As a few respondents have graciously pointed out recently, it's been a month since the last post. You know, the big one about our week learning to sail in the Virgin Islands. Well, since then we haven't been doing much of anything I thought would be 'blogworthy', if that's even a word. If it isn't, I'm sure it's just a matter of time.
Like a lot of people this time of year we just got caught up in the holidays and went with the flow for the most part. La Gringa and I just looked at each other yesterday morning and realized that yesterday was the first morning in three and a half weeks we had woken up to no house guests. It was eerily silent, with a sudden roaring emptiness where we had gotten accustomed to the sound of familiar voices, and laughter. Now it's just the wind and the ocean, and once again just the two of us and the dog.... watching the dawn.
We had four of our five sons come down to visit us from North America this Christmas. It got busy at times. They are gone now back to their lives in Florida, Colorado and Massachusetts.... for now. We hope they took some good memories of another Christmas in the TCI back with them.
These two photos by Jacob.
It's winter here, just like it is in the rest of the northern hemisphere. So our weather has not been the greatest lately. We have had more cloudy days than clear ones so far this winter. Or maybe it just seems that way. Are cloudy days twice as long as sunny ones? They have not ALL been gloomy, though. We have managed to take the boat out four times in the past couple weeks and it was sunny and nice on two of those trips.
One of the first things we did was make a conch gathering trip. With six mouths to feed, a fresh batch of conch chili seemed like a good idea. We had great weather for the conch diving trip. These days we are still keeping the boat on the trailer at the house and launching in one of the canals. This is one of the houses along the canal, one of our favorites. We are partial to this style of architecture, and of course having your own dock on a canal is just about the ideal setup as far as we are concerned:
We also noticed a new construction going in next to the dive center here.
After a few twists and turns, we come out of the canal just seaward of the South Side Marina and into the open water, after another hard right turn between those two buoys you can just see ahead. And if one were to make a mistake and go blasting straight out to the open water, one would very quickly find oneself hard aground. You have to make the hard right...
Then motor along carefully keeping two more red buoys to port before getting out into open water. And 'open water' is a bit ambiguous. Yes, it's open in that you have freedom of movement. Except for the next several miles you are in one of the areas here that is labelled on the charts as 'unsurveyed'. I think it says something like, 'Caution: Numerous Coral Heads' or something like that. And there are plenty. Fairly easy to spot and dodge when the skies are clear and the sun is overhead:
I was hoping that this angle would have shown my payload a little better, I made it back to the boat with six conch at one time.
It gets a little bit stressful swimming 80-100 yards with both arms loaded with conch. Hard to keep the snorkel above water. I'm not sure I could do it with seven. Now, back in my younger days...
Eventually we gathered enough for a good meatier-than-usual batch of La Gringa's conch chili:
oh boy, the fun part's over.. now I get to clean 'em..
The wind was picking up a bit, so we took the boat over to the lee of a small cay and dropped the anchor. I am getting better at cleaning conch, slowly, but it still takes me a lot longer than it does the natives. There was plenty of time, for example, for Jacob and Dooley the Determined to swim over and explore the little cay..
I will spare you the conch cleaning photos. Hey, it's the food chain. Seldom pretty, in the traditional sense.
And speaking of Dooley the Delighted, he absolutely loves having a house full of company. No matter where he goes, there's a friendly lap to sit on. Can you tell how he feels about that?
That photo was taken on the way to pick out our (now) traditional 'Christmas Stump'. We can buy official Christmas trees here. They come down from Canada or someplace similar via Miami, and eventually about a week or so before the big day there is a container full of them sitting out in front of the grocery store. Nice, well-wrapped evergreens. For our fifth Christmas here, we once again decided to just go pick up our own type of Christmas ornament. This year, it was too windy for a comfortable boat trip so we did the stump hunt from a Land Rover. I guess this year it was a 'stump safari'. We headed for one of the more remote areas of Provo where we expected to find a suitable hunk of dead wood.
Of course, being a tradition, there are certain ceremonial aspects to this. Dooley the Demented absolutely HAS to swim on a stump expedition. Come to think of it, he swims on any expedition. And of course as the elder here I had to gaze solemnly out to sea like I knew what I was doing. Or that I could spot a Christmas Stump from here. And chant the ancient call to the spirit of the Christmas Stump...
And lo and behold, shortly thereafter the stepsons found a likely candidate and gave it a good dunking to wash the dirt off..
Hauled it ashore..
"Yes, this one will do nicely..."
What? NOT a Christmas stump, you say? Ah, it needs some adjustments. Basically, you just cut off everything that prevents it from standing upright.
See there? Of course it's a Christmas Stump! Maybe you do have to kind of squint your eyes just right to see it...
Okay, okay...we're going to have to get it home to make this transformation happen.
And after locating the lights and stuff in the attic, and with liberal applications of various lubricants to the crew in the interest of maintaining morale, We have it:
A pile of gifts helped a lot. Distracted attention from the stump.
We managed to get out on the boat several more times during the holidays. We had one more good day, with clear skies and calm water, and decided to try our luck at trolling some lures outside the reef. First we have to motor over about six miles of the Caicos Bank:
Headed into Leeward-Going-Through on the way to the reef:
Whatever you do, do NOT reduce power and come off plane, no matter what..
Three hundred horsepower on a 25 ft. boat has a fair bit of 'yee ha!' factor built in.
How's this for a nice holiday landscape? Almost looks like snow, doesn't it?
Well, close enough.
