Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hanging Out on North Caicos...

Once again we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the worst part of hurricane season. If the climate scientists' dire predictions are correct going forward, and years like this become common, we may need to address this situation at some point. It won't be this year, obviously. After going through the 2008 season here with two storms in one week, we are admittedly a bit gun shy. Of course hurricane season brings rain and clouds, and clouds and sun can combine to make for some pretty photography. We have been getting some decent sunrises lately.

We monitor the weather situation a lot closer from July through October than we do the rest of the year. During this season we check several internet weather-oriented websites fairly often. Those are Accuweather, StormPulse, Weather Underground, the NOAA Satellite and Information images and I get emails with the latest updates from the National Weather Service at 02:00, 08:00, 14:00, and 20:00 hours. Seven days a week. Sometimes I check into Bear Paw weather, too.

When we first moved here we just watched the Weather Channel on television. But we've learned that by the time the US mainstream media is paying attention to a storm that threatens the USA, it may well be stomping around in our back yard already. That epitome of a bad house guest, Hurricane Rita, actually formed as a Tropical Storm right here, practically on top of us while we were out kayaking one very long windy day shortly after we moved here in 2005. This is the path that Rita took:

We had rented two kayaks to go from Providenciales to Pine Cay and back that day. It was a very difficult trip. We ended up leaving the boats beached on Pine Cay and 'thumbing' a ride back on something with an outboard. It's not documented because that was before we had this blog thing going. But boy we will never forget it. I swam the last 45 minutes towing a waterlogged plastic kayak that flooded between the hulls. Whew!

And we have seen what effect hurricanes that completely miss us but hit Florida can have on us. If the Port of Miami gets closed by storms, the T.C.I. starts running out of groceries and supplies shortly thereafter. Almost everything that we have here comes into the country in containers on ships. Without them, it doesn't take long for things to start going downhill.

So these days we watch those storms all the way from Africa. This is one area where we definitely do not like surprises.

Of course it's not all storms and rain in the summers here. Not at all. In fact we get the calmest seas in the periods between the ugly weathers. For example, this is one of the full time live-aboard dive boats anchored just off the shore here on a calm summer day, as they do every Friday.

When Hurricane Hermine (or maybe Gaston, I forget) was traipsing by a couple weeks ago we watched our weather station sensor package waving around like an unbalanced metronome on diet pills. Worried about it coming loose, we decided to replace the aluminum pipe that supported it with an 8 ft. length of inch-and-a-half diameter galvanized steel.

It was blowing about 35-40 kts. at the time. I suppose I could have picked a better day to be on the roof, messing around with that thing, wrestling that pipe against the wind, thinking unkind self-recriminations about my own procrastinations. The lightning displays didn't help instill much peace-of-mind , either. Dooley said he couldn't even watch.

That particular storm blew past us and headed up north to make somebody else's life miserable for awhile as the majority of the storms tend to do.

While we keep one eye on the weather forecast we still find time to go out and have some fun when we can. We haven't put our power boat back in the water just yet. Now I have to find the source of some electrical problems with it and that has been on page 2 of the priority list of 'things that need fixing right now' for some weeks. We still manage to patch up the "old" kayak and go for a picnic run from time to time. The inflatable is starting to become a bit unreliable, with leaks developing in seams, and attachment points popping off. Some of the hardware is showing signs of use. We have gotten a lot of fun out of that kayak and I am still patching the leaks but the phrase 'nothing lasts forever' has been coming to mind. Especially here.

A couple weeks back we decided to go back to the cliffs on Water Cay which we figured would be sheltered from the strong easterly winds and high seas that day. We launched at our usual spot at Heaving-Down-Rock in Leeward.

We had noticed that Jay Stubbs' damaged Macgregor 36 catamaran "Two Fingers" is sitting in Leeward just off of the former Chief Minister's home. It had been sitting in a shallow mangrove swamp dismasted since Hurricane Ike. We have read that this 11,000 sq. ft. beach house is for sale, by the way. In case anyone is interested.

