We combine cruising with doing boat maintenance on the Caribbean islands of Tobago, Grenada, and Carriacou.

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Paramaribo (SUR) – Carriacou (GRD)

“Five metres, three metres, two-and-a-half metres… The depth is decreasing rapidly!” Floris shouts with noticeable urgency in his voice. Ivar immediately changes course: back to the buoyed channel as quickly as possible! The depth gauge keeps us on our toes for another minute, until it finally indicates greater depths. With our draft of seven feet, we barely escape grounding Luci in the mouth of the Suriname River. It appears that the nautical chart is not reliable here, so we decide to stay squarely within the borders of the buoyed channel from now on. Only after we’re past the last buoy we head northwest. We can now sail a beam-reach course. A favourable current gives us another two knots of speed. The sailing couldn’t be any smoother. We relax and start counting down the miles of our 450-mile passage to Tobago.

Climate Vandals

In the morning of the second day, we are confronted by a seemingly endless row of tall objects appearing on the horizon. “That must be the Guyana oil and gas field I read about”, Floris notes. “Exxon Mobil is exploring a recently discovered field of no less than eleven billion barrels of oil here.” All day long we see the ominous offshore objects coming closer. The infrastructure being built here is much more extensive than shown on the charts. How far do we have to detour for this?

In the evening the platforms and vessels are well lit. It makes it easier to distinguish a corridor. We pass the gigantic installations at an appropriate distance and realize that we are witnessing something that remains invisible to most people. “Climate vandals!” Ivar shouts in frustration. “Why are so many resources – money, materials, and energy – still being invested in new oil exploration, while we know perfectly well that fossil fuels must remain in the ground to prevent the climate crisis from getting completely out of hand?” he wonders out loud. “We have so many renewable energy sources, we don’t need this. Investors behind these types of projects are missing out on the energy transition and will soon be left with gigantic amounts of stranded assets”, he predicts.

Benefits of a Mooring

After our nightly diversion around the climate vandals’ installations, we can sail in a straight line to Tobago. When we get close to the island, playful dolphins accompany us on the last stretch. “They are welcoming us!” Floris beams. It’s a perfect ending to a perfect passage, were it not that by the time we reach our destination Charlotteville, it is pitch dark. We are having trouble finding our way around the Man-o-War Bay and only find a mooring buoy thanks to a map that Floris downloaded before departure. After we tie Luci to it, Ivar grabs an anchor beer to celebrate. “We had to sail around the world to get here but we finally made it to the Caribbean!”, he smiles.

The next morning it’s time for a dive into the clear blue water that surrounds our boat. Floris uses the opportunity to check our mooring buoy and notices that the line is in good shape and firmly attached to a large concrete block on the seabed. Reassured that Luci will be safe by herself, we paddle to town. We land the kayak on the white sand of a picture-perfect beach that is flanked by coconut palms. “What a heavenly arrival!” Ivar smiles while we tie the kayak to a tree. We check in with the authorities and then visit the Environmental Research Institute Charlotteville. They manage the mooring buoys and explain to us that they placed the moorings to protect the seabed and coral from destructive anchors. In addition, the moorings give local fishermen space to fish with their traditional nets in the rest of the bay. Naturally, we love to contribute to such a good initiative.

Local Vibe

There are only a handful of sailing boats in the bay. Our American neighbour tells us that his sailing trip here was a tough one. As Tobago is located upwind of all other Caribbean islands, not many crews take the effort and beat against the wind. We hardly see any tourists on land either. Perhaps due to the absence of mass tourism, the vibe in Charlotteville is very friendly and we are welcomed by everyone we meet. At small roadside stalls we stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables and at the cooperative fish market we buy locally caught fish directly from the fishermen. The mini market sells our favourite drink: fresh coconut water from the island. It couldn’t be more pleasant here!

Disturbing History

Today’s peaceful atmosphere is in stark contrast to the island’s disturbing history, as we learn at the museum in the capital Scarborough. The original inhabitants of Tobago were Indians from South America, including the Kalinago. The European colonizers called them Caribs, hence the name for the entire area. They were wiped out through killing, infectious diseases, and forced labour on plantations. The Dutch, Spanish, French and English constantly fought over the island. Over a period of 200 years, the island changed colonial administration numerous times. The many forts quietly bear witness to that time.

