We get a lot of mellow from living, sleeping, and breathing the very air on this small outpost of land surrounded by restless sea. There are times when I walk past this view and it doesn't even register. That's part of human nature I suppose. What once was extraordinary eventually becomes the backdrop of your life. It's just always there. But with this as a backdrop, there are many times when something about the ocean or the sky just stops me in my tracks. You've seen some of those moments in photos throughout this blog. A few days ago, I was watching the waves as they interacted with the overhanging rock shoreline. We've often noticed that the seas seemed rougher when we motored, paddled or sailed a small boat near the shoreline. We'd figured out that it was twice as bumpy, because the waves were reflecting off of the island and crossing back through the incoming waves. Well, I decided to try to get a video to show you. If you just sort of trance out on the waves just below the center of the image, you can see the reflections going out to sea.
One of our readers had commented on wave patterns after our previous post, and told me that the Polynesians had predicted the presence of distant islands by observing wave patterns. They have much more substantial waves to work with, and that all is starting to make sense, isn't it. Big waves make big patterns.
We've picked up another outboard motor for the dinghy. An expat friend of ours got it in a boat deal that he's explained to me twice that I still don't quite understand. But I don't need to understand it. He gets into a lot of good boat deals here. So do we, come to think of it. Anyhow, as I was saying we got a slightly bigger, much newer and only moderately broken motor out of it all. It had most of the parts it needed, and has five more horsepower than the one that came with the boat. So now we own two ancient Mercury two strokes, a 10 and a 15 horsepower. I like two stroke outboards for small horsepower applications. We do have a four stroke on our skiff, so I also appreciate the quiet and fuel efficient operation of the newer mandated designs. But for pure power to weight ratio zip it's hard to beat an old Mercury Well, actually, you can beat them. Maybe that's the point. There's just something about the chain saw scream of a two cylinder two stroke at full throttle that makes what's left of my inner ear rattle when human voices barely register any more. Or maybe it's knowing that they're a little bit like the Land Rover Defenders. Forbidden fruit in the USA can be one of the perks of living here. Psst. Wanna buy a can of Freon?
After I identified, located, ordered, imported, mutilated and installed some throttle linkage parts we loaded up the dog and the dinghy and did a little shakedown trip to see how the new old outboard performed. Theoretically, it should outrun the smaller one in a contest between the new old motor and the old new old moto. Huh?
I read a quote somewhere recently that I liked. I wish I could remember where, so that I could correctly credit whoever wrote it but I'm not going to let that stop me from using it. Someone wrote that they were going to name their next boat Theory, because everything works, in Theory. I wish I'd thought of that one.
It was another great day for small boats as so many of them seem to be down here. Here's my version of a Paint-By-Number image of us heading up the Discovery Bay canal. Dooley the Delighted was all up for a rubber boat trip up the canal. I've been trying to get to the point where I can do all this photo editing, layout and writing on a tablet but it's not easy for me. I've been using an iPad and on my third keyboard for it. I'm not there yet. I need some good photo processing software for a tablet. This one has some cute special effects and I tried out a couple of them in this post. This does kind of look like a paint-by-numbers masterpiece. By a six year old on a sugar binge.
Dooley the Destroyer always gets hyper on these canal trips. He goes all commando-in-a-rubber-boat-with-attitude on me. See, the little booger knows that he can safely bark at bigger dogs from inside a nice secure boat. This brings out the obnoxious side of sharing life with the loquacious little yippy yahoo. His version of liquid courage is a little different than mine, but the results are similar. Someone shooting his mouth off in a situation where silence might be a better option.
He gets all steely eyed with his imagined canine version of Martin Sheen doing a thousand yard stare on the Mekong Delta. I could almost hear him humming the Ride of the Valkyries.
Those readers who actually follow this blog will likely recognize most of these image locations. This is the Discovery Bay canal system that opens into the same channel where South Side Marina is located. We've made this canal trip dozens of times in a number of different boats. The sights haven't changed much in general. But I'll post up some familiar photos so you can sort of watch the slow decay of things here in the tropics. And as we all should have figured out by now...everything changes. Constantly.
