We've made it through what we hope is the worst of the winter. For the third time this season we just saw the nighttime temperatures here plummet down to 70 deg. F. And it wasn't as though it just dipped into that deep freeze for a moment and then headed back up like a diver grabbing a conch... oh no! It stayed at 70 for several hours. We looked at each other, huddled here miserable and complaining about the bitter cold and actually considered whether one of us should get up and shut a window or something. Finally La Gringa gave in and put a pair of socks on. We've even cut ourselves back to three ice cubes per drink as a way of preserving our core temperatures. Then just as we were wondering whether we needed to seriously start thinking about uprooting our lives once again and moving further south to Panama..the sun came up...
And things got back to abnormal.
We haven't been doing much of note lately. Again. Getting bored with our general theme of not rocking the boat, we took our little rubber boat out a few times in the past couple of weeks and rocked it. We got a few decent photos of clear water etc. and thought we would post them here. It's become somewhat of a habit.
We're still not using the Contender as much as we did when we kept it in the water. There's nothing mechanically wrong with it at the moment to prevent us from using it. I think I've finally fixed everything on it that needed fixing. Totally functional now. I fixed the salt water wash down, the broken latches and hinges, the trim tabs, the bait well, and the outboard. Installed two fuel filters. The lights still don't all work, but we don't go out at night in it around here. So there's no reason not to use it other than time and expense. It's ready to go. We just need enough of an excuse to hook it up and head out. It's a lot of boat for just the 2.1 of us. I think I will stick another sunrise photo in here while I am rambling on about boats. If I don't use this it will become obsolete just a couple sunrises from now. And then I will never use it.
There. Kinda breaks the text up up a bit, don't you think? (Otherwise this would start looking like a book instead of a bunch of photos with captions. And it's meant to be a bunch of photos with captions.)
So, as I was trying to explain, rather than go through the whole procedure of gassing up the motor boat and launching and retrieving it just to get out on the water, we find that it's a lot easier, faster, and cheaper to just throw the kayak in the back of one of the Land Rovers and take that for a ride. It takes us a half hour to forty five minutes to get the Contender in the water from the house. It takes about 15 minutes for the kayak. It's better on the environment, of course, since it doesn't burn any fuel (other than pizza and bagels), and it's a lot easier on the pocketbook. Gasoline here is running about $4.30 USD per US gallon. And the kayak really lends itself to just making a quick trip for a couple hours of exercise, without any planning. Admittedly there have been a couple times lately when some pre-planning would have been a good idea. Shooting from the hip and winging it is fine as long as you don't wing yourself in the process. We haven't tried the Hobie for fishing yet and I doubt we will. They make kayaks for fishing. They are hard plastic. NOT inflatables.
The thought of two fishing poles, a cooler, hooks, a gaff, knives, and Dooley all in an inflatable boat.... whoa. It sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. The fish all have teeth here, too. And some of them can get real resentful at being hooked and hauled on board. I can just see La Gringa, Dooley, me and a 40 lb. Wahoo all in that little boat. We'd be covered in blood and duct tape band-aids by the time we swam ashore towing a shredded plastic bag of Hobie. Probably lose the fish, too. And I am not saying the fish would necessarily be the one to bite the hole in the boat. Dooley the Deranged is perfectly capable of puncturing a mouthful of boat in the process of lunging for a bite of barracuda.
Here's one more sunrise photo. Then I will quit with those. I was leafing through the ones we have taken in the last few days, and wanted to post this one before it too becomes obsolete. We have been getting a lot of decent sunrises lately, but not that many good sunsets. This time of year the clouds often seem to build up during the day and by dusk they are too thick for a good sunset.
This little camera I now have allows me to take time lapse video series. I have been experimenting with it, and think I have it down. I just need a good scenic solar series and will post it when I get something worth sharing.
I wish we had some good fishing photos to post, too, but we've gotten totally skunked the last several times we have been out fishing. Not sure why, still using the same techniques, tackle, and fishing in areas where we usually hook up with something toothy and delicious. Oh well,enough of that whining. I know you guys up there shovelling snow are just dripping with concern that we haven't caught any fish lately. Yeah, right.
