Monday, November 29, 2010

"Treasure Seeker"

I hope you can tolerate a brief departure from our usual photos of the TCI. This time of year after hurricane season the cruiser and passing-through boat traffic down here picks up enormously. And for some reason we seem to keep getting involved in it. I thought I would stick a little post in here to give you a better idea of the type of things we get mixed up in. You know, when not out kayaking and taking photos of La Gringa's braids and Dooley the Demented swimming in circles.

Some of you might remember this photo from the previous blog post, back when I didn't know anything at all about this mysterious silhouette being towed into the Caicos Marina and Boatyard. I had an idea that the name of the boat was the "Treasure" something or other but that's pretty much all we knew at that time. I just posted the photo under the generally vague category of 'strange ships that pass by our home and that we don't know diddly about'. Or something like that. We do get a few of those as you well know.

Now of course we know a whole lot more about it. (Of course you knew that, didn't you? Because otherwise I wouldn't be bringing it up again.)

Let me tell you this story and what has developed so far. Because there is likely more to come.

It all started for us one day when we heard the characteristically noisy transmission from a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter coming in through our marine VHF radio at the house. The USCG air crew was calling a boat named (we know now) the "Treasure Seeker". Our first thought was that they were interested in some boat engaged in some activity or other that would be the kind of activity this kind of boat might engage in that would interest the Coast Guard. Does that make sense? Good, because I don't want to re-write it.

We then heard a second call from the helicopter asking the "Treasure Seeker" for its present location. Then we realized that the USCG was actively looking for the boat and not looking at the boat. I mean, if they were hovering overhead they wouldn't need to ask the boat where it was located.

(The Treasure Seeker tied up alongside at the Caicos Marina and Boatyard:)

We couldn't hear the responses from the boat, but that's not unusual. Our VHF antenna is between 70 and 75 ft. above sea level and we commonly get 40-50 mile range to other radios with high antennas. Such as helicopters in flight. The boat's antenna would have been below the horizon to us.

The next time we heard the name "Treasure Seeker" was again on the radio a day or so later. This time the boat was under tow near Providenciales. Of course we remembered the name, and were happy to hear it was close by and that no helicopters were involved. A few hours later, that boat being towed by the tug "L'il Lew" came by and I snapped the photo. And later, posted it on this blog.

La Gringa was out that afternoon taking sunset pictures and she liked the way the setting sun was shining off the glazing of the boats in the marina. We still didn't know the story of this boat, but figured they had engine trouble or something like that. Here's another one of La Gringa's telephoto pix of the scene just as the sun was setting:

The next day the story started getting more interesting. Someone who reads this blog had seen photos of this boat on yet another blog and he wrote us a comment on our previous post with a link to that blog with the photos and some of the story. Now we knew the boat was headed all the way down to the US Virgin Islands, and that it is going to become a pirate-themed excursion boat. We still didn't know much about the USCG helicopters involvement or why the boat was under tow. But the plot was definitely thickening.

La Gringa posted a comment on John Samford's blog, with a link to this blog and the photo of the now identified Treasure Seeker. We kinda figured that would be the end of that. We did discuss driving over to the Boatyard to take a look. And probably wouldn't have, except....

We then received an email from Betsy in Florida. She knew all about this boat because her husband Ray is the Captain and owner. Betsy told us in her email that John Samford had forwarded the link that he had been sent by La Gringa after we had received the comment from "D" with the link to John Samford's blog that talked about the Treasure Seeker. (Whew. Can I do 'run-on sentence' or what?)

Betsy told us that Ray had set the EPIRB off on the boat and the Coast Guard had called her. She gave them the coordinates she had from Ray's EPIRB beacon. An "EPIRB" (as explanation for those who don't have to worry about getting lost at sea) is an "Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon" in general, and a "SPOT" personal beacon in this particular case. Betsy also gave us Ray's phone number and told us he had been having an interesting trip so far. Being rescued from harrowing experiences by the Coast Guard and all. We can easily imagine what being stranded at the Boatyard is like, since we adopted some cruisers who were stuck over there for a month last season. We decided to check this out.

Betsy put us in contact with Ray, and we drove over to the Boatyard to meet him and to see his boat. And to find out what was going on, of course.

I think I got that all written down in correct order. So far. Now this all happened over the course of about a week. We did the Conch Festival thing on Saturday and did not get Betsy's first email until we were home that night. We were down to meet Ray on Sunday morning.

You will have read some details of the Treasure Seeker's past life as an automobile ferry in the Great Lakes of the USA in that link I posted above. Well, this is what she looks like right now:

Ray has changed the ferry into a steel pirate ship complete with masts, crow's nests, ratlines, bowsprit, figurehead and all sorts of pirate goodies.

Ray gave us a tour of the boat. And of course, over lunch at the Conch Shack, we got the rest of the story, so far.

Captain Ray on the bridge of the Treasure Seeker:

I'll condense this into what I think I know, in general, because we've just heard the story once. Not nearly enough to have it memorized yet. But the boat was anchored for the night off of the Plana Cays when this particular bit of the adventure started to go awry. The Plana Cays are a couple of small, uninhabited islands between Acklins Island and Mayaguana in the Bahamas.

Over lunch, Capt. Ray told us of his harrowing experiences while at anchor near the Plana Cays, in the Bahamas. I think I understand all the sequence of events that led up to him being rescued and then towed in here, but I tell ya, it's kinda complicated. I don't want to print something and then find out I've gotten it wrong, so I am just going to keep it brief at this point. Besides, I know that while some of us love the details of these boat stories, a lot of the folks who read this are not that into it. So here's the "Cliff Notes" version, abbreviated, truncated, and then shortened:

They were anchored, the wind picked up, they heard and felt a bang, lost the rudder, and the anchor, got pushed aground on the Plana Cays, and activated the EPIRB. ( I just replaced three paragraphs with that comma linked run-on sentence.)

