Panorama – Steel Pan Paradise

After visiting Trinidad for Carnival, I am officially a Steel Pan snob. From now on, I’m not going to be completely happy until I’m dancing along to 100 drums along with fireworks, Moko jumbies, and dance routines. Oh boy, is this a fun time!

I have to admit, it wasn’t until I was standing in line, waiting to get into the Large Band Finals that I realized the name “Panorama” doesn’t refer to a lovely scenic view, but to a celebration of Steel Pan 🤣 Large bands have between 90 and 120 musicians – can you believe it?!? Most musicians play a single drum, but some of the bass and percussion players play 6 or 8 drums. It’s amazing!

Each band has their fans and supporters who cheer them just like a sports team. The week before the competition, we visited several of the pan yards on a Friday night to check out the practice. It’s fun to watch the players in a more casual atmosphere, and food trucks and pop-up bars surround the yard. It’s a local and inexpensive way to get a taste of steel pan by hanging out with the locals. And it’s a chance to pick the band you’re going to cheer for at the finals. Capt. Mike is a Renegades supporter. Me, I love Phase II. They actually write a new song for each Carnival season, rather than covering a classic, and I can’t get this year’s “We come out to party … Everybody happy” out of my head 🎵🎶🎼

It’s also fascinating to see how the bands perform on the big stage. The steel pans are loaded onto metal trailers with roofs. The roof protects the pannists when they are playing outdoors in the sun or rain, and they also make for better acoustics by bouncing the sound toward the audience. All the trailers are staged in a field outside the stadium, and when it’s a band’s turn, they have a strict time limit to move all of those trailers and musicians and support staff onto the stage. Each band only plays one song – one! But they put their all into it, matching costumes, dancing, decorations, and sometimes pyrotechnics. Then they have a strict time allowed to leave the stage before a literal SWAT team crosses the stage in body armor shoulder to shoulder walking any stragglers off the stage. A crew with brooms sweeps all the confetti and other potentially slippery stuff off the stage. And it starts all over again for the next band. Does this all sound very time consuming? Well we caught our bus from the boatyard at 4pm, and we got home around 3:00 in the morning. This so so not our usual cruiser schedule!

Parade Day at Carnival

When we first started thinking about going to Carnival in Trinidad, I seriously considered joining one of the big masquerade bands. Even contemplated squeezing my middle-aged white bum into one of those sequinced and feathery bikini costumes. But then I did a little bit of research and learned that it costs around $1,000 usd to join a band. More if you want feathers. Yikes! So instead, we joined a few friends and bought tickets at a restaurant on “The Avenue” where we could watch the parades from comfort and it was perfect!

As opposed to the “Dutty Mas” of J’ouvert, Tuesday’s parades are “Pretty Mas or Bikini Mas” Folks choose a band to join and choose the simple “Backline” costume or more elaborate “Frontline” costume. It’s called “Playing Mas” (short for masquerade) In addition to the standard costume, many women buy colorful sneakers or boots, and wear elaborate sparkly makeup. Add a backpack of feathers and maybe a headpiece and it makes for a colorful joyous spectacle.

If you’re gonna play mas in Trinidad, you’d better have some stamina! Bands “chip” and “wine” their way through downtown Port of Spain all day long, dancing and bouncing to soca. The parades are fueled by local rum and local delicacies such as doubles and shark and bakes. I’m not sure how they manage to keep up the energy in the hot tropical sun!

Some bands avoid bikini mas, and instead wear elaborate costumes that tell a story or depict some of the history of Carnival. The larger, grander costumes are feats of engineering and take the entire year to design and create. It’s really pretty amazing to be there in person to see them “on da road”.

By the afternoon, some partyers get tired of their heavy costumes and leave them behind. Our gain! We had a lot of fun trying on the castoffs!

There’s a competition for the Road March – the most popular and most frequently played soca song in the parades. Our favorite “Come Home to Me” came in third place. We were robbed!

Celebrating freedom at J’ouvert

The festival of J’ouvert kicks off the final two days of Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago, and if you’re doing it right you won’t get much sleep!

J’ouvert (the creole version of the French words for day break) has its roots in the history of slavery and emancipation in Trinidad. During colonial times, enslaved peoples created their own versions of the carnival celebrations of the French. And after emancipation in 1834 the celebrations came out into the open and took on a greater and more powerful significance. Well before sunrise, parades start winding their way through Port of Spain. The darkness itself masks revelers’ identities, allowing everyone to behave a little bit crazy and act not at all like their usual non-Carnival selves. The disguise gets even better when paint (and mud, colored powder, even oil) starts flying. Everybody dances and chips to the latest soca tunes following a band truck. And these days, probably a bar truck as well 🍻 Finally, at sunrise, folks wave the flag of Trinidad to welcome carnival Monday.

