Sunday, November 29, 2009


There are many styles of music originating in Trinidad and Tobago, all played at high volume, and all played with energy and obvious joy. Research into the local music gets complicated in a most satisfying way. Each type of music has identifiable characteristics, but the influences are as intermingled as Trinidad and Tobago’s blend of different cultures.

Last weekend, the crew of ‘Beach House’ dressed up for an evening of music.

Long pants for both of us – our knees were confused – socks and real shoes for Geoff. Although it probably looks like we’re headed off to work, this is as dressed up as we’ve been in over a year. I even wore ‘sparkly’ earrings, courtesy of my little treasure trove aboard from Value Village - my designer of choice.

We went into Port of Spain with eight other cruisers on a Jesse James outing. Yes, that’s his name. Jesse is the cruisers’ favourite tour guide in Trinidad. This particular event was 'Parang and Steel 2009' at the Silver Stars Pan Yard.

The Silver Stars Steel Orchestra is a multi-award-winning steel band and this venue, this pan yard, is their home base, where they entertain their fans while honing their skills. They’re effectively the ‘house band’ and definitely the main attraction, often inviting other musicians to perform.

These panyards are open air night clubs sandwiched between downtown buildings which become the surfaces for the swirling lighting effects. The hundreds of regulars seem to know each other as they mingle and wander through the tented table areas.

There’s no table service – you go up to the bar – that’s if you haven’t brought your own bottle of rum. And there’s a small food kiosk with several modest choices.
The evening is really about the music. Most of the crowd eventually leave their tables and gather in front of the stage to watch the entertainment and to dance.

The first act was Los Dominicos, a local parang group. Parang is Hispanic folk music that originated in Trinidad during Spanish rule. The four women sang and played out front with simple acoustic instruments.

The men performed behind them, plugged into some electrical juice.
Traditional parang in Trinidad is performed around Christmas, sometimes in English but more often in Spanish. Our North American ears weren’t attuned to parang, but we enjoyed the exposure to something new.

The other invited performer was Kenny J. He’s a former Trinidadian police officer who won a Calypso competition in 1988 and has performed full time ever since.

Kenny J. is a bit of a lounge lizard ……

…… right down to his shoes. But he’s a hell of a performer ……

…… and the crowd knew every word of every song in his set. There were obvious double entendres, often with hand gestures, and there were references to Christmas in most of his numbers. We’re not sure if these were actually holiday songs or if Kenny J. simply found a way to introduce the season into the lyrics.

Then the Silver Stars Steel Orchestra took to the stage and made it clear why they won the Panorama 2009 contest at Trinidad’s Carnival last February.

They've also played at Caribana in Toronto.
There were about fifteen performers on stage and their intensity and sense of fun was infectious.

One long and wonderful number was The Music of the Night from The Phantom of the Opera. The orchestra’s young leader and arranger, Edwin Pouchet, left his drum to come front and centre to conduct the number. There was such a crush of spectators around the stage, that the blog photographer couldn’t get close enough for a good shot. Edwin is blocked in the picture above - you can see him better on our blog title picture – he’s the young man in the middle.

The band members in the back row were enjoying themselves too, especially the woman on the left playing the bass drums.

That smile never left her face and was reflected in the audience faces.

We stayed till midnight – the real midnight, not cruisers’ midnight – tired, but toe-tapping all the way home. And just to round out our introduction to some Trinidadian music styles that night, the club on shore beside our anchorage had been rented out for an east Indian party and they were still going strong when we got home. The music was intriquing – not quite Indian, not quite island, not quite familiar.

We did a little more research the next day. When slavery was abolished here in the mid 1800s, east Indians were brought to Trinidad as indentured servants. They now form a signifcant percentage of the population and chutney music is one of their contributions to island culture. Chutney music is based on traditional Indian folk songs and borrows rhythms from calypso and soca. So now you know.

Describing music doesn't really work. Check out the Silver Stars Steel Orchestra performing “Bohemian Rhapsody” at - you'll notice a fuller complement of musicians than we saw perform last weekend.
By the way, you’ll find chutney and parang selections on YouTube as well. Crank up the sound and see what you think.

Friday, November 20, 2009


We left Tobago at midnight, aiming for an early afternoon arrival in Trinidad. Even with a nap before leaving, there are still a few hours of darkness when it’s challenging to stay awake. Sunrise is a favourite moment.

On the north coast of Trinidad, the welcoming committee arrived. We truly are dolphin dorks, thrilled at every sighting. As Geoff walked forward with the camera, two dolphins matched their pace to his, as we motored along at 6 knots.

This guy rolled onto his side a couple of times to get a look at Geoff. We’re never sure who’s having more fun during these encounters – they romp and play, we grin like idiots.

This is the northwest tip of Trinidad where we turned left.

The land mass on the far horizon is Venezuela, just seven miles away. Trinidad was part of mainland Venezuela as recently as 11,000 years ago - a quick blip of time in geological terms.

There are three small islands at this northwest corner that create three entrances, collectively called the Bocas del Dragon – the Dragon’s Mouth. We used the first channel, Boca de Monos, into Chaguaramas Bay – that’s pronounced Shag-a-ram-us, an Austin Powers- approved name.

Chaguaramas is the yachting centre of Trinidad. There are a dozen huge boat yards with thousands of cruising yachts on the hard, either being stored or waiting for work to be done.

In and around each boat yard, there are storefronts and businesses offering every type of service you could possibly need.

It’s like a series of malls for boating services – the captain didn’t know where to head first. I took his Visa card into custody.

After checking in with Customs and Immigration in Chaguaramas, we took ‘Beach House’ another four miles east to Carenage Bay, home of the Trinidad and Tobago Sailing Association.

