Thursday, May 8, 2008

Weak tweak and re-tweak week

Yes, this is going to be another post about house building. It's what's taking all our time and energy these days. It's what we are involved in seven days a week lately. And no real end in sight. Yet. The good news, however, is that much of what is going on the next few weeks is landscaping. This all takes place outside and should free us up for some much needed boating, fishing, and diving time. The weather is starting to improve. The forecast is for light winds and smooth seas for a week starting this Saturday. We will almost certainly be looking for any opportunity to get into the ocean, and the blog post content should improve. Certainly the photos should be more interesting.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Here comes the now-almost-semi-traditional opening sunrise photo:



And YES I know it's a mediocre sunrise at best. But I wanted to point out the old freighter shipwreck you can just see on the horizon there to the left of center. I have posted photos of this boat before, last year when I started the blog. The subject of this wreck has just come up again. This is an interesting idea, at least for me. We have a friend who is one of the homeowners on Pine Cay. I contacted him for some cistern advice, since I knew he had just built a high-tech home on the little island. I was looking for ways to monitor the depth of the water in the cistern without having to open the hatch and look. Well, during our exchanges the idea came up of putting some kind of a relay on that old freighter, since we each have direct line of sight to it from our houses. He is looking into putting a mirror on it, and using lasers to communicate from his house, bounced off the freighter, to this house. Of course what he wants is a more reliable internet connection. What WE would want out of it would be for him to chip in and help us pay for better internet for ourselves as well. Should be interesting if it works out.

And at the house it's been another week of fine tuning. Or coarse tuning would be more accurate. Not how we would choose to spend the week, but it's all part of the program. I started out the week getting the notification that the last part of my cistern filtering system was here "on-island" awaiting only me to clear it through customs. Oh boy, one of my favorite ways to waste a half a day in frustration. Well, four hours and two trips to "downtown" later, I had the last piece. It's the little clear pre-filter filter in the bottom of the photo:



It has a washable mesh filter in it, which should trap out 90% of the fine silt that settles into the cisterns. "Washable" is a key element here...and I like the clear plastic that lets me see at a glance what's coming from the pump. Now, of course, I need to get on with the other cistern improvements. (And that should be the LAST image I take of the cistern filtering system to post here.)

This week the storm shutters arrived! They were ordered last June. So if my simple math is correct, that's almost a year after we paid for them that we actually were reassured that they exist. Rudy from TC Glass brought an assistant to to install them:



These are aluminum accordion-style shutters. They remain in place all the time on each side of the sliding glass doors. When a serious storm threatens, we should just pull them together and latch them in the middle. This takes about a minute per door, and of course we can open them back up just as fast. Closed, they look like this:



We also took this opportunity to have Rudy change all the six sets of sliding glass doors around so they were in the right tracks. Now, I just have to figure out on my own how to get the weatherstripping out of the wrong tracks and install it where the doors now are. One more project for the never-ending list.

Along those lines, here follows some examples of how my most recent fun-filled week in the tropics has shaped up:

This week we started having outside lamp fixtures fail. They are these little brass and copper looking things, with a conical top supported by four bent rods. They look like this:



There are these four little round brass knobs that hold the top onto the rods. You have to unscrew them to take the top off to unscrew the glass globe to change the lightbulb. Well, several months in this climate was too much for them. You can see in that photo that the left knob is gone. The corrosion and constant wind made them all start failing at the same time. Four months after they were installed new. I am sure the company that makes these thinks that they are ideal for outside use. Maybe in New England. But not here. Nossireebob. This place EATS decorative metals faster than you can put them up.

Obviously, these will never survive here for long enough to even get emotionally attached to them. We will have to come up with something in either ceramic or stainless steel. But in the meantime, I had to come up with a way to hold these together. Buy us some time. When all the knobs eventually pop off, the conical top goes flying. Makes big clanging noises on the patio in the middle of the night. Makes the dog shriek and howl in alarm, and an old Gringo leaps out of bed bleary-eyed to see what's causing all the racket. That kind of thing. I don't need it.

So, here's what I did. After totally giving up on the idea of being able to just buy replacements, I decided to beef up what was there. I removed the rods, and using my favorite Dremel tool (great little gadget) I ground off the corroded nubs of the former attachment hardware:



Then I drilled out the totally corroded threaded rod remnants:



And ran a 6-32 tap through it to cut new threads:



Then I just threaded a 6-32 stainless machine screw up through the rod end, put those through the little top for the lamps, and put a stainless lock nut on the top.

So with four of them re-installed to the lamp base with the new hardware I have these four stainless steel rods now sticking up where the old ones broke off:


I know it would look better if I could find stainless acorn nuts to finish it, but sadly, those little items are not on the list of things one can find on this island.

Anyhow, after re-inforcing the other end of the rods with two stainless flat washers, it all looks like this:



I choose to think it looks vaguely nautical. That's my story, anyhow.

