A quirk of geography and the woes of insurance companies have combined to create an ongoing boom for boatyards and marinas in Trinidad. Together with its smaller stepsister Tobago, Trinidad is an intriguing island nation that is one part South American and one part Caribbean. It is also strategically located south of hurricane alley. Until recently, Trinidad, with a reputation for petty crime, poor facilities, and cloudy waters, was off the beaten track for most cruisers. The 1990 edition of Hart and Stone’s Cruising Guide to the Caribbean states bluntly, "We cannot commend Trinidad as a cruising area, the only advantage is that it lies south of the hurricane paths." But that has changed dramatically in the last 12 years. And although Trinidad is now firmly established as a cruising destination in its own right, most sailors still enter first at the mouths of the dragon, Bocas del Dragon, looking for a safe haven during hurricane season, a move often prompted by a close reading of their insurance policy.
Almost all marine insurance companies, after a decade of paying out excessive hurricane damage claims for boats in the tropics, have drawn a line in the sand, or actually two lines in the water. Although details differ slightly depending on the carrier, it is safe to say that from June 1 through November 1, the area above 12 degrees N and south of 23.5 degrees N, roughly the south shore of Grenada to Georgetown in the Exumas, becomes a zone of no coverage.
So what options do you have short of sailing 1,000 miles or more north to the US mainland, which ironically, is not all that safe during hurricane season anyway? Head for Trinidad, man; it is just a two or three-day sail from anywhere in the Eastern or Central Caribbean. As the tropic bird flies, Trinidad is just over 400 miles south of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and even less from the Leewards and Windwards. And it’s summertime, so the sailing is easy—easy that is as long as no tropical systems are brewing.
We cleared out of Jolly Harbor on the western side of Antigua just as the abrupt first light of the tropics decorated the horizon. We were fooled by the classic Caribbean wind pattern, with the breeze seeming light as we headed south. Of course, as soon as we neared the southern end of the of the island the wind accelerated and funneled toward us. We hardened the sheets and held our course, and once south of the island we had clear air, from an easterly direction, and we eased the sheets and picked up speed.
|"Whenever we neared an island we were invariably lifted and then headed as the wind curled around the southern side of the landmass."|
We toyed with the idea of working our way to the windward side of Grenada for a better approach angle to Trinidad. But the sailing was so pleasant with the autopilot in charge and the stereo belting out an eclectic mix of Mozart, Marley, and the Rolling Stones, we really didn’t want to sail upwind or contend with the Atlantic swell sooner than necessary, so we continued south on the leeward side.
Trinidad and Venezuela’s Peninsula de Paria appear as a single landform from a distance. As you draw near, the mouths of the dragon become clear. There are four different mouths, or inlets into the Gulf of Paria. Most yachts choose the easternmost, a narrow cut between Trinidad and Monos Island and the closest to Chaguaramas. The wind is often constricted and the current always pours out of the mouths. For the first time in two and a half days we fired up the engine to make our way through. Turning east out of the pass you are met by a forest of masts. Wow, there are hundreds, maybe a thousand, sailboats at anchor, in marinas, and on the hard. That’s why we didn’t see any other boats in the Caribbean—they were all already in Trinidad.
Chaguaramas Bay is perfectly protected by a rugged, mountainous peninsula that juts off the northwest corner of Trinidad like a left shoulder. We hurried into the northeast corner of the bay to Power Boats Boat Yard and tied up at the fuel dock. It was just about closing time. No problem, the travel lift crew would stay late and haul Super Chief straight away. Another wow; this was certainly a different attitude from boatyards up island. Within an hour Super Chief was ready for hurricane season, propped up ashore in the far corner of the yard.
And Trinidad also offers one more advantage: music. Pan, or the steel drum, originated on the island and Trinidad’s calypso bands are thought by many to be the best in the Caribbean. Trinidad’s Carnival is undisputedly the best in the Caribbean and the reason why many sailors extend their stay well past hurricane season. From Christmas until the weekend before Ash Wednesday Trinidad is alive with music as contests are held throughout the island to determine which bands will perform during the annual festival. Carnival in Trinidad, which next year will begin on February 7, rivals New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro in its raucous good fun and is just another reason to head south toward the mouths of the dragon.
Hurricane Season by Tom Wood
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