Sunday, November 27, 2011

Final Preparations

I dragged Craig along on our second trip to the Port of Spain market. In the van on the way, we met Devi from sailboat Arctic Tern and Ann from sailboat Receta. We are all tied up to the same dock at Crews Inn, getting ready for a season in the Caribbean. Devi and Ann revel in the thorniness of Trinidad. They tell stories of searching for particular Pan music artists, finding new kinds of roti, and who to go to at the market for the best Tamarind chutney. They are the kind of sailors that appreciate local narratives and natures with a quiet curiosity. I am careful to collect their suggestions to pack away for future use.

I found the recommended Chutney stand and with the help of the stand owner herself, bought 10 jars of sauces to spice up our food as we head north. My generous mentor explained the ingredients and shared recipes as she dolloped spoonfuls of the spicy concoctions onto plastic sheets for me to sample. I left chewing on pickled mango strips and know that my ten jars will not last long. 

Alberta Crewed successfully splashed last Thursday and is chomping at the bit to get back to its full gallop on the sea. One of my tasks was to service our four winches. The winches are mechanical rope-winders that enable us to raise and lower sails, move them from one side of the boat to the other, and tighten or loosen them depending on the wind and our direction. Sail work requires muscles to wind the halyards (raising/lowering ropes), sheets (tightening/loosening ropes), and furling lines that wrap around a drum device to open and close the big forward sails. Many boats have manual winches and one can see sailing crews twisting winch handles around in pot-stirring motions, muscles taut and sweat dripping from foreheads. We have the luxury of two electric winches. When we raise or lower, furl or unfurl our sails, we wrap the halyards around the electric winch and push a button. The other two winches for tightening or loosening (trimming) the sails are manual because a finer touch is needed and it is way more fun. 

Winches have gears that need cleaning and greasing, pawls that need oiling, and all parts that need to be inspected for wear. I appreciated seeing how all of the parts fit together and only had one piece left over when I reassembled the first winch. Thanks to Salwa our new crew member who took photos of the process, I took it apart again, found the piece its home, and listened with great satisfaction to the smooth clickety-clicking of the spinning winch. The other three became progressively easier and I can now say I am a pro.

We hear many compliments about Alberta Crewed and our cruising friends were particularly impressed when they heard that Antares company owners, Jeff and Rob, and marketer/photographer-extraordinaire, Salwa, were joining us for our sail to Grenada. They arrived Saturday and over two days, our to-do lists dwindled rapidly. 

Although mounting the dinghy motor and putting on sails were a priority, they still had time to enjoy Trinidad food, fireflies, and jungled-forests. I switched from tourist to tour guide, hoping to peel back Trinidad’s rough skin long enough to reveal its enchantment. Judging by our guests’ raves over Shark and Bake and their awed silences on our walk through the Bamboo Cathedral, I believe I succeeded. I’d like to think Devi and Ann would be proud of us all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Lessons in Language

Paw Paw
Whole Spice
Sour Sop
Pomme Cythere
I challenge readers to match the photo of my Trini market purchases with the above names. Note: the upper right dark green vegetable is not an avocado. I walked into the blocks-long downtown market area last Saturday at 07:00 and it was already a hive of bartering patrons gathered around mounds of leafy produce, brightly coloured fruits, and fresh meat and fish stands. Derek, our local driver and guide, was my coach as I filled my bags with food I had never seen before. He helped me pick a perfectly ripened prickly soursop that turned out to have a delicious sour-pear flavour and, according to the tiny gramma picking out her soursop, was good against cancer. Derek also explained how to cook my new harvests using various combinations of barks and seeds I bought from the spice man. I also brought home a large bag of delicate crimson sorrel buds and used them to prepare a favourite Trinidad Christmas drink. I peeled the red-leafed sepals off the seed and boiled them with market nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. The spicy flavour and rich red colour reminded me of mulled wine, the exception being Sorrel is served on ice with a splash of good rum if desired. It grows along the roadside and blooms with delicate pink hibiscus flowers. 

