Time availability for blogging remains in short supply I’m afraid. Nearly a week ago, on our 320 mile 2 ½ day passage from the Essequibo River in Guyana to Tobago our engine packed up. We eventually suspected the problem to be a faulty injection pump which could only be repaired by specialists. We were approaching Port Scarborough on the southeast coast of Tobago with the prospect of having to enter the commercial harbour under sail alone. The area in the harbour where we were able to anchor in deep enough water, but outside of the route of the many ferries that come and go to Trinidad, was small and it would require all our concentration and seamanship skills. We wouldn’t wish to try it in too much wind and we couldn’t do it in too little wind. It was going to be tricky and there was a tangible tension in the air. As we approached the harbour entrance a large black cloud appeared from behind us bringing with it not just blinding quantities of rain, but a dramatic increase in wind speed to 40 knots and a shift in the wind direction to the north, which would have made our entrance impossible under sail. We turned the boat around and headed back out to sea to allow the squall to blow through, but we also had to stem the 2 knot current that was in danger of sweeping us downwind of the harbour and onto the rocky reefs that guard the entrance. After 20 minutes the squall passed and we resumed our approach to the harbour. There was another yacht in the small anchorage which considerably restricted our options, not to mention numerous moorings which we also had to avoid. But in the event we were able to manoeuvre Mina2 under sail into the only remaining small gap and the anchor chain rattled out. We’d made it.
Once ashore, having cleared into the country with immigration and customs, we were helped by Mr Williams, the friendly customs officer, to find a mechanic to sort out our problem, and that evening Mr Cato arrived on the boat and started stripping the engine down. He confirmed that the injection pump wasn’t working and took it away to send to Trinidad for hopeful repair. A few days later we got the good news that it was repairable, which was just as well as I had simultaneously found out from Ally at Oyster that the delivery time for a replacement pump was 3 ½ months. That would have meant an abrupt end to our Caribbean cruise before it had even started. So, for the last week, rather than swinging at anchor off a palm-fringed beach, we have been holed up in the commercial harbour awaiting the return of the pump. But never mind. We hired a car and have spent the week exploring the lovely small island of Tobago. As I write, I am waiting for Mr Cato to arrive, pump in hand, to release us from our imprisoned anchorage.
But back to the blog. No I haven’t found time to write about our adventures in the Guyanas yet – but my sister Linda has, so with her kind permission, I am plagiarising her excellent work and will be posting edited extracts. My few inputs are in italics. The first appears below – Linda’s account of our time in Paramaribo in Suriname:
“What a great place. We anchored off the town, 30-miles up river, opposite the Torarica Hotel, just behind Albatross who had set off a day earlier. The hotel is one of the best in town, very upmarket, with tennis courts, swimming pool, casino and air conditioning and has a convenient pier and pontoon for us to dinghy to. We expected to be approached by the hotel with demands for money to use the pier, and even took to skulking out of the hotel complex via the car park to avoid detection, but in the four nights we were there, no demands were made.
The centre of Paramaribo is delightful. It is packed with old white painted timber buildings, built after fire destroyed the old town in 1826, and is now a UNESCO heritage town. All the buildings are different and very individual, apparently the result of the fact that none of the architects had received any formal training. The Roman Catholic cathedral is particularly beautiful, allegedly the tallest wooden building in the Americas. The outside is beautiful, but the inside is even more impressive, completely clad in delicately carved cedar with a columned cedar balcony providing a gallery around the whole church. There are churches of every denomination here, plus endless mosques, temples and synagogues. On one of their main streets it boasts a large ornate mosque right next door to the main synagogue which the Surinamese point to as a symbol of their ethnic diversity and tolerance. There are also people of every denomination here – African, East Indian, Indonesian, Javanese, Jewish and Dutch. As in French Guiana, everyone is extremely friendly and welcoming.
We took our time to get to know the city, partly because we had to go through the whole rigmarole of checking boat and crew in. This included two trips to the immigration office which was a half hour taxi ride out of town and a further visit to the Consular section of the foreign affairs ministry which was in town.
We did eventually manage to visit the various museums. Fort Zeelandia is the best of the museums with a long history. It is beautifully laid out with all sorts of interesting artefacts, but somewhat spoiled by all the information being written in Dutch, a singularly impenetrable language. The visitors’ book was littered with plaintive pleas from non-Dutch speakers to have the information translated, ranging from the curt ‘please translate this information’ to the rather more whimsical plea from a Canadian woman who said how charming she found it that none of the information was not translated as it left non Dutch speakers free to use their imaginations to invent the ‘facts’ and their own versions of the history of Suriname. Obviously these had had no effect to date – possibly, as Tim pointed out, that the museum staff didn’t speak English!
