport shortly after I left!) so off I went. I would be gone a week, for doctor appointments back in Maine. Neil and Liv would be living on the boat in the yard while Neil did boat work. With all the hurricane flooding, there were tons of mosquitoes and record temperatures, so it was not the most comfortable place to be! Nonetheless, Neil got a lot of work done...

Next: more Trinidad...