April 2001: Trinidad and a Treatise on Engine Repair
Our stay in Trinidad was lengthened by a discovery that the bearings on the fresh water pump on our engine were shot. You may recall our frustration with the persistent leak in the thermostat housing. It turns out that not all of the leakage was from that; some was from the water pump, which sprayed directly onto one bolt of the thermostat. So, it's possible that a few of our thermostat gasket replacements (we lost track of how many we did) were unnecessary. Oh well, live and learn. We're now pretty fast at THAT job!

So, when we figured out this problem with the pump, we decided to stay in Trinidad, Island of Repairs, to fix it. Incidentally, virtually every other boat we met in Trinidad was staying there longer than expected for more repairs or delayed repairs. Here's a description of how this repair went, to give you an idea of boat maintenance in the islands.

We were fortunate to find Arian Gittens, a local Trini who was truly an engine expert. When we dinghied to his shop to explain the problem, we brought our engine manual. Before he opened it, he commented that there were 2 types of Westerbeke engine blocks, made by 2 different OEMs, and described how to tell the difference. He then opened the manual and immediately identified which we had. He went on to say that the water pumps for that particular type might be the same water pump as is used on most of the maxi-taxis in Trinidad, but he'd have to see the pump itself before he could be sure. We dinghied back to the boat to remove the pump. We did this with some trepidation, as we would be without electrical power for the time it took to replace the pump. We don't like to let the batteries run down, so our use of the stove and pressure water is very limited while we don't have a motor.

It turned out we could only get at 5 of the 7 bolts, because the belt pulley was in the way, and we couldn't get the pulley bolts off. Dinghied back to Arian's shop. Before we could explain the reason we couldn't access the bolts, he said, "You have to remove the pulley first." We said "We can't get the pulley bolts off, because the pulley turns." "Right," he replied "you have to jam a big screwdriver in between two of the bolts while loosening one of the others. Then leave that bolt in and use it to hold the pulley while you remove the next one; and so on." Dinghy back to the boat. The bolts come off as advertised, but the pulley was on hard and fast. We pulled and tugged and pried and used various lubricants, but were afraid to apply too much force, and couldn't budge it. Dinghy back to Arian. He loaned us his shop assistant with a wheel puller. Dinghy back to the boat with the assistant. The kid put the puller on, and he and Rob tightened it up, using a huge wrench and even hammering on the end of the wrench. No luck. Finally the kid gives the pump shaft (not the pulley) a good whack with our ball peen hammer. Percussive maintenance worked once again, and off came the pulley. Dinghy back to shore with assistant, then back to boat to finish removal, then back to shore with pump. Wait an hour to get Arian's attention between other repairs he's doing or supervising.

He provided a list of auto parts stores and Rob went off to find a pump (Arian had planned to do this task for us, but would probably have taken 2 days to do, having to send the shop assistant, probably before and/or after work). A half-hour maxi-taxi ride later, Rob found the exact replacement pump: a Mazda 2000 model! Cost: about $55 US. Taxi back to the marina, dinghy back to the boat, and re-install, with new bolts that we only had to search for in 2 chandleries. Amazingly, re-installation was simple and straightforward. Then we added the pulley. When bolted on, it wouldn't turn at all. It's now Saturday night, and no-one is around for consultation. We're insecure, so we agonize over several potential solutions. Filed and sanded down inner edge. Better, but still binding. Finally created a shim out of gasket material (we have lots of this now). Success! Reinstalled pulley, belts and hooked up hoses. Tried to get air out of system, then started engine. Had to start and stop engine several times, refilling water each time. Of course, we hadn't thought ahead, and didn't have any coolant, so we were just using water, and would need to replace it with coolant later, but we now hadn't had an engine (or battery recharging) in 2 days, so we just used water, and all was OK.