We met Jesse James’ bus at 2:00 am to ride from Chagaramas boatyards into town with a small crowd of fellow cruisers. We were all playing J’ourvet with the “J’ouvert Jumbeez” – a band of 3000 people, 3 DJ trucks, and 3 bar trucks. We had picked up our swag bags several days in advance and all the ladies had spent an afternoon of arts and crafts customizing our ugly yellow men’s t-shirts into something slightly cuter and more personalized. (None of us had paid extra for the sexy black “monokinis” that the more body-confident Trini ladies were rocking.) I had planned ahead and made coffee the night before in the hopes of finding some kind of energy in the middle of the night!

The bar opened at 3:00am (yes, I know this sounds completely and totally nuts) so we had time for a run and club soda in our matching insulated mugs to calm the nerves before the start of the parade. Good thing we packed ear plugs, because the soca music pounded so loud Capt Mike and I had to shout directly in each other’s ears to make our plans to stick together. We’d been listening to the DJ Private Ryan Soca 2023 playlist on Spotify for at least a month, so we knew all the songs and were definitely ready to “jump up” and put our hands in the air just like the Trinis (I’ve still got the song “Come Home to Me” by Nailah Blackman and Skinny Fabulous in my head – it just might be stuck there until next Carnival!)

The gates opened around 4:30am, and we slowly followed the trucks out onto the streets of Port of Spain. Mike and I made a pact to stick together and to watch our footing in the dark. Security staff held long ropes on either side of the street, so as long as you followed a truck and stayed between the ropes, it was impossible to get lost. Wow, there was a ton of energy! We didn’t really march, we pretty much bounced our way through town.

We had just gotten used to the crowds and the deafening music and the light show when the paint came out. Staff passed out plastic water bottles with sport caps full of red, blue, and yellow paint (supposedly washable, but you can’t prove it by looking at my sneakers) We shook our bottles and squeezed, spraying streamers of paint into the sky… and eventually back down onto our heads. I quickly dropped my bottle – there was plenty of paint flying from other revelers and from the trucks without my help. Capt. Mike took a more artistic approach, squirting smiley faces and polka dots on the backs of fellow JumBeez.  At a few points on the parade, colorful powder was thrown into the air to stick to the paint, and mud was splashed around our feet, but I avoided those variations as much as possible! There were even trucks with pressurized paint guns shooting paint 30 feet into the crowds.

Sunrise was subtle, but we gradually went from watching our footing in the dark to watching the crowds on the sidewalk who were out in force to see the parade. I have to tell you, there’s nothing cooler than seeing a full sized flag waving above the heads of a paint-splattered crowd in the first light of day. Back at the stadium, we “crossed the stage”. The DJs played the most energetic, jumpiest songs in soca and everyone, including the security staff, jumped up and down with hands in the air in celebration of daybreak, rebirth, and Carnival.

Big News for Team Sanitas!

As some of you may have noticed from our social media posts, there are big changes coming up for Capt. Mike and me this year. We have listed our beautiful Sanitas for sale ⛵️❤️ ⛵️ So what’s next?

Are we giving up on the nomad life and going back to work? 📇🗄️📅 No way!

Are we buying an RV and switching to land cruising? 🚐🌆🇺🇸 Not yet!

Are we fully committing to this crazy life and upsizing to a bigger boat? ⛵️🦈🏝️ Absolutely!

We’ve been making a lot of upgrades to Sanitas to keep her systems in great condition and to make living aboard more comfortable. But I think we’ve reached the limit of how well we can use the space on our beautiful but teeny boat. So for the past year or three, we’ve been casually on the lookout for an upgrade. We haven’t been looking very hard, just kind of hoping the universe would eventually deliver us the perfect boat – maybe finding a fellow cruiser moving back to land who just happens to have the perfect size, model, and age of boat for us! Clearly, that hasn’t really worked out. So on Christmas Eve I told Capt. Mike it was time to inject our boat search with “a bit more vigor.” Vigorously, we did so! On 18 January, we put in an offer on our next sailboat and we are working toward closing the week of 20 February.

