I can offer you a pretty good overview of the Trinidad option.
My story has become rather infamous on this board. In 2002 I bought the epitomé of a fixer-upper (I essentially got a 50-something foot trad ketch
for free, by paying off the previous owners' $10K yard bill) on Tortola, and she gave evidence of some serious issues (dry rot
and termites in deck
beams, quasi-nonfunctional electrical
, drivetrain of uncertain health
and vintage, etc.). At least a partial deck lift
was in her future, and two crazy-huge quotes for not much work by shipwrights in Road Town told me the BVIs was not
the place for a major refit. Three different old salts advised I limp her down to Chag in Trini, and gave me some good advice about how to approach a big project
down there, which I'll get to.
So, I and two foolishly loyal pals did just that and barely lived to tell the tale, but we got her there. Then the real adventure began. One skeleton led to another until I found myself pretty much gutting her and starting over from scratch. So, I'm painfully aware that my refit is at the extreme end of the curve. Here I am "in my fourteenth year of a two-year refit", and she's still
not quite done, though I can actually say the list of what's left to do before we can re-christen her is do-able within the next year (yes, Gord, I know I've said that at least six times before).
Now, before you put a big red "X" through Trinidad on your list, I can't entirely fault Trini for the timeline. I myself bear the lion's share of the blame:
•The enormous scope
of the project
(see for yourself on my Members' photo
gallery), which would take several years no matter where I took her, though perhaps not 14+;
•As I'm still a worker bee, I can only go down and check on progress in person once or twice a year; it's no secret that absentee owners get de-prioritized in favor of guys pacing the yard and cracking the whip every day;
•I have a very conservative notion of debt (as in, I avoid it entirely), thus the slow progress meant I was able to keep up with the yard bills for cash money
. In retrospect, if I had taken a refit loan I could have thrown more money at the situation and perhaps gotten things done a good bit quicker.
Now aside from my own mea culpas, the Caribbean
work ethic is notorious for being slow, and there is some truth to this. While Diva
isn't a "woody" (she has a glass hull), she has an awful lot of wood in her—deck beams, pilot house, and acres of teak
below—and carpentry has been the biggest part of the project over the years. I found an excellent carpenter
there, an expat Canadian, who has had a devil of a time finding and training local laborers and then keeping them. There seems to be a pattern for yard workers there: they work until they get a little ahead financially, then go awol. This meant that there were months when maybe only one person was working on her at a time, and months of no work at all while he looked for new people with a desire to work and trainable skills. Also, it's hard to get a big project accomplished each year between mid-December (Christmas-New Year's holidays) to mid-March (Carnival). During the summer, it gets brutally hot; and while people born to it don't tend to wilt as quickly as us gringos, it does account somewhat for the generally slower work speed and lesser daily accomplishment. Perhaps it's not fair to call this an inferior work "ethic" as it's probably more a coping and survival mechanism against heatstroke.
I got in too deep and I'm too stubborn to give up on the old girl when I should have, so I've been putting a brave face on things and looking at the upsides: When she's done she'll be virtually a brand-new boat with all brand-new systems and rock-solid build, and be the boat I've always wanted to wander the world in, and I won't owe a dime on her. I've come to have a deep affection for Trinidad-Tobago and her people, and it now feels like my second home...in fact, I intend to join the TTSA and make it my home base after she's seaworthy
. I certainly don't expect anyone else to defer their cruising gratification for 15 years to have that, and yeah, if I had it to do over I'd have picked a different boat in better nick. But here I am.
Short of my freakish tale of obsession, I really can recommend Trinidad for a refit, for these reasons and caveats:
•At 10º latitude, historically you're safe from any storm with a name (touch wood).
•There is a wealth of boatwork talent down there, and of course lots of hacks too, but taking advantage of a referral organization like YSATT and for a large project a boat management company like Dynamite Marine will help you avoid slipshod workmanship.
•If your boat has any major woodwork in her, teak grows native there (only other place in the world is SE Asia) and is thus way cheaper per board-foot than the US.
•Labor rates remain a good bit cheaper than the US, and as mentioned above if you can be present for the work progress will be much faster.
•You can get pretty much any parts or gear
you need, either off the shelf at Budget Marine or shipped FedEx down from anywhere. Filing the paperwork as a "Yacht In Transit" can avoid paying VAT in most circumstances. For large and/or heavy shipments, you can arrange slow-boat container shipping
through Tropical in Miami
, which is cost-effective though slower. Trini Customs
is a royal PITA but having a management company interfacing for you helps a lot.
•You may want to think about boat-shopping in Chag. There are a lot
of boat yards down there, with a lot
of boats in them. Many of them I've seen parked in the same place for years, which tells me that a fair percentage of owners seek Chaguaramas as a storm-season refuge, they put their boat in mothballs on the hard
, and then life distracts them from their cruising dreams. So I have to think it's an enormous buyer's market there.
Anyhoo, that's my hard-earned dos centavos.
, and best of luck (or at least better than mine)!