Friday, September 19, 2008

Fine tuning

Life here is starting to resemble 'normal' again. Or maybe 'normal ' is again starting to resemble life here. I'm not sure which description is more accurate, they've both changed. A few more days have slipped in between us and the last hurricane, thickening that hard padding that time seems to provide in thin layers. It's kind of like building a temporary mattress using one sheet of paper at a time. It takes a while before it starts becoming comfortable. And it's all temporary.

We know that there is some day in the future when talk of Hanna and Ike will start to sound like history. We are not quite there yet. We are falling back into some of our interrupted habits. We again take time to watch the sunrises over a non-threatening sea. We have a new appreciation for an ocean that behaves itself. And another upgrade on our respect for Mother Nature.

The shock of seeing the damage around the island has mostly worn off. The daily sight of ripped up trees, bare roof rafters, and downed power and telephone lines no longer grabs our attention. It's hard to remember when the sight of a startingly blue tarp would catch our immediate attention. They used to look out of place up on a roof. Not any more.

Driving into town for groceries today we did notice that the power company had sent another team out to secure some of the downed power lines.on the rough little road we live on.

I would have used a clove-hitch, but whatever knot they tied seems to be doing the job. One less thing to dodge in the Land Rover.

We finally managed to get our hands on a new satellite dish. We have been without tv since Hurricane Hanna...which seems like both long ago and just yesterday all at the same time, if that makes any sense. It's not that we normally watch a lot of television. We tend to check in with things like the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, and sometimes the History Channel. We appreciate a good movie on Friday nights, with the pizza we order from the little shop just three miles down this limestone, sand, and saltwater road.

We get back into the aftermath repair stuff in fits and starts. Some things have to be done right away, and many have to wait until the island is restocked with materials. La Gringa and I have been moving from one little project to another, until they all seem to blend together. Someone could write 'Aftermath Blues"...

....Went down dis mawning....(guitar riff)
To the hardware sto'...(little harmonica here)
they all out of screen wire,
and we got to wait fo' mo'...

I sees my problem.
I knows, just what it is.
You know I got to muddle through
dis Pri-or-ity Par-al-y-sis...

Personally, I was disappointed that the old sat dish isn't working. I whacked the heck out of it with a hammer and a 2x4 block. I managed to get all the dents reduced to fist size. I got the concaves and the convexes mostly on their respective sides. I guess a smooth and focused surface is more critical than I realized.

After a couple hours of trying to get it to work, the experts here pronounced it finito. Malo. Kaput. Late yesterday they managed to get a new, smaller, fiberglass dish installed on the same pole where the 8 foot aluminum dish finally met Golgotha.

The big dish was supposed to set us up for HDTV, should we ever want it. This is another example of my not paying close enough attention to details. I should have realized how vulnerable a large, thin metal dish would be to strong winds. We have read in the local paper that the wind velocities on Provo were measured at 150 mph. Well, heck. Flimsy just is not going to do in those circumstances. I should also have realized that we are not really interested in HDTV. We are just not the 'big-screen' kind of people, and we did not need a big-screen type of dish. Well, the new one should not only handle wind loads a little better, but it's small enough that La Gringa and I could lift it off and put it away if we needed to.

I wanted to hacksaw about two feet off that pole before the installers put the new dish up. They talked me out of it, saying the signal would be better this way. I suspect they didn't want to hang around listening to me grumble and lecture on installation improvements while sawing the post off. I still plan to cut it off and get the dish closer to the ground, but that can wait. There are a lot of other things going on around here with higher priorities. Like, for example, dismantling the old dish and storing the pieces so that it does not become the Mother of All Frisbees in the next storm to come by. (At a hundred miles an hour, I bet that thing could put your eye out.)

I think I am just going to cut it into two by two foot squares of aluminum sheet and stack it in the garage. I am sure it will be useful over the coming years. Same thing with the aluminum struts. In fact, I am germinating an idea of using those to toughen up our wimpy garage doors. They are made out of aluminum, and that's a good match.

Aluminum is a mixed blessing down here in the tropics. It's very useful when it is installed and used correctly. A lifetime of undersea operations left me with a basic understanding of what goes on when dissimilar metals get together in a high salt environment. It's a little like putting a pair of love-struck teenagers in a hot tub unsupervised in the dark. Eventually, unless you provide some insulation, electrons are going to start swapping places.

Okay, here's some advice on dissimilar metals, re-learned the hard way, for those contemplating building a vacation home in the tropics (this is the DIY section of the blog post). Windows ordered from the US tend to come with aluminum screens in them. I don't know why, but they do. A popular method of finishing off holes in the screen wire for window cranks seems to be putting a brass grommet in the hole:

I am sure some window design guy figured brass and aluminum are both good choices for materials exposed to the elements. And they are, generally, if you keep them apart. Now someone smarter than I am would take one look at that and say "Oh HO!" (or something to that effect) "Brass grommet, aluminum screen, add salt and some water and time, and abracadabra, presto chango..."

The aluminum disappears. This is usually the case with aluminum, it being softer than just about anything you put it in contact with. Of course after a few months, there is not enough left to support the brass grommet, which falls out next time you remove the screen to clean it leaving a situation remarkably like this:

Yep, a hole big enough for an entire squadron of mosquito commandos to fly formation through without any danger of touching wingtips.