We're not sure what is planned for the catamaran. Preacher has told us that someone is planning to modify it to use the hulls as some kind of survey or search platform. It's a shame, really. Those boats are one of the fastest production sailing catamarans in that size to ever be built. We did look at buying it ourselves at one time, but it's not exactly the kind of boat we were looking for. And I really don't need another big repair project at the moment, either. I get plenty of those in our day-to-day living.

Heading out of Leeward-Going-Through we could see that maybe we picked a less than optimal day for a kayaking picnic. The squalls were beginning to form outside the reef before we even cleared Little Water Cay. Looking to the NW:

At least we picked the location well, the water close to the islands on that side was smooth. But the sky didn't look much better back to the West over Grace Bay:

And then we looked behind us back to the East over the Caicos Bank, in the direction from which the weather was actually coming to find us. This is just after we turned the corner around Little Water Cay:

Well at that point we decided that it would not be very smart of us to try to take a patched together rubber inflatable boat the rest of the way to Water Cay. We started looking for the nearest shelter we could find, just in case this storm decided that today was our turn.

We'd often seen this little shelter from the water, on the northern edge of Little Water Cay. We had figured it was part of the Rock Iguana preserve located on that island. It was close by and we beelined straight to the beach and hauled the boat up above the tide line.

(yes, that is a raindrop on the lens)

This is the route of our shortened picnic trip:

If you look in the bottom left hand corner of that image, you might see that Google Earth has not updated the satellite imagery for this area since June 2003. There have been huge changes in Leeward-Going-Thru in the past 7 years, so it really doesn't look like this any more. The canals are different. The amount covered in concrete is different, the old Gilley's Restaurant and Leeward docks are long gone, and oh boy has Leeward channel changed. And none of it for the better.

Dooley the Destructive had gotten us thrown off the Iguana preserve some years ago. Dogs are definitely not welcome amongst the peaceful, herbivorous lizards of Iguana land. But the phrase 'any port in a storm' came to mind, and after severely lecturing Dooley the Disillusioned about behaving himself and with squalls closing in from all sides, we grabbed our cooler full of picnic goodies and went ashore.

We were a bit saddened to see the current state of the shelter and boardwalks through the Iguana refuge. This little country is just about flat broke financially at the moment and there is still a lot of unrepaired hurricane damage. It's difficult for the government to justify spending money on lizards when schools on Grand Turk have not yet been completely repaired. I don't think the lizards care one way or another.

The shelter itself is still strong, although the screening and doors have long been blown away. It looked like a good place to rest for a while. At least until the weather cleared up or a park ranger caught us in possession of an obnoxious dog and kicked us out again.

The rains held off for the most part. We had a peaceful picnic, looking out over the ocean and looking around the mangroves just inland of the shelter.

We could tell that this place was intended to be used for educational purposes, and probably as a rest stop for people walking the boardwalks that traverse the little island.

It really is not in all that bad of a condition. Just needs some time, labor and materials. And money. That's always the determining factor in most things, isn't it.

In this direction (below) we are looking toward Water Cay. That was our intended destination before the weather made us run and hide under the nearest shelter. At one time Little Water Cay and Water Cay were separate islands. Now they are connected by a long sand bar that filled in the shallow channel between them. Local friends tell us this happened during Hurricane Donna, in 1960. That was a major hurricane and it changed this and many other landscapes in these islands significantly.

Dooley the Disappointed managed to behave himself, for the most part. He had to be satisfied with searching under the boardwalks for anything smaller than an iguana that he could annoy. He usually 'behaves', actually. It's just that sometimes he 'behaves' badly. But it is behavior.

We had hoped that the squalls would have blown through by the time we were ready to boat home. That was not the case.

This is the direction in which we have to peddle:

And this is just outside the reef, close by and growing:

So of course we got wet. Some of us shrug it off as part of the price of living like this. And some of us are opportunists who shiver and shake at every lightning bolt and beg to be cuddled and reassured.

I haven't completely decided which camp I am in, just yet.

