Mina2 Imprisoned in Commercial Harbour – Blog Resorts To Plagiarism

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.”


Tim Barker is a sailor and occasional adventurer. Since 2004, Mina2, his Oyster 485 yacht, and he (with the Downstairs Skipper and a wonderful bunch of friends) have sailed from the Arctic to the Antarctic and many places in between. Come join their adventures and read Tim's award winning blogs and journals from the comfort of your own computer screen.

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