I am hoping this buys us a year before we have to replace them totally. There are something like 22 of these things falling victim to the tropics. With four rods per lamp, that's 88 rods to drill and tap, 220 stainless flat washers, a half hour per lamp.. Last week I was a plumber. This week I was a machinist. You need to be able to wear a lot of hats to keep your sanity sometimes.

Of course I could just make a game out of seeing how long I can keep the lamps alive. Keep replacing parts until there's nothing of the original lamp left. Plan B involves bending stainless steel spokes for motorcycle wheels.... Plan C will give me an excuse to buy a simple TIG arc-welder..

We took a ride down to the auto parts store this week, since that is the only place in town to buy taps and dies. Which I needed to fix the lamps. On the way I noticed a line of Avis rental cars and took this photo:



Yep, they are all seriously smashed. Sitting in a fenced compound awaiting whatever happens to cars that get wrecked on an island without spare parts. Out of thirteen busted rental cars, I counted eleven with collision damage to the left front. I guess the transition from driving on the right to the left side of the road is more than some visitors can handle. I suspect people are looking to the right for oncoming traffic when they pull out of driveways into intersections......when they should be looking left.

Okay, that was just a break from the house stuff. Other than finishing the cistern water and putting stainless Band-Aids on the outside lights, I finally finished up the rest of the pantry shelves. La Gringa has realized that I cannot be trusted with a paintbrush, so she took care of that part:



And for the first time ever, we actually had a motor vehicle in the garage!



I used the trusty Suzuki Sherpa to haul the shelves up from Base Camp:



And managed to wedge them into the pantry, where they should have been installed when the house was built. Contractually, shelving was the builder's responsibility. But we wanted them this year. Hard to get a photo of a small room through a doorway, but this is what that looks like now:



We now have plenty of space to horde stuff. And hording is a way of life here. When the grocery store has the brand of canned tuna or dog food you need, it's a good idea to stock up. Sometimes they run out of things. For weeks. Or months. Or in some cases, forever. We are learning that if you like a particular brand of peanut butter, iced tea mix, or tomato paste....it's a good idea to selfishly grab every can of it you can carry when the random opportunity presents itself.

Okay, so I played carpenter again this week too. In addition to plumber and machinist. And electrician, I left that part out.

So that's basically been our week. Just because I don't post anything new doesnt mean we are idle. It's just that we are not doing anything noteworthy. The weather has been windy, as usual for winter and spring. And it's not all sunshine and blue skies, either. We had torrential rain for one afternoon, and this is the view of where I usually take the sunset photos:



Doesn't exactly resemble the idyllic tropical paradise during this, now does it. But we were glad to get the rain. We love the sound of the rain hitting the metal roof of the house. And pouring into the cisterns. The sound of money.

Rain has been rare this winter. But we have had no shortage of breezes. Breeze might not be a strong enough word for winds that can kick up an inch of chop in a coffee cup sitting on a patio. You think I am kidding about the wind chop? Hah, ye of little faith. Check the video:



We need to take up sailing. We sure got the perfect spot for it.

The rain keeps the dust down until we can get the landscaping established. Speaking of landscaping, a crew arrived this morning and started hacking holes around the house to plant a zillion buttonwood and mahogany trees, night-blooming jasmine, bouganvilla, and all this other plant life. The plan is for the first landscaping to look like this:





We still have driveways to complete, of course. And a retaining wall. It never seems to end.

Oh, the birds of spring have arrived. We have noticed that we have several species of year-round birds here, such as Ospreys, Kestrels, flamingos, cranes, and such. And this time of year there is an influx of laughing-gulls, with their heads that look like they dipped them in black paint. And those little mockingbird looking things that bounce off the sliding glass fighting with their reflections, and we have Tropic Birds. They will hang around through the spring and summer, nesting and hatching little birds. We are not "bird-watchers" per se, but the variety here has gotten our interest. We still get visited by the night herons from time to time, too.





These guys walk right up to within ten or fifteen feet of us. They don't seem to be much afraid of humans. Of course, the birds here really have no natural predators to worry about. So these will stroll around the yard wary but largely unconcerned until either the flash for the camera goes off, or in most cases until a certain obnoxious little Jack Russell Terrier notices a big blue bird strolling around HIS hilltop. That usually puts an end to it.

In a few days I should have some more photos to post, and I am hoping at least some of them are underwater. We are thinking of taking the diving compressor and some brushes, anchoring the boat in a nice little cove suitable for a picnic lunch, and me spending several hours underwater scrubbing the growth off the hull. Sounds like fun, after all this house stuff.

1 comment:

Ben said...

What is the total distance between the houses and the ship? You should be able to make a link over 802.11b using two routers and a passive repeater on the ship. You can even make the antennas out of pringles cans if you like. You just need directional atennas at each house and two linked together on the ship. I'm no expert but I have fooled around with this stuff as a hobby. I've never had a connection that far but you seem to have direct line of site which would make it a lot easier. google around for 802.11b pringles yagi