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.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The color's coming back.

I am going to write a brief post without any photos of destruction, for a change. We've gone an entire week now without a hurricane scaring the bejesus out of us. We have been waking up to weather service updates such as:

800 AM EDT WED SEP 17 2008


Well, "forecaster Franklin", we do appreciate that bit of news. Please keep it up. Let's see if we can keep this trend going. Some of these forecasters have been writing too many short horror stories lately. Oh, and we do appreciate the little dollar signs as well. They need little wings on them to be accurate.

The dog is no longer trying to spend his life underneath something or someone. He very much prefers someone. I don't think he's gotten much further than 6 feet from an ankle since August. He still watches dark clouds as though they might turn criminally ugly at any moment. And we do still get a few this time of year:

We keep reminding ourselves that we are still in the middle of hurricane season. It's not that we really need reminders. They are all around us. Shredded roofs. Rusty little pickup trucks loaded with sheets of plywood. Blue tarps. The stream of airplanes and helicopters going back and forth to South Caicos, Salt Cay, and Grand Turk. And Cay Lime sitting forlornly in the driveway, looking exactly like a once beautiful little boat that got rolled over rocks. The walloping Mother Nature cheerfully slapped on us is very fresh. Watching the same two storms head to the USA, especially Ike, has kept us pretty concerned for friends and family in their respective paths. We have not had television since Hanna. I did try to beat that sat dish back to the point where all the curves were on the same side, but it's not working. I think it's reflecting signals toward Mars instead of to the receiver. We are going to replace it with a smaller dish. Plastic. Removable. We will give up the promise of HDTV for a chance at ANY TV. So I will have an eight foot disc of battered aluminum to play with. It kinda looks like an enlargement of a defective gray golfball. But it could be useful stuff. You never can find a large piece of thin aluminum plate when you need one. It could work out to be more fun than a Croc strap.

We are working slowly and steadily to get back to what we call our "new" normal. I think it's important in these situations to just go ahead and give up the "old" normal. That state of existence just doesn't exist any more. Big storms make permanent changes. These are life altering events, more for some than for others. When we see Internet photos and videos of Galveston and Houston, we cringe. Suddenly our smashed boat doesn't look as catastrophic as it did. We were not living in it. We have some major pieces of it left. Many people cannot say that about their entire homes, or all their former belongings.

I won't let Dooley even look at the newspapers, anymore. And it's probably a good thing that he can't tune into the weather channel again just yet.

Hanna was La Gringa's first real hurricane. By the time Ike finished with us and left to go mess with Cuba she was pretty well seasoned. She's taking it remarkably well, chalking it all up to one of life's exciting experiences. She did say she would like to try the Aurora Borealis next, though. A change of pace from a Category 4 cyclone. Those lights are not known to smash boats or blow houses down. Could probably watch them safely from a hot tub with an iced drink in hand. She hasn't seen those yet. I have been thinking Iceland might be a good place to try that.

I have been dismantling Cay Lime, looking for what might still be made to work. The compass isn't broken, for example. Maybe that will become a souvenir if we can find a good spot for it.

We've been talking to a contractor for the roof repairs. Ours are relatively minor. We have a roof to repair. This is a good thing. Not everybody has one. We are both trying to take all this in stride, reminding ourselves, once again, that the difference between an ordeal and an adventure is all in your attitude about it. We are managing to slot this one into the 'adventure' category.

Dark clouds always dissipate eventually. The sun comes back out. The water turns blue, and people adjust. A little time and light makes a difference. For me it helped to realize that all we really needed to do was to hang on through the bumpy spots until the next smooth stretch of pavement showed up.

Maybe one of the simple secrets to life is to just hang on until things get better again. That doesn't mean they won't be getting slightly worse first, of course. That's the tricky part, remembering that as bad as it seems, it can't get worse forever.

So we are hanging on to our hopes to find a way to get back on the water. Being suddenly boatless is our biggest adjustment through all this. We want to see how the geography here has changed, and we know just where to look. We know there are lots of things to take photos of. And now we will have before-and-after images on a lot of them. The driftwood situation must be absolutely stupendous for incorrigible beachcombers.