Following the massacre of the Kalinago, enslaved people were brought from Africa to work on the plantations. Their misery only came to an end after the abolition of slavery in 1838. But it was not until 1962 that Tobago, together with neighbouring Trinidad, became independent of the United Kingdom, the last colonial ruler. The British influence is still noticeable: everyone speaks fluent English and traffic drives on the left.

Way Ahead of His Time

On a brighter note, we notice how green the island is. Wherever we look we see forested hills and mountains. A nature reserve in the middle of the island tops it all. The Main Ridge Forest forms the figurative backbone of the island and extends over 4,000 hectares. It has been protected since 1776, making it the oldest protected forest in the world! The driving force behind that remarkable initiative was British scientist Stephen Hales. He realized that a large area of rainforest in the middle of the island was essential for attracting and retaining rainwater. To feed the water-guzzling sugar cane and coffee plants, it was necessary to prevent even more forest from making way for plantations, so he fought for years to protect the forest. He was years ahead of his time. His insight that our economy depends on well-functioning ecosystems was revolutionary in those days. We explore the area extensively on foot and admire many unique trees, plants, and birds from easily accessible walking paths.

Hummingbird Heaven

To our delight we also see many birds outside the Main Ridge Forest. They flutter everywhere on the island, often with strikingly bright colours. We watch breathlessly as a hummingbird hovers in front of a tropical flower, its wings moving so fast that we can barely make them out. In a private garden, the owner has planted the hummingbirds’ favourite flowers and placed bird feeders. “There are thousands of them here, divided into five species”, he proudly explains. Floris can’t stop taking pictures in this hummingbird heaven!

An Island to Return to

On a hike just outside Charlotteville, we are overtaken by a remarkably quiet car. The driver introduces herself as Miss Anne and promptly invites us to her house for lunch. Like many of her generation, she emigrated to the United States as a teenager for education and work. She’s now in her sixties and returned to the island of her youth. We admire her beautiful house and large vegetable garden, where she grows the fruit and vegetables that she serves us.

After two weeks in Tobago, we cast off the mooring buoy line and set sail for Grenada. We agree that Tobago was a wonderful introduction to the Caribbean. It turned out to be a tropical surprise where we would love to return one day. What will the other Caribbean Islands hold in store for us, we wonder?

Dutch Gezelligheid

Early the next day, Floris spots the green mountains of Grenada looming in the distance. The morning light gives them a golden yellow glow. “The Caribbean islands are so close together”, Floris muses. Not much later he wakes Ivar for the approach into Woburn Bay, one of three large bays in southern Grenada. Our friends Karin and Jeroen of SY White Pearl asked us to join them there. They are anchored here and tell us that there is a spot available next to them.

As we sail into the bay, we understand why this matters. There are hundreds of sailing boats here. “I’ve never seen so many boats anchored in one bay”, Ivar shouts as he slaloms between large catamarans. “There is hardly any room for more boats!” Yet as we get closer to White Pearl, we see that there is indeed some room next to our friends. We drop our anchor, pull it firmly into the sand, and paddle over to Karin and Jeroen. We last saw each other in Greece in 2017, so we have a lot to catch up on. To our great delight, they accompany us to shore and show us the most convenient place for the dinghy, the stop for the local passenger bus, the ATM, the supermarket and the immigration and customs office. Thanks to them, for once we don’t have to explore everything ourselves.

The next day is Karin’s birthday, which we celebrate with rum punch – the local cocktail. We also meet the other birthday guests: Oda, Onno, and their son Jasper from SY Off Course. We haven’t had so much Dutch gezelligheid (cosiness) in a long time!

Every Disadvantage has its Advantage

The other Dutch boats have been sailing around the Caribbean for some time. Like many others, they shelter here from the hurricanes that historically rage further north. They are used to the area, whereas we experience a bit of a culture shock. It’s so busy with boats that it’s almost like living in a city. No one greets each other and fast dinghies speed by left, right, and centre. It feels like car traffic. “Why the rush?” Floris wonders. “You are on a sailing trip!”