At our anchorage here, we’re surrounded by lush green hills, and in the distance to the east, we can see Port of Spain ……

…… which is especially beautiful with the sunset reflected in the highrises.
Seems we’ve found ourselves another boat club to enjoy.

TTSA has everything – laundry, wifi, swimming pool, showers, restaurant, bar, friendly local sailors, and like-minded cruisers. We’ve signed up as 30-day members for $100US. It’s a great place to wait for our solar panels to be delivered. 

Our friends Robert and Trish on ‘Bristol Rose’ had already been in Trinidad for several months. We hadn’t crossed paths with them since Martinique back in June, so it was great to catch up with them again.

Last Sunday, they took us to Maracas Beach on the north coast.

Maracas Bay is over a mile wide with three white sand beaches. It's very popular with the locals, especially on Sundays. And the people-watching is excellent.

The boys explored their Aussie roots and went body surfing for a couple of hours. Ready for a James Bond moment?

Meet Daniel and Craig.

Meanwhile, Trish and I sat on the beach fending off beach entrepreneurs selling jewelry, t-shirts, and trinkets. Then Peter sat down in front of us.

He was very clear how it would work. He would sing and we would pay him. So he did and we did - $10TT each. Peter’s medley wasn’t bad. It wasn’t exactly good either

And the group of kids beside us asked Trish to take their picture.

Check the poses. Turns out they’re dancers on a cruise ship. A lovely Brit group of young bodies heading for serious sunburn.

And we couldn’t leave Maracas Beach without a stop at the world famous Richard’s Bake and Shark. Oh. It's not world famous? Well, it should be.

The shark part is obvious - breaded fried shark. The bake part is a fried, pastry-like bun.

Just look at these generous portions awaiting toppings – tomatoes, cukes, slaw, sauces. We were so ready to chow down that we didn’t take a picture of the toppings table. It was beautiful and tempting. Here’s the proof.

We had a great day. Many thanks to Robert and Trish.

They’re in Grenada now, working their way up to St. Lucia where ‘Bristol Rose’ will join the ARC to head to Australia. Fair winds, guys.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


The captain wanted to go on vacation for his birthday, so at the end of October we headed south to Tobago.

It was a decent overnight passage. The wind was steady at 18-22 knots ……
…… and our average speed was 6.5 – 7 knots most of the way.
Twenty hours becomes quite manageable when there’s steady wind and modest sea states.
There are two places to check in with Customs and Immigration in Tobago. Our best point of sail took us around the western tip of the island to the capital city.
Scarborough is a good-sized port but the anchorage is quite small, restricted by a huge shoal all along the beach area, a fishing fleet, the coast guard station, and by ferries that operate daily between Trinidad and Tobago. We were only two boat lengths away from this big boy as he backed up to the dock.
T & T Spirit is an Australian-built fast cat that covers the 70 miles between the sister islands in about two and a half hours.   

We walked up to the downtown section of Scarborough on Geoff’s birthday……
...... to a guide-recommended place for lunch – the Blue Crab.
There was no written menu. Alison had pork and fish dishes available, “but, sorry - the chicken all done”, she told us. The food was delicious and piled high in the Caribbean way. And then we had our first encounter with TT dollars.
The $253 tab was shocking. Until we did the math. The TT dollar exchange rate is approximately 6 to 1, making our lunch bill about $42US. Okay then. That’s a little better, though closer to North American prices than we’ve seen for awhile.   

The next day we walked along the waterfront area. The population of Tobago is only 54,000 people, but Scarborough seemed fairly bustling on a Saturday morning.
We found the reason for the party music that had blasted through the night till 8am that morning.
One common thread throughout the islands seems to be a love of loud music. Out at anchor, across the water, the heavy bass can rattle your bones.    

It surprised us that a lot of the produce at the markets comes from Trinidad.
Despite great soil and climate, there’s not a lot of farming on Tobago, apparently because of a lack of government subsidy. Fishing is important and tourism is growing. Our cruising guide calls Tobago “one of the last unspoiled Caribbean islands”. We'd have to agree.    

We enjoyed a few more days in Scarborough before taking Beach House around to Store Bay on the southwest corner of Tobago. We found surfers ……
…… and brilliant sunsets.
We were picked up in Store Bay for a private island tour. Trevor and Lynda, the brother and sister-in-law of friends in Toronto, have cruised on Impulsive III, a C&C40, since the early 90s.

Trevor is a returning Trinidadian, and the two of them built a house here on Tobago a few years ago. They rent out three units on the main floor and live on the second floor with a broad deck on three sides. This is just a small part of their panoramic view.

The land mass on the horizon is Trinidad. What a great place for sundowners.    

We had a wonderful day with them, driving along the south shore ……
…… up the east coast and back along the north shore, stopping at various beaches and lookout areas.
This is King’s Bay Beach on the south shore.     

And this is Speyside on the east coast, with postcard views in every direction.

After lunch, we drove to Charlotteville on Man of War Bay at the northeast corner of the island. You can see a few sailboats anchored on the far side of the bay.
Charlotteville is another port of entry for Tobago but much smaller than Scarborough.

It felt more like a seaside village – a charming beach town.     

Geoff grabbed this next scenic shot out the car window.
This is my favourite shot of the day - it’s very typical of the beauty at every turn – rainforest, rocky shores, pristine water.     

And the stop at Englishman’s Bay didn’t disappoint.

The local fishing boats are called pirogues – just part of the colourful local scene.     

We ended the tour at a beach bar on Store Bay where Geoff picked up a bird.
And this was our view of the anchorage ......
...... as we toasted our thanks toTrevor and Lynda for an excellent day in great company.
Life is good in Tobago.