We organised a day tour from Paramaribo with the delightful Mr Twist, recommended by a Dutch cruiser. He claimed to be half American (his father had ‘left a little egg behind’) a little Jewish, a little Indonesian, a little african, in short typically Surinamese. We drove about an hour and a half south of Paramaribo on an excellent tarmaced road before reaching the ferry across the Suriname River. We had been in a hurry to get there before the scheduled bus as the ferry apparently left promptly on the bus’s arrival, but on getting there, found a long queue of trucks, buses and taxis, and a delapidated broken down ferry. A new engine was on its way from Paramaribo and all we could do was sit and join the crowds to wait for the next 3 hours. This gave us a fascinating opportunity to observe the Surinamese in all their variety – amongst others there were maroons or descendants of escaped slaves speaking Samaracaans, others speaking Talkie Talkie, Amerindians, and a couple of Malays who were working for a logging company. Their truck was leaking a constant trickle of fuel onto the sand they were parked on, but the driver was completely unconcerned – it’s just diesel he said as he flicked his cigarette ash into the ground nearby. To while away the time the various drivers tried their hand at fishing from the broken down ferry using a length of bamboo and a bare hook baited with a bit of bread. They had considerable success, pulling out something that looked like a pirana and then some very exotic striped yellow and black fish.
The engine eventually arrived and was installed. We were able to continue our journey on the red dirt road on the other side of the river. We were now into very arid bush country growing in impoverished white sand soil. Our first stop was at the remains of an old 17th century Jewish settlement. The Jewish community had initially come from Brazil when they were expelled by the Portuguese, but as they did well on the sugar estates, were joined by Jews from other parts of the world. There was a substantial cemetery in a jungle clearing and the remains of what had been a large brick build synagogue on an elevated site overlooking the river. We stopped at a couple of rather ramshackle ‘black water’ resorts and cooled our feet in the extremely dark red water, dyed this intense colour by the jungle vegetation. Because of the delay, we had to return early, but on the way back, stopped at a maroon village which appeared to be deserted, but that Mr Twist assured us was inhabited, the people only having gone to Paramaribo to sell their goods. They seem to live in an extremely primitive way, living off cassava which they have to prepare carefully, boiling the cassava root and then squeezing the cyanide laden juice out using a long woven tube called a ‘matapi’. The day ended with a stop at a javanese restaurant where we were served a delicious chicken noodle soup called saoto.
Back in town we met up again with the crew of Albatros and had a highly entertaining meal together, this time in a Latin American restaurant which had excellent food, but where the service was somewhat reminiscent of Fawlty Towers. We were invited aboard their gullet to ‘see what a luxury yacht really looks like’. It really was luxurious – three double cabins, captains quarters and crew quarters, all with their own private bathrooms, a fabulous enclosed stateroom and a marvellous aft deck complete with low couches for lounging and a large dining table that could seat at least 10 people.
Albatros set off the next day for Trinidad, while we stayed a further two days, enjoying the city. We went to the market to provision for the next leg of our journey. Part of the market was called the ‘maroon market’ which sold all kinds of dried leaves, roots, unguents and potions. It felt as if we were in Africa. The lady at the tourist office that we could buy a’ matapi’ there, and indeed there were several stalls selling these long woven tubes. They were almost 2 metres long, and it was only when the lady selling them demonstrated how we could bend them in half, thereby enabling us to get them into our luggage that we each bought one. We were then the cause of considerable amusement as we walked back to the boat with our purchases. ‘Matapi, matapi’ people called to us from across the street, with broad smiles on their faces (or were they sniggering?).
We all loved Paramaribo and found the people extremely friendly, but we had all been reading a book called Wild Coast by John Gimlette, which described the totally horrific history of the country, including the savagery of very recent history in the 1980’s when a sergeant called Desi Bouterse carried out a military coup and proceeded to run the country brutally as a dictator. 15 high profile citizens, academics, lawyers, journalists etc were murdered in Fort Zeelandia, where there is a memorial to them and many other atrocities took place. We thought that all this was well over, but were absolutely shocked to find in an article on the internet which said that Desi had recently been elected as president. It detailed other details of his drug running, international arrest warrants etc. So perhaps it’s not such a happy country after all if you scratch the surface.
Back on the boat water continued to be a bit of a problem. (Not only the rivers, but the sea for miles offshore is too muddy to use the water maker and, in the absence of any accessible taps from which we could fill our water tanks, we were reliant on collecting rain water from an adapted sun awning. When we did at last get far enough offshore into clean water, I turned the water maker on only to find that the gremlins had got to that as well – the seal on the pump had disintegrated and a replacement will not be availablefor six weeks – too late for this cruise). The tank was now half empty and there had been no rain for almost a week. In French Guiana we were told that the rainy season was late but had now started. In Suriname, Mr Twist assured us the rainy season would start with the new moon, which was three days away. The truth was that the clear blue skies did not seem to portend rain any time soon. We were experimenting with how little we could make do with to have an overall wash. Maria turned ‘native’ claiming her upbringing on the River Plate had prepared her for these conditions, washing herself and her clothes in the extremely brown and muddy river water. On one day there was a very light shower and Maria immediately appeared on deck in swimming costume and with bar of soap, lathering herself all over but then finding herself with a slight problem as the rain came to a premature end.
We decided that from Paramaribo, we would go straight to the Essequibo River in Guyana, bypassing the Courantyne River about which we could get very little information. Timing of our exit from the river was again problematic, trying to balance getting out of the river on an ebb tide with getting over the shallow sands at the mouth on a rising tide and timing our entry to the Essequibo the following day before nightfall. We left just after breakfast, and glided down river on the tide with little to no wind to push us along, passing large White Hawks perched on the navigation poles. The wind remained light and we regretfully had to resort to motoring to reach our destination in Guyana safely before dark.”