On the way to and from the market, Derek gave me a much-needed lesson on speakin Trini. The palette of the Trini language is English; the colours are West African, Spanish, French, and Bhojpuri. English is the language of my family but I am a foreigner to the lilting musical rhythms that I hear in conversations around here. Trini’s seem to sing when they speak and their idioms are filled interesting images. “Don be buyin no cat in bag” is what a mother might say to her son when he is in a serious relationship. In other words, know the person you are with well before you marry. If you want spicy food, ask for your dinner with “mother-in-law”. Really spicy – a “bad mother in law”. Derek and other drivers in the traffic jam around the market yelled back and forth and gestured at one other as they squeezed into spaces more appropriate for bicycles. Trinis need their hands to talk and not just for waving gestures. Hands are another dimension of language with pointing, fists, and circular motions carrying specific meaning. 
Miguel Browne, a local poet, storyteller and teacher, gives a great lesson in speakin Trini at: 
Language is a portal to the sociology and psyche of a culture and thanks to Derek and Miguel, I have humbly found another way into the complexity of Trinidad life and history. Derek laughed hysterically at my feeble attempts to speak Trini. Like my dancing, I will never have da rhythm. I will instead have to settle with being a master at eating which is just fine with me.

The little red things are Sorrel.
Th small purpley brown seed looking things are Nutmeg.
Whole Spice is the peachy one that looks like candy.
The yellow ones at the front are Pomme Cythere.
Paw Paw are the wrinkly cucumbers.
The Sour Sop is the green one under the Pomme Cytheres.
Christophene is the one that looks like a pear.
And the Carailli is the one that looks like an avocado.

Did I get any right? :)
Friday, November 25, 2011 - 12:33 PM
Hi Kate
You have five out of eight. Keep trying!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sunbeams and Sanding

“It’s snowing sunshine!” We were standing in line at the Roti Shack for lunch and our Trinidadian line-up mate smiled as he joked about the recent weather change. It felt more like a blazing blizzard to me. After a few days of cool breezes and rain, the scorching heat stormed in and pounded down yesterday as we made our daily pilgrimage to chandleries (boat supply stores) and machine shops. I welcomed the respites inside as we slogged from building to building for shelter from the sunny squalls, leaving blinded as my sunglasses fogged up each time I walked outside. White Christmas and Silent Night playing on the loud speakers sounded absurd. I don’t expect much sympathy from my northern folk who are plowing through the first snow storms of the long winter, however, living in heat can require as much diligence as living in cold. At the other end of the thermometer where weather reports tell me that 31 degrees (90F) feels like 38 (100F) with humidity, I attempt to stave off the rays with a wide-brimmed hat, long pants, and sleeved shirts covering sunscreen-lathered freckles. Mr. Mediterranean laughs off the high UV index readings, defying the warnings with his shirt-free daily uniform. Soon he will again be mistaken for a local and will need to pretend that he speaks “Trini”.
The temperatures were higher in Brazil than here but we were in the water at Ilha Grande and able to swim as much as we wanted. We also followed local human and animal behaviour, living well with the weather by staying still during the hottest parts of the day. We don’t have that luxury living in a dirty, industrial boatyard and facing long job-lists. Although our boat is new, there is still work to do before we splash. Boats have layers of bottom ablative paint that ride about a third of the way up the hull and need to be removed and repainted every year or two. Ablative paint is a soft, sloughing layer meant to prevent marine growth from making our boat bottom a home. It wears off quickly which is one of the reasons boats haul out every year. We have to remove the old paint layer first by power washing and hand sanding. With two hulls and over a thousand square feet of area to sand and paint, I am building muscles I didn’t know I had. Although double the work, the duel hulls at least provide shade on the interior sides. The ocean water and air are remarkable and efficient decomposers of anything metal so we are checking our propellers, replacing zincs (sacrificial anodes on the propeller shafts that absorb electrical currents and decompose, therefore saving the propellers), and removing rust on rails. Our work is minor compared to that of our neighbours who are replacing water makers, masts, and transmissions on top of extensive body work.

