Monday, July 25, 2016

Adios Big South

This post includes the blog equivalent of leftover images of our car trip on South Caicos and some views of old buildings from various places. And some final thoughts on the place. This was also Dooley's last trip with us so it's also kind of a nostalgic thing. It still squeezes my heart a tiny bit to think of us carrying on without the little booger.

After our self-guided and extended tour of the bipolar military base we took a different route back to town. We saw the advertising signs for the Sailrock development again.  We'd been reading press releases about this place for a couple of years and decided to take a side trip over to check it out.  


 Everything is pretty much a short jaunt on South Caicos.  It's not a very large island.  In this case the jaunt runs up over a ridge and onto a stretch of high ground.  It's facing into the Trade Winds and has a great view of the water between the beach and and the reef.  The reef here is only a half a mile from the shore.

The water gets seriously deep not far outside those slow and distant line-dancing waves. This was a rare day with calm winds. I'd like to see this with 20+ knots from the northeast.  I bet it's nautically scenic. With a lot more white in the scene.

We were ready for lunch.  A shady seat in a cool breeze. A drink with a lot of ice and maybe even an umbrella.  We turned around after this photo showing some of the completed houses. There are three, all well set back from the shoreline. There may be more around that point, this is as far as we got in that direction.


So we left  the dusty trail in search of some comforts. We found just the place.

And it was the casual restaurant at the new, modern East Bay Resort.   Very laid back lunch.   There were a few people at the pool.  Another half dozen drifting around or racked out on the beach under umbrellas.

I got the impression this resort would work well for  people who want the amenities of modern life, but don't care for the t-shirt shops, traffic, and coffee shop competition of Provo.  You have to put a little more effort into getting  off the beaten path sometimes.


We walked down to the beach after lunch. Nice spots to sit and read or nap.

We saw some of the usual collection of resort water toys, all shiny and new. They had tandem kayaks and stand up paddleboards for guest use.


We didn't take a lot of photos of the resort itself but there are some more here if you're interested in places like this. This is the view looking to the south.  Now that's my kind of beach crowd. 


Those interesting Casuarinas  trees, and the dock and hovercraft in the distance got our attention. We kicked our flip flops off and took a barefoot stroll on down to check it out.  I still had some fish and chips to work off, anyway.

I thought these trees were just about custom made for a nice hammock spot. I wonder how many have been used here over the years.


The tread marks are from the machine the resort uses to clean up the beach.  I think.  We didn't see it.


We'd seen this hovercraft come in from the west a few days earlier.  My sum total experience in driving  hovercraft was in a much smaller open version long ago and far away, on a little place called Waquoit Bay. They're great for going over shallow water.  This one might well be powerful enough to muscle through some wind. A handsome craft, in any case.


By this point our batteries were beginning to flag and we turned and headed back up to the resort.   Here's the view looking north up the beach past those aforementioned hammock-begging Casuarinas trees.


We drove across the old salina area on our way back to the harbor.  We saw a few more unimpressed donkeys.  We also saw some bird life that we hadn't noticed on Providenciales. This guy seemed to be expecting some high water eventually.  He's certainly equipped for some serious wading.


There was a sort of rhythm  to what  I initially took to be a haphazard stagger. Like the bird had been hitting a fermented cactus or something. Tequila Mockingbird?  But then realized it was all a part of his naturally syncopated gait. If one but knew what to watch for.



Maybe it's too early to rule out the tequila after all.

South Caicos got pulled into the salt evaporation business at a bad time in US History. That war made a mess of the shipping import systems into the USA with various blockades.  Bullets flying. That sort of thing. This is the second salt production facility to shut down here around 1860.  Remember the one we looked at on West Caicos?

The old sluiceways and canals here are still in place and they still look functional. Even after being here for over 160 years in some cases.  There's just nobody extracting sea salt this way any more.  At least not here.


These channels connect to a place called the Boiling Hole. That's not an uncommon thing in the islands. It's a vent over an underground series of crevices that allows sea water to bubble up into this big low spot on the island at high tide.  Then people divert that water into shallow pens to dry in the sun.

We were driving around the salina like it was an island version of the Bonneville Salt Flats, but we were finding the odd hazards like broken rum bottles, sharp rocks and shells, and interesting little bridges like this one:


The hole in the exposed plastic culvert is wider than the tires on the rental car.  The whole thing flexed when we drove over it.  Actually, La Gringa drove while I directed. We decided to skip the rest of the salina driving experience and headed back to town.  We were pressed for time and pressing our luck.

