Tobago

17th September - 27th October 2003

We left Trinidad on the evening of 16th September with trepidation, mindful of all the horror stories of passages to Tobago, its sister island, lying about 60 miles away against the prevailing tradewinds and 2 -3 knot current.    Many cruisers who'd never ventured there had told us we'd never make it with our 30 hp engine.   We were, however, a little more determined and followed the advice of locals who had actually made the trip!    We stuck with our plan of selecting a time when the Atlantic swell was small and travelling close to shore and overnight, when the wind usually dies away.   For once everything went to plan!  We left our TTSA anchorage around 5 pm and passed through the Boca channel to the north coast of Trinidad as the tide began to fall.   For about four hours we actually had current pushing us in the right direction, helping our little engine out.    By 5 am we'd made it as far as Galera Point, the eastern most point of Trinidad's north coast and changed course to head direct for Tobago.   We were safely anchored in Store Bay in time for breakfast.  

                               

When we began exploring Tobago, we quickly learned a thing or two about getting around there.   The first was that, with the exception of Charlotteville in the north which had a dock, whenever we went ashore, we had to beach our dinghy in the often large swell.    Almost every time, we ended up wet from the perilous endeavour of leaping out of the dinghy in the surf onto the steeply shelving and exposed beaches.     The task of transferring a month's supply of bulky shopping items, such as milk, juice and beer, from the back of a taxi, down the beach, up to thigh depth in water with waves coming in every few seconds and then into the dinghy, which we'd anchored as we'd be unable to move it down the beach with the large load aboard, was unpleasant and sometimes risky.   Even pulling the dinghy up the beach was difficult for just the two of us, due to the steepness and softness of the golden sand.    Several times we almost came to grief, the worst occasions being when a large swell flipped the dinghy over on top of us just as we'd leapt out and once, when for the first time ever, the outboard engine jammed in the down position, leaving the dinghy impaled in the sand and being beaten by big swells.   We certainly came to appreciate the luxury of having a dock to tie up our dinghy on!

We also quickly learned that if you followed the advice you were given as a child to "never get into a car with a stranger", you'd never get anywhere in Tobago.     Although there was a public bus system, we realised after waiting until 4.45 pm firstly for the the non-existent 2.15 pm and then the 4 pm buses from Scarborough to Charlotteville to show up, why the locals preferred the "route taxis".   For shorter distances, these were simply private cars which picked up anybody needing a lift who they passed on their fixed routes.  These vehicles had no distinguishing marks at all, you simply had to stick your arm out at every passing vehicle to find one.   On longer journeys minibuses were used, similar to the maxi-taxis in Trinidad.   The drawback with these was that unless you were "in the know" about when they would show up, you could be standing around waiting for a long time.  There seemed to be no timetable to speak of.   Having said that, if there was a timetable, it may have been as reliable as the one for the public buses!

Most of the tourism in Tobago was centred in the south west section of the island but the island was largely unspoilt by development.  Once we'd stocked up in Store Bay, we set off north east up the west coast of the island in search of less developed anchorages.   

Our first stop was Castara about midway up the coast, a small fishing village where for many days we were the only boat anchored.     Apart from some small guesthouses in the village, which mainly catered for eco-tourists, it didn't seem that the village had changed much in recent times.    We finally tracked down a pay phone, which occasionally worked once you could fight your way past the goats and chickens to reach it!   Fresh bread was still cooked on the beach in a clay oven only twice a week and was delicious.  Laundry was still done in the stream through the village and the clothes laid out on the football pitch to dry!

We took a scenic walk along the stream (sometimes through the stream) up to the village's waterfall.   On our way we searched in the water for guppies and other tropical fish.   Despite our best attempts we failed to catch any new additions for our on-board spaghetti jar aquarium.  Perhaps a tea strainer wasn't the best device to try and catch them with! Once we reached the waterfall, Phil decided to climb up to the top as the locals do.   It was only when he reached the top that he suddenly wondered how he would get back down the slippery wet rock again - it was a lot easier climbing up.   Eventually he made it safely back down and resolved never to climb a waterfall again, especially when the elbow he'd injured when he slipped swelled to the size of an ostrich egg!

