I usually try to put a colorful, tropical sunrise photo here near the start of these posts. But in the past couple weeks most of our photos have included family who have been visiting us for the holidays. Late nights and sleep-in mornings mean not many sunrises or sunsets. Since there has been some howling at the moon, however, I decided to post one of the moon images La Gringa was taking last week when the lunar eclipse was occuring during the solstice. She got her camera set up just in case we happened to actually be awake at 03:15 in the morning and felt like taking photos. (We weren't. And we didn't. It was cloudy, anyhow)
There, that looks suitably cold and miserable, doesn't it? It's not all sunshine and clear turquoise water and white sand beaches here, you know. Oh no. Definitely not. Sometimes it's moonlight and clear turquoise water and white sand beaches instead. This is a great little country for people who like to walk deserted beaches in the moonlight.
We are into winter here, too. Last night the outside temperatue plummeted down to 67 deg.F. We were scrambling for warm clothes to put on. Winter days are typically a mix of clouds and sunshine. We are getting into the drier part of the year and windier. We start seeing more birds around now, as many of them winter down here in the lower latitudes. Some of our favorites to watch are the Ospreys. A couple of them usually have a nest just a few hundred yards from the house. They swoop down into the ocean in front of us and sometimes land upon the shore to eat. This guy has a fish on the rocks at his feet but was getting nervous at the attention he was getting from La Gringa. Can't imagine why a bird would be worried about a human pointing a dark cylinder with a lens at them. Perhaps he thought she wanted to steal his lunch.
So he picked it back up and swooped off to find someplace a little quieter and more peaceful than our house has been for the past week. Can't say as I blame him.
And away he goes, lunch firmly in hand. Or in talon, in this case.
I didn't really have much of a "theme" for this blog post. As I look through the photos we haven't posted yet I am finding I have little snippets of things. Not a nice long narrative that starts in one place and logically continues to another. This is more along the lines of cleaning up some small stories so that they don't get lost and forgotten once we get all enthusiastic about sailing. And I just know that's going to happen after the holidays. So I am going to take this opportunity on the last day of 2010 to say goodbye, for now, to a couple of the 'characters' that have passed through our lives recently.
We know quite a few people have been interested in the boat Treasure Seeker, which is the former ferry C.G. Richter. Capt. Ray Hixon has been stranded in the boatyard here on Providenciales since getting towed in back on November 18th.
Most of the repairs that could be done here in Provo have been done. Treasure Seeker's diesel is completely repaired. Ray tells us his engine room is clean and squared away, and he has gotten caught up on a number of other projects in the five weeks he spent here. We have a little news to report on that front. We had written quite a bit about this story a few weeks ago when we had a post with a lot of photos and the story of the "Treasure Seeker"
We got a call from Ray a few days before Christmas and he was finally leaving the dock on his way south. The decision had been made by Treasure Seeker's insurance company. An ocean-going tug boat was chartered to come to Providenciales, hook up to Treasure Seeker and to tow Ray the Pirate right on down to Puerto Rico for the next stage of his adventure. Here he is finally getting away from the dock after five weeks of 'standing by' waiting for parts, repairs and decisions.
We have been looking at this red and black pirate boat for all these weeks, and we know Ray has been sitting there looking up at us for the exact same length of time. Finally getting the green light (with 'green' being the operative word here) to move on to Puerto Rico was such a momentous thing that La Gringa did a little video of Treasure Seeker actually leaving the dock. For a while there, we thought we might have to find a cutting torch to break her free.
The tug boat from Haiti was not coming into the boatyard to take Treasure Seeker under tow. I would assume that the tug probably draws more than six feet, which is about the maximum draft for any boat trying to get to a dock in this part of the islands. So Ray managed to finagle a pull from his new friends and recent neighbors for the past month, the Marine Police:
We had ringside seats for all this, of course and were able to follow Treasure Seeker's progress as this slow-motion handoff proceeded without a hitch. The tug boat waited offshore in slightly deeper water:
And of course the crew of the TCI Marine Police patrol boat Sea Defender has more than a little experience towing disabled vessels. In fact, dealing with seagoing pirates is a part of their very job description.
The reason Treasure Seeker is being towed to Puerto Rico is because the Turks and Caicos Islands just does not have the ability to haul out and repair the hull of a boat this size. I believe Ray told us everything was done except replacing the large steel rudder that was lost off Plana Cays. The nearest suitable shipyard that can do the work is in Puerto Rico. Under ideal conditions, that's a three day trip from here for that tugboat. I would think that to be a long three days at the end of a rope.
The Sea Defender and the Police RIB ('Rigid Inflatable Boat' call-sign Hurricane ) managed to ease Treasure Seeker out of the boatyard without a scratch. Not so simple when Ray the rudderless has no way to steer Treasure Seeker at all. He could put the boat in reverse to slow it down, but he still won't have any steering control. Just the drag of the propeller.... and that's the brakes.
The transfer of a suitable tow line from the tug to the Treasure Seeker all took place out where we couldn't really reach them with our cameras.
They certainly picked a good weather day to depart Providenciales and get clear of the reefs that surround these islands.
Finally, the boats were all hooked up and the last sight we had of Capt. Ray the Pirate and the Treasure Seeker, they were disappearing over yet another horizon headed roughly south east.
We found it slightly humorous that the Treasure Seeker found itself being escorted to the outskirts of town by the local sheriff. It seemed a fitting sendoff somehow. What else would you expect from a pirate ship that was just passing through?