There's just something good about messing around in small boats on a nice day. Will eventually bring a grin to your face if you let it. Scooting up the outside of Water Cay:
Trolling along with some lines out...now this is my idea of the way to spend a winter afternoon..
As mentioned earlier, we have had a lot of cloudy days lately. We needed to make a run out to Pine Cay on one of those days to do some repairs. Even though the sky was already overcast by the time we started, we decided to go ahead and do it. Here is the view of the start of the channel out of South Side Marina. It's a better photo than the previous one, and you can see that if you do not go between those two buoys you are going to hurt your boat.
Some of the crew pay more attention to the weather than others. The effect of several years of experience with tropical squalls makes those interested in thunder pay special attention to the horizon:
As the day started to get gnarly, the crew was looking for someplace dry out of the rain. The bow is dry. It also moves up and down a lot going through chop and will toss you into the air under certain conditions. It's hard to see in the photo, but the bottom of the kid was only barely touching the top of the life jacket.
We had a good weather window while on Pine Cay, with the worst of the rain holding off for another hour or so. Now, this photo doesn't really fit in with the rest of the day, but there was something about this scenario that left questions in my mind. There is a long tire skid in the sand from the left right up to the rock.
Every picture tells a story, doesn't it.
By the time we had to start heading back the weather out over the deep water was getting pretty snotty. This is the view from Pine Cay:
And at this point we pretty much knew it was going to be a long wet ride home, about 21 miles to go:
We made it just before nightfall, and not a moment too soon.
Making it home before dark never seemed to be much of an issue when we lived in North America. But when you are boating around here, home is a good place to be after dark. What trouble can you get into at home?
So other than keeping visitors entertained we haven't had time for much else. Oh, after particularly heavy rains we take shovels and cut channels so some of the huge puddles of salty water can drain off and not splash all up underneath the vehicles:
I am paying a lot more attention to fuel quality these days after getting the outboard running right. This is what I drained out of the boats fuel filter after running about 8 gallons of fuel from one of the local marinas through it.
The top layer is filthy gasoline with clouds of suspended particles in it. The lower layer is water and debris too big to go through a 10 micron filter.
That's a lot of crud for 8 gallons of fuel. We also just read in the newspaper that the local water taxi from Providenciales to North Caicos had both engines quit after getting bad fuel from the same place, just a couple days before I got this.
It's a little bit of a pain dealing with filters all the time, but it's become part of the boat checklist now. Every time I add fuel I drain the two Racor filter/separators.
Other than this there have only been a few little DIY projects going on. I am replacing the radios in the two Land Rovers. I know this will be the third one in each vehicle at least, since the two I just threw away were not the originals. THIS time I am putting in two cheapo AM/FM/CDs made for boats. With coated electronics to withstand the marine environment I am hoping they will last a few years on the mean streets of Provo. One of the problems with the ones I took out was that they bounced up and down a lot in their mountings. All the standard nut and bolt type hardware supplied with the radios is just not up to the vibration we put them through. So I thought I would try something different, and cut a piece out of one of the swimmers's "noodles'. It's basically a dense foam plastic tube. I used silicon RTV and glued it into position so that the weight of the radio will be resting on the plastic.
You can just see it in there:
No metal to rust or fatigue, no nuts or bolts to loosen, nothing to rattle. And it's dirt cheap. Oh, and I still have the rest of the noodle for other projects.
I also have been refurbishing our diving hookah. We have not used it in over two years. With my son's help I managed to get it all cleaned up and running. Then when we hooked up the regulators to test the entire system, we found out that the purge covers were completely falling apart.
Taking them out of the regulators was way too easy.
They literally crumbled into pieces in my hands. So, I contacted Brownie's in Florida, who make this hookah. Within four days they had the parts I needed to fix it Fed Exed down to me, no charge for the parts. I want to say, here, that I realize I get pretty harsh on companies who I have unhappy dealings with from time to time. And to be fair I try to mention those companies who are great to work with, too, when it happens. And this is at least the third or fourth time I have contacted Brownies for support on their diving compressors, and they have been one of the best companies I have ever dealt with as far as customer service goes.
Some others? Dell Computers. D.A.P. Enterprises (Land Rover parts), Nautical Ventures in Dania Beach, FL (Hobie kayaks), Andros Boatworks in Sarasota. Shipyard Island Marina (Yamaha parts and support) and I am sure there are a few more if I thought about it for a minute.
But back to Brownies for a second...we bought this hookah diving setup from them six years ago. I don't even know what the original warranty was, but it wasn't six years. And yet they took care of three new regulator parts as though the warranty covered them. I think that's pretty good.
Of course we have some plans for the hookah, with several diving trips coming up. That should make for some decent blog photos.
I just realized that I don't have a fresh sunset photo to end this post with. We seem to have a good selection of sunrises, however, so how about another strange sunrise photo from La Gringa and her new camera?
After I posted all this, with very little DIY stuff to worry about, it changed. Within 24 hours...La Gringa shredded an inner tube beyond repair, and her derailleur froze solid. While I was taking that apart we noticed that the irrigation system has stopped working. The dishwashing detergent has gelled in the dish washer again and I have to dismantle that. Last night the power went out for the entire street, and they had still not fixed it this morning so I was up at dawn running cords from the generator to the fridge and re-wiring the water pump to 110 VAC so we have running water....
Its like all the DIY gremlins declared a holiday truce , and as soon as the last guest left for North America they collectively sneezed all over me!