Our modest inflatable kayak stands out among the fast dinghies and ribs. It feels like we are riding a bike instead of driving a car in this floating city. Kayaking even has the same benefits: we exercise, we don’t have to worry about a parking space or theft, are emission-free, and save money on fuel. When we hear about the dinghy poker run – a kind of pub crawl, where crews in fast dinghies collect as many playing cards as possible around the bay – the culture shock is complete.

Fortunately, Grenada has more to offer. We love the central market in the capital St George’s, where we stock up on local fruits and veggies. We are also fans of the minibuses that cover the entire island, cost very little, and enable us to meet locals along the way. As keen hikers, we head to the island’s Grand Étang’s National Park. Floris has devised a circular route via a mountain and waterfalls, but that turns out to be too much of a challenge. Many hours into it, we lose the trail and eventually see no option but to track back. We make it back just before dark, exhausted.

In addition to being in Dutch company, the amount of hurricane refugees on this island has other advantages. The cruising community maintains a daily VHF radio net on which they share tips and activities. There are excellent shops and the nearby Blue Lighthouse beach bar has – in addition to Caribbean cocktails – delicious pizzas. But the biggest plus may well be that there are many boatyards and chandleries. It’s an ideal place for doing boat maintenance, which happens to be necessary once again.

Sweating and Chores, Chores and Sweating

“Cruising is… doing boat maintenance in exotic places”, is a commonly used expression among cruisers. All too often it turns out to be true. It’s inevitable, especially when one sails full-time and lives on board. The last time we were on the hard was almost two years ago in New Zealand. This time around we have plenty of time: the hurricane season will still last a while, so we won’t sail further north anyway.

After extensive inquiries and research, Floris selected a shipyard in Carriacou, the island neighbouring Grenada. Our only worry is that it seems way too hot to do any work. The temperature rises to well above 30° C every day. The slightest activity has us sweating profusely. “I wonder whether it was a good idea to give Luci some TLC here, of all places?”, Ivar wonders out loud.

“Let’s attack the rusty spots on deck while we’re still afloat. At least then we’ll have a nice breeze”, Floris suggests. This turns out to be an excellent idea. We mark and number more than a hundred rusty spots, so that we don’t forget any during the next steps: grinding away the dust, degreasing, applying primer, and painting. After a few days all the rust is gone and we’re ready for the bigger maintenance job: the underwater hull.

Tyrell Bay Marina’s gigantic boat lift hauls Luci out of the water and moves her to a spot in the yard. We notice that most of the boats around us are deserted. Hundreds of large catamarans are attached to heavy concrete blocks. Judging from the home ports, they are waiting for their American owners who will soon reappear in great numbers during the next sailing season. “I heard an appropriate term for these boats: condomarans”, Floris notes. “It’s a portmanteau of catamaran and condominium. Every possible luxury is installed on these boats: air conditioning, ice machines, a flat screen TVs, coffee machines, etc. You can live like you did on land and even bring your pets along.”

Although we are sometimes envious of the space and comfort, when it comes to doing maintenance we prefer our monohull. Fortunately, the weather is favourable. It’s dry and there is a light breeze. This makes the hard work bearable, so we progress at a steady pace. To our great relief and surprise, there are no unexpected setbacks this time. Just like we planned, Luci splashes back into the water a week after we hauled her out. We’re grateful to our loyal partner Seajet, who provided us with new copper-free antifouling once again. In combination with our shiny propeller and clean anodes, Luci looks ship-shape again.

We summarised our week of TLC in this short video: 

Paradise Beach

Relieved that the work is done and we’re floating again, we sail around the corner to Paradise Beach. Once our anchor is secured, we jump into the crystal clear, tropical warm water. Karin and Jeroen are also here and take us to the Paradise Beach Club. To treat our muscle pain we order cocktails, specifically the very appropriately named painkillers. “Cruising is doing boat maintenance in exotic places”, Ivar recites one last time. “We’ve done the boat maintenance now, so let’s get on with the cruising part!”

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