You are not logged in.

Announcement

Welcome to the one and only Spiceislander Talkshop.

#1 Oct 11, 2018 12:09 pm

New Historian
Active

Sooner by Schooner

Rusty old cargo ships called schooners are the lifeblood of Caribbean trade. But they are NOT for the faint-hearted!

I’ve crossed the Atlantic many times in cargo and passenger ships. It takes a while to get used to life at sea; ten days with nothing on the horizon but the horizon itself, plus the occasional whale. In those days there was no television or internet; your only contact with the outside world was a scratchy short wave radio. Just you, the crew, your books and your thoughts for company. But once you get used to it, once your mind and metabolism slow down to the pace of the ocean, there’s nothing quite like a long ocean voyage to relax and rejuvenate you at the same time.

Ocean voyages can be relaxing and rejuvenating – they can also be hell. Just ask passengers from the Costa Concordia: when things go wrong at sea they tend to go very wrong. However for the most part, traveling by sea is still one of the safest means of travel – if not always the most comfortable. 

My first rough trip was on the late great M/V Federal Maple; ten days from Jamaica to Grenada, stopping at all islands en route. By the time I boarded the Maple in Kingston the old girl had seen better days – much better. I was traveling at the lowest fare class: deck passage. Which meant just what it said: you find yourself someplace under the stars and lay down your foam mattress – and hope it doesn’t rain. There was a sort-of accommodation below decks at the back of the boat, but you needed a strong stomach to venture down there.

Fast forward a few decades and I again found myself on board some of the Caribbean’s less salubrious trading ships. Among the Eastern Caribbean there are many such vessels; discarded old European ships that long ago failed any internationally recognized safety tests, and found themselves washed upon the lawless shores of the Caribbean. Here they continue to eke out a living for their owner/captains, moving from port to port as the trade demands – latter day pirates!

Weather permitting; it’s actually quite a pleasant trip from Grenada to Trinidad by schooner, about 12-13 hours overnight. However, it is NOT for the faint hearted. These schooners are the living embodiment of “unseaworthy”: any marine surveyor would have conniptions! Rusted and broken stanchions (railings); important pieces of deck equipment falling to bits; clumsy cargo handling; atrocious accommodation; zero safety features and rust everywhere. In one of the ships what passes for a lifeboat is a broken old dinghy haphazardly lashed on deck and swamped with all kinds of junk. To be fair I did see a couple of inflatable life rafts, but I wouldn’t want to bet my life that they were working.

Every Tuesday evening, three vessels sail from Grenada, bound for Port-of-Spain: Ocean Princess II, Little Desrine and Eldica David; all departing at around 8PM and arriving Trinidad by about 9-10AM the following morning. A fourth vessel, the Mary G, sails from Grenville, arriving at the same time. In addition, vessels arrive from St Lucia and Saint Vincent – the Caricom wharf in Port-of-Spain can get pretty congested on a Wednesday morning.

There is very little cargo moving southbound, mainly agricultural produce like yams, plantains, bananas and whatever else is in season; all packed in pallets and loaded on board using the ship’s cranes (there are no shore cranes). The process for loading fuel is even more haphazard; the ship’s cranes lift enormous drums of diesel from trucks, swaying ominously, spilling half the fuel onto the deck in the process. The loaded drums are manhandled into position in the hold; from whence the fuel is siphoned off into the ship’s tanks – more spillage.

We were off to Trinidad to do what everyone else does: buy stuff. Bring your own foam, cooler and sleeping bag; and find whatever space on deck that looks reasonably clean. Correction: whatever space that isn’t absolutely filthy and covered in oil. Fortunately the seas that night were calm, which made for a pleasant night under the stars – apart from the brief shower at two o’clock in the morning. Apart from the constant smell of diesel fuel, which fills your nostrils and impregnates every item of clothing, you can get a fairly decent night’s sleep.

We awoke to the beautiful sight of the northern range of Trinidad looming. Approaching Port-of-Spain you thread your way through the Bocas, plus dozens of man-made obstacles: ships at anchor, oil rigs and any numbers of passing craft in the water. We passed close by Carrera Island Prison, Trinidad’s own Devil's Island. It's only half a mile from the shore but the waters are shark infested. Right on cue, we passed by a huge hammerhead soon afterwards. We docked at the Caricom wharf at 9:00AM, squeezing in between Ocean Princess and a Vincy boat; grimy, grubby but happy!

By comparison, for the northbound leg they are all loaded to the gills, with an assorted cargo of soft drinks, steel rods, building materials, foodstuffs, gas bottles, car parts, diapers and practically everything else that Grenada imports from our industrialized giant to the south. Sleeping space on deck is always a valuable commodity on the return trip.

After several delays, the boat eventually sailed for Grenada at around nine PM. By ten it was back in port. The steering gear had broken; we wouldn’t be going anywhere that night. We had to sweet talk the security guard into letting us out for the night, because technically we hadn’t re-cleared into Trinidad. The following morning, repairs were made to the boat’s steering gear; and we finally sailed for Grenada at around 3:00 on Friday afternoon. Bon voyage - et bon chance!

In the overall realm of possibilities, this was a fairly benign breakdown; there are horror stories of the things that can go wrong. In one infamous voyage not long ago, a Grenadian vessel broke down midway between Trinidad and Grenada. The boat drifted for three days, during which time they survived on biscuits and soft drinks until they washed up on the shore of Margarita, Venezuela. When they were all promptly arrested, for entering the country illegally! This sparked an international incident which wasn’t resolved until Grenada sent another boat to pick up its stranded citizens.

It’s a tough old life, on the Caribbee Sea!

Offline

#2 Oct 11, 2018 12:45 pm

Expat
Active

Re: Sooner by Schooner

I believe it was Edna David, Captained by Grouper not Eldica David?

Offline

#3 Oct 11, 2018 1:58 pm

New Historian
Active

Re: Sooner by Schooner

Expat wrote:

I believe it was Edna David, Captained by Grouper not Eldica David?

Nope, it's the Eldica:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/slow-boa … -phillips/

Offline

#4 Oct 11, 2018 6:14 pm

Expat
Active

Re: Sooner by Schooner

Suck on a lemon.

http://grenadianconnection.com/Grenada- … pv=5&dr=1#

I guess your Eldica David was a later vessel.

Offline

#5 Oct 11, 2018 6:38 pm

New Historian
Active

Re: Sooner by Schooner

"Later" being metaphorical only, 'cos all a dem boats are ANCIENT lol!!

Offline

Board footer

Powered by FluxBB