The first sail of the season was definitely not the best one. We set off early in the morning from Chaguaramas in Trinidad and plotted our course to Store Bay on the southwestern tip of Tobago. Hedda and I were excited to go exploring the sandy beaches and tropical rainforests in Tobago.
This trip is only 62 nautical miles, but it was a long haul upwind without a working autopilot in choppy seas. With the wind straight on our nose, we ended up motoring the entire way. However, we were greeted by a group of dolphins right after we departed, which is always nice!
Emil is a friend of mine from Norway, and we sailed together in Spain on the first trip I ever did on Ellidah a few years back. He jumped on a plane down to Tobago to join us, and I was excited to catch up again. After getting him settled in, it was time for the standard formalities: Checking into the island.
Check-in procedures in Tobago
Even though Trinidad and Tobago are the same country, you have to check in and out when you travel between different regions. If you are leaving from Chaguaramas in Trinidad en route to Tobago, you will have to check out before leaving and check in upon arrival. There are two options on the island; Scarborough in the south and Charlotteville in the north.
Tobago is split into two territories, and you will need a “Bay Hop” permit to sail between the anchorages. And here is where it gets inconvenient…
Scarborough (2) is only worth a visit for doing formalities. The town is busy, noisy with traffic, and has terrible air quality. The anchorage is rolly, and there are frequent ferries and boat traffic coming in and out. It is best to avoid taking your boat here.
Most cruisers sail directly to Store Bay (1) on the southwestern part of the island and anchor right north of the airport. This is a decent anchorage with good holding but is exposed to wind and swell coming from between the north and southwest. Another option is to head further north and anchor to the west of the reef north of Pigeon Point.
From here, you can easily take a taxi or local bus down to Scarborough to check in and receive your “Bay Hop” permit. You will need a photocopy of your paperwork and passports, and If you don’t have a printer onboard, there is a shop that can do it for you in the shopping mall a short walk from the immigration office.
Allow reasonable time at the immigration office. You can find it in the port area, through a narrow alley, and up a set of stairs. For me, it took several hours of waiting. Their English isn’t good, so speaking a bit of Spanish helps.
After clearing your passports, you need to make a 10-minute walk over to the Customs office to the east of the port. They speak English here, and the rest of the clearance process is quick and easy. Your “Bay Hop” permit will allow you to visit the anchorages up until Castara Bay. For heading further north, you’ll have to head back to Scarborough to check out and then sail to Charlotteville to check in and obtain a new “Bay Hop” permit for the northern anchorages.
Charlotteville (3) is a small town in a massive and incredibly beautiful bay in the northwestern part of the island. You can anchor off the town key, but it is advisable to take a mooring buoy in Pirate’s Bay instead. The seabed is full of marine life and choral heads, which makes for excellent snorkeling. Don’t destroy it with your ground tackle!
The clearance formalities are done in the back of the large office building up in town. Ask any of the locals at the dock, and they’ll happily point you in the right direction. The officers here are friendly and polite, but they aren’t always in the building. I met the officer at the grocery store, and he checked us in right then and there!
After finishing the formalities, you get the permit to visit the northern anchorages all the way down to Castara. Checking out of the country can also be done here if you wish to continue up to the northern islands.
Exploring the beautiful beaches and massive coral reef in the southern Tobago
We arrived in Tobago just as they were preparing for their yearly carnival festivities. The town was buzzing, and everybody seemed excited. After joining in on some of the festivities, we decided we needed to relax for a bit and explore the magnificent beaches and snorkel the Bucco Reef.
Emil had a sudden work task coming up, so sadly, he had to cut his journey short and leave. However, Hedda’s boyfriend Vegar arrived shortly after and was excited to experience the cruising life for a couple of weeks. He also brought a new autopilot display from Norway, which was very much appreciated!
Bucco Reef is massive, and the snorkeling is excellent. Be careful when entering the reef, though, as it is very shallow. We found that the snorkeling was best around “Nylon Pool” and on the outer end northeast. Eventually, we decided to move Ellidah up to Bucco Bay. The anchorage here was very rolly, and we only stayed for a couple of days before I went to check out, and we sailed north to Charlotteville.
Exploring pristine marine life in Pirate’s Bay and the lush rainforest in the mountains of Charlotteville
When entering Charlotteville, the first thing that came to my mind was that this place was like something taken out of a Jurassic Park movie. As the massive bay opened up, we saw several small bays inside. All with beautiful beaches, palm trees, and lush vegetation. Flocks of birds were singing and flying between the hills, and a cozy little village with a dock appeared right at the bottom of the bay.
We sailed straight to Pirate’s Bay (The name alone was very appealing to me!) and took a mooring buoy. The water was crystal clear and dead still. We had the beach, the reef, and magnificent marine life available to us right off the boat. It was a paradise!
The next few days were spent snorkeling, enjoying the beach and having walks around town, and speaking to the locals. We bought fresh meat, fish, and veggies straight from the town marked and sipped ice-cold beers in the local bar. Charlotteville grew on us, and it was an easy place to fall in love with. The evenings were spent playing cards or the guitar while kicking back some ice-cold beers. All the good things.
We wanted to explore the rainforest a bit more, so I went to the local store where they sell everything and bought a big machete for our upcoming hike while Hedda arranged for a local guy to drive us to the start of a river trail.
Hiking the Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve
The driver dropped us off with the message: “Follow the river up as far as you can, and you will see a waterfall. I’m too old to hike the river, and I’ll wait for you here.”
“Fair enough,” we thought, and the three of us set off by ourselves. The first part of the hike was easy, and we hiked partially in the shallow river and partially along the river sides. The further up we went, the denser the forest became, and my machete indeed came to its right. It was also a good idea to have as there are snakes in the area…
After hours of hacking and slashing our way and walking waist-deep in the river, we arrived at the waterfall. The temperature was blazing, and the humidity was extreme. But it was worth it! We took a break and went for a swim to cool down before we turned around and hiked back to our driver. We must have spent quite a few hours, but the driver had another spot in store for us!
He then took us to a shorter trail that had another waterfall. Hedda was tired from the hike, so Vegar and I set off to explore the trail again. Eventually, we all had enough and were ready to head home to Ellidah, jump in the water, and cool down with a few cold ones. Massive success and a great day!
Getting ready to sail to Grenada
Vegar’s time was up, and we said our goodbyes. With the new autopilot display installed, we finally had Raymond, the master helmsman, up and running. After clearing out of the country, we lifted the anchor and set sail for Grenada. New island and new adventures.
Tobago was a great experience and has taken a spot on my top list of favorite islands in the Caribbean. It is a place not to be missed! From the buzzing south to the quiet north. Best part?
Charlotteville. I hope you get to experience it. To be continued…