These are the two 'obnoxious dogs who follow us up and down the canal barking insults at our own darling and blameless little terrieriest'. According to Dooley the Defamist. And he was in full voice at this point. Apparently, dogs can't bark and swim at the same time. I didn't realize that until Dooley pointed it out. He became the canal king of trash talk.
Remember that old saying that if you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem? Dooley is a huge part of the problem. He's as bad as they are. My ears are usually ringing after a few minutes of this.
The dogs will run along the banks of the canal to stay up with us, barking and hurling canine insults, swimming where they have to. I almost called them the "local" dogs, but then I realized that Dooley has probably been living on this island since before these 'potcake dogs' parents were even born.
Do dogs bark in different accents? Or is it all scratch and sniff with them?
You may have noticed that we were having a difficult time even getting a photo on this trip that did not have a dog in it. They know every inch of this canal, and would take short cuts through the bush and come out barking every time we got close to shore. I think they were entering into the spirit of the game. At least, that's what I hope they were doing. They look well fed and I haven't heard any missing person reports lately.
This next photo reminded me of something I wanted to point out about this canal network. See that rusty metal thing lying there on the bank of the canal in this next photo? The thing that looks like heavy steel plate welded to the end of a concrete filled section of pipe, looking alike a big drill bit?
Now look at the little scalloped shaped notches along the edge of the canal. There are three of them in that photo alone. Can you tell that the radius of the notches knocked in the rock is the same as the heavy end of that hunk of iron?
That's because these canals were all dug with that hunk of iron doing the initial smashing of the rock. They used a crane to lift the iron battering ram high, and then dropped it onto the limestone. The weight of the heavy tool smashed and pulverized the soft rock enough that it could then be scooped out by bucket and front end loaders. The man who did all this canal construction still lives near here, and we see him quite often at Bob's Bar. That must have been a fun project. And it's not finished, by a long shot. I don't know if it ever will be, as Alan is pretty much retired now. I believe that he's the same engineer who designed South Side Marina's lifting crane, by the way. A good mechanical engineer will never run out of projects in a place like this.
We boogied up the canal, testing the outboard for reliability before taking it out into the ocean where we could open it up and test full throttle. I'll put up some recent photos of the various same old sights along this section of canal. And I'll tell you why in a minute. I was playing with the photo software effects here. Trying to spice up a dull photo. Meh.
I suspect this part of Providenciales may be changing and in a direction we would prefer not to see. We're reading in the local newspaper that the people trying to put together the captive live dolphin prison have purchased land and apparently expect to go ahead with building this thing. There is some news on that in this article from the Sun. The area where they were planning to build is right here, essentially. I posted a photo of the sign they erected near here in a previous post called Rusty Old Wrecks. That sign got smashed to pieces, by the way. If this atrocity is allowed, this area will be changed. For now, it looks pretty much the same as it's been for the past several years.
We didn't go very far up the canal, as the purpose of the trip was really to test my repairs on the new old outboard motor. We turned around at the big limestone smashing device and headed back over to South Side Marina. Something about the names of these two boats tickled some distant memory that I can't quite identify. I just know that something that sounds a lot like " Moonlight and Galliano" seems to set me off. Is that the name of a country and western song? It should be.
S/V Twisted Sheets is more or less seaworthy most of the time, again. That sort of depends upon what's failed most recently and how critical it is to safe boat operation. And it depends upon one's definition of "seaworthy". This old boat has been taking up most of our time so far this year but I did realize we're way overdue for a blog update so I threw this one together. It has no central theme, other than a loose shuffle of snapshots of this life we've chosen. And recently, that's all been all about getting our sailboat ready. The latest step in a long process that started one morning in New Jersey when we looked at each other and said "let's move to someplace tropical, get a sailboat, and explore." This all doesn't happen overnight, apparently. No. It takes days and days of work, weeks and months even. And thousands of dollars. Who knew?
I've been talking about this old boat of ours for quite a while now. That should change more to me talking about where we're going with it, but we're still a few short panics and small projects shy of that point. Putting a few hours in on the boat has become a big part of our day. I've almost completely removed the interior vinyl and foam now. We're down to bare fiberglass and plywood in most places. Here's one of the last little areas to be stripped near the inside helm.
