Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Back to Five Cays

Guess what this is?

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Yeah, yeah, I know it looks like a rock with a rope on it..., but not just any rock. It's a mooring device. It's the official government rope tying rock that keeps this high-tech go-fast Coastal Patrol panga from being bashed up against the dock:

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It looks to be about a 30 or 32 footer, and its basically nothing but outboards and gas tanks. I think they use it mostly for keeping tabs on the lobster fishermen. And there were plenty of lobster divers here this afternoon, unloading their catch to the local fresh fish market and hanging around shooting the breeze on a frigid late November day....

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See, one guy even has long sleeves on. It was so cold, I wore my flip flops. It must have been down to something like 82 degrees today, but I am sure the wind-chill factor took it down to "feels like" 80. Brrrrr. If it gets much colder, we may have to cut back on ice cubes.

Looking at that photo, I was again reminded of how much more popular Yamaha outboard motors are here over all other brands combined. There must be some good reasons. These guys make their living with their boats. And they build their own boats, for the most part. The only factory boat in this lineup is the little Boston Whaler at the end, the one with the red bimini.

Speaking of Boston Whalers, here's a photo of one of many, many local copies popped out of a mold made off a Whaler hull:

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These are called 'conch boats', and they get a lot of hard use. The design is pretty much standardized. A Whaler hull form, with a short solid deck in the bow. A short raised spray shield is across the bow divert spray and splash out of the boat. They typically have a small, simple center console aft of where you would normally see one. The middle of the boat is kept fairly open, and we have seen them loaded up with conch or household goods to the point where you would swear its going to sink. And unlike the famous unsinkable Whaler, these DO sink from time to time. Despite having the right logo on the side:

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The local fishermen go out mostly for conch, which they can just about always get. But there is more money in spearing grouper or lobster. Today most of the catch was the Spiney Lobster:

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These are different from the Maine Lobster. They don't have the large claws of the Northern version. They also have a bunch of small, sharp spines on the tops of their heads. They wedge them in when you try to pull them out from under rocks. They stick in your fingers and palms if you are not careful. But they are WAY easy to trick. La Gringa and I picked up a few of these ourselves last year. I took the aluminum frame from a paint roller and straightened it out to make a lobster 'tickler'. When I lightly touched a lobster's tail with it through some crack in its rocky hiding place on the reef, it would shoot out from under the rock and was pretty easy to grab after that. See the long antenna the fisherman is holding the lobster by? They will stick those right into your face when you are trying to coax one out from his crevice. Sort of a crustacean 'stiff-arm' tactic. If you grab those antenna, they instantly come loose in your hand underwater. But once they are out of the water, you can support the entire lobster from them. I think they must let them go as a defensive maneuver if something grabs one. A sacrificial body part.

A basket of cleaned conch shells at the Five Cays Fish Market for the visiting souvenir hunter:
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We looked at another veteran panga sitting in the sun drying out. I am pretty sure this one didn't come from a fiberglass shop in southern Florida:

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When people here ask me what kind of boat we chose for ourselves and I say "panga", they don't always know what I am talking about. They don't know it by that name. But when they see it, they immediately recognize the design. It's a very well known hull design here, it's just not known as a 'panga'.

And the best part of the visit to Five Cays today was that we caught up with our friend Evan. He has been working as a boat mechanic for a couple months now, learning outboard maintenance and repair. We caught up to him as he was installing a new 200 hp.outboard on a customer's boat. Yamaha, of course.

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Sure doesn't upset me the least little bit to have a good friend here who is a Yamaha mechanic. With access to the right tools and factory parts.

Evan's got a new car, a new girlfriend, and a new job he loves messing with boats and motors right next to the sea all day. Life could be worse for a young man. Could be worse for an old man, too.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can just imagine that some of the locals that have lived in the TCI all their lives are master boat builders! I suppose they simply build the type of boat that works best for them!

Yamaha motors are good, they are everywhere now! I have a Yamaha on one of my boats, the other one has a Mercury but both are good, no problems with either one so far!

Your friend Evan looks happy, glad he is! Living and working by the Sea all day has its many distinct advantages, or for some folks anyway! I wish Evan the best in his work and his life!

Nice conch shells, wish I had a couple of the very colorful ones! They aren't easy to come by in our neck of the woods anymore! Overharvesting has just about eliminated the good conch from our area now!

Thanks for the article and pictures, very nice!

gwnorth said...

Gringo/La Gringa,

Great shots and how do the spiney Lobster taste vs. our lobsters? I have never tried that variety and was wondering if it is similar to ME lobster, body and tail appear larger but I am assuming that the spiney he is holding up is a larger one...Mark

Gulfcoastman said...

Wow, nice spiny! I have always wanted to go after a lobster like that. Where I live (Biloxi) we can sometimes pick slipper lobsters off the deepwater rips. Love the blog, keeep it coming! Happy Thanksgiving, do they celebrate Thanksgiving?

Anonymous said...

Gringo first of all great thread and blog! This may not be the right place to ask this but what abilities to "pull you over" do the coastal patrol have there? Thanks for vacation everyday!

Gringo said...

The 'Spiny' lobsters do seem to me to have a bigger tail than the Maine lobsters. I think this might be because the Maine lobsters don't use their tails as much. I used to dive for them in Massachusetts, and can see difference in the way they act. A Maine lobster has those claws for defense, and will hole up and avoid swimming. The spinys seem to use swimming as a defense mechanism more, which means more meat in the tail. As far as taste, I personally tend to like the spinys more, but I suspect it's a regional thing. The Maine lobsters have the claw meat, and also meat in those legs. With the spinys, you just eat the tail. Sure makes it easier.

The TCI doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving as a public holiday. There is a small enclave or community of Americans here, and they celebrate it amongst themselves. We typically don't have much interaction with the other Americans here, though. That is not by design, or on purpose, it's just that the activities we get involved in seem to be more island type stuff, and we spend most of our time with local boaters and fishermen. There really are not that many Americans here, I read somewhere that there were something like 300 in the country as residents. We only know a very few of them. Almost all of our friends are locals, with a few Europeans and other nationalities thrown in.

We also noticed that Halloween seems to be more of an American thing here. 95% of the kids we saw "trick or treating" were caucasian kids. And they were in the expat neighborhoods.

As far as public holidays, the official ones are the same as in the UK. There are also some local TCI holidays.