Obviously we made it back okay, or you wouldn't be reading this right now. We did get into some sunny weather toward the end. We boated closer to "Two Fingers" to see what the hulls were sitting on. In the earlier photo it was high and dry at low tide. In this photo, taken a few hours later, the tide is about half way through flood. It should come up about another 6 inches. The weight will still be on the tires. (And that's spelled 'tyres' in some circles around here.)

Did you notice that I managed to post all those photos of that picnic trip without a single shot of La Gringa sitting in the bow of the kayak? Ha. Bet you thought I couldn't do it.

(Note: after this trip we read in the local newspaper that a million dollars has been set aside for improvements to several government funded sites around the islands. A visitor center on Little Water Cay is on the list. It looks like a pretty ambitious list, too. It also has improvements to let visitors see Bird Rock and some more work at two of the major Loyalist plantations here. That would be Cheshire Hall on Providenciales and Wade Green on North Caicos. Since the Iguana sanctuary is close to Provo it should see some attention. And Cheshire Hall is right here, too, so it might get a facelift, but let's face it, a million bucks gets eaten up pretty quickly by a government organization. But at least this spot should get repaired before the well runs dry again.)

Last weekend Preacher called us with an invitation to a small get-together over on North Caicos. It was our friend JR's birthday and he was having a cookout at his house in the Bottle Creek settlement. Of course we wouldn't miss that. Saturday started with another nice sunrise.

And we met up with Preacher, his brother Joe (Hammer) and a longtime friend of theirs named Johanna. I might have the spelling wrong. Preacher ran us all over to Bellefield Landing on North Caicos in his boat "Cay Lime".

You might notice that, unlike previous trips, this time we were all seated in the boat, including Preacher. We almost always stand up to ride in small boats around here. You can see a lot better, and standing keeps the shocks from the boat bouncing over waves from travelling up through your spine. But Saturday we sat down and held on. This is not because the water was rough, because as you can clearly see...... it wasn't.

No, we were seated because "Cay Lime's" outboard has recently developed a nasty habit of suddenly going from full speed to an abrupt and total stop. And 'full speed' with Preacher driving is eye-watering, hold-on-to-your-hat, frozen-clenched-teeth-grin and panic-stricken-eyes full speed. I am guessing that he normally runs around 45-50 mph. And when the propeller stops turning suddenly, it magically changes from a motor to a brake. Very quickly. And if you are standing up when that happens there is a high likelihood you will be suddenly get relocated forward. Also very quickly.

Now, I am telling you all this as explanation and as a cover for something I experienced a little later in the day. For now, I just ask you to notice the painted surface that Hammer is sitting on. It is a 'non-slip' type of paint, common on the decks of boats and diving boards. It has a very rough surface. On a small boat moving about 45 mph in a slight chop, it's kind of like sitting on 60 grit sandpaper. Maybe I should say, it's what I would imagine it would be like to sit on 60 grit sandpaper. (I almost wrote 'sitting naked', but caught myself in time.)

Okay, that's all I am going to say about that at the moment. Other than to point out that the boat part of the trip was just under 13 miles.

And this brought us into Bellefield Landing. This is another place to tie up a boat on North Caicos other than the new marina at Sandy Point. It's a little closer to where we want to be, and it's generally pretty deserted on weekends. Preacher just uses a "Mediterranean mooring" setup, since there are no docks or other facilities here. There is also nobody here with their hand out for 'dockage fees' if you want to leave your boat for a few hours. He just drops an anchor off the stern and ties the bow line ashore. We can then pull the slack out of the anchor line by pulling the bow up close enough to the rocks to hop ashore. When you let go of the bow line, the boat goes back to it's moored position. And hopefully stays there. It works well in protected waters.

Ashore at Bellefield, we were surprised to see that a large boneyard for construction equipment has been established here. Most of this pile came from the Caicos Marina and Boatyard, near our home. We had noticed it was steadily disappearing but didn't know why. Now we see that someone is assembling it in a place where people with cutting torches and barges can get to it. Another tribute to the environment here, several million dollars worth of corroded high end equipment. There are several dozen expensive construction machines in various stages of falling apart. Soon to be scrap iron. I could probably put together a bulldozer or front end loader just from parts here.