And it's not all tearing down any more. We've started building back up. For example, there was this big open space in the galley where I'd removed a small refrigerator when we got here. We don't even know exactly what was in that refrigerator. La Gringa had opened the door of it slightly to see what was in it, and that was the last time she touched it. I ended up taping it shut, unopened, before tearing it out. I heard rustling noises coming from it long after any sloshing inside should have settled down. It sounded like the half life of someone's illegal science experiment. There were things in that fridge. Bad things.
So we gave it to a local Haitian guy with no olfactory glands and a sense of adventure. He seemed glad to get it. We were glad to let it go.
This abscessed refrigerator extraction left a large hole in the cabinetry and I decided to install an ice maker in its place. I wanted to do it in such a way as to have minimal impact on the original boat, and I also wanted to be able to easily remove it if we decided to put something else here some day. So first I measured the space and drew the pieces on Google's CAD program, SketchUp. That looks like this:
That white box at the top of the drawing is the bottom of the little portable ice maker. I also decided to try using Starboard plastic for the low friction runners I wanted to install. I built the parts in my little garage shop before taking them down to the boat. Here's the pile of stuff from the drawing, come to life:
This is the home of the former refrigerator and its suspicious biological cargo. We cleaned it out and painted it. I've installed the two slide/runners on the sides. Just a few screws to hold them in, and easily removed. Correction, I should have said stainless screws. We've been replacing a lot of rusted fasteners on this boat.
After installing the sides, I had only to place the sliding platform on the runners and push it all the way back until the little latches on the bottom engaged. Those are to keep this from falling out when we pull it forward into the boat to open the top of the ice maker.
I had already measured the ice machine and found that it needs to be extended about 8 inches out in order to open the top. This is the little platform slid 8 and a half inches out. That mahogany plank across the front of it is from a weatherbeaten old hunk of driftwood we picked up over on the beach at West Caicos.
I like the thought that we "recycled" part of another boat that could have broken up decades ago. We have no way of knowing how long that piece of mahogany floated, nor how many years it sat in the rocks at the edge of the sea before we found it. I haven't yet figured out what to do with the space under the new ice maker, but it's about the right size for storing frying pans and cooking utensils. I'm sure something will come to mind after we've spent a few weeks on board.
We've continued to have problems related to the 12 volt electrical systems on the boat. You may recall that most of them were pretty thoroughly fried by a lightning bolt when we were just north of Chub Cay up in the Berry Islands. I know we'll never forget it.
The latest fallout of that is that the "house bank" batteries started to cook away. We returned to the boat after being away a few days to find that one of the four big Group 31 batteries was too hot to touch and almost totally dry. I got rid of that one, and a few days later the next one went. We are thinking that they were shaken pretty hard by the lightning strike, and they had been run down completely dead several times, and were also four years old. So to head off future issue, we junked them and replaced them with four six volt golf cart batteries. Here's the new batteries on their way to the boat. With yours truly being the mule that decided that this was a good time to take a break and take a photo. That's about 250 lbs of batteries. And for some stupid reason I was carrying them two at a time. Felt more balanced. And macho. And I think my arms are a little longer afterward.
I rested up for a few minutes, made all the excuses I could think of to put this off until later, realized that I had to get it done today.... and carried on. Some parts of my life would go so much easier if I could just cut out the whining part in the middle section right between when I realize what I need to do, and when I actually do it. Next stop, getting the batteries onto the boat and down into the engine compartments. Those are the old batteries on the left, compared to the new ones on the right.
The new batteries are taller than the old ones, and I had to modify the battery area of the boat to accommodate that. The golf cart batteries are about ten pounds heavier than the old 12 volt batteries, even though the old batteries are larger. From what I've been told, this is because they have a lot more lead in them.
While I was redoing the charging circuits I decided to add some 20 amp lighted toggle switches between the solar panels and the solar controllers, and between the controllers and the batteries. I couldn't find any electrical boxes or brackets for toggle switches on the island, and they're hardly worth importing, so I made some on the 3D printer. These are closed boxes on the top, open on the bottom. That's to keep splashes off the switch wiring from above, and allow access and ventilation from below. If you want the files to print some of these up, just ask. I'm developing quite a library of 3D printed boat parts.
