Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Greenhorn landlubber

If you read my novel Café Au Lait you might recall mention there of the Bocas Islands that lie off the northwestern peninsula of Trinidad between the main island and Venezuela on the South American coast. Excursions to these islands are popular with locals, and we call such trips 'going down the islands'. Gaspar Grande (or Gasparee), Monos, Huevos and Chacachacare belong to Trinidad. The fifth island, Patos, belongs to Venezuela. I've been down the islands quite a few times and last Saturday, the first day of the long Carnival weekend, was the most recent.

My brother, who must have been a fish in his last incarnation because he's far more at home in the ocean than on land, took a few of us out on his boat. The day was blistering and bright. The islands shimmered in the heat, but the wind was cool and refreshing as we made our way out. We soon arrived at the buoy that marked the end of Trinidad's territory and could see Patos clearly. The green hills of the Venezuelan coast at Guiria beckoned but since we didn't fancy a run-in with the Guardia Nacional we ventured no further.

Those Guardia Nacional boys are very strict. They don't mind venturing into Trinidad's waters to arrest our fishermen, rough them up a little, and confiscate their catch and equipment. Sometimes the fishermen end up cooling their heels in makeshift jails on the South American mainland. I've heard stories of some of their experiences in those cells from reliable sources and they do not make for great dinner conversation.

Somewhere off the coast of Chacachacare we ran into much more congenial company: a school of dolphins. I recall seeing real live dolphins years ago on a trip to these same islands, but those dolphins were much smaller, further away, and went about their business without giving us a glance. Saturday's dolphins were another matter altogether.

My brother spotted them in the wake of our engines, and I turned around just in time to see the fin and back of one of the creatures cresting. That, my friends, was one huge dolphin. Then the show really began as we ran from one side of the flybridge to the other, pointing and exclaiming: "There! Oh my gosh! Look! And there! They're coming!"

We turned the boat so we were going around in a circle and the dolphins were all around us, some swimming on a collision course with the boat, some swimming alongside, disappearing underneath and appearing on the other side. The water was very clear and I could see them just feet away as I looked down into the water - grey, smiling torpedos that were easily six to eight feet long. We knocked on the hull, and they just kept coming.

That pretty much made my day. I have a 'thing' for dolphins, and they were a hell of an improvement on the thousands of dead fish we saw floating on the water - the by-catch from a commercial fishing ship - the last time I was out there a few months ago.

I'm generally a good sailor - once the boat is going somewhere. When we drop anchor I'm usually all right once the water is extremely calm. On Saturday there was a brisk wind and the water was a bit choppy where we anchored off the coast of Chacachacare. The boat rolled in that slow, sickening way that boats do, with a looping, side to side motion. I began to feel queasy, eventually accepting my sister-in-law's invitation to retire to a cabin when my questions about closing one's eyes so the horizon didn't seem to be constantly dipping around became too pointed. Thankful to be horizontal, I curled up, my sis next to me, and proceeded to feel progressively worse. My stomach seemed to start somewhere at the top of my throat, and I could tell it wanted to come all the way out my mouth. Jumping into the sea and drowning began to seem like a reasonable improvement over that lurching, rolling, loopy movement.

My brother decided that it didn't make sense to remain out there if we weren't comfortable, so he pulled up and started heading back. My sister got up, but I stayed for awhile until my stomach began to feel like it might consider returning to its normal location, then I swayed, stumbled and clambered my way up to the flybridge to rejoin the others, my white shirt flapping in the wind 'like a ghost', according to my niece.

When we got back to the marina and tied up I climbed on to the jetty, ignoring all the teasing about abandoning ship, and sat there for the next six hours, one foot propped on a rope, while we ate, drank, and talked. I developed quite a fondness for that jetty: it did not move! It was after ten at night when my sister and I left the beach bum branch of the family and drove away home.

It was a great day, even though my reputation as an adventurous seafarer now lies in sodden tatters in the drink somewhere beyond the Third Bocas. Godspeed, me hearties!

1. I promise to take and post photos of my own next time around.
2. These islands have a colourful history, still evident in the ruins and lore that abound. Interested in learning more about the Bocas Islands? Read Night Calypso by Lawrence Scott. It interweaves the authentic history of 'Down the Islands' into a compelling novel.


JJ Beattie said...

Eeewgh. Sea sickness is truly horrible.

I can see why people write about places like that - the stories sound like they'd make great novels.

ChrisH said...

The 'blistering and bright' bit sounded really good and then, even with the ravishing views, it sounded far too much boats I know and hate; something scary lurking, horrible, horrible seasickness and Good When It Stops! Dolphins, I grant you, are always remarkable and special to see. The last time I saw that many I had been sick for twenty-three and a half hours!!! The dolphins did quite a lot to cheer me up that day!

Oh Goodness, sorry, I seem to have written a carthartic comment!

Kaz Augustin said...

Oh thank god you're another one, Liane! And you too Chris! J laughs at me but I get queasy waaaaaay too easily. I love boats. They don't love me. Not from the moment they hit the water anyways.

Chennette said...

Dolphins! I've only been down the islands a couple times, but I have never seen dolphins.

Lane said...

I get ill on the cross channel ferries. Euw, even the thought of it.

But the dolphins .... ah to see dolphins.

Debs said...

It all looks and sounds so beautiful. I hate feeling seasick, so always take pills.

I adore dolphins, they're so graceful. We even get the occasional few here, though not as often as I'd like.

Anonymous said...

It has been years since I went 'down the islands' but on the Carnival weekend, that would be a big sacrifice for me when you consider the land creatures that appear on the streets on those days. The last time I went it was to Huevos and I might even have some photos. Nice post.

KeVin K. said...

Long ago when the earth was new and I was growing up in Florida, I used to putter about the Gulf coast in a 15-foot skiff, but I never spent much time out in the blue water. Now Valerie and I only see the ocean from a cruise ship every few years--and economic reality is such we won't again before 2011. (Worse, we can't find a cruise to Trinidad!) True, we live only about a mile west of the Atlantic, but I envy you your island.

Liane Spicer said...

JJ, you're so right. Great settings and great novels go hand in hand. And I always forget how truly horrible sea sickness is until I experience it again.

ChrisH, lol! I can't even imagine being seasick for so long - I really might jump overboard!

Kaz, I even get 'seasick' on winding roads, unless I'm doing the driving. :/

Chennette, I hope you see them out in the gulf one day; they are an incredible sight, well worth the price of some queasiness.

Lane, yes, the dolphins!

Debs, I hate taking pills, but since I hate getting sick more I might go that route next time.

Liane Spicer said...

akalol, since 90% of the creatures on the road at Carnival are scantily clad females, I would never expect to run into you down the islands at this time! How do you manage to keep your, er, camera cool? ;)

KeVin, I really can't complain about the physical aspect of my islands. Your comment put me in mind of my teenage nephew who knocks around the islands in a tub called a Carolina skiff. Of such are great boyhoods made. (Trinidad isn't a great cruise ship port. Since we're blessed (?) with oil and natural gas, developing a strong tourist sector never really took. Sorry you and Valerie won't be dropping by, all the same.)

Anonymous said...

I am tempted to say that my er, camera is kept cool by blowing on it, but I won't ;)

Liane Spicer said...

akalol, LOL! I'd say you were too naughty - but I think I started it. ;)