Now, from here we got a ride to Bottle Creek in JR's pickup truck. With six people and the dog we had a truck full and La Gringa, Dooley the Dehydrated and I sat in the bed of the truck. Which I usually do, anyhow. Because I like it.

Now I want to point out that after 13 miles of sitting on the equivalent of 60 grit sandpaper on Preacher's boat, I was now sitting on a steel pickup truck bed on bumpy roads for another 12 miles. This is the trip from Bellefield Landing to Bottle Creek:

Now, JR's pickup truck bed is not the equivalent of sitting on 60 grit sandpaper. Nope. It's more like sitting on a much finer grit than that. Maybe a 150 or 220 emory cloth. But it has an orbital motion to it. The boat motion is more like receiving a paddling.

I bet you've noticed my apparent preoccupation with the surfaces I was sitting on for a couple hours before we got to Froggy's house. (Froggy is JR's other nickname, by the way. It's not uncommon here. His radio handle is "Blue Demon", while we are on the subject. I just realized I have no idea what his original given name is.)

Okay here's the reason for all the 60 and 220 grit talk. I was wearing, for the very first time, a brand new pair of nice shorts I bought in the USA on our last trip north. I had been saving them for a special occasion. Froggy's birthday seemed like just the one. And I only bought them a couple weeks back, and they fit me just fine. A little on the loose side, in fact. Just the way I like them. Its a warm climate. We are active people. We get wet a lot. Loose clothing works for us.

Now, having said all that.... when we got to Froggy's I turned one of those ubiquitous five gallon white plastic drywall compound buckets (you know the ones) upside down and plunked myself down on it to get ready to enjoy the day and the excellent company....... and I heard that ominous, frightening, unmistakable sound of tearing cloth.

It wasn't just the audio, either. I felt the cloth tear. And I don't know quite how to delicately and inoffensively say this, but basically there is typically nothing between me and the cloth from which my shorts are cut . This has more to do with climate and the ability for clothing to dry quickly than it does some religious, political or other statement. It's not 'going commando' so much as really being about personal comfort and common sense. And in five years here, it has not been an issue. Until today. Froggy's birthday. Meeting a lot of people for the first time. A long way from home. You get the picture.

So I not only heard the cloth rip, but I actually shared the anguish of entire micro-neighborhoods of threads as they said their final goodbyes to each other forever..... once-adjacent plaid neighbors were now barely in shouting distance. This was no small rip.

Yep. Those dressy new thin fabric shorts of mine ripped from waistband to leg seam. All the way. Right down the middle of my left cheek. Gringo exposed, film at eleven. Oh my.

Fortunately, I suppose, this happened early in the party and there were only about a dozen people at the cookout so far. And I only knew four of them. Exposed in front of strangers. Uproarishly laughing strangers at that.What a panicky feeling of helpless mortification this was. With no way to hide the rift in these suddenly traitorous shorts, my first inclination was to remove myself to someplace out of sight and think my way through this. Miles out of sight. Maybe go wait back at the boat.... Cowering came to mind. But by this time I had everybody's attention and it just didn't seem right to 'turn tail' and run. And while I know they would appreciate the sentiment, 'turning the other cheek' didn't much 'seam' like the way to go either. My suddenly threadbare imagination was quickly becoming unravelled. I was just going to have to accept my sudden exposure as the butt of a great joke.

I managed to borrow a towel from my newest friend Henrietta, ('Henny') , who is actually Mrs. Froggy. I would say that I broke out in a cold sweat, but there was nothing cold about it.

The Stubbs brothers, being unreasonably insensitive to my plight, thought it was a real hoot, of course.

Oh, there's the bucket that started it all, too. I see that Preacher had relegated it to being a simple table after it proved itself totally untrustworthy for seating. I suppose that's not really true that the bucket started it. I'm personally convinced that the problem started with the Awl-Grip paint on Cay Lime's decks. Followed by Froggy's pickup truck bed. Those shorts were meant to spend a life in contact with soft upholstery and gentle lifestyles. That's not us. But the fabric was thin to begin with... and I sadly see that I grossly overestimated its capacity for mild abuse.