I haven't yet finished securing all the wire runs, but wanted to show you how the lights instantly tell me what's on and off in that area. The blue lights mean the solar panels are connected to the controllers. The red lights mean that the controllers are supplying 12 volts to the batteries. Pretty, eh wot?
Back up above when I was whining about the batteries, I mentioned that they were taller than the old ones they replaced. I had to move all the battery wiring up about three inches. The easiest way I could think of to do this was to cut a piece of plywood the correct size and mount all the wiring to it. Then I mounted the board up high enough to clear the batteries. I think this is a much better approach than drilling a few dozen new holes in the boat. I used existing holes to attach the plywood. I think I'll be using this approach more often. Lets me make sweeping changes with minimal impact to the boat itself. Plywood is cheap.
I had plenty of supervision while working on the wiring. La Gringa took this photo of Dooley while he kept his eyes on my every move down in the engine compartment. You can probably see why I wanted to put some splash covers over the switches. It's all right under this hatch. I think Dooley is fascinated by areas accessible only by ladder. I told him rats can climb ladders.
This is what an interested dog looks like from the other side of the ladder while he's contemplating how a rat would look climbing it.
We're still refining some of the things we've made for the boat. I'm still looking for the best way to secure these heavy hatches when I'm working down around the engines, batteries, or in one of the lazarettes. Latest version is just a hook, a piece of shock cord, and a shock cord gripper. From the Gringos' 3D printer, again. Prototype #2 is two pieces of plastic and a cord. Getting simpler.
This is working pretty well, but I have one more mod to make. I think it will be easy to eliminate the yellow piece by putting two holes in the white one. I'll draw it up and print it before the next blog post. I keep re-learning how good simplicity is on a boat. One moving part is almost as good as no moving parts except that in this case the entire boat is a moving part.
We also had one more solar panel to install. We brought this down with us from Florida on the boat two years ago. And are just now getting around to installing it. The truth is that we just haven't needed it. I had a little bit of a hassle getting it installed and wanted to show you what I came up with. Not because I think it's mind shattering clever, but because it worked pretty well and you might be able to use it. The problem was that I couldn't reach the top of these bolts to hold them while I tightened the nuts from below. La Gringa was busy with something else or she could have climbed up on the top of the boat and played wench with a wrench. But she wasn't around and my arms were just not long enough to reach both sides of the fastener.
We called upon the trusty rusty Dremel tool with a cutting disk to cut a groove in the end of the stainless bolts that I needed to be still while I tightened up the locking nut underneath. The black rubber on the bolt is a piece of fuel line tubing I am using as a shock mount for the solar panel.
The slot I cut with the Dremel allowed me to hold the bolt from turning with a flat bladed screwdriver while I tightened the nut with a wrench. And it worked beautifully.
I know that it must seem like I am writing down every little boat detail as we go through this process. I want to assure you that I am sparing you pages of DIY nightmares, experiences, and learning curves. I could write several pages on the interior setup of a Simpson-Lawrence electric windlass, for example. I could ramble on about my email exchanges with the Scotsman who apparently owns the remaining store of spare parts for these windlasses. But I won't. Risk of defamation suits, you see.
Well, maybe one photo. Of the newly cleaned up and lubricated gear train. Fun, huh?
We still haven't replaced all of the oft-lamented but still fried electronics. Some of the stuff on the boat was pretty ancient, and won't be replaced. We are still thinking through the whole electronic chart plotter morass before making a purchasing decision. These days the trend is to integrate all the boat sensors in a central location and display them on overlays on one monitor. I'm not totally sure yet, but I think I'm leery of this approach. I must still be old school retro grouch, but I don't like the idea of everything depending upon one box of electronics to work. So we're trying different approaches. Redundancy. Stand alone systems where possible.