We were sitting on the patio tonight watching the moon reflect off the water, listening to Willie Nelson, and noticing that the "new normal" is well underway. And we still love this place and these people. We have found that we have some great neighbors, some great friends, and each other. It feels like we spent a month last week in a turbulent, uncertain world of angry grays. The sky, the sea, the rain...I can see why primitive man figured the gods were really getting on his case sometimes.. But we know the colors will always come back eventually.

I had intended to stitch these two photos together into a pano, but the software is not behaving:

Fortunately for me, La Gringa had grabbed another camera and caught the whole thing in wide angle in one shot while I was trying to be clever. Once again, she had my back. She's a keeper.

I tell you, it's an extremely good feeling to come through times like these and realize you're part of a really good team.

Two and a half Gringos is still in business.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

High and dry, but colorful at least...

A week ago today we were 'hunkered down' waiting for a hurricane. Two weeks ago today we were 'hunkered down' waiting for a hurricane. I hope this 'hunkering' does not become a steady thing. I don't know how many more storms these little islands could absorb. And hurricanes are exciting but they are not much fun. Two in the same week is approaching the 'too much excitement' limits, I think.

I am going to post a few ruined outboard photos, and then some colorful-boats-aground pictures we took yesterday in the Five Cays part of town. (So if you don't like looking at motor parts, please just bear with me for a paragraph or so.)

I spent most of yesterday dismantling the engine on "Cay Lime". I did not intend to dismantle it when I started. I thought I would just take the spark plugs out and see if any water got into the cylinder heads. The engine had been sitting for over two weeks since it was bashed on the rocks by Hanna, and then submerged by the tides and waves for four days. Upside down. I was expecting some corrosion. And I got some. And more.

After I looked in the cylinders and saw sand and rust colored sea-water, I took the heads off. Ugh. Then I decided to take the carburators off, and more Ugh. They were caked with wet sand. So then I took the intake manifold off...

This is supposed to be a nice shiny set of reed valves without a speck of sand. I got more than a speck.

This exposed the crankcase and more bad news there..

No, there is not supposed to be sand in a crankcase. A few grains would ruin a motor. I have a small pail full.

Looking at the back of the engine,you can see there are rocks jammed under things.

The flywheel won't turn. All the iron parts are rusted and corroded. There is sand in everything. This does not look good. I am going to completely take it apart now. Perhaps some of the parts will be useful. Maybe I can trade them for something. The modern day equivalent of beads, axes, and trinkets?

I spent a depressing few hours dismantling layer after layer of engine parts. I would unbolt awhile, pry a while, cry for a little bit, and then start on another part. Gosh there are a lot of parts in these things. Late in the day we decided to take a drive down to the Five Cays area of Provo, with a swing through Blue Hills on the way. We saw a lot of damage in Blue Hills, with power lines down everywhere. I also noticed all the local conch boats that survived the storm by being beached and tied to trees:

These are rugged, simple little boats. And they seem to do just fine if they get beached secured and allowed to ride out the storm surge. There is a lot to be said for simple and rugged.

We did notice that the new Bugaloo conch restaurant is well under way:

Bugaloo was the local conch fisherman who started the restaurant now called Da Conch Shack. We are happy to see him building a place of his own, although it does put him in competition for his earlier restaurant down the road.

After leaving Blue Hills we drove over to the Five Cays Settlement part of the island. I wanted to see how bad the storm damage was at the island's only Yamaha shop. I had called them on Friday to find out they were still out of business. Flooded, damage, and no power. Gosh, and they are going to let a few little things like that stop them? A lot of the damage is being cleaned up, but there are missing roofs and downed powerlines all over the place. I did not think you needed to see any more of those photos, especially with the news full of what our buddy Ike did to the Texas coast, so we concentrated on boats. And there are plenty of boats to photograph.

If you follow this blog, you may notice the huge difference between the boats kept at the Caicos Marina, and the boats the natives use in their day to day lives. This is about the local's boats.

