Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Before and During - transformation at Trini pace

This post should be about new beginnings. It should be full of before and after photos of all the work done. This post should be a high five to Trinidad and the services available here. It should be praise and perfection and a boat transformed.
But then it shouldn’t really at all. If we had hauled the boat out and set tasks and jobs and saw them all completed within the timeframe both allocated by us and promised by contractors, then there would be something wrong in the universe. A proverbial flying pig alert. It never happens. Ever. Not even for us, even though I spoke local slang and smiled a lot but was firm in my position on dates. And pricing.
Nothing ever happens for the price you originally agreed on either. There are extras. More hours needed.
I could blame the weather. Ah, Trinidad in the fall. Every day it is still and baking hot. Oppressive in it’s radiation. And then the skies open and it pours. But not before huge ominous clouds take over and blacken any chance of work being completed.
We listen to the weather forcast. They say there is a tropical wave coming through. Its hot, then it’s dark and then it pours. A lot. They say “today will be a beautiful day!” Its hot, then it’s dark and then it pours. A lot. They say it will be partly cloudy with thunder showers in the evening. Guess what? Its hot, then it’s dark and then it pours. A lot.
I could blame culture. The easy going, laid back, soon comeishness of the place. First thing tomorrow is 11am or the following day altogether. Lunchtime is at noon – but if it’s 11:30, its almost lunchtime, so…. (even if you showed up at 11?!) Don’t now expect anyone back on duty before 2. They might come before, but then that is because they are “really trying for you”.
I could blame us – that would be a novel idea – we had a few jobs in mind. They have mushroomed, bloomed, and grown into a chaotic knotted mess of idea porn. My mind swims. We could do this?! Add this?! Well if we do this, then that opens up this to do something new…. And so on.
What I could do is drop blame and settle in. Difficult though it is, living in a construction zone where its as likely to find sawdust as sugar in your tea, where there is never a surface to sit or a spot of countertop to set a bowl or plate. Nevermind though – no fridge, so not much cooking going on.
I have become reacquainted with the dangers of fast food. It is dangerous as you will get to like it briefly, indulge and then within a couple of weeks, the thought of it will make you cringe. And you will barf just a bit in your throat. Ewwww. I don’t think I will ever look at a KFC the same again. There must be more of them per square mile here than any other single business. Day and night, the town is literally painted red, (with the face of an old bespeckled white haired, white goatee'd American guy).

All of the above ranting aside though, there is something I like about Trinidad. The people are vibrant, bold, confident. There are stores and services and resources unheard of anywhere between here and St Martin. Our little quaint Leeward and Windward islands have nothing on this place for modern amenities.
But alas, we are worlds away from the ocean that laps insistently at the boatyard concrete wall, some metres away. We don’t smell that unmistakable scent of the sea or feel the fresh salty breeze. We are cut off, segregated, kept from the place we love, with all it’s promises of new horizons.
Our boat work is at the 'before and during' stages. We are land-locked for now and our sense of freedom is bruised. I feel wounded. Beat lightly around the ears with a heavy but blunt object. It is the feeling of being trapped. Like cotton wool, like the mud that supports us on our clunky stilts. It’s all stagnant and still.
And so we will plod along, and the before and after shots will definitely follow, on their own time. We will look at photos of the turquoise waters that lie just outside our grasp for now, and smile. Wipe the fiberglass from the corners of our eyes, we will look forward to Shiloh transformed and ready to roll once more.
For now, I need to find some fast food.

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.