 

Castara's Bakery

"How do I get down again?"

Fearless Guppy Hunter!

 

After a few days we suddenly went from being alone in the anchorage to being surrounded by a dozen other yachts. They were all invited by our friends Phil and Nicola on Splendid Adventurer to an "oildown", to be held in the village in honour of their visiting friends.    The "oildown" was a chicken stew or soup, with dumplings and lots of root vegetables, cooked over an open fire, using the large cast iron pots in which whale blubber was reduced in the days of whale hunting.   Of course it was spiced up with "Captain Phil's Wreck Tum Fire", the hot sauce produced by Phil and Nicola's company and all washed down with lots of rum punch!    Although the meal didn't look too appetizing, it was very tasty!

Oildown chefs hard at work.

Hungry Cruisers waiting for food

The finished product.

We spent a few more days in Castara, enjoying snorkeling in a nearby bay with beautiful coral and a wide variety of fish.   We also snorkeled on the rocky shoreline off the village and spotted several large Southern Stingrays, which were quite scary to look at due to their large size and eerie eyes on top of their heads, turning to watch you from a distance, but they are relatively harmless.   The fishing was good in Castara too and after Phil caught a small tuna and found that a barracuda had eaten half of it by the time he reeled it in, he was determined to hunt down the barracuda as well.   He succeeded and it was delicious!   In many of the islands further north it is unsafe to eat large predatory fish, due to the ciguatera toxins which build up in their bodies from the reefs but fortunately in Tobago you could eat everything.   Luckily our fishing kept us well fed because all the shops had to offer in the small villages was frozen chicken!

We'd spotted lots of bats flying at night in both Trinidad and in Tobago.   One day we were lucky enough to see the fruit bats flying during the day when they were disturbed by a local boy collecting coconuts from the top of the palm in which they roosted.   He even gave us a couple of coconuts!    On a different day we again saw the bats flying in daylight, to retrieve a small baby bat which had fallen to the ground.

We decided it was time to leave Castara when we awoke one morning to feel a violent swell and hear our TV crashing across the cabin.   Luckily it survived unscathed.   We set off to Charlotteville and had a hard trip, mostly due to that same swell and the wind, both on our nose all the way.   After a couple of hours of pounding we pulled into another small village called Parlatuvier but after having to re-anchor three times, when we found ourselves too close to the fishing boats or the rocks in the tiny bay, we decided to carry on Charlotteville at the northwest of the island.

Compared to Castara, Charlotteville was a city!   It boasted two shops, one with internet connection, as well as a couple of stalls selling fruit, veg and snacks at the roadside.    Snorkeling was wonderful there when the swell died down and the water became crystal clear.  Luckily we were anchored close enough to swim straight to the reef from our boat, so we could make frequent trips.   We were again impressed by the stunning variety of corals and fish and this time were frightened by a large ugly Green Moray Eel with big teeth, which came a bit too close for comfort!

 

Soon we were reunited with Phil and Nicola when they anchored behind us and we set off together in search of adventures.   They were very familiar with the area, which they have been visiting for years during the hurricane season, and they were able to show us all the best spots.   Normally they are based in Mustique, where they charter their catamaran.  

They introduced us to their friend Madison Christmas, a cheerful old man who used to work on the cocoa plantation many years ago.   He was still employed looking after the grounds and we exchanged some chicken and rice with him for some succulent avocados from his garden. 

 

Meeting Madison Christmas.

 

"Is it cold in there?"