Now take about 30 of these screens, let them corrode silently away by themselves for six months, and then shake them violently with 140+ mph winds for a day or so, and you get a house that is no longer off-limits to bugs. Sure, the answer is to go to the hardware store and buy several miles of the plastic or fiberglass screen and replace them all. Wouldn't you just know that somehow the entire island found the same problem at the same time? (As a side note, there is PLENTY of aluminum screen in stock at the hardware store..)

One more example and then I will leave the DIY stuff alone. This one is about the outside light fixtures. I could use a number of adjectives before the words 'light fixtures', but will just use 'poorly designed'. These were supposed to be brass. The manufacturers description of them was something like "weathered brass finish"..

Well, the truth is that they were brass plated aluminum. Then they drill holes through the sandwiched brass/aluminum/brass to expose the edges, and put a solid brass rod through it. Secure it with some hardware of yet another metallurgical nature, and, well, you can see where this is going:

Yes, the aluminum has taken this opportunity to fulfill it's lifelong ambition to turn into an AlkaSeltzer.

Add some serious wind and you end up hearing things like "Oh look, Gringo. Here's one that 's almost still intact over here in the corner... "

Twenty one outside light fixtures. Toast. And a lot of broken glass scattered from one end of the property to the other.

I could go on (of course) with a lot of these examples. But the basic lesson here, if you are building in the tropics, is that one needs to pay close attention to the construction of every little thing containing metal. Stainless steel is good. Brass is good. Bronze would be fine. Design your home like you were outfitting a ship and you should be okay.

The weather has been really good since Hurricane Week. Mostly clear days, balmy breezes as opposed to howling, life-threatening wind, and only the passing squall or thunderstorm to turn the dog into a burrowing mammal. The night before last we had a nice electrical show going on just to the South. It was so dark out that you literally could barely see your hand in front of your face, and then Zap and KaBOOM!!!

All the light in that photo came from above. I wanted to point out the splendor of a midnight thunderstorm to Dooley the Deranged Dog. Strangely enough, he was nowhere to be found. I eventually located him behind a toilet studying the plumbing.

So that's what we are up to. Moving from one little project to another. The vegetation is bouncing back, with the Sea Grapes being the first to recover. Those splashes of bright green are the Sea Grapes.

A week ago they, like just about everything else, were bare, blasted sticks.

And speaking of blasted sticks, many of our new buttonwoods were literally broken and torn into pieces by Ike. We pretty much figured they were history. But we are happily amazed that they, too, are coming back to life in their own 'new' normal:

And even the thatch palms are showing fresh growth hidden down among the storm blasted remnants.

If you look behind the plants in those last two photos, you can see how gray and wasted the shore of the normally green salina is. That was under several feet of seawater during Hanna.

So, life moves on at it's own pace for the most part. And we are really looking forward to being able to get back on the water someday,and to once again being more concerned with such deep and serious issues as which sunset photos to post for our friends in high latitudes.

Hard to believe that most of that road right there was under three feet of raging seawater two weeks ago.

I am going to try to move this blog away from hurricane damage and back to clear tropical waters, fishing, and similar stuff. But there will be storm related issues everywhere we look for a long time to come. We send our best wishes to the people in Texas who are about a week behind us when storms come through. It does get better. Things do find a new normal.

And for those of you who are looking for more information and photos on some of the other islands here, you can find photos of Salt Cay at:

And more photos (by other people) of the island we live on at:

The house with the blue roof standing all alone is where our friends M&M rode out Hanna, while the water rose all the way to the deck. The submerged road is this one.


Anonymous said...
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Dad said...

A perfectly framed first picture and a stunning one to end with.

Glad to hear those 150mph winds haven't knocked your eye for a terrific photograph out of skew!!

3 Cheers for a Return to Normality, hip hip ...

My2Cents said...

Hi, glad all is coming back to normal. Ah, life in the tropics.
Really enjoy your words and pix.


Anonymous said...

It is good to see that you guys are getting back to SOME everyday things. We are getting back to normal as well. Ike gave us a big punch in the gut here in Houston. How is Dooley Man? I am sure he is enjoying the calm weather again!

Take care,

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing. Dooley is doing well at the moment. He was in the kennel for six days while La Gringa and I were up in New York City on one of our rare USA visits. When we sprung Dooley from the kennel, he was so happy he was beside himself. Literally. I took a short video of him, and it was hard to keep him in the camera.

That's part of the reason there have not been any new posts here lately, we were in NY and NJ. We are back now. But I also was hoping to put together some photos of something other than storm damage and house photos. I figure people are tired of those by now.

We need to get back on the water!!

(Oh, by the way, the deleted comment was supposed to have been an email. It had personal info in it from the sender. I responded by email.)

Anonymous said...

I was wondering where you guys were...checking the blog daily and nothing new...I was getting worried!

Glad to hear that Dooley is hanging in there. Let's keep the storms at bay for a while.


Anonymous said...

Yes, we are okay. A lot of rebuilding going on here. We are still spending a lot of time in our own little repairs. Looking into some alternate power sources for that next big power outage. Stripping what I can salvage off the boat while we try to figure out what to do with it. That sort of thing. Nothing interesting enough to post.

We actually met a couple yesterday who had been reading the blog. They have a vacation home here and are down on a visit. We had taken some photos of their house here after the storms and emailed them to let them know they had no major damage. It was nice to meet them.