Wednesday, March 30, 2011


There are some anchorages that one can visit in Trinidad, but Trinidad’s special value to the cruising yachtsman is its storage and repair facilities. The best area to cruise in the country is Tobago, located a day’s sail to the east. For all of its coastline, Trinidad has concerns with its proximity to South America as well as its proximity to Venezuela. These concerns make cruising Trinidad an impractical objective. Trinidad is located to the far south in the Caribbean Sea. This is significant because the further south and west, the less likely one will be affected by a hurricane. Less likely is the proper description rather than “outside the hurricane belt” as, in truth, nothing is outside the hurricane belt. However, there are probabilities that should be taken into account. The last hurricane to hit Trinidad was in 1877. The last tropical storm was Alma in 1974. Tropical storms pack winds from 34 to 63 knots. Alma crossed Trinidad with winds over 60 knots. However, since Alma, no tropical storm has hit Trinidad. Compared to the Windward Islands to the north, Trinidad is safer when it comes to storms because of its geographic position. The further north one is in the island chain, the greater the probability of tropical storm and hurricane. Even the difference between Grenada and Trinidad, which can be as little as one degree of latitude, is noteworthy. Grenada is affected by a storm on the average of once every 2.73 years and is hit by a hurricane every 15.44 years on average. Grenada had had its last hurricane event in 1963 and not another until Ivan in 2004 and Emily in 2005. If one were to decide where to keep one’s boat for hurricane season and base it only on the probability of storms, Trinidad would be the safest area by far within the Lesser Antilles. Add extraordinary facilities, and the case to spend hurricane season in Trinidad becomes compelling. Chaguaramas is located at the extreme northwest corner of Trinidad. To the west is Venezuela, just across from the Gulf of Paria. Tobago is located to the northeast. The Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles are due north. The current in the Caribbean Sea runs west at approximately 1 knot. However, currents along the coast of Venezuela can run much higher at various times of the month and can climb to the 2 to 3 knot range. The favored passage into Chaguaramas is through the cut between Monos Island and the mainland. The least-favored entrance is Boca Grande, which is west of Chacachacare Island. Avoid this entrance as it borders Venezuela and is proximate to the Paria Peninsula where there is known pirate activity. The favored cut, between Monos and the mainland, is in Trinidadian waters and close to Scotland Bay and the Trinidadian Coast Guard Station. Entering the cut you will sometimes encounter strong currents, which can be either in your favor or against you depending on the tides, and they can reach 5 knots. Give Le Chapeau a wide berth, and favor the port side entering. The obstacle is marked by a navigational aid and it is easy to spot. If you arrive early in the morning many times you will encounter fog and rain in the area, sometimes strong enough to reduce visibility to near zero. In cases like that it is best to go further west and enter through Boca de Huevos. This is a wider cut that can be negotiated in any visibility. Regardless of which cut you enter through, once through it is a simple matter to turn to port and continue on to Chaguaramas Bay. CHAGUARAMAS BAY 10°40.53’N, 061°40.02’W (entrance to bay - arbitrary point) Gasparillo Island can be left to port or starboard as you continue east on entering the bay. Once past the island, you will reach the mooring field, where you can use a mooring for a very reasonable daily fee. On your port as you enter, you will see the various boatyards and marinas, and directly ahead and to starboard will be CrewsInn Hotel and Marina where you will find the Customs dock directly adjacent to the lighthouse at the restaurant. Directly behind the marina looking east, you can just make out the TTSA (Trinidad and Tobago Sailing Association). There is no access from this side of the bay. To get there one has to exit the bay and proceed around Pointe Gourde and then head northeast to Carenage Bay. The TTSA is another option for cruising sailors to pick up a mooring and use the facilities of the association. Chaguaramas is the harbor in Trinidad for cruising boats. In most cases it is the reason to come to Trinidad. There is an enormous concentration of facilities in one area: land storage, slip storage, moorings, anchorage, restaurants, marine supply outlets, marine tradesmen of all types, machines to haul your boat out and put it back in, as well as every other kind of machine that you ever imagined to work on your