We stopped by the  hotel bar at at the South Caicos and Beach Resort.  We'd heard told that we could buy wine there.  It was pretty quiet.   Those sunglasses  overlooking the bar are actually perched on the top of the bartender's head.  La Gringa had to wake her up to ask about buying wine.   As I said, it was pretty slow.


There are some nice views of the local scenery from up on this bluff. Here's Dove Cay, which you've seen in this blog a time or three already.  But this view is different, at least. One of Dooley's favorite roadside  stops.


This is a view of the often-photographed old District Commissioners house. There's actually a more professional photo of it on the Visit TCI site.


This is the old original lighthouse marking the harbor. Looks like it's been quite a while since that was in actual use. I haven't been able to find out much about this old structure.  I wanted to know what produced the light.  It had to be a fire, I suppose. It was unclear to me in this snippet I found stating that it was built in 1890. Built with a simplicity a Quaker would have appreciated.



There are a number of old abandoned buildings scattered around. The primary activities in this little community bounced around the pursuits of fishing, salt production, smuggling, and more fishing over the past few centuries. There are remnants of all of these scattered around the settlement.


I don't know what many of these buildings are. TCI history for sure.  We saw them on just about every corner in town. Old structures well built long ago. Long enough to still be standing after dozens of hurricanes in many cases.  I suppose this is how ancient ruins look while they're in the process of becoming ancient ruins.  I'm thinking it's a lot closer to continuing its career as a ruin than it is to becoming a department store. But I could be wrong. Especially here.


Most of the really old stuff must have been built back in the days when South Caicos was the center of commerce for the Caicos side of the TCI. This must have been quite an impressive place back in the day.


We'd left Dooley the Dramatic out on the boat alone for several hours. We needed to zip back out there and pick him up to take him ashore before he decided that he was quite far enough ashore already, if you know what I mean.

These guys had come in and dropped anchor so close to us that we could hear their conversations. We pulled our own hook and reset it in a spot with more elbow room. We were anchored in three different spots before the trip was over.


We  had to depart South Caicos and head back to Providenciales at this point. We would have happily extended our stay another week. Or two. Or three, even. But we  had been contacted by a gentleman who was flying into Provo to take a  look at the skiff we had for sale. A commitment.

We took a few more dinghy rides with Dooley the Desperate before leaving. He had to go ashore several times a day. Sometimes we went riding just for the heck of it, whether the dog was doing the dance or not. We would visit Dove Cay or Girls Bay and let Dooley check out the beach life. Then we'd idle the boat back along the shoreline looking at the town from that angle. I wonder how many hurricanes these walls have withstood.


Dooley showed an intense interest any time we got close enough to shore that an excursion became a possibility. After living on a boat for six months, he no longer took trees for granted.


And his personal definition of the term "fire hydrant"  was becoming broader by the moment.  After hours on the boat he'd settle for a three point stance anywhere above the high tide mark.

Some of the young islanders of Cockburn Harbour.  These kids were just hanging out on the end of the dock.  They got a kick out of seeing Dooley the Debonair in his bright orange life jacket.


Some of the old buildings lining the shore here are still in use.   We never did go for the local tour, so cannot identify them by original uses.


We did recognize the dock and buildings presently being used by the School for Field Studies.  We saw their boats actively visiting several snorkeling spots around the area while we were here.


The town was relatively quiet while we were here. Other than the loud reggae and ripsaw music broadcast from one of the local bars into the wee hours of the morning.  We understand that the quiet peaceful nature of the place changes dramatically during the South Caicos Regatta, when the harbor is full of boats that have raced here from Providenciales.  Full of people who like to celebrate before they race back. We were just a few weeks too early to be here for the regatta this time. Maybe next year.


We had a few things to do while in town. We topped up our gasoline supply at the local gasoline station...


 ...which is an integral part of the local boating support system here. The building on the left is the grocery store and a center of island commerce.  The building on the right is the marina, although it was never open while we were there.


 I think this organization exhibits  many of the earmarks of closely integrated supply chain optimization operating with minimal personnel capable of addressing multiple maritime and fishery functions as constantly fluctuating requirements dictate. There.  How'd that sound? No. Don't tell me. I know how it sounds. I won't do it again.

Just across the street from the provisioning/marina/refueling complex there is a nice little restaurant called the Sun Set Cafe Bar and Grill.  


That's what the sign on the wall says, anyhow.  And it's one of the most active places on South Caicos on a Saturday night.


