We don't have a whole lot of new stuff to post here. But while looking through what photos we've taken since the last post, it occurred to me that maybe someone, somewhere, somehow, might appreciate a photo of warm clear ocean right about this time of year. And since La Gringa got her new DSLR she has been taking some pretty good shots. Photos, that is.
Check out yesterday's sunrise as an example:
Okay, opening ceremony out of the way, This post is about a couple of little excursions we took this week. The first one was a kayak trip to Pine Cay and back and it turned into an (ahem) 'adventure'. Or at least that's going to be the word used to describe it here. We know that some people let their kids read this blog and we like that and we try very much to be aware of that. It's the G-rated version. So it would not be in the spirit of the thing to use a two syllable word that started with cluster, for example, to describe this kayak trip. ( Well, the word 'cluster' by itself is okay, right? Sounds like something nice made with chocolate and peanuts to one of the younger readers?)
We also had another leisurely lunch at the Conch Shack. Since there have been so many mentions of the place in previous posts it normally wouldn't get included here. We go there more often this time of year with a new set of visitors here seemingly every week. We get more conch than usual, so we don't mind at all. La Gringa took her new camera along on this one and got some nice tropical photos that we hope you will enjoy.
But first, the adventure.
We woke up Sunday morning late, gazing from bed out at a beautiful, warm, calm ocean. The weather on Sunday was a lot like the scene in La Gringa's sunrise photo from this morning. We said to ourselves: "Selves...(that's what we call our selves when we can get them to pay attention) "Selves, we haven't done a kayak trip in ages. Let's do a kayak trip!" And our selves agreed with us. So we loaded the kayak, the dog, a cooler with a few drinks in it and our selves into the back of the little Defender 90. And with only a scattered amount of further ado we trucked on over to Heaving-Down-Rock in Leeward. Funny how many of our little 'adventures' seem to have this rock as a common denominator.
And yes, that is the name of an actual place here. Looking at this photo you probably won't believe that this little truck got pressure washed something like three days before and it has not rained since then? We can't even blame it on fresh mud... but back to the 'adventure': I obviously did take the new little 'waterproof' (yeah, yeah, we'll just see about that eventually)pocket camera along but did not take as many photos as we probably should have. Hopefully that will make sense as we go along. We seem to have gotten sideswiped by the day at some point. It's still a little foggy as to when it went bad but it was sometime between the point when it went belly up and the place where it then headed downhill. In a hand basket. Whatever the hell that is.
Here we are with the crew tactician Dooley the Dauntless inspecting the kayak launching facilities at Heaving-Down-Rock itself.
And standing downwind of the cooler, of course. The nosy little sneak thinks we don't notice.
Things were going pretty well at this point. As you can see, it was a fantastic day and we were headed out.... somewhere. We hadn't actually decided at this point just where we were going. And in retrospect this early lack of planning on our part sharpened the teeth of whatever it was that came back to bite us later.
The people on the tug that pushes the Lil Lew gave us a wave and probably asked themselves what the heck kind of funny looking little plastic boat that was and then went back to fishing. You can tell from the angle of their lines and the current that it was an ebb tide, meaning of course it was running "out". See, if it had been a flood tide, it would be coming "in" and they would be on the other side of the boat and their fishing lines would be going in the other direction.
We started out pedaling over to where the local day-fishing charter guys moor their catamarans. It's in the lee of a little cay there on the Caicos Bank side of Leeward-Going-Through. We went close behind one of Silver Deep's boats and were admiring the twin Yamaha 250's on the stern.