One thing that's working pretty well so far is using an iPad with GPS to do the navigation chart plotting. This probably won't end up being our final chart plotter, but it's stand alone and a good backup plan. The problem is mainly reading the display from the outside helm. We started out trying to read it through the window, which worked to some extent. You can see the edge of the window at the bottom of the photo:
After listening to me complain and grumble for a while La Gringa came up with the excellent idea of wedging the iPad into the window track. Ahhhh.... That's much better!! Easy to see from outside now, although one does have to tilt one's head 90 degrees to the side kinda like a robin eyeing a short term earthworm, but it works. Thanks, dear.
I'm fairly certain that I can draw up and print some clips to secure an iPad where we want it to be, once we determine where we want it to be. We've been doing a lot of that lately. One of the best things about using a 3D printer is that it makes it easy to customize parts to exactly what we want for a given spot. For example, see those two little screw holes there to the right under the sliding window frame? Those are from a flimsy folding drink holder that is, sadly, no longer with us. As I am typing this, the printer is next to me making up a more rugged replacement for that drink holder. It should be shaped something like this:
It will use the same holes as the former one. I don't like drilling new holes in the boat at every installation change. SOME previous owners should not be allowed access to drill bits. Nor silicon, but that's another story. We've got a lot of holes to fill.
We finally got the boat back offshore recently. We took her out just to sail, no other reason. We wanted to make sure all the rigging was correct, since we hadn't been under sail for two years. One of the first things I discovered when we tried to unfurl the Genoa was that I had wrapped the furling line when the sail was furled. This is wrong. As wrong as it could be, in fact. I had to unwrap it all while we were underway. That'll teach me to pay attention next time. Hopefully. Although it hasn't, yet. This is a roller furler. That starts with "R" which I think is shorthand for "Arghhhhh!!"
While I was up on the bow messing around with my previous mistakes La Gringa was sailing the boat on the main sail alone. That small island disappearing behind us is Providenciales. We wanted to sail out far enough that we could see nothing but ocean in every direction. And we did.
She didn't get to have all the fun, naturally. I had my turn at the wheel. Ah, now this is relaxing. See our little iPad navigation system? Very convenient, and I think I have an idea for a better mounting setup. It's likely to involve a 3D printer. I bet you knew that already.
And if you would like further confirmation of how relaxing this little sail was, please feel free to check with my back up engineer. He thought it was pretty mellow out, his own self:
We left what's starting to feel like home at South Side Marina and just headed south. That block of clouds up ahead is over Molasses Reef which is the site of the oldest European shipwreck found so far in the New World. This is on the southern edge of the Caicos Bank. Aiming the boat at clouds is as good a destination decision as any when all we want to do is go sailing.
It's been way too long since we could get photos of Twisted Sheets under sail. For people like us, this was a pretty good day. Spectacular, actually. There's not much we would rather be doing.
One last peek at the island of Providenciales disappearing to the north as we sail directly toward the equator. I didn't bother taking photos after we were out of the sight of land. I mean, it just looks amazingly like this, anyway, but with the land gone. I'm sure you can imagine that. As well as you can imagine the restraint I am showing by not lecturing you again about using clouds to navigate. I won't, I won't, I won't.
You probably noticed that the sails were on the starboard side of the boat when we were heading south. We had about ten knots of wind from the east.
So after we turned the boat around and headed back toward where we hoped the island would be, the same easterly winds pushed the sails to the other side of the boat when we were heading north again. And that's about as technical as I'm going to get about that, but in the future you can probably look at the sails of any boat in this country and tell what direction its going. The wind is almost always from the east.
Here's a video of what sailing this boat is like on a relaxed beam reach. We were only averaging around 4 knots in 10-12 knots of wind. That probably doesn't sound like much, unless you consider that we're moving an entire three bedroom, two bath apartment smoothly along at a brisk walk. Try that one at home.
No land in sight at this point. And the water color changes with the angle of the light. And the angle of the light changes with the boat direction and time of day. We're trying to learn all this while we think about taking photos. And navigating. Good light is essential for navigating safely around here. The GPS tells us where we and the islands are, but there is very little data on where the submerged coral heads and rocks and sand bars and shoals are located. It's important to read the water. This is all essentially unsurveyed outside the established routes.