We never did actually go and sit at the restaurant and have a meal on the premises. We did order take-out cracked conch dinners several times, though.  And took them back to Twisted Sheets to consume.

We wandered around the dock area a bit more while we were waiting for our takeout orders to be cooked. I was looking at this old cable spool, noticing all the knife marks. You reckon a few fish have been cut up here over the years?


Those metal washers, bolts and nuts must wreak havoc on a knife blade.  Makes me cringe to think of it.  I'm somewhat of a knife sharpness fanatic. Looking at cut marks into steel washers makes my teeth hurt.

These names scratched into the concrete dock made me wonder;   When does graffitti age enough to change from defacing public property to becoming historical documentation? I am reminded of the Roman graffitti scratched into the rocks at Stonehenge.   Vandalism turns priceless with age?


I was impressed by the solid workmanship of some of the hand built wooden boats here. Most of the "conch boats", like the red and white one in this photo, are fiberglass hulls. Many of them are direct copies from a mold taken from a production boat hull. But there are still a few handbuilt wooden boats around, too.  Like the one in the foreground.



The bow does look like it's kissed a few too many rocks to be totally seaworthy until after some repairs.   Which will no doubt be fiberglass.  Practicality trumps authenticity here every time.

Some of the boats in the dinghy dock area here are not going anywhere any time soon, either.  Over the years we've noticed that boats that sink here quite often get left right where they are until time and the environment make them disappear. There are no provisions or equipment  nor the inclination for removing such debris from the water. Hazards to navigation are not uncommon. Some of them are even marked.


We were keeping an eye on the fuel dock area, as we were planning to take on some diesel before leaving South Caicos and heading back across the Caicos Bank to Providenciales. I think that this is the weekly supply boat tied up at the town dock. This is the equivalent of the "mail boats" in the Bahamas.  A regularly scheduled freight stop to deliver large items such as automobiles and construction equipment and bulk supplies to the island's population.  


Finally, after two great weeks living at anchor and exploring the area, we were out of time.  For we had promises to keep, and miles to sail out on the deep. I got that wrong, didn't I.

We  brought Twisted Sheets alongside the fuel dock before heading back to Provo early the next morning.  The wind had kicked up, and we were facing into the incoming tide. It meant we had to pay attention when tying our fiberglass boat to that concrete dock. Thankfully, our thick fenders extend out further from the hull than our paddleboards do.  But just slightly.


We were lucky.  The stiff breeze blowing over the island was helping to hold the boat off that plastic-gobbling concrete  It wasn't the kind of tie-up that we could walk away from for an extended breakfast in town, however. That's a high damage potential situation right there, I tell ya.

We also topped up our water supply while here. but not from shore.    We imported one of the new Rainman gasoline powered reverse osmosis systems.  This is a portable two piece system, consisting of a Honda engine and high pressure pump in one enclosure and a pair of deferentially permeable membranes in the other.  A stout old man can carry the entire system around if need be.


The clear hose is drawing sea water up into the high pressure pump, which pushes it hard against  membranes. Some of the water is forced through but the salt is blocked out.  So we get fresh water out of one tube, and slightly saltier water out of the other. The brine goes back into the ocean through that green tube in this photo, and the fresh water goes into our tanks. It makes over 30 gallons of fresh water an hour, burning very little fuel. No electricity needed. Portable. Makes a nice pressure washer, too.


We were not anxious to leave South Caicos. We'd been here long enough that the local conch fishermen were making it a point to wave at us morning and evening on their daily commutes.


We quite enjoyed watching the slow pace of the island and harbor. We'd seen a number of other boats come in for a night or two, clear customs and immigration, and rest up from their journey before moving on.


And we'd found ourselves falling into some of the easier rhythms of daily life in the tropics without the hustle and bustle of larger towns. Life runs a little slower here.  It's a life lived very close to nature, and most specifically, the nature of the sea. This is not a farming community.


We finally had to head back to Provo. We had a fairly interesting little trip south down the east side of Long Cay when leaving. It was blowing hard from the north east with 6-8 ft. waves from the east. And raining. So we rattled and rolled for the first few miles, until we were able to turn to the northwest. The trip got smooth with the wind pushing us along the way we wanted to go. We made it back to our home island without further incident.

We'll never forget our visit to Big South. This little island is what the Turks and Caicos Islands were all about for much of their existence. We hope to be back, maybe later in the year after hurricane season. We've already got some unforgettable memories of this special place. And room for more.


I know we have several more recent South Caicos sunsets since this was taken. But for some silly reason I'm still liking this one.