About this time last week we decided to take a cruise up through the Discovery Bay canals again. We had not been there in a while and we are on the lookout for possible places we could keep a small sailboat tied up. And the canals are protected from the winter wind, when we feel like kayaking without getting splashed by chop. We can almost predict one aspect of this trip.... the dogs. When we get to the first major bend in the canal there is a house with a dog who really, really wants to catch the kayak and, we think, have a word with the mouthy little Jack Russell on board. This guy hops in the water and seriously tries to catch us. He doesn't bark much. Mutters and growls. Makes vague threats. Glares. But he's no Bark Spitz and he doesn't have a chance of catching the kayak.
We try to be quiet and coast through this guy's territory, but he's pretty vigilant and once he sounds the alarm we have NO chance of sneaking by the next two pooches. They are different though. These two seem like happy dogs, friendly. I get the impression that they would like to climb on board for the ride. They end up in the water, too, but only make a half hearted attempt to actually catch us. They remind me more of a comedy routine.
"I thought YOU were going to catch the boat!" "No no, it was YOU who said 'Lets catch the boat'.." "Hey...!! too late. Maybe next time..."
Dooley the Defiant, of course, stands there and tells them all repeatedly what he would do to them if he wasn't being restrained by the authorities....
We didn't have much luck finding any place obvious where we might find room to rent for a boat. There are several slips being cut into the canal sides right now. People do that around here, quite often. In fact, when they start one of these projects it looks a lot like this:
This one started just this week. They will dig out a nice place for a boat, and then when it's ready they will dig out the last bit and open it up to the canal. We should be able to keep a little photo journal of how this one is progressing. Hey, maybe they will rent us a slip.
This was really our only canal exploring trip lately and we didn't take many photos of it. Same old stuff we've posted here several times before. And it was a gray, non-photogenic day. We saw a few sights that haven't changed much since the last time we took photos of them. We keep waiting to see some progress on this trimaran, for example. It's been here at least a year and a half now. Still has the same holes in it:
I am still way down on the learning curve about sailboat design, but to me that deep keel seems almost counterproductive on a trimaran. Reminds me more of a monohull with training wheels. Aren't trimarans supposed to be shallow draft and fast, with the amas (the outboard hulls) providing the stabilization instead of a deep keel? As I admit, I am still learning.
And this boat has been here for at least five years that we know of.
The hull actually looks to be in pretty good shape and I don't see obvious signs of massive damage. But this is a hard sailing area for boats with full keels. There might be holes on the side facing the dirt. That would make sense, help it drain rainwater etc. It would also be the side that got damaged if a storm was the reason this boat ended up here. And 'ended up' seems to be the operative phrase.
Getting back out of the canals we run the same canine gauntlet we ran on the way in. The dogs bark, jump in the water and swim like they think they have a chance of catching us. They don't. Dooley the Delinquent eggs it all on, of course. I swear he likes insulting the other dogs into a mindless frenzy. Eventually they just can't stand his mouth anymore and they jump into the canal and try to catch him. The thing is, Dooley is a really good swimmer and could probably outswim any of these guys. He has the ability. I am not sure he has the tactical sense to pull it off, though. He'd have to swim in a straight line. And keep his mouth shut. But then if he could keep his mouth shut we wouldn't be trying to outrun every dog in the neighborhood in the first place.
Leaving the drenched doggies behind we are tempted to take an apparent high tide shortcut across Flamingo Lake. Looks like a nice little channel running out through there, doesn't it?
Well, I think we have finally learned. Whatever it is that makes you think you can make it across these kinds of flats without getting stuck....well....that's just one of them there " troptical delusions."
I jokingly asked La Gringa if she wanted to give these flats a try in the kayak, see if we could pedal hard and maybe make it across before the falling tide caught us and left us stranded for hours flailing around hopelessly in mucky soft sand with buried critters exploring our toes...
Uh.. rather than repeat what she said, verbatim, I'll just relay that the shortest version of her fairly-short-to-begin-with answer was
And I'm going to change the subject now.
We did another trip out into Leeward on a nicer weather day to test some new main sheet blocks I lashed onto the kayak. We've found the sail to be almost unmanageable at any wind speeds much over about 8-10 knots. And a knot is equal to a nautical mile per hour, or in other words a knot is 115% of a mph. So 10 knots= 11.5 mph. (See how well we're learning all those sailing terms?)
The wind was blowing too hard for us to sail the kayak on that day. It has what is referred to as a 'weather helm'. This means that when a gust of wind hits the boat it tries really hard to turn and point into the wind. This has to do with how the two sets of Mirage Drive flippers are positioned, and we are still learning how to best use those. But above ten knots of wind we can pretty much forget using the sail on this little boat.
