Thank You, TTSA -November 15, 2001
We look at the ship's log and note that we arrived in Trinidad on June 6th. More than five months later, we're finally getting ready to move on. Trinidad is a "tarpit harbor" if there's ever been one - you just can't seem to leave the place. Aside from our sentence of hard labor in the boatyard, we've spent most of our stay anchored in front of the Trinidad & Tobago Sailing Association, with the occasional trip to Chacachacare Island when we've craved some peace and quiet (see our October 25 entry). We probably would not have hung around in Trinidad for as long as we have if it wasn't for TTSA.
Since moving to its present location at the western end of Carenage Bay in 1972, the facilities at TTSA have grown to include an office, restaurant, bar, pool, laundry room, showers and covered work area. Members keep their boats on moorings immediately in front of two long docks paralleling the shoreline. Transient boats anchor in the bay beyond the mooring field.
TTSA is one of the best examples we've encountered of a local boating organization balancing the needs of its membership while accommodating people from outside. Ten years ago, when the annual number of foreign yachts visiting all of Trinidad totalled around 800, there were only a handful of transient sailboats anchored in front of TTSA at any given time. Foreign cruisers were welcomed ashore and could use the association's facilities for free. By the time we first visited Trinidad in 1995, the island was inundated with foreign boats and TTSA was a hive of activity. The association charged transients $20 US a month to use its services.
There are now over 3000 foreign boats arriving in Trinidad each year. The anchorage in front of TTSA is a colorful field of foreign flags. Standing at the bar, you overhear several different languages being spoken. The cruisers clumped in front of the TV set compete for the remote control, switching from CNN to BBC to local programming. At least two or three foreign boaters are in the workshop, getting their hands dirty. All the machines are humming away in the laundry room. A couple of women have sewing projects on the go in the covered area set aside for the youth sailing school. Kids are everywhere on scooters and push cars and bikes. The transient usage fee has risen to $60 US a month.
During the week, the grounds of TTSA seem to be overrun by foreigners. Monday nights the cruisers have a potluck barbecue. Tuesday is trivia night, with the bar providing a bottle of rum to the winning table (which by tradition is then shared with all of the contestants). Movie videos are shown Wednesday nights and there's often a music concert on Thursdays - Eileen has performed several times.
On weekends, the local membership makes its presence known. Kids in the sailing school tack their sailing dinghies somewhat unsteadily around the boats at anchor. The big boats on the moorings go out into the gulf to race. The swimming pool is packed.
With so many different users, it's inevitable that some friction occurs. From time to time, visiting cruisers complain about the rate hikes. They aren't allowed in the pool, although their children can use it during the week. Occasionally, local members grumble about the foreigners taking up too much dock space when they want to come alongside to load up. Service at the bar is slower when there are a lot of bodies crowded around. But most of the time, everyone seems to get along just fine. We've spent many evenings chatting with the locals, swapping tales about our different cultures.
There's an important human factor influencing the success with which TTSA manages to accommodate transient boaters. For us, TTSA wouldn't be the welcoming place that it is if it wasn't for two wonderful women on the front lines: Kathleen, the security guard at the front gate; and Claudette, the secretary in the office. They greet you with a smile, always remembering your name, and go out of their way to help you out - everything from taking messages to ensuring your propane tank gets filled.
Good bye, Trinidad. Thank you, TTSA. Take care, Kathleen and Claudette. We'll miss you.