We are purchasing a 2001 Island Packet 420 currently located in Stuart, FL. I won’t tell you her name yet, because we are still deciding whether or not to change her name, and I am rather superstitious- I don’t want Neptune and Aeolus to know before we hold a formal renaming ceremony 😜 I can tell you she’s an absolutely beautiful vessel. She has only had one owner, AND he is a talented mechanic who worked with the Island Packet factory in Rock Hall, MD. She has been meticulously maintained and cared for. Equally important (at least to me) she has two cabins, two heads, a spacious galley, and enough room to support a larger dinghy with a bigger outboard than we currently use on Sanitas. Capt. Mike says this new boat will blow my mind. Did you catch that? She WILL blow my mind. Yes, we are buying a boat that I have not seen, leaving a small fluttering feeling in my tummy. However, Capt. Mike flew from Grenada to Florida and was present for the survey and sea trial. He even had the opportunity to spend time with the current owner and to investigate every hold and locker and every system. He assures me that I am going to fall in love as soon as I get the chance to meet her. Which I hope will be soon! 🤞🏼

Our next floating home

So what’s next for us? We are trying to sell Sanitas here in Grenada, hoping to find someone who will love her and care for her as well as we have. So, for the moment, my full time job is boat broker. Oh, and cleaning lady, stainless polisher, chef, insurance broker…all those jobs! Hopefully we will be able to transition Sanitas to her new home within the next couple of months, and then I’ll get the chance to meet my new floating home. We hope to spend June and July back home in Colorado, riding the 50th anniversary RAGBRAI at the end of July. Then we’ll leave the mountains and return to the water, moving our new boat from Florida to Brunswick, Georgia for storm season. At least this is Plan A. And you know what they say about cruising plans…”Cruising plans are written in the sand at low tide.” (That means everything is likely to change!)

Do yole wanna race?

On our final Sunday in Martinique, we tagged along with Popeye and Lisa on SV Tumoltuous Uproar to watch the traditional Martinique Yole boats race in a regatta. We didn’t really know what to expect but Ooh la la! It turned out to be an exciting day.

One of the best teams – look at that coordination!
At the starting line!

What is a yole? Well basically, they are traditional wooden sail boats, originally used by fisherman and to transport goods around the island. Each 10.5 meter yole boat is hand carved out of solid wood, without a keel or any ballast. So they are light and fast, but extremely “tippy.” The masts are made of bamboo, and instead of a rudder, a long wooden oar is used to steer the boat and to help paddle it through each turn or tack. The sails are rectangular and un-battened and extremely hard to manage. To balance the boat, a team of strong, burly, coordinated men hike way out from the boat onto sets of wooden poles, using their body weight and hopefully perfect timing to keep the boat from tipping over. Did I say “hopefully”? Several times during the race, we saw a boat heel over a tad too far, scoop up a whole bunch of seawater, and slowly sink. A race boat then had to tow them back to shore in the “tow of shame” with the boat sinking lower and lower, arriving back to the beach before it completely sank. There are actually members of the racing team whose sole job is to bail out water with plastic bottles and buckets during the race. If you can’t quite picture that strangle jumble of boat parts in action, have no fear ‘cause I took tons of pictures!

So colorful!
Capt. Mike getting ready to help launch team McDonald’s
One man’s trash is another man’s bailing bucket

The best part of the race is the start. Each boat gets dragged down the beach to the water’s edge and turned onto its side. On land, the two masts are maneuvered into place and the team rigs the two sails by tying a whole bunch on knots while the boat is still on its side. Once all the hiking out poles are slotted into place, three or four of the heaviest guys stand up on the high side, lean their weight onto the poles, and slowly (then all of a sudden, very quickly!) they tip the boat upright, with other team mates running in at the last minute to push it into the water. It’s a blast to watch! When it goes smoothly, it’s a work of art. When it doesn’t, watch your head ‘cause it’s all going to fall back to the ground again.

Ready to launch

To start the race, crews wait for the final horn blast and then shove and push these heavy boats full of heavy guys into deep enough water for them to float and start sailing. With at least a dozen boats all starting from that same stretch of beach there’s always a lot of bumping, knocking, crashing, and shouting until they get far enough apart to settle down a bit. Mike and Popeye helped launch the McDonalds boat. Luckily, this maneuver went fairly smoothly and we did not have to experience the local health clinic.

The next best part of the race is watching the boats round a big floating race marker. We took the dingy out to watch the lead boats make the turn from up close. They come in HOT with the team captain shouting out commands. As the turn starts, everyone hikes way, way out on the poles trying to keep their legs out of the water. Not to stay dry (this is definitely not a dry sport) but to avoid slowing the boat down due to drag. The sail guy on the bow basically bear hugs the mast and the spar to force the sail to tack from one side to the other. The boat slows way down and three guys on the stern start rowing with all their might to complete the turn. If all goes well, the sails quickly grab the wind and the boat surges forward on the next leg of the race – with very little bailing required. If it doesn’t go well, the boat loses all speed, scoops up a bunch of water and starts that slow sinking process. It’s very exciting!

We all picked a team to root for and joined the rest of the crowd in cheering on our favorites. I understand just enough French to understand the announcer calling out the team in first position, followed by the second team, followed by the third. At one point, he announced that a team was “trés malade,” I asked, “Did he just say that boat is very sick?” I got my answer a few minutes later when the race boat towed in a bright red yole nearly submerged with its team members sitting in sea water up to their waists. Very sick, indeed!