Next day Phil and Nicola took us off to visit a waterfall.   Our "no waterfall climbing" resolution quickly went out of the window.   After a severe dunking whilst landing (or rather crashing) our dinghy onto the beach in the large swell, we found ourselves barefoot and climbing up another slippery, but this time not so steep, waterfall.    The two Phils took a dip in the pool at the top but Nicola and Christine on seeing the expression on their faces when they dived into the cold water and noting the amazing similarity between the colour of the water and the colour of the "oildown" we'd recently eaten, decided to wait until re-launching the dinghy for their next getting wet experience!   Suddenly the boys jumped back out again, when freshwater crayfish started to pinch their toes with their claws!
On an earlier visit to Charlotteville about a month ago, when Phil and Nicola had been doing some filming for their upcoming adventure/cooking TV show, they'd discovered a Hawksbill Turtle nest on the beach, which had been broken open by the large waves, scattering the eggs on the beach.  They'd dug a new nest in the sand and relocated all the exposed eggs, to give them a chance to hatch.   One day they came by in their dinghy excitedly telling us to climb aboard quickly as the nest was hatching out.    When we arrived at the nest, we found the walls of the nest had fallen in, trapping the baby turtles.   Phil J quickly began to dig open the nest gently, using his bare hands and retrieve the hatchlings.   As he dug them out and placed them on the sand they immediately began their dangerous trip to the sea.   Between the nest and the sea was a large step cut into the sand by the swell and the baby turtles tumbled down, often landing on their backs.   We helped them out by firstly turning over those which tumbled and then by starting a relay system to bring them from the nest nearer to the water.   In the end we'd helped about 30 or 40 turtles make it safely to the sea and hoped that some would escape the hungry jaws of predators.  It was a once in a lifetime experience! 

Helping the turtles out to sea.

                                       Willy's arrival.

 

We were lucky enough to see one of the eggs hatch out over a period of about an hour.    When "Willy", as he was christened, finally emerged he was unfortunately very weak and the underside of his shell not properly bonded together, leaving some of his stomach exposed.    We kept him overnight in a container of sea water, to give him a chance to rest before releasing him to sea, hoping he would survive.

 

Phil and Nicola harvesting cocoa pods in the forest.

We took an adventurous walk through the forest outside of Charlotteville, together with Phil and Nicola.   Only a couple of minutes out of the village we were really in the wilds.   We looked in vain for the national bird of Tobago, the Rufous-Vented Chacalaca, otherwise known as the Cocrico, after its raucous cry.   Every morning in Tobago we were woken by its call and yet the birds seemed to be invisible!   It is understandable that they have to be protected by law as, with their irritating calls, their habit of devouring local crops and their reputation for tasting good, they would otherwise be extinct.   During our walk we also searched for the colourful birds cited in the guidebook.  Apparently "if a bird doesn't have more colours than a traffic light, you hardly bother to look" after a while.   All the ones we spotted were brown but we're probably not the world's most patient bird-watchers!
Whilst in Charlotteville there were some distressing developments with our pets.   Firstly we heard that our ex Pest Control Officer, our cat Sophie, who had been living with Phil's Mum in Crickhowell in Wales since giving up the seafaring life, had passed away peacefully in her sleep.   Despite the fact that she hadn't been with us for almost two years, we were quite upset.     

Our on-board pets the guppies hadn't been doing too well either and in Tobago we were down to only three, a mother and two of her offspring.    During the night, the mother strangely disappeared from the container without a trace.  It was a mystery, neither of the remaining guppies was big enough to have eaten her and we searched the entire container, even inside the shells.    After that we thought no more about it.    A couple of nights later one of the remaining guppies did the same disappearing act.  We were completely baffled.   We could only assume that we had a sinister guppy snatcher aboard.   From then on, lonely Miss Guppy slept with the lid on her container!   Mr Jumpy, our stowaway spider from Trinidad, is a prime suspect.

Phil took a fishing trip out to sea with local fisherman Winston, otherwise known as "Black Mouth".   He was collected at 6 am by Winston and returned about four hours later.  Between them they managed to catch eight tuna, one of which we shared with Phil and Nicola.   After the experience Phil was exhausted and decided he wouldn't like to be a fisherman for a living!

