Monday, August 27, 2007

Capsized catamaran, Meridian Club Pine Cay

Last year we kept our little Whaler tied up in Leeward at a floating dock outside Gilley's restaurant. Tied the stern to a buoy and the bow to a cleat. This is how it usually looked... just another tranquil day in the lazy tropics..

One weekend, a friend of ours brought his SeaFox catamaran over and tied it up just inside us in that photo alongside a concrete quay.

That night we had a storm come through. The winds picked up to near gale force, and came around from the West, which is right on the stern of the Whaler in that photo. Just around daylight on a Sunday morning, we got a call from one of our friends at Catch the Wave charters telling us we needed to come rescue our boat. It was filling up with water and tangled. We ran down to the marina, and found the boat full to the splash well, with waves breaking over the outboard. It wasn't going to sink (Its a WHALER!!) but the water was up to the top of the battery, life jackets floating inside, the cooler loose and floating away etc. I climbed into the boat, (and they are very unstable full of water), and started the bilge pump and bailing.

The Seafox next to us had taken so much water through the open hatch in the transom that she flipped over and one of her lines was over ours and yanked tight. The cat's starboard bow was banging down onto our little Whaler and forcing the gunwale down. We needed to get her free. I cut her loose and pulled it down to a bulkhead in the lee pulling the drain plug and letting her rise on her own, protected from the chop. As you might imagine, I was pretty busy during all this, in and out of the water, and didn't take the time to snap any photos until our boat was safely away. Then I did relax and take a few shots.

The catamaran wasn't as lucky as we were. She was floating upside down, with the weight of the twin engines holding her at an angle. We were tied up right outboard of this boat just a few minutes earlier. You can see our bowline still on the cleat. It was jammed under the catamarans line.

A couple local guys hopped in the water and started cutting lines, diving to get the loose stuff out of the boat, turning her and moving away from the concrete:

Another friend ("Hammer", one of Preacher's brothers) brought his boat around and put a tow line on her to pull around behind the fuel dock. The fuel dock is a concrete bulkhead and was protected from the tidal current. The winds had died down and come back around by now but the tide was causing complications. The current was pushing the boat against the floating dock making it difficult, and dangerous, to work with it.

Got the boat turned over but there are no lifts here. No davits. No travel lift. No Coast Guard...its just you and your friends here. So its basically back to the basics, secured the boat, now upright, but the weight of the motors was still holding the stern underwater. We needed to come up with some way to lift it up far enough to be able to pump the hull clear.

Within an hour, one guy showed up with a gasoline powered trash pump, and another guy brought his compressor.... and two other guys had an inflatable banana. for future references.... inflatable bananas make excellent lift bags, in a pinch...

By the next afternoon both engines were running again. None of the people involved in this know the owner of the boat (except for Preacher and I) but they didn't hesitate to do what was needed to save it.

As a side note, a few months later a similar thing happened to another boat at the same dock. It didn't flip over, but it was sunk to the tops of the outboards. People were standing around watching it and I asked one of our friends how come nobody was doing anything to secure it, pump it out, or call the owner. She replied..."the guy that owns it is an a-hole..." Small community here, and it pays to be known as a good guy.

Nobody here knew the catamaran owner either but Preacher said he was a friend of his and that was good enough.

I can't wait to get back to the TCI with the new camera. The words, well, it was purely La Gringa's idea for me to do that and I am glad that they help clarify the images. And there are many, many more mental images than there are photos to talk about. Living full time in the TCI is sometimes like watching a screen version of "The Mouse that Roared" modified to star Eddie Murphy and the Wayan brothers. (The last election, alone, was certainly worth a chapter in someone's book but will probably never be written)

