Friday, October 18, 2013

Between a dock and a hard place

I’m sat on the cool dusty floor of the cyber café, along with the 10 or so others who got here too late to get a seat at the tables. All around me, at eye level or the lucky ones above us, are cruisers. I can tell by the practical and well used shoes – mostly Tevas and heavy duty industrial tread sandals. Plonked beside us all are backpacks of various sizes and colours. If we all weren’t so wrinkled and tanned, someone might mistake us for students. No one has a hand bag. No one has heels or wedges or even closed-toed loafers. There are lots of hats and caps to keep the vicious sun at bay though. We live on boats in the Caribbean. We need Internet. Here we are.
As the door swings open and closed beside me - cruisers peeking in at the masses of us and leaving, despondent - I inhale the dust and relish the gusts of crushing heat from outside. This is Trinidad in October. It’s HOT.
I am in a boatyard and most of those around me know what it’s like. Our homes, hoisted up on flimsy looking stilts, stuffed in like sardines, like fish out of water we are… can’t use the toilets or the water really. Mosquitos ravage us, the dirt and dust and cables and wires and grinding tools they beat us down, try to kill our spirits, depress us with the lack of beauty and the reality of what is a boat yard. 
Somewhere in these boatyards is our temporary home...

Hoisting Shiloh into her land berth
The cyber café is a retreat. Air-conditioning pumps out at us, subduing the heavy scent of sweating bodies and muddy wet t-shirts.
Most people are all here for one reason. To fix their boat. When they are not sitting in this chilly box of a café, they are busy grinding, polishing, scraping, painting, huffing, puffing and generally getting stuck in to boat maintenance, repairs, upgrades, refits, etc etc etc… that is until 5pm when I’m sure the rum and the beers are cracked open. Reward for the job well done. Only the jobs are long and difficult and when you are using local contractors, the jobs happen slowly. Very slowly. When it’s not baking hot, it’s pouring rain, and no work can happen in the rain. Some workers get stuck at home during flooding from the rain. The boatyard becomes a stagnant pool of mosquito breeding mud baths after the rain… and we all sit in this cyber café to escape. That was yesterday. Today it’s too hot. And about that work that needs doing on the boat? Well it’s Friday. We’ll continue Monday.
And so it happens, that when you sail down to Trinidad (or motor in zero wind in our case), you wade through the thick brown, oil slicked water, dodging coke bottles, used diapers, submerged plastic bags and various cuts of timber, and you vow to get your work done FAST and get out.
But the days turn to weeks turn to months... And Trinidad isn’t all that bad anyway. There are modern movie theaters and fast food restaurants and wholesale super stores and yummy local foods to try…We've had a 6.4 earthquake, we've visited the largest (one of only three) pitch lake in the world. We've been to malls and had some great barbeques, met new friends...
The boys, playing in the strange tarry, sulphur smelling pitch

For Shiloh, there is a make over underway. She is getting a fresh bottom paint (to supposedly keep the barnacles at bay), a new clean, polish and graphics (courtesy my talented son), and a lot of interior changes that she’s been in need of – or maybe that I’ve been convinced of, for quite a while.
We’re raising the water line by heaving out clunky bolted in furniture and adding storage by converting one of our superfluous heads (bathrooms) to a massive storage cabinet with access from three sides.
Ah, the joy that will overtake me when I go to pull out a can of food from an eye level  pantry shelf instead of bending over to rummage through a mess of a locker at floor level. These are the things we come to fixate on in a boat. The access to the stuff. It’s never easy given the small space we have, and it depends on the designer of the boat, whether they did it well or not. In our case, I have to say ‘Lagoon, you failed. Miserably’. But we can change that! And we will. And we are.
Evidenced by the thin white film of fiberglass and wood dust that now covers every surface in Shiloh. Evidenced by the chaos that is currently our saloon and the freaky half-done view of the head we currently have – they’ve cut out a big hole in the wall so you can see the toilet from the galley! 
The massive cabinet that dominated all living space... out!

And now we have all this floor space - got a nice big rug and moveable chair!

Sawing off the silly fibreglass seat/storage

And voila! Oh, well they are now closing it up again with a cute little access door
It’s not ideal living conditions. It’s hectic with two to three contractors in the limited space each day and the continuous mess. And did I mention we cannot use our fridge either? It’s water-cooled and must be turned off when ‘on the hard’.
So it’s a challenge. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
And when we ‘splash’ next – whether it happens this month or next, Shiloh will be a better version of herself and we will have all this tediousness behind us and we can sail off, to the Virgin Islands, to the Bahamas and beyond!
But for now, I need to get off this floor and find the Laundromat.


  1. Thanks for sharing,wonderful pictures as your work gets done, she's looking great! S/Y' Piano' is in a shed while we endure the British autumn ( rainy season) still it's time for sundowners and relaxation here , don't knock the heat, we have to use the sauna to keep warm! I can't wait to get back! Fingers crossed our work will be finished when we return.

  2. Hi Holli,John and Co Welcome to boatyards. The best bit is the new friends you make. We have to haul in a few weeks in Brisbane to repair gaskets in the saildrives, mend a crack in the watertank and some interior carpentry. Fun in the sun!

    Ian, Jo and crew, "Chaotic Harmony"

  3. What great projects - can't wait to see the end results!

  4. Hi John & Holli,
    Enjoying blogs so much - thanks
    Looks as if this layup will be worth both the effort and uncomfortable conditions when its finished and you're off cruising again. Sometimes - no pain, no gain!

  5. Well Said Holli !! Enjoy your make-over and hope to see you guys again on your way up "north".

  6. It's going to be even more beautiful than it was before and you'll be happier sailing on to new places.

  7. David - reading you from your Ghana blog. Nice post hope you are back on the water soon.