Cruising Guide to Trinidad & Tobago
Just four years ago yachts hardly visited these islands and there were no yachting facilities. Now Trinidad is the Caribbean leader when it comes to haul-out, storage, and yacht repairs. There are four major haul-out yards and several smaller ones. The biggest travel lift is a whopping 200 tons, certainly by far the biggest in the Eastern Caribbean.
Tobago is linked to the world through the Crown Point International Airport and the Scarborough harbour. Domestic flights connect Tobago with Trinidad, and international flights connect with the Caribbean and Europe. There is also a daily fast ferry service between Port Of Spain and Scarborough.
"Cruising folk who came to haul out stayed to discover another side of Trinidad; an island whose exotic and flamboyant nature includes rain forests and swamps with monkeys, parrots, macaws, manatees and giant leatherback turtles. They discovered too, one of the most fun-loving and hospitable people in the Caribbean whose carnival is considered by many to be the best in the world. When the fun got too much, they found, as Trinidadians have long known, that a week or two in Tobago is the perfect way to relax."
The tidal range in Trinidad and Tobago is around 3 feet, which is significantly greater than in the Windwards and Leewards. Currents vary with the tides, and along the north coast you can expect some kind of an east going tide from one hour before low water till about two hours before high water.
Major lights in Trinidad and Tobago are generally reliable. In particular the light on Chacachacare Island is a big help to those sailing to Trinidad. The light at Fort George in Scarborough is also reliable, though I would not advise approaching Tobago at night because of the shoals and strong currents. Don't rely on smaller lights marked on navigation charts, some of these have been taken out.
The whole area comes under the IALA B system (red right returning). However, buoys are not always in place so treat them with caution.
La Vache Bay
This is a spectacularly beautiful anchorage set in the wilds, amid steep wooded hills with a view back over Les Boqets and Saut d'Eau Islands. It is also the best north coast anchorage. You would be comfortable here for a day or two on your way to Tobago.
As you approach along the north coast you can go between Saut d'Eau Island and Medine Point. Stay on the Medine Point side of the channel as there are some nasty looking rocks just below the surface (water breaks on them) just southeast of Saut d'Eau Island. Pass outside Les Boqets Islands and head over to the eastern side of La Vache Bay, below the Timberline Resort buildings.
You will see two small beaches with ruins near them. The best anchorage is off the northern of these beaches. There is a fair-sized shelf with good holding sand in 13-25 feet of water. As the wind comes from all directions in here, you may be safest and most comfortable with two anchors, holding your boat with bow or stern toward the beach.
This is a great place for dinghy exploration among interesting caves, ledges and cliffs. In times of rain you can take your dinghy under a little waterfall dropping into the sea.
A trail leads from the ruin above the beach to Timberline Resort above. This is a great restaurant and bar perched on a ridge with spectacular views. Call in advance to make sure it will be open.
In a little house on the waterfront to the south of the anchorage you will find Frank McCume, who takes people on fishing trips and to explore nearby caves.
The northeast coast gets progressively higher, steeper and more wild as you sail from west to east. The black rocks that edge the sea give way to a band of light colored grasses in the dry season. Above are vivid green shrubs, dull yellow bamboos and big patches of waving balisiers. Interspersed among these you will see the glint of silver thatch palms.
Parlatuvier Bay is considerably more protected than the previous anchorages and it, too, is very picturesque with a long white sand beach and a small fishing village. There is a long and high concrete dock on the north side of the bay. Water is available there and a lower section of the dock can be used to tie up your dinghy.
Anchor off the fishing fleet in about 40 feet of water. It is unwise to anchor in the south side of the bay as it is used for seine netting.
You can buy essentials at the Chance Variety Store. Mr. and Mrs. Chance also run a guest house and are happy to see visitors. There is a card phone opposite their shop. A little ways up the road and sitting high up on stilts, is the Riverside Restaurant (C-D) open everyday for lunch and dinner.
If you follow the road that leads off the dock, cross the main road and follow the river up through the bamboo stands, you will shortly come to a lovely little waterfall. Otherwise there is not much to do except watch the fishermen, laze on the beach or hike up the hills for a birds eye view of the coast.
Chaguaramas Bay, Power Boats
Despite its name, Power Boats deals as much with yachts as with small power boats. They have a fuel dock with diesel, gasoline and water. It opens 0800 to 1800, except Saturday and Sunday when it opens 0600-1800. In the Power Boats office you can buy tickets for the Port of Spain bus. This runs about once every half hour and you have to have a ticket to get on. Other services include toilets and showers, a good little grocery store, launderette and rental apartments. There is room for about 22 boats to come stern-to and more docks are planned. Power Boats has a 50-ton travel lift, as well as a tractor-trailer designed specifically to haul multihulls. They can store about 200 boats on the hard.