And it goes on every day. What used to feel like adventures now seem almost normal. The TCI is a beautiful little country, and it's full of really good people. I feel privileged to be wired this way, and to have gotten to know these people and these islands. We have observed many people who don't do either. Living in a foreign country is one of those things in life that you just can't be certain is going to go well until after you have already packed up your old life and made the commitment. A week in a resort is not the same. In our case, so far at least, it was a good gamble to have taken. I wish I were a better writer, of course, and a better photographer. I'll work on both.
I am scratching my head about what photos to post next. My choices are limited this week, to just what I have stored with me on my little laptop. I am still in New England until Saturday. There are certainly some good images up here, but it is definitely not the same as the TCI in any way that I can notice. I wouldn't be a fair chronicler of Massachusetts, with my heavy bias, and besides it would be very difficult to add anything to what JayA posts on his threads from Gloucester. I was up at 05:00 this morning looking at the lunar eclipse, but basically, if you've seen one eclipse you've seen them all. Except for the final one, of course.

I have mentioned that we spend a lot of our time out on Pine Cay. It's an 800 acre island between Water Cay and Ft. George Cay, and is owned by about 35 families who have vacation homes there. This makes it, technically, a privately owned island. My in-laws built a house on it sixteen years ago, and the family and family friends come down for winter vacations from November until about April, although some of the homeowners also come down in the summer when its almost deserted and very, very peaceful.

Some of the homes are available for rentals, and there is also a very small, all inclusive hotel called the Meridian Club. Pine Cay was my first exposure to the TCI, and I liked it from the beginning. The staff on the island have become personal friends over the years. I would say that other than the staff themselves, we probably spend more time on that island than anyone else. Certainly more than any of the other 'expatriates'. Many of the pix I have posted were taken on Pine Cay. The beautiful beach, the Aquarium, and the little marina where we changed the gear oil are all on Pine Cay.

The Meridian Club is not your typical resort hotel. It is small, secluded, and friendly. Most of the staff have made their working careers out of taking care of the Club and the owners' homes and boats, and many have been there for ten years or more. It has some of the best beaches in the world, and you have seen what they and the water are like.

This is the entrance to the Meridian Club - what you see after the managers pick you up at the little airstrip coming in:

Through the small lobby and you are at the pool. Outside bar to the right, and another inside bar upstairs. Dining room on the right.

Through the outside dining and cocktail area and pool, the beach is right there:

Looking along the beach from one of the guest room porches. They are all ground floor, with outside showers, sitting areas, etc. Very laid back:

That's probably our favorite table there in the far right corner, out of the flow, great place to watch sunsets with sundowners:

A couple chairs in one of the guest rooms:

The Meridian Club was built by the homeowners mostly to help defray the costs of having a restaurant, pool, and club on the island. It's a great place for privacy from the typical tourist mob over at the Provo resorts and gets the celebrity guests from time to time. La Gringa got into a little conversation just last season with Ashley Judd, for example, because her dogs and ours were mixing it up at poolside. It all worked out. We tend to keep track of past managers and people we have met here. Jim and Sharon left and now run Windmills on Salt Cay. Jeff is now working the Pink Sands on Harbour Island, Bahamas. Friendships made in remote areas tend to be remembered.

The MC is pretty tame not catering to the college crowd too much. While shoes are optional in the dining room dogs are no longer welcome poolside. I am sure it had something to do with a certain African Lionhound peeing on a sunbather and I am ashamed to admit me and my little dog were thrown out last year... but dogs are still welcome on the beach.

I probably shouldn't say much about Maria throwing the socialite guest in her designer gown into the pool last summer while the Saturday night band was playing.... so I won't. Boy, did THAT produce a stink..

We spend a huge part of the summer on Pine Cay, sometimes weeks at a stretch. We boat to Provo for groceries and supplies and to take care of mundane business like paying bills, checking in on our house, etc. I have been doing a lot of the maintenance on the family house on Pine Cay the past two years which saves a lot of money. I am also a bit more meticulous about modifications and repairs than some. If you want to live in the tropics, you really do need to be equal parts handyman and mechanic. Either that or be willing to accept the results of what you can hire in. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's not. It's always expensive, though.