Our plan is to splash the boat on November 24th and move back to the marina across the harbour for final preparations. We are hosting an Antares University ( in Grenada, a short overnight sail of 80 nautical miles from Trinidad. It is best to arrive at any destination during the day for visibility so we will leave Trinidad at around suppertime on the 27th, weather permitting.
Our reward for lunch yesterday was worth the 45 minute wait at the Roti Shack. As a popular Trinidad dish, the roti combines East-Indian curries with Caribbean spice. The pizza-sized flour wrap is fried on a tava (cast iron grill), filled with curried vegetables and meat stews of goat, chicken, or beef, and topped with hot sauce. At under five dollars, it makes a hearty meal for hungry sanders.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Anchors Aweigh

We stepped onto a clean and quiet Alberta Crewed early Friday morning.  Other than dust on the deck and unplanned Science experiments in the toilets, all was well.  We are spending these hot and humid days getting systems going and reuniting with friends.  We also picked up our new anchor and it is a beautiful work of functional art.  If one wants a lively and heated discussion among sailors, bring up the subject of anchors.  As a critical piece of equipment for enabling a good night’s sleep, anchors bring out debates about hinging flanks, which allow anchors to turn rather than break out, triangular flukes that bury into soft bottoms, and sharp toes (points) that dig into weeds and grasses.  Most anchors are shaped like ploughs, which on land are meant to dig furrows in the soil.  On a boat, we want to drop the anchor and NOT dig a furrow.  Last spring, Craig had gone underwater with his SeaBreathe (compressor-run breathing hose) to check how well our anchor had set for our afternoon swim.  He watched as it dragged a lovely trough along the muddy seabed and our boat headed to shore.  As a result, we bought the biggest anchor we could that would fit into our bow roller and anchor locker.  At 35 kg, our Ultra has been touted for its quick burial and high holding power.  These seem to be inanely obvious features that all anchors would possess, hence the disputes and disagreements.  We will see when the rudder hits the rode.  
We arrived in Trinidad on day 75 of the SoE, a declaration of a “State of Emergency” by the government and police.  This involves a 23:00-04:00 curfew and enactment of Anti-Gang legislation.  This drastic action is an aggressive stance against gang violence rates that have swelled in Trinidad over the past decade.  Newspaper headlines on November 6th read “30 Murders Since SoE”.  Before our mothers send a rescue party to whisk us back to Canada, this headline is a good one.  It means that the murder and violent crime rates have dropped by almost 50%.  Letters to newspaper editors reflect some objection to the curfew and increase of police presence based on economics and human rights violations.  Locals we know are all for it.  According to them, streets are quiet and safer, and they are not out past 11:00 anyways.  Trinidad’s crime increase is blamed on its proximity to South America (we can see the Venezuelan coast) and therefore serves as a gateway for the South American drug trade.  A major player in this new enforcement is Trinidad Police Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs, a Canadian (specifically Edmonton) trained police superintendent who took on the top job in Trinidad a year ago.  His task is daunting.  Youth and gang violence are the culprits resulting in a murder rate of two per day in a population of just over a million.  The law even bans camouflage clothing.
The streets are indeed quieter and we were the only ones on the road as our specially permitted cab picked us up at the airport after midnight.  We have always been careful about walking after dark and keeping a low profile when around town.  Our server at the Wheelhouse Pub even drove us home from dinner last night because the water taxi was our for repairs.  She did not think it was wise to walk the few blocks home even though it was just past eight o’clock.
We feel safe where we are staying and at the same time, take responsibility for not putting ourselves into precarious situations.  To us, keeping a low profile means respecting the local culture and learning as much as we can by watching and listening.  In the boat yard, we are the privileged in a service-based industry and locals work hard to keep us in this lifestyle.  We of course respect the curfew but do not offer our opinions about the decisions Trinidadians make.  We are foreigners and strangers.  I am fascinated by the complexities of societies and how common threads can be found between them.  I also search for what makes a culture unique and we are both interested in the various historical perspectives that are told by a country ans its communities.  A sailing life offers us brief but unique insights into the complexities and struggles of change, a prevalent theme we read about daily in world headlines.