The weather cooperated wonderfully for most of the week. Until we decided to go boating again. Then it turned surly on us. REAL surly. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. First, the sunrise photo-du-jour.
Most of last week was wonderful sea conditions. We were getting clear skies and calm seas with the air temperature hitting around 82-84 degreess F during the day, and dipping down into the high 70's at night. We're still waiting for the next batch of cool looking sunsets because they've not been all that out of the ordinary lately. Not that the ordinary down here is bad. In fact, by many standards the sunsets here are pretty good. I guess I've gotten spoiled by that run of really nice ones we had about a month or so back. The truth of the matter is that I'm just basically too lazy to get up and grab a camera unless they seem especially eye-catching.
We are still up before dawn every morning that doesn't follow an uncommonly late night, and we still think the sunrises are nice. It's one of our favorite times of the day. Even as we move into our fourth year as residents here, we cherish that first morning coffee watching the sun come up out of the ocean. I've been trying to remind myself to catch a photo as soon as there's enough light for the camera to work, before the star itself makes an appearance:
Then if we don't get all caught up in our day and forget to pay attention there's usually another decent shot about a half an hour or so later. Especially with a low cloud layer. Then we can get a view like this one, or better:
Admittedly not our best sunrise, but it'll do. Especially for late November. Once the sun clears the low clouds it gets real bright and that part of the day is over. With the way we brew our coffee, I'm probably vibrating too much to get another clear photo after the second cup anyway. We like to use the Cafe Bustelo when we can get it, or another local espresso ground and then we brew it as though it were normal coffee. But it's NOT normal coffee. The result is something that will get your attention. Our coffee could double as an emergency defibillator in a pinch. It's something you definitely do not want to leave unattended in contact with silverware. Or in plastic cups.
Now, back to the subject of the new boat. We've managed to rent a slip once again at the Caicos Marina. We had kept "Cay Lime" there for almost a year while the Leeward Going Through area was being razed and then "improved". You already know how we feel about the "improvements". Once there were slips available there it was just so much more convenient for us to keep the boat there. Most of our past boating has been North of Leeward, and that slip was about seven miles closer by boat to our usual fishing area and Pine Cay. Another Fifteen miles roundtrip extra from Caicos Marina added time to our boat trips, and of course at something between five and six bucks a gallon for gasoline, a few of those trips a week really added up.
However there are things we like about Caicos Marina. One of the major ones is that it is protected from wind and currents, and from through boat traffic. The hull doesn't grow the critters that seem to thrive so well downstream from the conch farm in Leeward. It's also nice that we can see our new slip from our patio. This is what it looks like with no magnification:
I realize that doesn't look like it's an advantage, but if you were standing there looking with the naked eye and reasonably good eyesight, and knew where to look, you could actually see our boat in that photo. I can easily see it. And with binoculars it's very easy to check on the boat .
I can't figure out a way to take a photo through the binoculars, but just using the telephoto mode on one of the Sony digital cameras brings it up close enough to give you an idea. I was on the boat checking the lines and batteries one morning this week, and La Gringa snapped this photo from the house:
Just to the right of center (circled) you can see a guy in a blue t-shirt with a cell phone up to his ear waving his other arm in the air. That's me standing on our boat's outboard bracket, with the Yamaha in front of me. It's not quite the same as having it tied up in a canal next to the house, but it's prettty good. That distance from the patio to the boat is about 900 yards as the Kestrel flies, if a Kestrel would fly straight. But here's the drawback to keeping the boat there....by road that trip is 10.2 miles. Most of that road is pretty bad, too.
While I was there I was looking at one of the Beaches Resort boats which is now sitting on the ground inside the marina fence. We tried to find a 'before' photo of it, and the only thing we came up with was this image La Gringa lifted off of Beaches' online website. This shows the dive boat as it was just a few months ago:
We are talking about that go-fast boat on the left. A very nice vessel indeed, and very well suited for diving the reefs here. Well, as we get the story from our friends at the boatyard, it was anchored out overnight when a storm blew through around the end of October. Halloween, in fact. The boat broke loose from the mooring, was blown into the reef, which promptly flipped it over and smashed it to pieces on the coral. They did manage to bring the hull back to the island, and this is what it presently looks like:
Ouch. And that wasn't even a hurricane. I hate seeing a beautiful boat smashed up, but suppose I should not feel so bad that Hanna caught us flat-footed. These storms caught a lot of people here by surprise. Some of them locals and professionals. Things like this make us feel a whole lot better about having the boat in a protected harbor from now on. We will just have to get used to the extra travel time to get where we are going, and the extra fuel costs. I think that's more than offset by having the boat be where I can take a look at it every morning as soon as the sun comes up. And of course by knowing it's in protected water and surrounded by people we know. It probably doesn't hurt that there are usually at least five police boats in that marina at any given time, either.
