Monday, September 24, 2007

Underwater shots, conch cleaning,

I am having problems with gasoline leaking around my sender, and I need to get it apart and see what I can do with it. So yesterday morning I suggested we take the boat out and run it for a couple hours to get the tank level down a few gallons. Give me some clearance to work with. We grabbed the rods and headed out. The fishing offshore was still lousy. We only took some lures along, no ballyhoo, but we were not planning to stay out for long. Expected to be back by lunch.

That never seems to happen to us. Once we are on the water, we tend to keep cruising. We trolled an hour, crossing back and forth across the major slope from 250 ft. down to thousands. Not a strike. So, we kept going, of course. One hour led into two, etc.
La Gringa loves the water. Watching birds, sea turtles, looking for weedlines...she doesn’t get bored on the boat:

Having music on the boat, finally, really makes for a nice day's fishing.

So after a couple hours we found ourselves all the way back up near that old wreck sitting on the reef off North Caicos. We were still a mile offshore, but decided it was a good turn-around-and-give-up spot. Besides I wanted to check it out closer, still thinking about going right up next to it on a calm day. I scoped it out through the 7x50's, and its in really bad shape. Of course I couldn't get a pic of the image I had through the binocs,, but these are from closer than before:

I have found that the little Olympus doesn’t seem to do very well in auto-focus mode when using the zoom function. I need to figure out how to force it into infinity focus and stay there. (I am sure it would do better from a stable platform, but a panga at 7 knots in 2-4 ft. swells is just not anywhere near a stable photo platform.)

I still want to go up next to it, but it was still breaking pretty good yesterday and we were already over our "lets just fish for two hours" idea, and miles from the marina, so we turned around and headed back. Since we were not getting any hits whatsoever off in the big blue, we thought we would troll the 100 ft. contour coming back and see if we couldn’t at least pick up a couple 'cuda for our local friends. They always really appreciate it, and catching fish to give to someone who you know is going to appreciate it is more fun than not catching anything at all. Right?
We did hook up a few on the way back, two barracuda, two jacks, a yellowtail snapper, and finally, La Gringa caught a small Cero Mackerel;

Not a monster, but along with a salad its dinner for two. Besides, it beats the hell out of getting skunked.

We threw back the two jacks, kept the snapper,barracuda, and mackerel. Put the Cero on ice, and filled up the livewell and kept the cuda in there, alive. Its something I have been doing lately. The entertainment value of giving away live barracuda is worth it. We get some mileage out of asking people if they would like some "freshly caught" fish, and then trying to hand them a flopping snapping toothy critter, too.
And of course having two fish swimming under the clear livewell cover keeps the dog entertained out of our hair. Well, La Gringa's hair, anyhow. I don't have any.

We hadn't been diving for conch in a long time, and I wanted a chance to try the little Olympus underwater. So we headed over to a site we know just inside the reef and dropped the hook. It sure felt strange to drop over the side with a digital camera in my hand, no underwater housing on it. It felt like one of those "OH $HIT!!" moments when you watch a camera, cellphone, etc. splash into the ocean. But it wasn't. Gonna take some getting used to.

There were plenty of conch. We grabbed six in maybe five minutes, max. She-who-understands me stopped me as I was headed for a couple more. She said "Six is more than enough for two of us. Besides, its going to be late when we get in and you have to clean fish AND conch....and its gonna be about 'bug-thirty'..." so, for once I actually listened. Could have had thirty conch on the boat in fifteen minutes, though...

Here's what a live conch looks like on the bottom, in about 15 ft. of water:

first u/w photo with the new camera. These things are always pretty well camo'ed. Sometimes they have moss, or even entire plants growing on the tops of them.
Then I took the photos of the boat I posted last night, then we just swam around a bit because it felt so good to be in the water. It is 85 degrees at the surface. And something that always comes as a little bit of a surprise, when you dive down to right next to the bottom in 15-20 ft. of water there is a very distinct and even warmer layer right on the bottom, up to about three feet above it. I think its from the solar radiation heating the sand and rocks through the clear water, but its several degrees warmer and you cannot help but notice it. It always gets my attention, because I am used to the water getting colder as you go deeper. But not on the reef. Its always warmer on the bottom there.
I snapped a bunch of photos just to try out the camera:
Small coral head, about fifteen feet down. This one is only about 3 or 4 foot tall. They get a lot bigger, and they come up to within three feet of the surface at low tide. They knock holes in boats. They been knocking holes in boats since man first started running boats over coral heads. The coral head survives it. The boat sometimes doesn’t. There are a lot of old Spanish and English sailing boats still in these waters three hundred years after finding one of these guys the hard way.