I wish I had photos of the time we ran out of gas in the new boat on the other side of West Caicos. THAT was an adventure. Or photos I could post about the little sting operation we worked with the Financial Crimes unit of the TCI police. I could write about these, and more, but sometimes you just don't have a camera with you. So, I'll just keep writing about the pix that I do have.

I noticed I haven't posted any dog photos lately. I liked this one, and was trying to come up with something along the lines of 'faithful dog'. You know... having the faith to walk on water, etc.

Or maybe it should be " are you SURE Brian Wilson started this way..?"

The Meridian Club is very much open to the public. I forget how many rooms they have, I think its around a dozen, or less. Plus there is a little cottage set off away from the hotel, called the Sand Dollar cottage. It's an all-inclusive sort of resort. The chef, Franco, is pretty good. I give him a hard time about Texas Barbecue.... he thinks he knows it. (I would never admit to him it's pretty good). Meals usually give you a choice of three or four entrees. Breakfast is buffet or to order.

Several of the homeowners are serious fishermen and I know at least three of them will bring in their entire catch to the club to prepare for the guests and the homeowners who come there for their meals. So there is usually fresh grouper, snapper, dolphin, tuna, etc. in addition to beef and other choices. Saturday nights there is usually a small 2 or 3 man local band playing, they call that night 'Jump Up". People dance. But it's not a mob scene - just the guests of the hotel and whatever homeowners are on the island at the time who feel like socializing or who don't feel like cooking for themselves. I think the biggest crowds I have seen there were on the order of 100 people New Year's Eve. They put out extra tables and a lot of champagne. A bonfire on the beach, tons of food. We have gone to those the past couple of years. It's relaxed and low key. A usual night, though, would be maybe 20 people at dinner during the season.

The homeowners are from all over. I would say the majority of them are Americans, Marou is Russian, and there are several French, several Brits, an Australian, German, and one of the long time property owners here just sold her place to a nice family from Spain. He and I were talking boats not long ago, I think I posted a question on here about the catamaran he was looking into. He was admiring our Andros which is not a good boat for him and I told him so, etc.

The MC runs a boat out to the reef every morning and supply snorkel gear. They have three or four little Hobie 14s if you want to sail. There are bicycles to use. Kayaks. There is a tennis court, a pool. They have a masseuse who comes over several days a week.

You can arrange to go fishing, but I think that is probably an extra charge. It would be bottom fishing if you went through the Meridian Club, they are not set up for offshore trolling etc. I am sure they could arrange bonefishing, but If you are serious about your fishing or diving more than the average basic snorkeling guest I would suggest you contact one of the companies over on Provo (seven miles away) and they will come pick you up at the club, take you diving, picnicking on other islands, offshore fishing, etc. and then bring you back to Pine Cay. You can arrange sailing trips with Sail Provo (our friend Jay, another one of Preacher's brothers). Some of the little companies like Catch the Wave will take you to a secluded beach, and drop you off with lawn chairs, a picnic lunch, an umbrella, and leave you to yourself all day. Then pick you up and bring you back. Or they will take you out and dive for lobster and conch, build a fire on the beach and grill it for you.

The homeowners go to the Meridian Club for cocktails, and meals, of course. There is also a fairly well stocked commissary if you need any of the basics, food, booze, toiletries. Small refrigerators in the rooms. There are plenty of books to read, if you just want to chill out on the beach and relax. There is a rec center with some basic workout equipment. Last summer they re-modelled the dining room and pool area and upstairs bar. This summer they are re-doing all the guest rooms. They have ordered something like five or six new boats from Parker and maybe some others. I know one of the small ones is already delivered. Its different from the Provo/Club Med/Beaches scene. Small, and secluded. Great place to get away and just relax. They have a web-site if you want to check it out. Just Google Meridian Club, Pine Cay, and you will find a lot of info.

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