With the extreme shortage of good, protected marina slips in this country, it would sure be good to see the developers back off the new condo construction for a while and put in a few well-placed and well-constructed marinas. Maybe with the current economic conditions, someone might notice that the boats already here need a good safe home a lot more than the islands need another pile of unsold condos. We can only hope.
Friday we decided to take the boat out for another bit of familiarization time, and because it just seemed like a good time to try it in a little rougher weather. Little did we know just what we were letting ourselves in for. First we boated up to Leeward, and there I noticed that the fuel gauge was telling me that it wouldn't be a bad idea to add a few gallons. We hate running out of fuel, having done it three times now. Makes one a little gun-shy when the fuel gauge starts making threats. Even though Sherlock has not completely gotten his marina (our former home) back in full operation, the fuel dock is working fine. We pulled in and were met by our friend Duran:
The observant might notice Duran is now sporting some growing dreadlocks. The even more observant might notice that Duran's dreadlocks are flying pretty well in the breeze, and that the clouds are blowing in. I am not always sure what's going on in Duran's head these days, but at least the outside of it is starting to make a pretty good wind speed indicator. (He just turned 21, by the way. Hey Duran, Happy Birthday!)
Well, we noticed all this, and still we decided to stick our nose outside the protection of the channel and see how rough it was out toward the reef. It was very rough. Waves were breaking all along the reef for as far as we could see in both directions. If we had been in our panga-hulled "Cay Lime" we would have carefully timed it and turned around between swells and either travelled the safer protected route over the Caicos Bank or just gone home and waited for another day. But since we were there and this was our first opportunity to try the deep-v hull in some more serious waves we decided to go a little farther and see how she rode.
To shorten up this story, we ended up making the entire trip on the Northern, windy side of the island. We were white knuckled and wide eyed the whole way. Dooley was a basket case. It was a roller coaster of a ride. No danger of dozing off. None at all.
When you are standing on the deck of a boat that is in the trough of a wave, and you know your eyes are roughly six and a half feet above water level, and the wave obscures your view of the beach and a foot or two of the island above the beach... that gives you an idea how high the waves are. I would have guessed 6-8 feet.
They were breaking all around us, and at several points I had to turn the boat into them or risk them breaking right on top of us. We would ride up over the crest and then the entire front three quarters of the boat would be sticking out into thin air, no water under it at all. Then that feeling you get in your stomach when the deck drops out from under you and the boat plummets down into the trough and up the front of the next wave. It was kinda exciting. It would have been great to have some photos of that, but to be honest both La Gringa and I had our hands pretty well-occupied hanging onto the boat. Neither one of us even thought to grab the camera to record it. Now that we know how the boat handles, we will go looking for another opportunity armed with some waterproof cameras. She is going to have to take the photos. I have one hand on the wheel and the other on the throttle, and no time to be composing snapshots.
When we got to Pine Cay we had to pick a line through the breaking surf and then just set the throttle so that the boat was travelling at the same speed as the waves. That let us ride a nice four foot swell right in over the sand bar, and then things suddenly got calm again. Except for the noise of me munching on the top of my heart, of course.
How did the boat handle it? Fantastically. We were mightily impressed with the way this Contender rode some fairly serious waves for a boat this small. Except for one small splash near the end as I made the turn into the channel, we didn't even get wet. We would not have attempted that trip in Cay Lime. Now that we know what the Contender is capable of, I think we could actually handle a bit more, if needed. We love this boat.
Once safely tied up on Pine Cay, we did a quick run down to the house there to see what damage was inflicted during the storms this autumn. Dooley the Dysfunctional Dog loves to hop off the golf cart and run the roads of Pine Cay. Since they are all sand, and there is no traffic to speak of, we let him do it:
We like to get behind him in the golf cart and yell out "I see a CAT!" That's always good incentive for him to kick in the afterburner and leave us behind, for awhile.