I was wondering how well these new four stroke, non-HPDI motors did with the local fuel issues that have plagued us and a few others here recently. There seems to have been a lot more stuff in the gasoline than gasoline lately. Boats have stalled. Run aground. Stuff like that. Then I saw something that anyone who has followed our outboard problems might appreciate:
Sorry it's cropped it to the point of distortion, but you can see the two, yes TWO fuel filter/separators they have installed. This is what we eventually had to do to get our own outboard to run reliably on the local gasoline. These guys have installed one for each motor. Even though one would handle both motors. And they mounted them right there where they can constantly see what kind of crud is in with the fuel. With them mounted up here in easy reach, they can quickly drain the water trap in the bottom of the separators when it gets bad. This told me a lot. Probably should have talked to these guys back in July. And these motors don't hate bad gasoline nearly as much as ours does. And these motors also have internal fuel filters, which obviously are not good enough for them, either. I feel better now that I found the issues with our own outboard. Still learning after all these years.
Okay, well, after that we just kayaked blithely on out into the ocean - not a care in the world. We were enjoying the day - this frigid mid-winter outing. (Actually it was in the mid 80's air temperature). We still didn't have an agenda or destination in mind. We spotted a few posts sticking up out of the water in the distance and boated over to take a look. Nothing much, just marking something or other.
This little one that would be submerged just under the surface at high tide made me think of unpleasant things that might happen to boats at 40 mph in the dark...
And that's the old freighter and Bird Rock in the background of that photo so if you know this area you have a pretty good idea where we were.
Dooley the Deranged was in charge of watching the water depth or at least that was supposed to be his assignment. He's not real good at long term employment. He tells us dogs have short attention spans but but if there's food, rats, fish, cats, or tennis balls involved suddenly he's Mr. Meticulous. He might also have been gazing longingly at the shade of the sail which was the only shade for a mile or more in any direction... it's hard to tell. Dooley doesn't always share his thoughts.
And at this point, we still had plenty of water. A couple feet, anyway because we were still using the pedal drives and sailing. I can tell because the paddles are still clipped to the boat.
The dog is relaxed. This was not the case for the entire day. But at this point life was good. We cut between a couple small cays:
And decided to go check out the cove between Water Cay and Pine Cay. This area is locally known as the "Aquarium" and we've posted photos of it here before. There are a few small channels of deeper water between these little cays and the Aquarium and we took advantage of having plenty of water under us to sail on in there for a look around. (I hope you've noticed how many times the subject of water depth has arisen here so far. This is a theme.)
This is the view looking the other way off toward Middle Caicos. You can see by the water color that we are in a little channel, while there is a sand bank about fifty yards out beyond the deeper water.
Boaters here are pretty good about marking dangerous spots with sticks, pieces of PVC pipe, buoys - whatever might get your attention and help navigate. There is no government group with the resources of the US Coast Guard to establish and maintain aids to navigation here. They are few and far between. So it is important to pay attention to such things as little pieces of wood or pipes stuck in the mud. This stick, for example, very clearly marks the edge of this little channel we are in.
It is about three feet deep under the boat and that light colored water beyond the stick is maybe six inches deep. That is still enough water for us to kayak in. We can't use the pedal drives in that but we can still sail and use the paddles. In fact, on the way over we crossed one of these huge shallow spots and La Gringa was using her kayak paddle to assist us in the light winds.
Now, to illustrate where all this happened and to cleverly pad and mask the dearth of photos from the second part of this trip, I have some marked up some Google Earth images.
This is where we went from Leeward to the Aquarium with some of the previous photo locations identified:
That little trip sketched there measures out to be about 4.3 miles. We were not in any particular hurry so to get to the Aquarium part of Pine Cay from Leeward took us about, oh, say two hours. Messing around, taking photos, checking out the sticks, etc. No biggie. We pulled the boat up onto a little beach at Pine Cay for a leg stretching break. Dooley said he had some other business to take care of, too.
See those Casuarinas trees in the background? Those mark the sandy beach that connects Water Cay to Pine Cay. They were separate islands back in the days of the Spanish Main when pirates roamed these waters. Then a hurricane blew up tons of sand from the seafloor and now there is a beach that connects the two islands. We've heard that this happened during Hurricane Donna which came through here and absolutely clobbered this little country in 1960. You can see the sand between Pine Cay and Water Cay and also the sand between Water and Little Water Cay on the satellite images. All this was done by Hurricane Donna. Preacher's sister is named Donna, by the way. She was born in 1960, too. Wonder if there's any correlation there. More about that area... later. (The sand. Not Preacher's sister.)