Except for this one:

Sitting high and dry on the beach at Five Cays is a steel hulled Haitian boat. Friends tell me it was just there after the storm. It was driven well up onto the sand, and is sitting there perfecty upright and largely undamaged.

When I saw that, my first thought was "how the heck did the Captain manage to keep that boat safe in those conditions?" And my second thought was how cool an apartment on the beach could be made out of it. Build a nice patio around it at deck level, paint it up nice, and run power and water to it..Never have to worry about another storm surge. Leave an anchor tied to the master bedroom..

From there we went to the yard where the Yamaha dealer is located. I suspect that the Yamaha people and I are going to get to know each other in the months to come. We already know some of them, of course. There we saw boats that had been floating in the clear calm water just the week before. Not anymore:

I didn't count how many of the local fishermen's boats we saw washed up onto the island by the storm. I would estimate there must be fifty to a hundred just in this area alone.

Judging by the position of these boats, I think that the storm surge from Hanna must have washed them all up onto the beach. And then with Ike coming at us even stronger just a few days later, the owners just left them on the beach and ran lines to anything they could find to secure them.

Of course none of them have trailers, but then they don't need them. These boats are tough enough to drag out of the water right up onto the sand with a truck. I think re-launching them can be as simple as getting a few sections of telephone pole or PVC pipe and rolling them back down to the water. It worked with the pyramids, and it still works today. Simple is good. I am repeatedly re-learning that.

We saw a lot of boats that floated around in the storm until they fetched up against a fence. And there they still sit:

Down at the end of Five Cays road there is a fish market. A lot of the local conch and lobster fishermen anchor their boats there. The storm picked them all up and washed them across the parking lot, until they came up against a chain link fence. And there they stopped.

Well, not all of them stopped at the fence. Some of them made it through the gate:

We saw another half dozen or so boats way out into the mangroves and bush. Getting these back is not going to be so simple. But I know the fishermen will figure it out. They are amazingly resilient.

This Boston Whaler belonged to another friend of ours named Junior. (We know a lot of "Juniors") We heard that he sold it not long ago. I bet he is happy about that.

And while most of these boats were tossed and floated into things, some of them were treated surprisingly well. Hanna backed this one up and parked it conveniently next to the Yamaha mechanics shop:

That should save time on a service call.
I have noticed two basic designs for the conch boats. One is the single keel, pointed bow design like the boat in the foreground here:

And the other design is popped out of a mold taken from a 17 foot Boston Whaler Montauk with the blunt bow and cathedral style hull. The interiors are almost identical. They all have a short deck, with a plywood spray dodger where a windshield would normally be, and a couple of short bulkheads in the hull to load up with conch, lobster, or fish. They all have a simple console and only the basic engine controls and steering.

Dooley the Dangerous Dog was on the prowl for careless rats. But I noticed he was also on the alert for chicken bones or parts of anything edible. The dog has no taste buds at all. I am convinced of it.

This says that "God is in this boat"

I wonder who was in the boat next to it.

And we thought We had hull damage:

Here's a photo of the two types of conch boat hulls. The red one is the pointy, single bow style, and the blue one is the Boston Whaler knock-off:

There are ten Yamaha outboards in that photo. And not one of any other brand. These guys make a living with their boats, and they need simplicity, ruggedness, and ease of repair. Good enough endorsement for me.

The religious theme is fairly common here. I can imagine being out at sea in one of these small boats when a squall blows up, with no life jackets, flares, or radio...might just foster some prayer from time to time.

("Dooley! Stop eating that!!")

This is the back of the Yamaha shop. And a common sight on Provo these days...a team of roofers trying to fix it up before the next tropical storm blows through.

They still did not have electricity here as of yesterday afternoon. I suspect I am going to get to know the parts department here fairly well over the next months, as well as the mechanics.

Things are slowly getting back to the 'new normal' at our house. Opening it up after the storm brought back some surrealistic memories. In the sunny tropical light of another normal day, memoirs of those storms pop up on a regular basis. It brings it all back. I had to untie the bits of Dooley's leash that I had frantically wrapped around the inside latches of the hurricane shutters during the height of Hanna. I have already described that experience in a previous post. It was a little scary, actually. Like an old Bogart movie scene.