Now, I should explain about Dooley and cats. This dog LOVES cats. He thinks cats are absolutely great. He has no animosity whatsoever toward them. We brought him home when he was two months old, and from then until right before we moved to the TCI he was raised by a cat, who essentially adopted him. That cat would bat him around with her claws in, and then lick his face as he fell asleep. He spent the first year and a half of his life with a cat. So when he sees one, he hopes against hope that it wants to play. Since the cat always takes off running, Dooley just naturally assumes it's his turn to be the chaser first. He would not mind being the chasee, either. He would be perfectly happy to turn around and let the cat chase him for a while. He seems puzzled when cats don't want to play. On the rare occurances when one stops and lets him catch up with it,usually while it's making a stand and prepared for battle, he turns his hindquarters toward it and offers first sniff, while wagging his stubby little tail so hard that sometimes I wonder why it doesn't go flying off into the underbrush. Sometimes I think we need to get him a cat of his own, so he can have one as a friend again before it develops that attitude.
Just Dooley and the open road, with nary a speed trap or traffic cop in site:
When he was in shape he would run like this from one end of the island to the other and back. He can kick up a pretty good rooster tail when the sand is dry. With him not being able to run as much as he would like to this year (due to circumstances totally beyond his control) these days he's good for about a mile or so until he runs out of steam. Then we can pull up besides him and he will deign to accept a cart ride the rest of the way.
But we have to pass him first. His rules.
Not much else to report from Pine Cay. The docks are still not all repaired, and hurricane damage to homes there is slowly getting addressed. We did notice that the fuel tanks that were there have been pulled up and are sitting by the side of the road empty. They are painted with the words "Free" and "Please take", just in case someone wants a rusty gasoline tank and has some way of getting it home.
Of course this makes me want to write myself a note to pay attention when the next fuel dock opens up somewhere in the islands. I want to ask them where they got their tanks. I think contaminated fuel is a lot more common than people realize, here. I know we were pulling a half a liter of water out of Cay Lime's filtering system every few months.
When we left Pine Cay headed back to our new slip at the boatyard, we were really pressed for time and elected to try our first run in the new boat over the relatively protected Caicos Banks. This route is a mile or so shorter than the outside path we took through the breaking waves to get there. The reason we don't automatically take this route is because it is through unsurveyed areas full of sand bars, shallow rock outcroppings, and coral heads. It's easy to run aground on the falling tide. And spending the night aground in an open boat with this storm coming in is not a happy thing to anticipate.
The Contender draws more water than the panga, which also made us nervous about trying this. We started putt-putting out slowly, watching the depth and feeling our way. At this rate I was thinking we would probably be getting home after dark. And of course I had not checked the lights on the boat at all yet. We were losing daylight fast, and still had about 14 miles to go...mayhbe you can see some of the small islands in the photo. They are those low things just barely sticking out of the water on the left. Those are solid limestone. And sharp. Real hard on fiberglass.
Then, continuing our good luck for the day, our friend Roosie cam blasting by in his boat running his construction crew back to Provo.
These guys had spent the day doing carpentry repairs on Pine Cay and were trying to get back to Leeward before dark. Lucky break for us.
We had not expected to see him headed home this way because usually he will take the deeper, easier outside route that we also prefer. Then of course we remembered what the sea was like on that side, and it made sense. We just waved like we knew what we were doing, and had only stopped to take some photos. We know that Roosie knows the twists and turns of this path through the coral and sand as well as anybody, so I just goosed the Contender up onto plane and fell in behind his wake. We followed him until we were in deeper water. They turned off toward Leeward, and we had another seven miles to go on our own.
Half way down Long Bay beach, La Gringa spotted about a half dozen horses, with a few riders, enjoying the afternoon. We were losing the light, but she still managed to get a usable photo:
So for those of you who are considering a vacation in the TCI and looking for things to do, you might add horseback riding along the beach to the list. We haven't done it yet, ourselves, but it looks like a nice way to spend an afternoon.
When we finally made it back to our new slip (made it on the first pass again, ha ha) we were talking to some of the other boat owners there. People know we have a different boat now, and they ask about how we like it. And how it handles. You know, all that boat-lover type talk. When we mentioned that we had a pretty exciting trip out by the reef up to Pine Cay, one of the other boaters expressed his surprise. He told us that the reports from that afternoon were that the waves were ten feet. We laughed and said "well, that certainly would explain why we didn't see any other boats out there." It also explained why the locals were taking the 'back way' home.
So, for grins, when we got back to the house I booted up the computer and checked the conditions with WindGuru. In the three years we have been paying close attention to the wind, waves, and weather here, this site has consistently been the best and most reliable source of information on current and forecast wave height and direction data. I was a little surprised to see their version of the waves during our trip:
That's showing a 9 foot wave height average for Friday afternoon. That would mean the odd ten to twelve footer did come rolling through. I think we met a couple of them.
Sure makes us appreciate the design of that Contender. With both Defenders and Contenders, I think we are officially converts on both counts.