We didn't spend much time stopped here - maybe half an hour. Wandered around a little, took basically boring photos that we won't post here. Stuff like this for the most part:
See why I'm not posting them? We take a lot of photos we don't post here. We like to play with cameras. Usually while we are out playing with boats. What else can I tell you?
(Actually, it may be that Dooley the Dehydrated asked for that tree photo. He likes to document the nearest trees on desert islands. He collects them like scalps or souvenirs or something. And it has occurred to me that on all these little uninhabited cays he is marking totally pristine territory and trees that have never seen a dog standing on three legs in their lives. No WONDER he is so full of himself. He must feel like the canine equivalent of Columbus, or Neil Armstrong with a full bladder or something.)
So, around two thirty in the afternoon we started back. And the tide had been falling ever since we left Leeward two and a half hours earlier. This is a notable, and important observation. It is also too late of an observation to affect the outcome of this adventure. Thinking back on it, we really could have used an observation like this. That must be one of the little tricks to life - to be able to get your good observations in early in the day. While you can still use them.
This is a view looking back at the Aquarium from over the edge of some sea bottom that is getting rapidly closer to the bottom of the boat:
And here is a sketch of about where we went for the next three hours.
That line, starting and ending in the Aquarium represents about 4.5 miles of travel, in three hours. That works out to be an average speed of a whopping 1.5 miles per hour. That is about half as fast as a slow walk. And that's the average. We were moving right along for a part of it. And this means that for another part of it, we were not moving at all. And sadly, this is exactly the case.
See all the lightest colored parts of the water in that Google Earth photo? Well, that photo was probably taken at high tide. Because at low tide all that light colored area actually looks exactly, precisely, like this:
(this photo by Jacob, taken on a much happier day. Same place, though)
And walking in this stuff is very, very frustrating. For an old crippled guy dragging a kayak with a cooler, paddles, sail kit, and small lazy dog in it from where that photo was taken and out a hundred yards into the middle that photo, it would take almost an hour. And the old guy in question would spend about a third of the time swearing. He'd spend another third of the time pulling his feet out of the knee deep muck. And the rest of his time would be spent falling repeatedly on his butt while swearing at knee-deep muck. When you step on the tops of those little hillocks, your foot will only sink about an inch or so, and you rise up to your full height above the sand. This is good. Your next step, and maybe your next ten steps, might sink you up to your knees in soft wet sand goop. And a suction forms down there where your feet are suddenly the newest objects of interest to whatever it is that lives there and spends its normal life making those little holes in the sand. Then suddenly your next step will be on a firm spot. Then your leg muscles scream obscenities at you for deciding to do this to them without warning. It's like stepping up over two stairs while your downstairs foot is caught in the toothless mouth of something filled with glue. I hope this is making sense. It's a stair-climber from hell without the Evian, towels, and air conditioning. And you can't really quit.
We took turns dragging the boat. Dooley the Dervish tried walking in this stuff, briefly. Very briefly. He gave up with two legs high and dry and the other two sunk to his belly in soft stuff. Too mushy to walk, and too shallow to swim. He climbed back in the boat and wisely kept quiet since he was being pulled along like the King of Siam...
We got into this fix because we tried to cross back over the large flats that we had crossed over on the way to Pine Cay. Except this time we had six inches less water, which waited until we were out in the middle of this soupy Sahara before trickling down to about an inch of water to trap us. Which is not enough to float a kayak.