Dooley the Desperate insisted that he really needed to make a pit stop at the nearest tree. This is the kind of request one should heed on a small boat. Especially when one is the nearest thing to the shape of a fire hydrant in sight and the dog is starting to look at you like you could pass for tree bark. So we pulled over to the lee of some mangroves on the western point of Donna Cay to let the dog out. I am posting this photo because some people have been asking us how the inflatable does around sharp rocks, shells, and barnacles. This isn't the greatest picture of what's under the water, but it's all a jumble of broken up conch shells and the mangroves have small barnacles all over them.
This boat is tough. Hobie uses a fairly robust material for their inflatables. This is not the same stuff as the inexpensive vinyl boats you can get at discount stores. We bounce this baby off barnacle encrusted stuff all the time. Every time we take it out, just about.
In fact, the bottom here was so covered with broken conch shells that Dooley the Drained was hesitant to walk through it to get back to the boat. 'Hesitant' is being kind to the little crybaby. He stood there whining like one of should walk through this stuff barefoot to retrieve him..
We were NOT about to wade through this stuff barefooted, so drawing on our limited grasp of canine psychology we told the dog "adios, we are leaving now, going over to CAT cay.." and we pedalled out a few feet from shore. That did it. He took a leap into deeper water and quickly caught up with us.
(ugly ocean isn't it? Perhaps you can see why we never tire of playing in it.)
And as usual, one of us hauls him aboard.
On the way back to Heaving Down Rock we were pedalling into several knots of tidal current and into a ten knot wind at the same time. I took a little video to illustrate just how efficient these Mirage Drives are. With the two of us leisurely pushing the pedals, with no strain whatsoever, the boat easily handles going into the wind and current:
(click the little "play" arrow for the video)
We even had some extra wind drag on the boat because I did a lousy job of furling the sail. But you can see by clicking on that video link that we were easily making about four knots. We could have kicked it up a bit, even. That's not full speed. And the beauty of these drives is that you can do it for hour after hour while your hands are free to do things like take photos, open beer cans, and fish dogs out of the water. After a year of beating this little boat, we are hard-core Hobie fans and would buy another one of their products in a heartbeat.
Running out of daylight, again:
We made it back to Leeward before dark, though. Just barely.
We don't really mind boating in the dark, and have done it on numerous occasions over the years here. We have taken several power boats to Pine Cay and back in the dark. And in storms a couple of times. Just a couple weeks ago we came back from Pine Cay in the dark in this kayak, too. But this little boat has no lights on it and several of the larger boats that use Leeward after dark put up a very substantial wake. We know they can't see us, and that they don't expect two idiots to be out in the channel in a kayak at night. And we are not fast enough to get out of their way.
All in all, there really isn't much boat traffic in the Turks and Caicos Islands after sunset. Very few of the channels are marked, and most people rely upon being able to see the bottom to get from point to point without hitting rocks, reefs, or coral heads. Or running aground on the flats. The clear water makes it easy to 'read' the bottom but we need the sunlight to do it. It even becomes difficult on cloudy days or when the low morning or late afternoon sun is blinding you.
One group that does regularly go out at night here is the Marine Police. They run at least one or two boats on patrol every night. They are constantly on the lookout for illegal Haitian immigrants coming in by sloop, and for Dominican Republic and Haitian poachers who come into the TCI's waters to fish. From where we live we get a very good view of their coming and going from their boatyard base.
Last Wednesday we noticed two of the Marine Patrol's boats escorting a larger boat in toward the docks. This is a boat we had not seen in these waters before. We noticed that they were coming in at a particularly low tide and sure enough they ran the boat aground outside the entrance to the marina. La Gringa's new camera was just able to catch a few images before the light completely faded. She had the camera on a tripod on the patio.
In this photo the fishing boat was aground and the Police were using their inflatable patrol boat to transfer people from the larger boat over to their smaller patrol boat.
In this one you might just barely be able to see the Police boat has a number of people on the deck, has a line to the stern of the fishing boat and is attempting to help pull it backwards off the sand. There is sand stirred up in the water and you can just make out the prop wash from the bigger boat, in reverse, trying to back out to deeper water while the Police inflatable boat "Hurricane" stands by.
They didn't get the boat floated that night and left it on the anchor there until high tide the next morning. We watched as they went out and towed the boat into the marina and tied it up at the dock. When we picked up the next edition of one of the local newspapers, we found out what had happened.