Since many yachts are left here during the hurricane season, advance booking is essential. Don Stollmeyer, the manager, is very helpful and all kinds of repairs can be arranged through a system of subcontractors. Power Boats works with these contractors and takes on the responsibility that the work is properly done. Power Boats also own a gelcoat stripper that makes easy and clean work of dealing with osmosis problems and is far preferable to sandblasting or grinding. Those anchored out are welcome to leave their dinghies behind the stern-to yacht berths. They request that you register with the office when you come ashore, and will give you a pass to gain access through the main gate.
Caroni Swamp Nature Tours
One of the most famous destinations is the Caroni Swamp, where you can see Trinidad and Tobago's national bird, the scarlet ibis. These sociable birds congregate at night on small mangrove islands which can only be approached by boat. The only practical way to see them is to join an organized tour. It is best to call in advance, but you can just turn up at the Caroni Swamp car park after 1500 and make arrangements on the spot. Take the road south from Port of Spain toward San Fernando and look for the turn off to the Caroni Swamp which is clearly signposted. Bring binoculars, bug spray and a sun hat or visor and sunglasses, as the sun can be glaring for the first half hour.
You will be taken by boat through a maze of mangrove channels which are home to herons, mangrove crabs and oddities like the four-eyed fish. The climax of the trip, however is seeing the scarlet ibis. The beauty of this gorgeous red bird, luminous in the late afternoon sun, is beyond description. The lowest level of the mangrove island fills with snowy egrets and little blue herons occupy the mid-level. Then the ibises arrive in small groups from their feeding grounds, gliding gracefully to roost until hundreds of them stand out like brilliant flowers against a dark green background.
Carnival - the greatest show on earth
It's called the greatest show on earth; it's a riotous display of color and music; it's a national three day festival which showcases the boundless imagination, creativity and love of life that Trinidadians share with the rest of the world at this time of the year. If you can plan your stay to include Carnival try to do so; it will truly amaze you and prove to be one of the highlights of your Caribbean travels.
When to Come
While Carnival proper is just the three days and nights before Ash Wednesday, the buildup starts just after Christmas and makes up a whole season of events and parties (or fetes as they as called), as well as Panorama, the steel band competitions. You will be doing yourself a disservice if you arrive only the week of Carnival; many of the best parties will be over, the anchorages will be very crowded and tickets and costumes almost impossible to get. Give yourself time to explore, feel comfortable and choose how you want to enjoy this time. There is so much to do and see that you can easily be overwhelmed. Jack Dausend, of the yacht Wind Psalm, a veteran of six Carnivals here, gives "don't miss" seminars to help you make sense of the vocabulary and schedule, and to help you make the best choices of what to see and take part in. At these seminars you can find out dates of events, how the transportation is arranged, how to be safe on the streets, find out what other cruisers are doing for Carnival, and be entertained as well. These seminars are generally held once a week starting about six weeks before Carnival.
Chaguaramas Bay, Trinidad
Chaguaramas Bay is the primarily location of the major out-haul yards, mooring and marina facilities, as well as the location of the Customs/Immigration offices for official entry into Trinidad and Tobago. This area is shared with a number of commercial operations and caution must be observed when transiting or anchoring. The visiting yachts have been asked by the Harbor Master to observe the proper anchoring area as described in the chart of Chaguaramas Bay.
Buccoo Reef-Bon Accord Lagoon - Tobago
Buccoo reef has been declared a marine park in 1973 with new expanded boundaries currently being proposed. It offers miles of good snorkeling with lots of fish and is easily explored. All the marine life is protected and fishing is not allowed, nor is removing or harming corals, shells or other sea life.
Anchoring is prohibited within the Marine Park:
- Do not anchor closer that 150 meters from the shore line.
- Use shore toilet facilities whenever possible and do not discharge heads within 250 meters of the beach.
- Deposit solid waste in bins on shore.
- Do not drop dingy anchors on the reef; use sandy spots and make sure anchor and chain does not come in contact with the coral.
There are many other beautiful reefs to explore in Tobago and even though not currently designated a national park, please respect the fragile nature of all the reefs in the Caribbean to preserve the environment for future generations.
Trinidad and Tobago - A Heaven For The Hurricane Season: Well-Protected Yachting Facilities In The Caribbean
Trinidad and Tobago Boaters Directory
Hauling-out and Yacht Services