To her immense credit, La Gringa took turns pulling on the boat. It was so hard to walk that even when we were not pulling the boat it was almost impossible to even walk unencumbered. La Gringa tried using one of the paddles as a walking stick and she had some success with that. Except the flat tip of the blade is like trying to lean on a butter knife stuck into a tub of soft mud. It sinks in. And usually at a very bad time like exactly when your foot is sinking in and you need support. So you end up with one leg and a paddle stuck three feet into muck. Again. And again.
We didn't take any photos of this ordeal. Just got busy, frustrated and annoyed and didn't think of it. We were getting seriously dehydrated, the sun was beating down and from sea level we did not have the view from Google Earth to guide us. We headed for the shore, thinking that we remembered there was a slightly deeper channel running there. And there is. When there is some water. After two hours of this, we realized that we were not going to be floating the boat in this direction anytime soon. We could just give up and wait until maybe 7 or 8 o'clock that night for the tide to come back and then pedal for an hour to get back. Or we could occupy ourselves doing something useful like going all the way back to the Aquarium. This is what we did. We knew if things got really bad at least we know people on Pine Cay we could get to for help. Basically, we headed for the nearest deep water. Which was miles away.
We made it back to where we could paddle the boat and took it to that sand bar between Water Cay and Pine Cay that is in the background of that earlier photo. By the time we got there it was dark. In fact, we arrived at the shore line there at exactly bug:30. We made two round trips across that stretch of muck, rock, sand, bushes, thorns, and bugs. 300 yards through the bushes with the paddles, sail, Mirage drives...then 300 yards back through the bushes ducking mosquitoes that normally would need ten yards of runway. Then 300 yards back carrying 65 lbs. of kayak. By the time we were all set up on the beach facing the reef it was totally dark. And we still had over 5 miles to go. No lights. No water. A nervous dog. Not much in the way of supplies, is it? And Dooley does NOT appreciate jokes about eating pets for survival. No sense of humor, that dog. Who would have suspected?
So, without any more photos of this 8 hour 'adventure', I'll use just one more image from Google Earth of how we went back:
This narrative has gone on for almost as long as the mid-winter slog itself so it's time to cut it a little short(er) here. We launched the kayak in the dark through breaking waves on the beach. There was no wind so the sail was no help as we pedalled the Mirage Drives for the next hour and a half. We could hear the waves breaking on the beach and rocks to our port and we could see the distant glow from Providenciales. Where we were was dark.
There was a slow ocean swell under us and we saw a zillion bits of bioluminescence as different critters that glow in the dark ocean swam beneath us. At one point a large fish of some kind came up to the surface about ten feet from us. We don't know what kind of fish it was only that there was about four feet between the tail fin and the dorsal that we saw. Dooley the Distraught was strangely silent about it - not leaping into the ocean in his customary fish lust frenzy. There is an excellent chance that he was tired.
We had no lights on our boat, of course, but there were no other boats to worry about either. Not many people run through here at night in boats. Too many coral heads, rocks, and things like that. We floated in a strange, surrealistic peace, a million stars above us and only the distant roar of the surf off to our left to guide us. It was the fun part of the trip. And the trip had a lot of fun parts. We just need to work on ratios.
When we were heading into the seaward side of Leeward, finally, we spotted the only boat we saw on this whole return trip. It was a water taxi headed from Providenciales to North Caicos. And they did not see us. Fortunately, we knew they couldn't see us and by pedalling like a couple of meth-crazed psychotics we managed to (first) get out of their way and (second) immediately turn the boat so that we met their three foot wake head on. The last time we were in a situation like this, the motion of the wake made us lose the mast, sail and Dooley overboard. This time we were prepared. Then we just pedalled. And pedalled. And eventually, over 8 hours after we had last seen the tugboat at Heaving-Down-Rock, we used its lights like a VOR beacon to guide us home across the dark water. We came scooting silently out of the night and startled the heck out of a couple Filipino gentlemen who were peacefully fishing from the shore. We packed up the boat, drove home and collapsed.