boat. Chaguaramas Bay is fair, at best, as to holding. It was dredged by the U.S. Navy in the early ‘40s and is coral covered with silt. An anchor may hold for days if the conditions do not change from those that were present when the vessel anchored. However, when a strong west or southwest wind blows through, havoc reigns. That does not happen very often—perhaps a few times each hurricane season—but if your boat is in the water, you need to stay alert to the weather and be aboard. You will see moorings. They are owned by YSATT (Yacht Services Association of T & T), and if you pick one up, you must go to the YSATT office (at the CrewsInn facility) and report it no later than the next business day. Some of the moorings belong to “Simon the Diver.” If you pick up one of his, he will come out to speak with you. You can’t miss him; just look for the big Rasta smile. He will also agree to look after your boat if you decide to leave Trinidad for a short time. There is a water taxi service in Chaguaramas Bay called Skizzo’s Water Taxi. It operates daily from 0800 to 2300 hours. It may be reached on VHF Channel 68. You can also arrange for late pickups with prior notice. Chaguaramas is a defined area, and the area may very well be called a yacht and ship support area. There are a great number of pleasure boats, both sail and power, in the bay. The majority of sailboats are transient boats, and the majority of power boats are owned by locals. There are also large and small fishing boats, as well as support craft for the oil and gas industry. The harbor is not a pristine body of water. The water is fair quality, and after heavy rains the harbor is afloat with flotsam. One must keep in mind that the area is a commercial area: a work area is not the place to look for a white sand beach. The local boats speed through the harbor and cut in and out between anchored and moored boats. They do not do it to irritate anyone; it is just the way they navigate their boats. Screaming at them and calling out obscenities not only does not get them to slow down, it singles you out in the mooring field as the offensive foreigner. Local customs include driving fast without regard to anchored boats. YSATT has worked hard to get the local boaters to be conscious of not speeding through boats at anchor, but nothing has changed, and I doubt that it ever will. Some of the yachting community has complained that the manner in which the locals drive is inconsiderate and quite dangerous. Perhaps they are correct. However, there are many things that the yachting community does that are inconsiderate as well. Dropping off bags of garbage in non-designated areas is a recurring problem for the businesses in the area. Driving a dinghy at night under the influence of alcohol is also quite dangerous. When we visit a country, we are the guest, and when some of what is customary for the locals offends us, we must remember that many times it is better to accept local customs and habits, rather than criticize them. That does not mean we have to agree with them or emulate them; just accept them for what they are while we are visiting. Chaguaramas Bay has many conveniences. You can rent a car in a number of convenient locations. There are restaurants and also a number of grocery stores. Immigration and Customs is present. There are convenient places to keep your boat. There are also banks, taxis and even hotel rooms. There is also the greatest concentration of pleasure boat services and facilities that you will find anywhere in the world—so much so that it is mind-boggling. If you are willing to look past some of the commercial aspects of the harbor, it really is a very pleasant place. ENTRY REQUIREMENTS Immigration When you arrive at Chaguaramas, you must proceed to the Customs dock and tie up. The dock is located at the west side of CrewsInn Hotel & Marina. Proceed to Immigration. Normally, Immigration officials require all crew to be present. You must have your boat ownership papers with you in original form, and they must not be expired. These must be presented along with a valid passport for each crew member. They will give you forms to fill out in quadruplicate. Go to the desk and you will see carbon paper left there for you to use. They do not want you to do the work where the officer is; use the stand-up desk at the back of the room. Once you have filled out the papers, return to the officer. He will ask you how long you plan to stay. Generally they will issue a visa for up to three months. They are not asking you about the boat; the visas are for you and the crew. Should you be leaving the boat and flying out and plan to return on a one-way ticket, you must go first to Immigration at CrewsInn and sign off the crew list. They will ask to see a copy of your airline ticket. If you will return on a one-way