End of repair story. On Monday, we celebrated and rewarded ourselves by renting a car for 2 days to see more of Trinidad. The car lacked air conditioning, and the interior panel of the right rear door was missing (and its window didn't open), but it ran and cost only $15/day, so what the hell. We now consisted of Rob and Andi, Danny our crew, and Danny's Canadian girlfriend Sheena. Suzie, our Brit friend and crew, had left on Friday, in the midst of the water pump repair. (We left out those dinghy trips in the description above.) On Monday, we drove south to see the world's largest natural asphalt lake. It's over 90 acres and at least 335 feet deep in the center, and is called La Brea. Unlike the LaBrea tarpits in LA, this one doesn't have water on top of it. In fact, you can walk around on most of it. But if you stand still too long, you start to slowly sink! In fact, someone had driven a car partway out to it, and the car was, 45 minutes later, up to its hubcaps and sinking fast. A group of about 10 guys put boards under it, grabbed it, and bounced and hoisted it out. Amazing. In parts of the lake, there are logs and branches sticking up. Our Rasta guide, Mr. Allen, explained that these get pulled in from subterranean veins, may come from large distances, but eventually work their way up to the surface from the pressure "where de lak puke dem out."

On Tuesday, we drove north and east to the Asa Wright Nature Center, a world-renowned bird sanctuary high in the mountains. The roads were rather daunting. Generally 2 lane, often without barriers, hairpin-turning up and down the mountains. The center was gorgeous. It's an early 20th century plantation house, from the veranda of which you can see miles down the valley, and next to which are feeders with an amazing variety of birds, including several hummingbirds which will come within 10 feet of visitors. Most visitors were avid birders with Bird Lists, but we felt welcome. One can stay at the Center in guest cottages for $120 person a night, which includes all meals, including coffee grown on the grounds. An extremely knowledgeable guide took us on a 1 1/2 hour tour that included seeing several extremely rare species, including a "bell bird" which makes a loud noise like a gong by inflating its chest. We also saw a hand-sized Blue Emperor butterfly, black and iridescent blue, as we ate a picnic lunch beside a clear deep water pool and waterfall. Quite an afternoon. The birders we met there were as enthralled as we were.

On Wednesday, we planned to go to Chacachacare, an island just 5 miles from Chaguaramas harbor (aren't those great names?) but that day, the dinghy motor finally decided to give up the ghost. Well, it refused to start, so we spent another few hours trying to resolve its problems. Never did. While we worked on it, Danny and Sheena did all the boat laundry. We finally went to Chacachacare on Thursday. It's a former leper colony, run by the Dominican sisters, deserted some 30 years ago when a cure for leprosy was found. It has a lovely large bay with several coves offering good anchorages. We anchored just below the old convent houses and rowed over by dinghy and wandered through them. They are empty and deserted but still in fairly reasonable condition and could make a nice youth hostel. Kind of sad to see them just going to waste.

When we returned on Friday, we checked out of Trinidad, then attended one last Friday night barbecue as organized by a group of South Africans (who call a barbecue a "brai" -- rhymes with eye). After numerous heartfelt and alcohol-inspired goodbyes (but no tears) we went back to the boat and prepared to leave. Stow the awnings, get the dinghy up, scrub its bottom, check the coolant and oil, get the jellyfish out of the salt-water strainer, and at about 2:00 AM, off we went.

Based on what everybody was saying -- "What? You're leaving in this weather?" -- we expected a tough beat in big seas. What we got, as soon as we cleared the lee of Trinidad, was a gorgeous beam reach in about 8-foot seas, 15 - 20 knots of wind, and a full moon. With all plain sail set, we made the 85-mile passage in 11 hours, anchor to anchor. As dawn broke, Andi and Danny saw a whale broach, about 100 yards to starboard. They called Rob on deck, but realized that the show was probably over. To everyone's surprise, the same whale broached again and again, hurling himself entirely clear of the water and crashing down. He was clearly enjoying the hell out of it, as were we.

Rob wanted to head directly for Antigua, just to get a 200-mile day at last (this was pretty much guaranteed, as we were logging a steady 8.5 - 9 knots), but calmer heads (and less calm stomachs) prevailed, and we anchored in Prickly Bay at mid-day Saturday.