So. That's the end of the first excursion. In retrospect, the problem was poor planning on our part. Lemmee rephrase that... the problem was NO planning on our part. If we had planned the trip as we usually do, we would have factored in the tide and done things differently. We would never have tried to cross those flats right at the end of the falling tide. Now we know. And La Gringa says she will never, ever, EVER again kayak over the Caicos Bank to Pine Cay. And to my plaintive whine of "But, if we planned for it, next time...we could......" and she interrupts with the question.."Do you bleeping realize just how long 'NEVER!' is?"...
Maybe it was the phrase "next time" that set her off. Probably should have waited a few days to bring that up. Maybe a week. Or longer. Yeah, longer would have been good.
Now, as for the second excursion this week, it was a whole lot easier. There was laughter all around. We smiled a lot. Nobody threatened anyone else. A lot of visitors come to these islands this time of year, and one of La Gringa's brothers is in town this week and until yesterday had a golfing buddy down on vacation. They wanted to have a good conch lunch on Tuesday so we met them at Da Conch Shack in the Blue Hills section of Provo. La Gringa took her new camera. (See how quickly I moved away from the kayak topic, there after La Gringa's announcement? The best escapes are sometimes done quickly and silently without warning)
This is the Rum Bar section of the facilities at Da Conch Shack:
Since we used up so many words in the previous 'adventure', this one will be mostly nice sunny photos instead of dark moods. And vile imprecations. No more vile imprecations in this post.
This is Da Conch Shack seen from the inside seating area:
While we almost never sit inside here - we have been known to on rainy days. Usually we sit outside in the shade of the trees where we can watch the water.
And the view from inside is still okay, by some standards:
That little square shape under the water there in the middle of that photo is a conch pen. The fishermen bring their conch boats in full of live shellfish and they put them in the pen to keep them fresh and alive until someone orders fresh conch. After that, the day kinda goes downhill for the conch, but it's a stretch to feel too bad for them. They're big snails, after all. Big, delicious snails.
A couple of the waiters making a universal sign for.....
(Not sure what the universal sign is for in this case, just that the sign itself is universal. Besides, La Gringa took ALL these Conch Shack photos. Ask her.)
Cracked conch by itself:
We usually order more than that. We get fries, plaintains, coleslaw, peas and rice or 'baked mac' which is macaroni and cheese as side dishes.
The conch chowder ain't bad either:
And someone just about always orders conch fritters:
Oh, and rum punch. Lots and lots of rum punch gets ordered in these here parts:
Since this is the busiest part of the season, the restaurant filled up pretty quickly for lunch. We saw a lot of visitors there. In fact, this was probably the most white people we have seen in one place since we were in the USVI in December. La Gringa didn't take photos of the customers but you can see in the background here that for Da Conch Shack, it was a crowd
And yes, our definition of crowd has changed since we left the USA.
We also ran across some local friends here. We know most of the staff at Da Conch Shack, for example. And we saw Lenny, from the Unicorn bookstore, taking photos for some post cards he is working on:
We know Lenny from the Unicorn Bookstore. This is the only bookstore we know of in the TCI. And since we are both avid readers, we run into Lenny a lot.
We probably average about two books a week, year round, minimum. Lenny is always glad to see us at $13 a paperback. We didn't have the heart to tell him that we just bought two of the Amazon Kindle e-readers this week and hope our paperback buying days are about over. We are thinking we will save about an average of $4-5 per book downloading them over buying them here and will have a hugely increased list of books to choose from and will no longer have to deal with all these stacks of once-read paperbacks. 1500 books in my pocket??? Cool. And saving at least $4 per book (more with hard covers) these things should pay for themselves in a year. Presumably we are saving trees, too. Haven't heard of any 'e-trees' yet, but since we are now reading from 'e-paper' who knows?
We don't have any good use for these stacks of paperbacks but just cannot bring ourselves to throw them away. We trade them with the neighbors sometimes but really don't know anyone here who reads nearly as much as we do. So they accumulate. We'll find someplace to donate them, eventually. Now, as for our friend Lenny, hopefully, his new post card business will cover the loss in income from us buying books online.