ticket, you will need a special form stamped. You can get the form from the marina or boatyard you are dealing with. The form must be stamped by Immigration, and you will present it at the airport when you return. After you return and clear in at the airport, you still have to go to Immigration at CrewsInn to go back on the crew list. On the other hand, if you are departing by airline and plan to return to check the boat on a round-trip ticket, you do not need to go through the procedure. When you return at the airport they will ask you where you are staying, and if you indicate on a boat, they will ask you for the form. You explain that you are on a round-trip ticket and that you are not leaving on the boat, and they will allow you entry. Customs After you have cleared in, proceed to the Customs office. There you must fill out additional paperwork in duplicate. The form will ask you questions as to what your boat inventory is including how many engines, outboard and inboard, you have. Answer all questions truthfully and completely, and turn in the paperwork. If the boat is to remain in the water there is a harbor fee depending on tonnage and term of stay. If the boat is to go on the hard the fee does not apply. However, in that case you will be asked to provide a letter from the boatyard certifying that your boat is on land. No matter what time you arrive, you MUST report to Customs. It is open 24 hours per day. Even if Immigration is closed, you must go to Customs and report your arrival. If you do not, you will be in violation of the law. The Customs office is in the green building at CrewsInn. Yacht in transit (parts and spares) It is quite easy to send parts and spares to Trinidad. The parts and spares will be exempt from taxes. The way to undertake this is to send the parts and spares to S/V (name of your boat), located at (name of your marina or yard), c/o Chaguaramas Customs Boarding Station, CrewsInn Hotel & Yachting Centre, Chaguaramas, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Once the box is received by the Customs office, you can go and retrieve it. To do so you must present yourself and have your clearance papers and ships papers with you. You will go with the Customs officer to a storage room underneath the Customs office and retrieve your box. You will then need to bring it upstairs to the Customs office and open it and show the parts. To qualify they must be ship’s stores and items pertinent to the boat. If you send a new digital camera and a new computer, they may ask you to demonstrate that they will be used on the boat or the inspector may put a note on the Customs form that you must show the equipment to Customs when you are departing. On the other hand, if it is a starter or alternator, etc., you will have no difficulty at all. If what you are sending is small you can send it FedEx or UPS, and it will arrive directly at the Customs office at the CrewsInn Marina. If you are sending many items or big bulky items that are too expensive to send by FedEx or UPS, you can send them by sea. There are a number of carriers to choose from. One of the most popular is Tropical Shipping, which has offices in Kearney, NJ, and in Miami, FL. In case of shipping large items you may have to retrieve them at the Customs house in Port of Spain and will need to do your paperwork prior at the Customs office at the CrewsInn Marina. From time-to-time various boat owners have complained that the Customs officer was not attentive enough or not quick enough. There is no express line in Trinidad; everything moves at one speed—SLOW. It is this way in all of the islands of the Caribbean, and the best way to deal with it is patience. If you become impatient and agitated you will complicate your situation. Remain pleasant and patient and answer all questions simply and straightforwardly. There have been problems in the past. Some boat owners have brought in electronics and other items duty-free and sold them to the locals. This is strictly against the law, and any request by anyone local to have you do this should be denied. It is a privilege to be able to bring in spare parts and boat materials duty-free, and it is incumbent upon the yachting community to walk the straight and narrow regarding this process. If you are making small purchases at local marine stores in Chaguaramas you will pay the tax, as the law will not apply in those cases. However, if you are making a large purchase, such as a watermaker or dinghy or engine, etc., you will be exempt by providing a set of your ship’s papers and declaring the purchase for a yacht in transit. The same is true if you contract for a large job, like a set of sails or a new teak deck. You will not have to pay any tax. This was an article in the Seven Seas Bulletin by Associate member Frank Virgintino on his yacht Raffles Light