Henny was kind enough to bring out her sewing machine and attempt to repair the damage.

But the math is simple. Putting another seam there just tightened the already thin and freshly sanded and violated cloth even further. There was no hope. My brand new shorts became another casualty of our new environment. And they didn't even have any iron or aluminum in them to corrode. Sigh.

Fortunately for me, Henrietta maintains a small gift shop at her home and she just happened to have a very few pairs of mens' plaid shorts in stock. And in my size!! What are the chances of all this happening, ripping one's shorts a few feet from the nearest clothing store on a small, lightly populated island? I am sure glad I didn't need to go to Plan B in this case. Because I sure didn't have one.

Okay I am going to leave that unpleasant subject behind me, as it were, and get back to the party. Preacher, Froggy and Branford were keeping an eye on the cookout. One of those pots had a delicious Hawksbill turtle soup in it and we had grilled chicken and ribs, potato salad, macaroni and cheese.... and plenty of cold drinks. Froggy was in charge of the cooking. What a great meal.

We had found out that Froggy liked Bambarra Reserve rum, so we brought him a bottle. And so did several other people. No shortage of sugar cane products on this Saturday in Bottle Creek.

I didn't get everybody's name but the young man in the orange hat is named Cardinal. We took a walk up through Bottle Creek to visit with Cynthia, another friend who we first met on Pine Cay some years back and aunt to Cardinal.

I wish I had more photos to show you but the fact is that when it comes to taking pictures of people, I am terrible. I usually hand the camera to La Gringa if she hasn't brought her own. She does well with people. I manage to barely do okay with rocks and inanimate objects. The only thing with any personality that I feel comfortable photographing is the ocean.

We couldn't stay at Froggy's cookout as long as we would have liked. There was well more than a dozen people there by early afternoon, with more expected to show up after work and into the evening. The music was loud and so far the rum supply was holding up well. But the logistics of us getting home meant we either needed to leave by mid afternoon or arrange lodging for the night. We needed to get home. We were allowing some extra time in case Preacher's outboard motor gave us more problems so by 15:00 we were basically out of there. I suspect things continued just fine without us and I would be willing to bet my embarassing misadventure with the shorts was told and re-told a time or two after I was gone. It sure broke the ice, at least.

I have to stop buying cheap clothing at Target. I need to stick with canvas shorts, I think. Rather than sticking out of plaid cotton ones.

Back on Cay Lime, Preacher broke out a bag of 'sugar apples' for us to try. He had gotten them from a tree in Froggy and Henny's yard. We had never tasted, nor even heard of them before Saturday.

This is what they look like:

And you peel the sections apart to eat them. Each seed section is surrounded by some of the sweetest tasting pulp imaginable. Like with a lot of the 'bush food' we have experienced here, you end up spitting out a lot of seeds. But oh, it's worth it.

Preacher told us they were called 'sugar apples', but in the past we have found that sometimes the local names for things can be different from what something might be called elsewhere. But not in this case. These are, indeed, sugar apples.

My newest new shorts made it back to Provo without any further 'wardrobe malfunctions'. It was an uneventful trip. I did notice that the sand dredged up by the people who were developing Dellis Cay is now supporting some plant life. This sand was sea bottom just three years ago. And with no source of fresh water, or any kind of topsoil whatsoever, the Casuarinas trees have taken root and some of them are already 8-10 ft. tall. Amazing trees, actually. I would like to use the wood for some more projects, but I have found it to be unstable as it dries. It warps and twists badly.

I think that pretty much sums up most of our mentionable TCI-related adventures of the past few weeks. We did see an 'old friend' on the way home from one excursion. This is the Suzuki I had sold to a group of Filipino workers last year. I was about ready to junk it and thought they would be buying it for parts. I was wrong. They had it on the road and running within days and we see them frequently driving around the island. They always wave at us when they see us. We had noticed a new horn on it, (it went 'honkity honk' instead of 'beepity beep'). Later changes include a cardboard rear window, and a bench seat bolted (I hope) into the back. I can tell by looking that the exhaust pipe is new, too.