The larger boat was full of poachers from the Dominican Republic. The Marine Patrol police seized that boat, a number of smaller boats, and arrested 45 fishermen.
If you want to read more about it, the story is here: Illegal Poachers.
What the newspaper doesn't go into are the penalties for poaching here. The Marine Police guys are pretty reasonable people. We have talked to them a lot over the years. We have kept two of our boats in slips right next to them. They have been known to cut people some slack for not having their registration up to date, or not having the required number of life jackets on board. They might let you off with a warning if you have a few more fish that would seem legal or reasonable. Nice guys. Like other law enforcement here they tend to enforce the spirit of the law more than the letter. But if you get caught poaching on a scale like this, it's almost guaranteed they will hit you with the max penalty. They will almost certanily confiscate, and keep this boat, and the support boats. The owners will not get them back. And the owner will also get hit with at least a $ 50,000. fine in addition to losing an expensive boat. And the Captain and officers of the boat will also face charges. I'll let you know what happens later, but this is our prediction based upon what we have seen happen in similar situations before.
The last boat like this that was caught and confiscated about a year ago is still sitting on blocks at the boatyard. It belongs to the TCI now. Not that anyone seems likely to do anything with it.
Maybe we should have contacted the newspaper and offered them La Gringa's photos. They are better than the ones they published.
Okay, one more kayak story and then I will be about finished with this post. As anyone who reads this stuff probably knows we use Google Earth satellite images quite a bit to explore these islands and other places online. It's a real valuable tool to us, as so much of the ocean here is totally unsurveyed and uncharted. From time to time I will spot something on an image from space, and start wondering what it is. The "X-Files Island" posts a year or so back started out that way.
Well, this time I was looking at the small cays west of here and saw this long structure out in what the charts label as "Bermudian Harbour" off of the Five Cays section of Providenciales. I labelled it with a "?" on this image:
I don't know why they call this Bermudian Harbour, but suspect it's because anything that draws more water than a Bermuda sloop might have some problems in the shallows here. Or maybe it means you can walk across parts of it wearing Bermuda shorts....
Anyhow, this thing intrigued me and we decided it was enough of an excuse to go get a couple hours exercise kicking the rubber boat. A close up of the feature that we are trying to figure out:
In appearance it's consistent with deeper water, or a trench, but as you can see it's not connected to any other channel or trench that would make any sense. And using Google Earth's ruler function, this thing measures out to be almost 400 ft. long. We thought it would be easy to find, just to see for ourselves what it is. Other than an excuse for a boat trip, of course.
It took us almost an hour to kayak over and by the time we got up close to where we expected to see this thing it was near low tide. The water was crystal clear, and this is looking toward where this thing should be:
I don't see it. Neither did any of the crew.
We moved around and back and forth looking for it, and although we saw scattered dark rocks and objects like in the photo below, we couldn't find anything as dense as what shows up in the image. That land on the left is Cooper Jack Point:
We spent about another hour pedalling around looking for this. We never did get as close to shore as we wanted, it was just too shallow and as some of you know, certain members of the crew are real gun-shy where shallow water is concerned. And while the request was for all hands to keep their eyes peeled.... I realized later that those of the crew who consider themselves exempt because they don't have 'hands' also have another definition of 'peeled'..
So, bottom line, we finally gave up and decided to come back on another day with higher tide and our handheld GPS and solve this one, if we can. I also noted that the Google Earth images for this little country are six years old in some cases and what might have been there in the images from 2003 and 2004 might well be covered over or filled in or gone by 2010.
At this point we had been pedalling for a couple hours and decided to put the sail up to get back to the ramp. We've found out through experimentation that putting the mast up in a loaded kayak while free floating broadside in the wind and waves is not conducive to peace and harmony. It can get way too exciting in a hurry. We need to either pull into the lee of an island, or rock, or mangroves - then get the mast and sail all just right and then go out into the wind with it.
Well, on this day we were no where near a convenient spot out of the wind to put the mast up. We thought about pedalling over to that little island labelled Middle Cay on the chart, but it was not in the direction we wanted to go. Then we spotted, off in the distance, what we knew was an old rusty shipwreck sticking up out of the water.
This is what it looks like on Google Earth's image from some years ago.
And this is what it looked like from about a mile away with Middle Cay in the background:
I was using the max zoom on this new little pocket digital Pentax W80 I got to replace the second failed Olympus Stylus. The zoom works great on the Pentax and never worked on either Olympus. But the Olympus cameras took much clearer photos when they DID work. Sheesh. (Does ANYBODY make a water proof pocket digital that doesn't leak and has a zoom that works and takes clear photos all at the same time?)