Sometimes, the angle of the light is diffused by atmospheric conditions. This is a photo taken from the house during a particularly dense little rain shower one afternoon recently. We were feeling sorry for the crews of these two boats trying too get to the shipyard while visibility was quickly dropping. We haven't seen one bit of fog in the nine years we've been here, bu lowered visibility in rain is pretty close.
I was looking at that photo and came up with another one of my silly band names. How about Saturated Atmosphere? It has a kind of a rhythm to it, don't you think?
While you're thinking, what do you think this is? Some one's idea of a civic beautification project? A budet reforestation freak?
Nope. It's a road hazard sign. There is a hole in the dirt road and someone stuck a tree limb in it to warn motorists. Not that uncommon, here. We just never before bothered to take a photo of one of these literal "bush road signs".
We have taken the Hobie out ONCE so far this year. There's something sad bout that. We love the little boat, and we love sailing it. But the truth is that we're putting all our spare energy into the big sailboat and the Hobie is playing second fiddle. It still sails as good as it always did, but we've moved on to bigger things. I think we'll be putting this and the skiff both up for sale shortly. We plan to keep the dog, but would entertain offers..... Just kidding. About the dog I mean. I'm serious about selling the boats, though.
I see that this post has grown to sufficient length to qualify as finished. I never know just when to stop uploading the photos. We take so many that it's sometimes difficult to pick and choose. Especially when the post doesn't really have much of a theme to it, like this one doesn't. It's more about what we've been up to lately, I guess. I know we discard hundreds of photos to never be seen by anyone again. Often when I'm looking at them I have a hard time remembering why I took them in the first place.
I may as well fit in another boat project here, as I know some of our readers are also cruisers. This is the type of thing that's been taking up a lot of time lately. In this case, La Gringa remarked that the anchor line was starting to worry her as it was getting frayed where the rope meets the chain. Uh, yeah, that does look a bit shaky.
Someone used a simple backsplice through a chain link, and then tried to lash it with fishing line to take up the slack where the link will chafe the rope. And a cable tie to keep the ends from coming unraveled. Is that the correct splice for an anchor rode? A frayed knot! (Did you catch that one?)
Here's a better photo with something for scale. Me. And take a look at the rope just a short distance from the splice. This was not good. It had been snagging in the windlass gypsy when this oversized splice wouldn't feed into the anchor locker.
When I saw the splice that's been causing the anchoring jam issues, it reminded me of the lyrics in a Charlie Daniels fiddle tune I've been working on..."sit down in that chair right there and let me show you how it's done",
It gave me an excuse to use my little folding fid, too. Not much call for a fid these days. I guess I should explain why this is a better splice. It's because it actually grips the chain link tighter when it's under load. This means it doesn't chafe through as quickly as the previous splice here was doing. This also feeds through the windlass gypsy and into the anchor locker a lot smoother. There. Ain't you glad you learned that? Now go sailing. Seriously. You should. It's good for your soul.
While this post was sitting on my computer unfinished I further refined the old plastic hatch holder design. And yes, it's further simplified. Now it's down to one piece of shock cord and a hook. We've also discovered that this hook will fit into the window channels, which gives us an easy way now to hang the iPad navigation screen anywhere we like in that opening. Or to watch a movie in bed. Gotta love these printers.
I just spent what felt like two brain minutes (probably ten milliseconds) trying to figure out WHY I took a photo of a loaf of bread.
Then I remembered why. We had just returned from a trip to the grocery store and I was blown away by how much it cost us at the register. I took this photo to show you that we pay $6.85 for a loaf of bread. I bet that makes you feel better about your own grocery prices. Does a loaf of bread equal a gallon of gasoline where you live?
After that discussion we determined that after adding in the cost of the gasoline to go to the store at $6.30 a gallon, and the cost of the electricity to cook, at $.50/ kilowatt hour, it would probably be cheaper to just go out for breakfast.
So we did. We called up our friend Preacher and all met for brunch at the beach. Nice spread.
Well, that's going to be it for this post, boys and girls. We've actually got a nice time lapse video for a change. It's a sunrise instead of a sunset. C'est la vie, y'all, and welcome to the Land of MakeDo.
Until next time...