This is one I took last year. Its about 9 feet deep here, but the coral head goes up to within 3 ft. of the surface. There are ballast stones scattered in a pile about ten feet behind where I was when I took this photo. You can see the "scar" on the coral head, on the left hand side. This is the direction we figure the ship was moving from when it hit this coral head.....about 1720 or so. Coral grows really slow, a couple hundred years is nothing to this guy. Its also fragile, and scars last a long time. This is from the wreck site we discovered, where we got the bricks, etc. We have just about decided to spend the $ 1200 for a decent underwater metal detector. We know if we don't do it, we will always regret it, and wish that we had. Its good to head regrets off at the pass, before they get that far. Once something becomes a regret, its usually way too late to fix it.

Soft fuzzy-looking things that wave back and forth with the surge, but brush up against one with bare skin and you will still be feeling the angry red welts two hours later:

These are not soft fuzzy things that wave back and forth. Live coral;

Looks kinda like the top of my head...except this is about three feet in diameter:

Come to think of it, La Gringa might say that's about the same size as my cranium. It's also almost as hard, and a lot more colorful.

We swam around and I snapped a bunch more photos. stuff like this ( playing with the camera mostly. I now know I need to get down with weights and the hookah, its too hard to hold still for a good photo when you are kicking to keep yer fat butt near the bottom)

I took about thirty photos like this. The 1 gig memory card was a good idea.

The light started failing, and we noticed that the weather was starting to do its afternoon thunderstorm thing. Dangerous Dawg was pretty nervous, trying to keep track of where we were swimming and watching the thunderclouds approaching. I think he wanted me to at least come on board and open the console so he had a place to hide. I can see by his ears that the wind is picking up...

He had already spotted me, and was now keeping his eye on Mama to see if she was coming back to the boat too. I see the rain was already falling about a mile behind the boat. I am absolutely positive that dawg knew that, too.

We took our fish and conch to the marina, and found Pump and Harry hanging around doing their Sunday afternoon hanging-around drinking beer and fishing thing. Pump was excited about the barracuda, and he got REAL excited when I started handing them over to him. He got a carboard box to put them in, he wouldn't touch a live one. I think they were getting a thrill out of me sticking my hands into the livewell with swimming,agitated 'cuda. Notice Harry is hanging well back, and you can read Pump's body language on it, he pushed the box toward me and kept his hands well clear:

Come to think of it, I wasn't exactly blase' about it either,but it was worth the shock value. This story will get around. Eventually we will hear the current version of it from Preacher, who is three islands over at this point. Its amazing, but it works like that here. Small community among the locals, and people who grab live barracuda with their hands are not considered normal. wait a minute, I should probably think about re-phrasing that, but its the way they will look at it.

By the time Preacher hears it, I wouldn't be surprised to find out it was a six foot killer barracuda that almost knocked me overboard before going for Pump's throat...

Even a little barracuda like this is amazingly strong after he gets rested up and royally PO'd in a livewell for a couple hours. They were a handful to hold without a leader and hook to grab on to.

So, next, I got the conch to deal with:

A pitiful pile, by Harry's standards. But he sells them to restaurants, while we only take what we need for a meal. My conch hammer went missing, so I used a nail bar. Its no good, too springy or something. Doesn't feel right. Need a mason's hammer.

The underside of the conch shell is prettier than the top, until you clean it all up. Harry wanted the shells, for some reason. I couldn't understand what he was saying.

You hold the conch a certain way, and count up two rings and over three bumps,

and that's the spot where you whack a hole in it:

Then you slide a knife down along the inside of the shell right where the conch attaches to it, and if you get it right it comes loose and you grab the little claw and pull the whole thing out of the shell in one glob. ( Like I had just done in the photo below, all pleased with myself about how good I was getting at it, finally.)
I was planning on getting a photo of the knife thing on the next one, but Harry was watching this whole thing from the dock. By the time I pulled the first one out of the shell, it took me maybe a minute and a half. Before I could do the second one and La Gringa could get the photo, Harry walked over to his boat, got his hammer and knife, and cracked the other four in less time than it took me to write this sentence.

Saved me some time, for sure. I got him to show me just how he did it. He's really good at it. But then Harry has been doing many thousands a year for sixty years...

(I noticed he got a new watch to replace the ones the Jamaicans took from him at gunpoint)

So, all that was left at this point was to clean up the boat, clean and fillet the mackerel, and head back to the house. Sure was good grilled with Italian dressing on it ( the mackerel, not the house) And then the universe dimmed the lights for us. Bout fricken' time, too. Whew.

Wow, what great feedback we have been getting on the forum. Thank you all for the nice responses. This is actually very little trouble for me. I take photos anyway, always have. I just never did anything with them, other than look at them and maybe email one to a relative from time to time. Finally, I have justification for taking photos!