We were delighted to hear from Eugene and Kirsten of Sandpiper that they were heading from Grenada to Trinidad and on learning that we were in Tobago, they'd decided to join us there for a few days on their way south.   We'd been trying to get together with Sandpiper, who we'd last seen in Cascais, Portugal, since they arrived in the Caribbean a year ago.   We were often close but had never quite managed to meet up.   It was great to see them again after two years and catch up.  Phil now had Eugene as a new fishing partner.    We travelled south down the coast back towards Store Bay together, stopping on the way at the tranquil anchorages of Bloody Bay and Englishman's Bay overnight.   On arrival at Store Bay we decided to hire a car together to tour the island.   

First we wanted to visit the Hillsborough Dam at the large reservoir in the interior of the island, where you can spot caiman if you're lucky.   We weren't!   After the hour long drive along the winding track to reach the dam, we were told it was closed due to "a threat against the water supply".  

Undeterred we set off in search of the second item on our itinerary, Rainbow Waterfalls.    Our third attempt put us on the right road and when we reached the "Rainbow Guesthouse", we knew we were close.   We left on foot in search of the waterfall.   After walking for half an hour, with nobody but a cow to ask for directions, we decided we'd definitely gone the wrong way, particularly as the land was becoming very flat.    We turned around and were about to give up and get back in the car when a local lady pointed us in the right direction.    We walked for another ten minutes in the oppressive heat, this time along the right path, when it suddenly became a quagmire.   When we spotted a tourist returning from the waterfall with her feet caked with mud to above her ankles, we decided we'd seen waterfalls before and gave up!   Our tour wasn't going to plan.

In search of Rainbow Falls with Eugene and Kirsten.

All the walking made us hungry and we decided to take a 20 kilometre detour to visit Charlotteville again and indulge ourselves in some rotis (curry wrapped in flatbread), from Jane's Quality Kitchen on the beach there.   During our time in the Caribbean we've sampled many rotis and found none better.   Unfortunately the 20 kilometre detour used up a lot of our petrol and we later found ourselves in the middle of the rainforest hoping we had enough to make it back to Scarborough.   The whole of the centre of the island is a forest reserve with no houses and is outstandingly beautiful but doesn't contain any petrol stations.  Luckily by switching off the air-conditioning in the car, by virtue of the fact that the return route was mostly downhill and that we only took about three wrong turns, we made it back to join the long queue at the petrol station in Scarborough.   We'd enjoyed the pleasure of sitting for half an hour in a petrol queue twice in one day!

It was by chance that the combination of the time spent in the petrol queue and the wrong turns and detours we'd taken meant that we arrived at the Caledonia Grafton Bird Reserve at 4.30 pm, just at the right time to witness feeding time.   The reserve was very peaceful and we wished we had longer to spend there.   Next time we'll be sure to spend more time there and to wear long trousers and long sleeved shirts to keep the bugs at bay.   We were finally able to see the famous "Cocrico" and many other birds including Mot-Mot and Bananaquit.    

                 

Beautiful Mot-Mot and Raucous Cocrico at the Caledonia Grafton Bird Reserve.

Eugene and Kirsten left to head to Trinidad and after going through the ordeal of restocking the boat again and collecting our papers from Scarborough, we headed back to Charlotteville, to spend our last couple of days in Tobago there.   Our visa was about to expire after six months in Trinidad and Tobago and we'd only planned to stay for one month!    Clearing out of Tobago turned out to be quite stressful.   Firstly we were told off by the customs official for not checking in with him on our arrival back in Charlotteville.   After much tutting and sighing, we were entered into his book, so that he could cross us out again when we cleared out two minutes later.    We'd also forgotten that we had to pay "harbour fees" for four months (about 20 in total) and we had no T & T dollars left.   Luckily we were able to pay with the US dollars we had aboard as the nearest bank was an hour and a half's bus ride away.   Relieved we set off at lunch time on the 27th October for the 115 mile passage to Bequia in the Grenadines, which would take about 24 hours.
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