During the 90 mph winds we were unable to get these shutters to close. The wind was shaking them too hard. We couldnt see what we were doing outside because of the stinging, driving rain. And the wind was trying to blow us off the patio. So I cut Dooley's rope leash into three pieces,and found some ty-wraps for the other shutters, and somehow this held them together. Oh sure, they work just fine, now.

And there was still one bloody palm print (mine) on the inside of one door, that the rain did not get to:

The cuts are healing, the memories will fade, and life will go on.

The house did okay, actually. All our problems were roof-related and we have those under control now. Oh, and all those outside light fixtures that had given me so much trouble are now no trouble at all. Out of 21 fixtures, all are heavily damaged and most of them are either in pieces or completely ripped from the house.

I am looking for suitable replacements, but this time we are not going to waste time and money on something that won't survive this environment. For example, we had seven of these:

Only four of the seven are still attached,and the first good wind will finish them. I am thinking of replacing them with something similar to this:

We had fourteen of these things:

and that is one of the only four still intact. And it's on it's last legs. I am looking on the internet for something like this, but that can be mounted with the bulb pointing upward:

I am sure there must be something suitable available somewhere. We are not exactly estatic over the looks of the cast brass lamps, but they should be able to handle the wind and corrosion. We will continue to look until we find something that is rugged and not too ugly.

The only other damage to the property (except the landscaping) was emotional. While we were staying in another location waiting for the power to come back, some kind soul came up into our yard and looted our pressure washer. Gee, nice guy.

It wasn't a top of the line pressure washer, but the thought of someone coming onto the property and stealing it made us very sad. That's the first crime that has affected us personally in over three years here.

But our faith in human kindness also got a shot in the arm this week. I don't want to talk about it until I know for sure, but we may be back on the water sooner than I had ever hoped due to the kindness of one of our blog readers.

And for the time being, the sunsets are back to "normal".

Or I guess I should say the new normal. Because going through a Category 4 hurricane on a small rock like this changes things. A lot of things.

Monday, September 8, 2008

(Y)ike! post addendum (boatyard damage)

Since posting the earlier photos of Provo after Hurricane Ike we have received a lot of emails from people presently off-island who have asked about their boats stored at the Caicos Marina and Boatyard. The marina is not answering their phone. This is because the power is out. Being boat-owners ourselves, we understand their concerns and so this afternoon we took a trip out there to check it out.

First, the Caicos Marina is not presently very easy to get to. I would not try it in a standard rental car:

The water was up to the top of the tires on the Land Rover.

And as for them not answering the phone, the lines are down all over the place.

There were marina personnel running the travel lift moving boats back onto their stands, but the office was closed.

From what we could see walking around, the majority of the damage to the boats there was from them getting blown off the jacks and stands. I took photos of the most obvious displaced boats. So if you do NOT see your boat here, chances are that it did not catch our attention as potentially damaged. are the ones we did notice:

Now in that one, the mast of the monohull damaged the catamaran. Here is another photo from the other side:

The large central storage shed where they store boats on racks pretty much blew apart. There is corrugated sheet metal all over the yard, but most of it is concentrated to the south side of the shed. If you have your boat stored next to the shed or to the south of it, there is a chance you have some damage from flying metal.

This trimarans mast fell across the boat next to it, but as near as I can tell the damage to that boat was basically a destroyed bimini and some scuff marks:

Looking at the south side of the storage shed:

This is how hard that metal was flying, as evidenced by it wrapping itself around the bottom of the Meridian Club's Parker:

This is looking at the shed from the north. Notice there is not any flying metal damage on this side:

After we left the boatyard we stopped by the South Side marina to have a look. Most of the boats there looked okay to us. Two trimarans are on the beach.

The other boats there seemed to be safe.

So, if you don't see your boat in one of these photos, it's most likely okay.

If anyone has any specific questions, email us here at the blog and if we can help, we will.