Writing the descriptions of the photos takes near zero effort. Gringa said "write more", while my inclination is to write less. I am a little self-conscious about putting my impressions with the images.
The new camera is working out pretty well. The underwater photos are going to get better, that was the first pass with that camera, and the water was a little stirred up Sunday. Key to that is for me to fix the hookah so I can hold steady and let the autofocus, etc.stuff on the camera work. got the new carb for the compressor sitting right here, will take me fifteen minutes once I get off my butt and just do it.

Someone mentioned moving to a place like this with kids, well, we came down here with a 12 year old. There are some really good schools here for younger kids. We also really believe the experience of getting to know kids from other places and other cultures is an invaluable education in itself. It sure turned my stepson into a different person. He learned some British discipline he wasn't getting in New Jersey. He got serious about his school work. He's now outgoing, and makes friends very easily. He has no preconceived notions of race or nationality as a result of his year here. He's in boarding school up in New England now, rooming with a Korean and doing great. Its good for the Korean kid, too. He's with an American who is totally comfortable with a foreigner and different customs. I think living here gave my stepson a real head-start on how to get along in life.

We know, firsthand, how hard it is to overcome all the objections to moving to a foreign country. We know a lot of people who say they wish they could do it. We were people who wished they could do it, and it stayed right there, until we sucked it up and just did it. Life is short. Inertia is a bitch. Island life in a developing country is not for everybody, that's for sure. But so far, we have not regretted it for a second. One of the cool things is that we meet a lot of other people here with the same experience, they also made the decision to make a try at changing their lives, and moved to a small island nation. Means we already have something in common with the other expats we meet. We just seem to hang out more with the locals, for some reason. They are great people. They seem to like us, too.

Last night we had a great meal of the conch. Sauteed with onions, red peppers and cream, over angel hair pasta cause we are out of rice. I was thinking of taking a photo of a bowl of it, and was just too lazy. Didn't think anyone would be interested. It was absolutely delicious. We used to just fry it, make fritters, or cracked conch, but we cook it different ways now. Evan showed us how his mother used to roast it in the oven,and sometimes we do that. We got a great recipe for conch chili from our friend who owns Sip Sip restaurant on Harbour Island, Bahamas, and we like to put it over Texmati rice. We love conch, and can always get it. I use a little technology to identify good conch habitat from Google Earth, and am batting a thousand on finding heaps of the little critters. Its not hit or miss like fishing....I KNOW where they are.

As long as people are interested, and as long as I keep getting positive feedback, I will probably keep posting. For people up north who like the tropics, I would think it might be fun to see fresh photos from here during the winter months.
I am trying to keep this thread about the TCI and the people here, and not about us. Its not easy to do that, because of course everything is through my perspective.
But as long as there's interest, I'll give it a try. I am not always sure what people will find interesting. Its all become "normal" to us. We need more adventure, but we got some planned.

Last night we came up with a list of things we really have to address over in Providenciales ( the "big city" something like 18,000 people!!!!) and we are going to take the boat over this afternoon and probably be there for the rest of the week. Maybe longer. We have to register the boat, renew fishing licenses, buy a refrigerator, new gas grill for the Pine Cay house, check up on our own new house, find a local dentist for the first time ( I am not looking forward to that). We will be there for the closing up of the Leeward area prior to it's demolition. We want to be in our slip at the boatyard when they finally run all the small boats out of Leeward....they all have to go SOMEwhere, and that affects us.

I need to buy and install a new float switch for the bilge pump on the boat. The gasoline that leaked into the bilge turned the plastic into a Salvadore Dali sculpture, and it's so deformed it no longer works. I need to do a few other things to get the boat ready for the Salt Cay trip following Preacher over when he delivers the catamaran. That SeaFox is in Provo for repairs and we would likely leave from there anyhow on the way to South Caicos. Where we have never been.

Actually, the boatyard is a better location to base out of for most of the places we haven't explored yet in the TCI. French Cay, the Seal Cays, Big and Little Ambergris, Six Hill Cay, etc.

I want to cut out and install a bigger access hatch in the splashwell. I still want to run over and check out that "X" on the little cay south of Provo. We will take the fishing stuff with us this time, so we can try a run over the Caicos Bank to the French Cay area and see what the fishing is like on the south reef side of the country. Thats also where the most shipwrecks are. I will make a point of taking photos of the town over the next week or two.

Also, just looked at the sat images, and its looking like that blop of bad weather is forecast to go north of Hispanola, which puts it in our backyard, and we might as well be getting stuff done if the weather is going bad for a few days.

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