Sunday, February 24, 2013

Chacachacare - Trinidad's Abandoned Leper Colony


Chacachacare is an island about 7 miles off the coast of northern Trinidad.  For years now, it has been inhabited only by the lighthouse keeper, iguanas and other wildlife.  It does include Trinidadians who arrive on boats for weekend camping and cookouts.  Cruisers also anchor there for weeks at a time.

In the past, it was a leper colony, but since leprosy was brought under control, the last patients left in the early 1980s.  It was just abandoned, no one bothered to clear out the furniture, medical equipment and records or other personal items.  The buildings are slowly being reclaimed by Mother Nature and time.  This was one of my favorite places in Trinidad, the buildings were great examples of wonderful architecture of the islands, set on the hills surrounding the bay.  Large windows and doors brought in the light and fresh air – no air conditioning for this community. 

The community was self-contained and included a bakery, hospital/clinic, movie theater, library,  numerous churches and dormitory-like buildings for the patients.  Patients well enough to work built the buildings, worked in the gardens and helped in other areas.  Patients were taken care of by Dominican nuns, who lived in buildings across the bay.  There are a couple cemeteries on the island, most notably, one by the nun’s quarters that contained graves of the deceased nuns who had worked there. 

These days, it’s deserted most of the time.  When we were there, we would always take a hike up to the lighthouse, about an hour walk.  There were great views of both Venezuela and Trinidad from the top of the hill.  The lighthouse keeper was always friendly, they had a rotating staff, but they still got lonely being the only person living on the island. 

Unfortunately, Chacachacare was downwind from Trinidad and the bay was open to the east.  During heavy rains, trash would flow into the rivers to the bays of Trinidad and over to Chacachacare, catching in the big open bay.  Every time we would go over there to stay in a quiet, uninhabited place for a while, we would go over to the beaches and make a big pile of the trash and burn it, trying to clean up the place for the next visitors.  The idea caught on and we found that other cruisers were also cleaning up the place when they went over. 

I felt like the island was a museum of sorts, a look into the lives of people who were unfortunate to have a disease that separated them from everyone they knew.  Some patients spent most of their lives there and had no idea what life would be like when they moved back to Trinidad when the colony closed.  Cleaning up the beaches in the bay was the only way I felt that I could show my respect for the island and the people who had lived there.

Betty Karl
Chacachacare slide show - http:/

Monday, February 11, 2013

Arriving in the Dominican Republic

We left Sandy Cay in the Turks and Caicos right after noon - weather report says 10-15 knots of wind, 5' seas, sounded good. Reality is another story altogether - 20-25 knots of wind, and over 8' seas. We were making good time with double reefed main and tiny part of the jib, about 5-6 knots.

 At over 30 miles out, I was off watch, trying to nap in these lumpy seas and smelled electrical wires burning. Of course, my first thought was that we were hours from land in any direction and the water was VERY deep where we were – all in a flash. I kept sniffing, trying to locate the source of the smell – of course it was in the engine area. I finally located the general area and called my partner down to investigate further while I went up on deck to be sure everything was OK.

The problem turned out to be a faulty monitor that was supposed to check for fumes in the bilge area. Luckily, it wasn’t something critically important and since I couldn’t sleep, it was found right away when the problem happened.

I was sitting at the wheel when my partner came up to the cockpit to tell me what it was and that it could remain disconnected until it could be fixed. As the nervousness left my body and I relaxed, I realized I could actually smell land. It smelled distinctly like rich garden soil, green growing things, very lush vegetation smell. We had heard and read that this would be noticed, but I didn’t realize how powerful the smell would be. Possibly it smelled even better after the scare we’d had.

By dawn, we were only about 5-6 miles out, and in the distance we were seeing very high hills, then more mountains in the background. The smell of land was definitely more noticeable.

So much of a change from the Bahamas and Turks & Caicos - what a nice difference in its own way. We found our way into Luperon harbor with no problem and went into the inner harbor and anchored. The hills all around the anchorage were lush green vegetation, palm trees on the tops of hills, so very different from Florida and the Bahamas. 

Such a great landfall, a new island, new country, new day and so different!   So happy to have arrived safely.

Betty Karl

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Beach Shopping



All through the Bahamas we walked beaches and the shores that were lined with porous rock known as “ironshore”.  On many of these beaches, especially in the outislands, we found objects on the beach, trash thrown over by boats, lost overboard, or tossed into the water from an islands east of where we were and guided by winds and currents to distant shores. 
Yes, it was litter that didn’t belong in the ocean, most of what we saw were plastic bottles of all shapes and sizes and colors.  Every once in a while we found plastic fishing floats, some covered in a line net and others not.  I was hoping that one day I’d find a glass fishing float covered in net, but I was never that lucky.  I spent quite a bit of my cruising life on these beaches, just looking for one. 

While we were in the Turks and Caicos, we went for a hike with a singlehander we knew.  The three of us walked quite a long way and ended up on a rock bluff on the windward side of the island.  The singlehander decided to climb down to the rocky shore where the surf was breaking against the rocks below.  After a while, he climbed back up to the top of the bluff where we were, grinning like he’d won the lottery.  In his hands, he had a small glass float, about 8” across, that he’d found down on the rocks.  It was a little scratched up, but still whole.  You could tell it was hand blown, a pontil mark on one side and the glass was thicker on the opposite side than the rest of the ball.  It had a little bit of a green tint to it and there were ripples in the glass that were on the inside surface. 
We talked about it all the way back to our boat, wondering about the origin of the float.  We wondered where it had traveled on its way to the rocky shore where it had been found.  We had found many of the large plastic ones, but none of them could compare with this treasure.

We got back to our boat and climbed into the cockpit to have a drink and admire the treasure.  Imagine my surprise and delight when he handed it to me and told me that he found it for me because he knew how much I wanted one.

Betty Karl