When these guys bought the suzuki from us, the headlights didn't work at all. The next time we spotted them in it, they had just installed a couple of offroad driving lights on the front bumper, wired to a toggle switch, and were happily driving around the island using those for illumination. What a country.

We are really glad to see them getting so much use from this vehicle. It went to a good home. And these guys really appreciate it.

Well, the rear end of that Samurai was supposed to be the end of this post. But then I thought I would stick in another update on the never ending DIY stuff that jumps up in my face and licks me on a daily basis. But first this...

Two days after our last trip to North Caicos for Froggy's cookout we noticed that one of the Defenders had gotten noticeably louder. I was pretty sure it was exhaust related, so I walked around to the rear of the truck and squatted down to take a look at the muffler and pipe. I was totally astonished to once again hear that dreaded cloth ripping sound! Yep, another pair of shorts bit the dust! Two in one week! And these are some of my canvas, tried and true, working shorts. You can easily see that they are not overly snug.

Why me, Lord?

At least this time it happened at home. It also happened to the other side, as this tear was on the right. I don't know what's happening here, but it's a disturbing trend. Maybe I really do need to stop shopping at Target. I've lost an appreciable percentage of my entire wardrobe in the past few days.

Okay, having brought up the DIY subject and realizing this has turned into a long post already, I will just touch lightly on some of the recent projects. I told you about the exhaust pipe rotting through again. So this is another welding job:

I managed to get it partially welded yesterday, but then it started raining. There is just something about arc welding in the rain that makes me nervous. Probably unfounded. I will finish this job this afternoon. Hopefully. If it doesn't rain.

La Gringa's bicycle was managing okay on the temporary fix I mentioned in the last post. But other parts of the drive train were starting to go. So while up in Colorado two weeks ago we picked up two new derailleurs and a new chain with at least some stainless steel in it.

Just my luck the bike shop in Ft. Collins did not have direct replacements for the derailleurs I was changing out, so I had to make some other changes to the cable and shifter setup in order to fit them on her bike. But she now a new front derailleur:

And a new rear derailleur too:

We've got a bunch of other stuff going on, especially since I fired the gardeners and took over those chores myself. Now trimming, weeding and maintaining irrigations systems is part of my day. Life goes on. Dodging hurricanes, ripping shorts.. noticing a banner year for lizards for some reason...

As well as other close neighbors that share this rocky little hilltop with us.

And now I can get back to work on that Land Rover. Hurricane Igor is way north of us, tropical storm Lisa isn't here yet, Tropical storm Matthew is to our south and it isn't raining at the moment.

And that will have to be good enough.


Anonymous said...

So what's the problem with CayLime? Bad fuel?
I remember the issues you were having with your engine some time ago. Is your boat running ok now?

Anonymous said...

You mean the Contender, "Off Cay"? Right now it's electrical problems. Battery is getting shorted by something on the boat. And the deck lets rainwater through to the bilge like a sieve. So the bilge pump/battery setup has to be working before we can put it back in the water full time. I went to start checking for shorts and continuity, and my long trustworthy DVOM quit on me. I finally found one of those locally, bought it yesterday in fact. meanwhile, one of the mufflers fell off the Land Rover...
and things like dat.

Unknown said...

Nice photos! Especially of North. Found out this week that a good friend now is the manager at North Caicos Ferry. Guy named Roger. He and his bride are great people. Keeping me fingers crossed for no more storms east of you...

Bill said...

Funny about your shorts, hope you manage to stay clothed down there!

Really like the sunset picture at the end of this post, good luck with the storms.

Anonymous said...

Hi there - fabulous photos, as always, love the water and sky shots...beautiful. We will be visiting for a week at the end of November, staying on Pine Cay for the first time (but have been going to TCI since 1991)! So thrilled. 54 sleeps.

Unknown said...

Thank you LaGringa for not posting the moon shots on the blog.