Anyhow we figured we could just throw a line on part of the wreck and while we wouldn't really be sheltered from the wind at least it would align us with it. And that's good enough to stabilize the boat to the point where we can crawl around it enough to get the mast up, the three shrouds attached, the sail unfurled and the mainsheet run from the tack back through the outhaul and back up through the block....
Man them sailing terms are coming fast and furious now, ain't they?
Dooley the Delinquent was keeping an eye on the birds roosting on the old landing craft wreck as we pulled up in a little bit of chop coming from the port side..
And back on the subject of sailing terms...after 40 years in an ocean-related career I have finally come to the conclusion that the terms 'port' and 'starboard' are actually archaic and confusing. They serve absolutely no purpose that I can see. Despite my well-deserved reputation as a retro-grouch, I think the terms 'left' and 'right' make a lot more sense to most people and result in fewer miscommunications and from now on I am going to try to use the terms that work best. Whether they sound nautical or knot...
Okay, back to the adventure-du-jour... we pulled up into the lee of the wreckage and La Gringa expertly lassooed a piece of it (is lasso a Tex-Mex nautical term?) and we got the sail up without enriching Dooley's vocabulary or falling overboard. This let us relax on the pedals and make a leisurely sail back to the South Side Marina.
You might notice Dooley is not in that photo, as he usually is. That's because with me not pedalling he is able to fit into what would normally be a harzardous space for him.
Oh, that is Cooper Jack Rock in the distance. I also labelled that on the first Google Earth image up above here in the post. We plan to figure out a way to climb up on that one of these days when we have more time and remember to bring proper shoes or booties. La Gringa thinks it looks like a Guinea Pig from this angle:
I think it looks more like a fat bullfrog looking off in the direction of Haiti. Not sure what Dooley thinks it looks like. Probably a cat with it's ears laid back. That's how the cats he sees usually pose.
I think he might have figured out a way to nap while appearing to be alert while he's supposed to be on watch:
Actually the wind was strong enough heading into the marina to hold his ears up facing into it. Hard to see that in still photos.
Well, that pretty much sums up our little water travels over the past week. We've only had those three days when the weather was calm enough to get out on the small boat, and not enough reason to take the larger boat out when the weather is rougher.
Back at the house I continue to slowly work my way through a "to-do" list that is approaching the size of the Old Testament. Some of it is almost that old, as well. For example, I am finally starting to take a look at what we can do about the 22 light fixtures that Hurricanes Hanna and Ike ruined for us.
This is sorta what their original configuration looked like, in that this one at least still has all the pieces to it:
(see that weather on the horizon, by the way? That's what a lot of our days have looked like here during late February and early March.)
And what most of the light fixtures now look like is this:
I took that one apart to see what I would need to do to replace it, and found out that the bases for these post lights are cast aluminum. While that would definitely not be my first, second, or even third choice, knowing what we now know about aluminum here, they are at least still solid and I think I can reuse the bases if I can find a good weatherproof post light.
I'm not used to the light fixture serving as the electrical box, but hey, I'm no electrican, either. It's gotta be wired to a 'wet external' rated electrical code, right?
I have been looking at some plastic dock lights that would fit on these posts, and they seem to be robust and wind and waterproof. And on the lower end of the cost scale. Unfortunately, as La Gringa points out, they look exactly like what they are....which is, uh..well.....cheap plastic:
So I suspect I will keep looking until we find a post light that looks okay, will survive hurricane winds and salt and driving rain and dust, that we can afford in quantities. Any suggestions welcomed on this one. Maybe try to paint the plastic? If I could find a design in brass or bronze it might work. I did find powder coated aluminum ones. But this place eats powder coated aluminum like it was sugar coated M&M's.
Or maybe I should say that the environment at our house eats aluminum like Dooley the Demented eats new squeeky toys recently brought to him by nice people named Todd from Houston..
"If you want the duck back alive, you send a St. Bernard. If you only need the duck back unmarked, you send a retriever. But if what you need is a hit on the duck, ....no questions asked...."
Okay, that's enough for this one. And we will end it, as usual, with one of La Gringa's sunset photos:
And in a few weeks the sun will not only be warming this place up a bit, but will also be setting further off to the south, away from that never-ending construction site. We can hardly wait for summer.