Dark night to Trinidad

The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose. – James A. Baldwin

“No, we are going north.” That was the answer of all the sailboat owners in the Marina of Grenada. Not a single sailboat was headed for Trinidad, and definitely not to Venezuela or the Guyana’s. And a ferry service for the 100-mile stretch to Trinidad & Tobago didn’t exist. For the moment, Nina, Roman and I, who traveled here together on Ricardo’s sailboat from Martinique, spent most of the time around the Marina in St. George looking for possible onward travels. It didn’t look good for a boat heading south anytime soon. But we agreed when we arrived in Grenada that all of us would arrive at the South American continent by sea. It was only by chance that we heard about local “cargo boats” that ran the route to Trinidad once a week.

A line of fishing boats and other vessels lay in dock in the Carenage of St. Georges. We passed by these vessels a couple of times already, but I would never have expect any of them to be heading out into open sea. But it turns out that three of these boats would leave on Tuesday night for the Port of Spain in Trinidad. Captain Russell, a middle-aged local man, is in command of one of these vessels. After talking to him, he said he would think about taking us. His boat, the M/V Eldica David, reminded me of a 1940’s merge of a fishing, coal and cargo boat. It’s the kind of boat you see in the news, floating far out in the ocean with some poor refugees who paid a fortune to get to a better world. He asked for 150EC (about 40€) for the 10 hour trip.

When I asked Russell how many crew members would operate his boat, the answer was six. Including us three, I didn’t expect to have a sleeping spot for the ride, as there was only a small cabin with four beds and a bigger room with a kitchen. On the day of departure, the mentioned number of passengers was already at 24 and by the time we had cleared with Immigrations I counted over 40 passports. By now it was not only clear that no one would have a place to sleep, but that we would be spending the whole night on deck with the cargo.

It was already after dark by the time we left port. Sitting on an oily sheet that covered some of the cargo, it was better just to enjoy the stars than to think about the night ahead. Once we left the protected sea of Grenada, the waves started to pound the boat and flooded the deck. The squats started to move around the boat in search of a spot which was at least bearable. The deck was soon so wet and slippery, covered in a film of oil, that it was far too dangerous to move around, as you could very easily have fallen over the guard rail and disappear forever into the dark ocean. Most of the cargo was so loosely placed that it started to move around. We tried to hide from the spray under the covers of the cargo, but the countless holes would leave us soaked anyway along with the dirt and oil. And then it started to rain. Three hours in, I had to admit that the situation was unbearable for another 12 hours to come.

The small room inside with the cockpit was packed with maybe 20 passengers, half of them vomiting, the other half trying to find some sleep. Far in the back of the boat I found a hatch that lead into the boat. In the pitch black rainy night, I could only guess where the ladder was. Missing a step I almost fell into the unknown. I found a small uneven steel “room” hidden away in the rear. As with the rest of the boat, this room was oily, smelly and dark, but at least somewhat dry and warm. I collected Nina and Roman from the deck and we cramped together with two others into this 2x2m bowl. I think we had found the VIP seating on the boat. Not that sleep would have been possible, next to the pounding engine, but at least we could lie down for the long hours ahead.

The morning eventually arose. Tired eyes looked out of their holes and saw land was in sight. It would take another five hours until we entered between Venezuela and Trinidad and finally docked in the Port of Spain. It took more than 16 hours to cover the 100-nm from Grenada, and everyone was thankful to arrive. Adding another experience to my storybook that I am not to keen to repeat, there is a lesson learned once again. In the absence of other means of transport, people will always organize themselves. How it can be legal in these countries to keep an operation like this running, with an absence of any technical and safety standards, I can only guess. As glad as I am to have found a way to cover the distance, I can’t support it by any of my standards and can only wish for these people that a decent ferry service will become operational soon. Talking to Captain Russell after our arrival he told me that in peak seasons they would carry up to 73 passengers. Some of the passengers made this trip weekly, to sell goods in Trinidad, and then would ride back the following night.

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