EPIRBS send distress signals up to satellites that send them back to the Coast Guard, in marine situations. They can look up the details of which boat has a particular EPIRB, along with contact information. The USCG called Betsy, who gave them the latest SPOT coordinates for the boat and away they went. The helicopter was parked on Mayaguana, and their airborne radio calls to the Treasure Seeker bring us back to where we first got involved in this movie.

The helicopter lowered a basket to the Treasure Seeker, winched the crew aboard and brought them to Providenciales. That makes sense, as this is the closest place with tow boats and a shipyard for many miles. Once on Provo Ray was able to find a local tug boat and back they went to the Plana Cays to rescue his unmanned boat. I bet he was pretty nervous about that, salvage laws being what they are, and all. The Plana Cays are about 107 miles from here. The tug boat was able to tow Treasure Seeker off the sand and brought it to just offshore Providenciales where it was tied to a barge until Ray could arrange for the smaller, shallower draft "L'il Lew" to bring him to the Boatyard. And the end of that little saga is the first photo on this post.

Welcome to the Turks and Caicos Islands Ray!!! Having a good trip, so far?

These two photos are the main deck of the Treasure Seeker. The former ferry layout gives the boat a lot of room for passengers. It's Ray's intention to run the boat on day trip excursions out of St. Thomas.

The forward part of the main deck is now a bar stretching the full beam of the boat. The bar shutters are down in this photo but will be open when he is finally in business.

The entire theme of the boat is pirate-oriented, even down to the furniture:

Ray told us how many bottles of cold beer his coolers will handle but I don't remember the exact number at the moment. I do know it's a lot. Thousands.

The boat is still 'buttoned up' for the most part so we have not seen it with everything opened up yet. What is available to be seen is still pretty much lashed down. Wouldn't want heavy round things loose on deck at sea.

Some of the ratline rigging:

The amidships crow's nest is functional with an open hatch for someone more nimble than I am who likes climbing high on hemp lines:

I guess this photo could be titled something like "old salts discussing ratline splicing", and that would be as good as the entire truth. (Which is that some boys will look for any excuse to play with boats their whole lives through.)

I suppose the term a 'life of adventure at sea' has a nice ring to it, at times. Well, the Treasure Seeker has sure started out with a new chapter in that book.

The wheelhouse of the Treasure Seeker :

Looking toward the forward seating area and the dock at the Caicos Marina and Boatyard:

I notice Ray has installed plenty of safety cables to keep little pirates on board. (Or bigger pirates on their hands and knees)

I didn't realize how bad the top of the Land Rover was getting until I saw it from the bridge of a pirate ship:

This is the forward mast and crow's nest:

After lunch at the Conch Shack and stopping for some provisions, we finished our tour. I managed to catch Dooley the Disturbed at the very exact moment when he decided that climbing ladders was not in his job description:

Of course then the little beggar whines pitifully at the bottom of the stairs until someone climbs back down to carry him up.

Capt.Ray relaxing on the main 'party deck' of the Treasure Seeker. And yes, the grill is now 'Dooley authorized'.

This photo has nothing to do with all of this, just thought some of you might be interested in what the spotlight on the Treasure Seeker looks like from about 900 yards away:

So, the way things are at the moment is that Ray is waiting to hear what his next steps will be. His insurance company has to decide whether it is more cost effective to have the rudder repaired here on Providenciales or to tow the Treasure Seeker to a bigger shipyard in Puerto Rico or elsewhere. Of course Puerto Rico is part of the USA and that makes a lot of things simpler logistically. One of the complications in replacing the rudder here is that the boat needs to be out of the water to do it and finding cranes capable of that on this little island might be problematic. There are a number of factors to be considered, but of course in the end it will all come down to costs. We know Capt. Ray would prefer the boat to be towed to a larger facility. Waiting here a month for repairs would make any pirate worth his salt a bit itchy to get on with it. A tow to Puerto Rico would mean that the Treasure Seeker was not alone on the trip and it would get it much much closer to its future new home on St. Thomas.

Well, they're halfway there with some serious ocean still to go. I suspect that there will be lots more to this story over the weeks to come.

Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

And we'll be sittin' here, waiting and watching for the beefed-up version of the story - and its happy ending.

It's nice to see you posting again.


Anonymous said...

Thanks gw. We hope to get back on track with the blog posts after spending too much of the summer going through airport security checks and waiting around Miami. I do want to try to post a greater number of smaller posts so that we don't get that multi-week lag between updates.

We'll follow the Treasure Seeker story as long as she's in the TCI, and will pass along info we get after she leaves here.

We just got an email from the "Star of the Sea", and the missionaries are on their way back in this direction carrying supplies for Haiti.

And we are seeing the start of "Cruising" season now, with an increasing number of both power and sail boats passing through the TCI on their way south. Along with our new kayak toy and all the other stuff that goes on here during this busy part of the year, we hope to have enough new material to keep this going for a while.

Or for as long as anyone is still interested in it.

RumShopRyan said...

That was a fun little story. A little something different from the Kayaking and beach hopping. I'll be following the future adventures.


Bill said...

Thanks for sharing this story, interesting read. We've seen a number of these Pirate tour boats on our trip down the Eastern Seaboard this fall, they seem to do a pretty good business.

Good luck to Ray and his boat!

Didier said...

Hello !
Nice to have a new post from TCI. Here in France we have snow and cold temperatures...
This story about "Treasure Seeker" is interesting to read, but I don't found "pirate spirit" in this kind of boats. It's Disneyland smelling gasoil, no ?

AmitiƩs de France.