And since this IS the middle of tourist season, a couple of the local entrepreneurs maintain a rack (shipping pallet) display of cleaned up conch shells for people to buy as souvenirs:
That's a pretty typical conch boat in the background by the way. Some years back, someone here made a mold from a small Boston Whaler skiff. And now there are locally made and finished copies popped out of that mold all over these islands. The outboard motor is the non-typical part of that boat. Almost all of them here have Yamaha motors on them.
Mixed in with the Queen Conch shells (the ones we eat) are always a few Helmet Conch shells. To my knowledge, nobody eats these. But the shells are a lot nicer as souvenirs.
And now, tucked in here deep between the sunrise and sunset photos is a little DIY stuff. Didn't want you guys to think a week actually went by without DIY stuff.
This one is short and simple, though.
I needed more shelves in the garage. Because of the three badly installed overhead doors (don't get me started!), I can't leave anything sitting on the floors that can't get wet. So I've been adding shelves etc. as I go. And during one of my dump runs I picked up a couple of the plastic milk crates that grocery stores use. There were a few discarded with the incredible array of other unappreciated treasure to be found in the Provo dump, so I brought home a few and stacked them up and have been using them as shelves. La Gringa says I am one of the only people she knows who can come home from a dump run with more junk than I left with. But hey, a good milk crate is a useful to have around.
One of these days I am going to put up some photos of the Providenciales dump. It's hard to describe it without photos. Let's just say it's like a dump you would see in a Mad Max movie, only not nearly that nice... You have to have the smoke and smell of burning tires, and enough flies to cover a small town a foot deep if they all ever landed at one time.
Anyhow, one of the Haitian gentlemen who I think 'works' at the dump walked over to see what I was doing. He might live there, come to think of it. Many do. So, when he saw I was picking up the milk crates, he told me that he would find me some and call me when he had them. I gave him my cell number and really thought that would be the end of it. But nope, he actually came through for me! Twice now the phone has rung and when I answered it I heard enough to realize who was calling. Oh, I can't understand him on the phone but it's enough that I recognize the voice and background noises. I hop in the 90 and head down there and he has a dozen crates saved up for me. I give him a few dollars, and we are happy all round. And if you take nylon cable ties and strap them together plastic milk crates make decent storage.
Cheap, light, strong, they don't rust, they got ventilation, and they keep stuff off the floor when it's flooded. You can configure them to fit a wall or under a bench etc. I think I have about three dozen of the things now. Maybe, $20 worth at the going rate here. I could no way build wooden shelves for that. And there's no labor really involved in these. Five minutes and two bucks worth of tie-wraps and voila.
Hmm.. lemmee see... what else. Oh... I finally did put one of the water-resistant radios in a Land Rover. We bought these from West Marine for $100 each. AM/FM/CD Sony's.
This will be the third radio in each Defender. They seem to last about two years here. These are made for boats, so I figure they have a chance of surviving where the $500 Alpines did not. They don't match the interior very well, but they have conformal coated PC boards, made for a marine environment, and have removable face plates and an input jack for MP3 so the iPods work with them. And if something happens to them,we're only out a hundred bucks. We'll see.
And I think that's just about enough for one blog post.....don't you? This one got way longer than I thought it would be when I started it. Guess we had a little more happening than I thought. Or it might be that I wrote more words in the explanations than usual. Hope you don't mind a few extra words. I'm too lazy to edit if I want to get this posted today.
I was going to just put this photo on here, and say something like "this sure beats dragging kayaks" or maybe "How is your winter going, so far?"
And then I realized.. 'Oh wait, we do have a sunset photo this time'. Setting over some of the neighbors' houses this time of year. Maybe we should drop by and see if they would like a print...
Thats a better way to end it. Oh yeah.
We'll see y'all later.