La Gringa took those photos as Treasure Seeker departed for Puerto Rico on December 23. We just received an email from Capt. Ray (the Pirate) yesterday, December 29, from Puerto Rico after an "interesting trip". That's six days for a trip the tugboat crew estimated as three. Can't wait to hear this next chapter.
At this point, I think I will turn the story of the newest pirate in the Caribbean back over to Ray Hixon and family to keep up with. But I wanted to let everyone know that he made it safely away from the Turks and Caicos. Alas, the origin of Ray's next pizza is no longer under our control.
Now on to some more news from a different ship entirely. We very recently posted some photos of the Star of the Sea, along with a description of the humanitarian efforts of Capt. Bob Nichols. We knew when the ship left here bound for Gt. Inagua and we read that they were anchored off the Il D'Vache, an island on the southwest edge of Haiti. Then we didn't hear anything more.
Well, this weekend we got an email from Capt. Bob. The Star of the Sea made it home to SW Florida on Christmas Eve after an eight day, non-stop run from Haiti. Capt. Nichols writes us that the rampant cholera and violence on the main island had kept food and supplies from ever reaching Il D'Vache and he promises me a good story to tell once things settle down next week.
Capt. Bob did attach five photos to his email, and I am going to post them here. I didn't receive any explanation or captions along with the photos but as far as I know these were all taken during the offloading of food for the orphans in Haiti.
I can tell you that I recognize a panga style hull when I see one:
And we've certainly seen enough hand built Haitian sloops to know what we are looking at here:
Baskets and donkeys and cardboard boxes marked "Kids Against Hunger". Seems pretty self explanatory so far.
Looks like a few kids are pretty excited about boxes of goodies from the USA.
And physically handicapped orphans will have a better life than they would have had for the next few weeks thanks to Capt. Bob and the Star of the Sea crew.
I would guess that these photos and more will be showing up at the ships blog for the Star of the Sea and you can follow that story straight from the source. As with the previous story of the Treasure Seeker, I am going to turn the narrative back over to the people involved at this point. (This is supposed to be a blog about living in the TCI, after all.) The Star of the Sea headed north. The Treasure Seeker headed south. If and when they ever pass back through our waters and our lives we'll probably be posting more about them. But for now all we can do is wish them fair winds.
In the meantime, we are already planning some trips for the new kayak. So far we have a couple easy ones in mind and two that are a little more challenging.
For the easy trips, of course we will be heading up to Pine Cay at the earliest opportunity. This has become somewhat of a benchmark kayak trip for us, and we are anxious to see how much time it will take for us to sail the new boat up and back.
Last week we were scrambling around for last minute Christmas gifts and one of those involved some gift certificates for a restaurant over on Chalk Sound. While there we looked around and realized that while we had made one trip to these irridescent turquoise waters back when we first got our inflatable almost two years ago, we never made it back to complete the exploration.
So another trip to more completely explore Chalk Sound is definitely on the agenda.
We had also taken the inflatable out to West Caicos. This was an ambitious little trip for us since we had to cross over six miles of open water between Providenciales and the nearest tip of West Caicos. We had hoped to be able to try to find the ruins of Yankee Town but had equipment problems on the way over and spent our time beachcombing for string to repair the kayak Mirage Drives. So we definitely want to go back to explore more of West Caicos. And I am very interested to see if we can find the little spot called Maravidi Cove.
And of course we have long wanted to return to French Cay after our plans to explore that little uninhabited island got interrupted by fuel problems on our one and only attempt way back in October of 2007. We got tied up getting the fuel tank of Cay Lime repaired and well.... we just never went back to finish up our exploration of all the wrecks that get washed up on the outside of that remote little cay.
The distance out to French Cay from where we launch on this side of Provo is a little over 18 miles and it's all open water. So I suspect we will get a few other trips under our belt before we decide whether or not to take on a journey like this. We'd have to go out there prepared to camp out on the beach overnight, for example. Should be quite an adventure if and when we can pull it off. It might make sense to wait until longer days are once again upon us. Then we might have a chance of making it out and back in the same day. We have sailed kayaks in the dark before but it's definitely not our idea of the best way to do it.
And as ambitious as a kayak trip to French Cay might seem to us at the moment, that's not the big goal. For some time we have been thinking about whether anyone has ever physically set foot on every single exposed island in the Turks and Caicos Islands. When we first had this idea, we had been reading about the "40 cays, 8 of which are inhabited" that is a pretty standard description of this little country.
Then I started going over the charts and Google Earth, and putting a mark on every exposed rock I could find. And guess what? Without even numbering the islands we have already walked upon, I came up with another hundred. No kidding.
Now to be precise, a lot of these little islands and cays I have marked are nothing more than an exposed bit of rock, but since they are exposed and surrounded by water, I am choosing to include them in our definition of island. Just as an arbitrary rule, I am going to include every island and cay I can find that is larger than the boat. That sets us up with about an 18 ft. diameter required for an island to qualify.
I wonder how long it would take for a couple people with an obnoxious little dog to actually stand on each and every 'standable' island in the Turks and Caicos. Interesting thought, isn't it? Certainly would be enough material for a few blog posts. And I would be genuinely surprised if anyone has ever done it. ever.
Well, that's all I have for this last post of 2010. It's been an interesting year for us. Much better than 2009 was, in many ways. Maybe it's the start of a trend.
We want to take the opportunity to wish all our readers, friends, families, and other correspondents a Happy and Prosperous New Year. Thanks for all the support and interest.
And until next year, here's a photo of the sunset here, taken by La Gringa night before last: