Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Happy New Year!

We managed to survive another New Year's with no major trauma. Our kids have all gone back to their lives up in the Snowy States of America and the 2.1 Gringos are back to suffering through yet another brutal winter in the Turks and Caicos Islands. La Gringa is still keeping her eye out for nice sunrises and sunsets and there were some decent ones this week. This one is a sunrise:

Winter here is a lot like winter for most holiday destinations. It means cooler temperatures, steadier trade winds, rougher seas, less rain and more people. Lots more people. I guess this could be viewed as somewhat of a mixed blessing for the full time residents here who are not involved in the hospitality industry. But for the country in general it's a good thing. The season starts ticking around Thanksgiving, and then really gets started after New Years. Or about right now. The smell of cocoa butter wafts though the cafes and along the beaches. The hotels, resorts, condos, restaurants, scooter rentals and t-shirt shops are all up and running. The fishing, diving and sailing charters are staying very busy. It feels like we are seeing a definite increase in the number of vacationers here lately.

The local group who watches over these things is predicting a good year for those who worry about these things. We don't spend much time in the resort restaurants or on the resort beaches, so that aspect of "the season" probably doesn't affect us so much on a daily basis but we can tell that all the seasonal visitors are definitely livening the place up. Good. This place needed to lively up itself. It's been a couple of tough seasons here lately. But lately we've see a lot of sunburned people on bicycles. And a lot of smiling faces in the bars watching the Weather Channel from back home and laughing.

A couple of our sons were down on the beach last week waiting for us to sail the new boat over from Heaving Down Rock. One of them got a few decent photos of a section of Provo that we don't visit much. I thought I'd put some of his beach pix up for those who appreciate a nice beach.

This is the northeastern edge of Providenciales, all the way past the end of Grace Bay. That's the entrance to Leeward-Going-Through and Little Water Cay across that channel, on the right.

(photo by Jacob)
This image is from a point on the rocks at Leeward, looking back to the west toward the main part of the island of Providenciales. You can see some of the Grace Bay resorts off in the distance:

(another photo by Jacob)This photo is from the same general area, where our 'kids' were waiting for us to sail around with our kayak. I wish I had known about the little cove there behind that rock groin. Would have been a good place to beach the boat. But I couldn't see it from the ocean side.

(yep. Jacob's camera, again.)
We sailed along the beach that day looking for a good spot to come ashore but the ocean was just too lumpy for me to willingly scratch up our new boat. It reminds me of what having a new automobile was like. I would so dread that first scratch or ding in the paint knowing full well that it was going to happen. And that the sooner it happened, the sooner I could stop worrying about it. I'm kinda like that right now with the new Hobie. We're still learning the boat and hadn't yet beached it in surging waves when this photo was taken:

(this one also taken by Jacob)

That's Dooley the Deadweight, La Gringa Suprema and me on that little boat. If you see that little yellow kayak and sail around here, there's a real good chance it's us. As far as I know, we have the first one of these boats in the country.

We had a fairly quiet New Years. We heard later that there was a big "Maskanoo" down at Grace Bay. We didn't think about it beforehand or we might have given that a try. The way I understand it, a 'Maskanoo' is a Junkanoo with the people wearing masks and costumes. If you don't already know what a Junkanoo is, then I'm probably confusing you and should change subjects about now. I don't have any 'Maskanoo' photos to show you, anyhow. Since we weren't even there. Just imagine a bunch of crazy people banging on drums and playing instruments and marching and jumping down the street. And there you have it.

Now even though we didn't physically drive down to the resort area for the New Years celebrations, that's not to say we didn't get to observe some of it. This island is only a couple miles wide in most places. And from our patio we have a pretty good view of the airspace over the resorts even if we can't see the resorts themselves.

We knew it was midnight on New Year's Eve when Dooley the Distraught dove under the furniture shaking and slobbering. I don't know how he managed to panic before the noise of the first explosion reached us. I suspect he heard the sound of the fuse being lit two miles away. But with a massive ka-freakin' boom and a dozen pop pop poppity pop BOOMs.... the fireworks displays were starting.

Dooly the Destroyed was doing his best imitation of a faded oil stain on the floor under the sofa, in the corner under the bed. I think he totally missed the whole "new year celebration" concept as he suffered through his own imaginary personal apocalypse, shivering in the dark and praying to whatever hairy little god he probably believes actually saved him. So much drama in such a small dog.

I don't think these nervous little terrier types do all that well around explosives. Think of Don Knotts on a bomb squad.

Our cameras are not really the best choices for distant photos in the dark, but we did managed to get one that partially shows what we were seeing. There were four different resorts lighting up aerial fireworks displays on the beach in this one photo.

We could count at least eight different displays going on at the same time. And we didn't even have to leave the house to watch them. I doubt there were enough explosives on the island to get the dog out from under the sofa, in any case.

We set one of the little point-and-shoot cameras on a tripod and managed to get some video of the fireworks reflecting off the water in the salina near us.

We've managed to get the new Hobie TI into the water a few times this week. We are delighted at how easy it is to move around with the trailer. We can completely detach the trailer from the truck and use it to move the boat down to the water in places not easy to drive to. We don't have many boat ramps here. In fact, I bet you wouldn't even think that this was a boat ramp if you didn't know better:

The wind was pretty light the first couple times we took the Hobie out. We were skating along about four or five knots thinking 'this is nice and relaxing'. Then things picked up considerably the next four times we had the sail up. These boats are fun when the wind blows!!

We use the beach 'ramp' in the photo up above when we launch at Leeward. We pay a lot of attention to weather these days, and if we have strong wind or waves with an easterly component this is a good way to stay in the lee of the island. That's one of the convenient things about living on an island I guess. If you're a sailor. You can just about always find a spot protected from the wind and seas.

When the weather is more conducive to relaxed boating we like to launch at the little canal down the road a couple miles from our house. This is a nice little protected 'ramp' on the canal. It's a good protected place to put a small boat in the water no matter what the wind is doing. We do have to share the canal with some bigger boats from time to time:

On one recent sail we ventured downwind as far as the Five Cays area of Provo. We spotted the old sunken barge that we tied up to once about a year ago. It's slowly breaking up and falling apart into the ocean. Kinda like me, come to think of it.

(I'm not going to specifically mention what it's covered in, for fear of pushing the comparison to myself a little too close for comfort)

My son Jacob spotted this beached fishing trawler off in the distance and we approached it close enough to get this photo.

But we had been sailing downwind and still had to turn around and beat our way back to the marina and canal and had to put off further investigation until some later date when we have more time. We'll put this on our list of things to go check out. We've also just heard that there were two Haitian sloops run aground out on West Caicos this week with something like 120 or so people 'rescued' and sent back to Haiti. Ouch.

But that does give us a couple more fresh shipwrecks out on West Caicos to try to go investigate as soon as the weather cooperates.

It was nice to have family down for the holidays. One nice aspect of having visitors from off-island is that we get to see what this place looks like through someone else's eyes. I know we have gotten so acclimated and accustomed to life here that we ignore a lot of things that once impressed us. We see so many different automobiles and trucks from different countries, for example, that we rarely pay attention to something that might be an unusual sight to someone else. One of our sons was enthused about this delivery van at the airport. This is an every day sight to us.

And it took a comment from someone else for me to realize that this is the first time he's ever seen a van this small in his life.

Or sailing through Leeward and seeing a boat that, for us, would be pretty much a common experience. And then realizing that people in Colorado probably don't see many of these in their lifetimes. Wow, just think. A motor boat big enough to live on!!!

And then of course this time of year we are into the boating/cruising season and we see some motor boat designs that even impress our jaded eyes. I bet you could probably spend an entire weekend on this little boat without feeling crowded:

We were intrigued by the central garage of the M/Y "Sea Owl". They carry at least three small watercraft that we are aware of. We spotted a center console power boat, the inflatable RIB, and about a 16 ft. sailboat. All stored inside their 'big' boat:

We don't know who owns that ship but they gave us a friendly wave and seemed to be nice people. With a real nice boat. We saw them again later that same day, some miles away.

That Sunday we had decided to make our first Hobie TI trip with an actual destination in mind. Rather than just aimlessly sailing. Which we found that we really like to do. Our sailing instructor from last year, Tim, told us that " you get into a power boat to go some place else. But when you get into a sailboat, you're already there."

By the way, 'TI' stands for 'Tandem Island' which is Hobie slang for 'Tandem Adventure Island'. And the term 'Adventure Island' (Hobie slang; 'AI') is actually a version of their popular kayak called the Mirage, which was the first to use their patented Mirage Drive pedal propulsion system. So it was originally the Mirage Adventure Island. Which got shortened to 'Adventure Island' until it got lengthened. The boat itself got lengthened, I mean. Not the name. The name of the lengthened boat got shorter. So if you are following this, the new shortened name of the lengthened version of the shortened name of the original boat is called the Tandem Island. For short.

It gets a little complicated, so I am just going with convention and calling the boat a TI. Unless we come up with a name for it.

Anyhow, our trip Sunday was an easy one. We left Heaving-Down-Rock in Leeward, zig-zagged our way into the wind up alongside the beach past Little Water Cay and Water Cay. Looking at the GPS data, I can approximate where we went. It was just under 15 miles total.

We had relied upon a forecast for lessening winds and seas throughout the afternoon when we set out on this trip. And the weather forecasts here are usually pretty accurate. Usually. That means not always. This was one of those times that was 'not always'. The wind increased throughout the afternoon, to the great joy of the waves. And to the consternation of a certain Dooley the Distraught, fledgling kayak dog.

We managed to get the sail, centerboard, rudder and two mirage drives up and protected right before we coasted onto the sand near the end of the airstrip runway on Pine Cay. We hauled our new boat up to a high point on the beach (scuff marks and scratches and gouges, Oh MY!) and put the anchor out. Since the tide was falling we knew the boat was secure for a few hours.

We dripped our way up the beach, over the dunes and through the palm trees...

....to the poolside bar at the Meridian Club.

As you can tell by the photos, we had missed the lunch time "crowd" and basically had the outside area to ourselves.

Ah, the water doesn't look nearly as lumpy from up here at the pool. Just a few 'small' white flecks, here and there. (That's about a six or seven foot break out on the reef in the far distance on the left.)

If you can peer into the shadows here, you might spot a certain La Gringa enjoying a few minutes high and dry. Well, 'dry' except for one of Floyd's rum punches.

And here's the view from the poolside bar:

Well, two drinks into it and management stopped by to say 'Happy New Year'. And to tell us that Dooley the Delinquent was not allowed to be at the poolside bar unrestrained. Looking around at the crowd, and seeing that we were obviously taking up table space that might be better utilized, and to stem the tide of rising complaints from the many other patrons... and not wanting to be responsible for an unleashed Dooley the Destroyer.... we elected to start our sail back.

(I'd probably tell you that we've been thrown out of better places than this, but I'd be wrong.)

Remember the M/Y (Motor Yacht) "Sea Owl" that we photographed earlier in Leeward? That's the same boat out near the reef in this photo. After watching us go sailing by, we think they decided to go 'drop the hook' off Pine Cay and do some sailing themselves. It must have looked like we were having fun. The very white fleck in this photo out near the "Sea Owl" is their own sailboat, retrieved from the inside of the ship.

We were thinking about both boats starting the day at Leeward and a couple hours later both were here off Pine Cay. Taking a number of factors into consideration, we suspect it cost more for the "Sea Owl" to make that little trip than our new boat is worth.

We had sailed our inflatable boat up to Pine Cay several times over the past two years but we had never made it all the way to the Meridian Club. We had always picked calm conditions. Well, for the most part. We always just seemed to run out of time. But in the TI, we made the outbound trip into the wind in about two hours. We had to tack back and forth a lot, working our way into the wind. And we had to go further offshore than normal to get outside breaking surf.

After taking a break at the Club, we sailed back in one hour. I had our small GPS receiver with us, and the maximum speed it registered on this trip was 8.1 kts. That's 9.3 miles per hour. Or 15 kilometers per hour. And I got to tell you, scooting along under sail at 8 kts. with your hip pockets at sea level and the spray blurring your sunglasses and soaking you to the skin is what some people would call fun. Us, for example.

But not everyone.

Dooly the Drenched quickly learned that if he moved to the windward trampoline, he got a drier ride. But it also put him on the 'high side' of the boat, and on the side that we were taking the waves from. And when these three factors combine in one instant, the dog gets a nice little vertical ride out there. Waves are difficult to capture in still photos, but maybe you can just make out the little swell we are about to rise over, coming right behind the dog:

We were going about six knots forward, so when we slide up over the wave coming from the right, Dooley the Disconcerted suddenly finds his tightly tucked tail about four feet in the air.

And we did this for most of an hour sailing downwind back to Leeward. And two of us were having fun at it. It's hard to tell with Dooley. He acts like he's only doing this under duress. And then the next time we ask him if he wants to go sailing he bowls us over getting to the truck. Every time.

Here we were taking on another swell, and noticing a building squall line off in the direction we were sailing.

Obviously we made it back okay. We ARE sailors, after all!! And we're starting to feel comfortable with the new boat. The ability to reef the sail in stronger winds is really going to give us a wider range of sailing conditions. We were pretty much limited to a 10 kt. maximum wind in the inflatable. Not in this boat. We've already had it out in gusts to 25. It's a wet ride. Should be some good photos from time to time. And a lot of exploring coming up.

I have noticed that all of the photos so far tend to be the same three scenes. Either the back of La Gringa's head or Dooley the Disillusioned dancing deliously or dangling dangerously on the trampoline. Or some combination of the two. I'll try to find some better camera angles so that you get more of the TCI scenery and less of the new TI and crew with every picture.

Other than guests and the new boat life has pretty much crept along as it does here. One of the high points of the holiday season was seeing the road grader out leveling this "street" we live on.

I know I have posted photos of bad portions of this road before, so won't dwell on how bad it gets. But about three times a year the loose dirt is graded into the scenic canyons that pass for potholes here and we actually have smooth riding for about a month. Or less, if it rains. It's raining today.

From what we've seen in the six years since we bought property here, people who live on this road seem to get about two to three years use out of their cars and trucks. Then the vehicles have developed so many problems and are running up so much in maintenance costs and down time, that it makes sense to trade them in on a new one. We've managed to keep both Land Rovers running into their sixth year in the islands, but these are simple, rugged vehicles. Easy to work on. I hate to think what it would have cost us if we had to pay garage or dealer rates and parts cost for the repairs and maintenance on a more complex vehicle. The power windows and seats seem to go first...

DIY used to feel like something that was required from time to time here. For expediency sake. Or to save a few bucks. But at some vague point in the past few years it seems to have become more of a constant activity than I ever envisioned. I don't think a single day goes by that something does not need repairs. It's to the point now where I don't even bother taking photos, for the most part. There are so many DIY projects going on, it's no longer 'blog worthy'. It's nothing new.

For example, week before last I wanted to grill a dozen cheeseburgers. I started loading the briquets into the old Weber, and they fell further than they are supposed to. Right through the grate, in fact. I found out that my last temporary repair of the burnt-out grate, using wire coat-hangers, had gone the way of all temporary repairs. It was in the past tense. We scooted down to the only store on the island that carries parts for Weber grills. They didn't have any grates. We were pricing new grills. Ouch. I decided to see if we couldn't somehow come up with another temporary repair.

One of our sons was out for a walk, saw the crumpled remains of a realtor's crumpled, metal "For Sale" sign, and brought some of the pieces home to see if we could use them to fix the grill. Yeah, they needed straightening and cleaning up a bit..

But here's the first piece clamped across the charcoal grate:

and a little while later we had enough realtor's sign remnants cut and welded to the old grate to make it useful again.

Now don't misunderstand me. I am not crowing about what a genius I am to have tack welded some scrap iron to a grill. Badly welded, at that. This is not about that at all.

I just don't remember doing this kind of thing almost every day of the week, for several hours a day, every day, before we moved here to this "full time vacation".. This is a very definite aspect of island living that you just don't think of when you are watching the Corona beer commercials on cable tv. If I had not been able to repair this, we would have been looking at either buying a similar version of this entire, perfectly functioning gas and charcoal grill locally for around $600 or ordering a replacement part shipped via Fed Ex and paying a 40% import duty on it along with Fed Ex charges. Figure two to three days waiting and about $150 final cost for a $15 part. We just wanted to grill a dozen cheeseburgers.

And we did. It just required us to look for a different solution than we would have ever previously considered. Island living will broaden some of your horizons. I think it's a good thing. I probably would have ignorantly gone the rest of my life without the hilarious experience of reading the manual for a Chinese welding machine, for example. And what kind of a life would that have been for a diehard McGyver fan???

I mentioned to La Gringa Suprema that we hadn't really had many good sunset photos to post lately. Or to be more accurate, the easy ones all have the same view of some distant neighbor's houses. She managed to get out to a different vantage point a few nights ago and got a lot of decent shots of the sunset. I couldn't decide which one to post. I liked this one because of all the elements in it:

Or zoomed in a little with more light breaking through:

And I liked this one, with just the palm in focus:

And finally I just decided to use all of the above, and then end this post with nothing but the ocean, and the sunset.

Sometimes, simple is best.


Anonymous said...

La Gringa's photos were beautiful! The new boat looks like a ton of fun. Thanks for the sunshine..we have been literally freezing here! By the way, we finally moved back home to Louisiana over Christmas break. Goodbye Houston summers! (though I'd probably gladly take one right now) ;)


Anonymous said...

Hello Heather,
Thanks for writing. We were wondering what you were up to. Glad you finally made it back home. I spent a whole lot of time in Louisiana over the years. A lot of good memories of good people there. And hot sauces.

Didier Dufresne said...

Happy New Year !
I wish lot of sunrises and sunsets for la Gringa, "full time vacation" for Byron and a huge T.Rex bone for Dooley...

Here it's snowing... But at the end of the month, I'm going with my wife in "Cambodge" and "Laos"... I think about hot tempƩratures !!!
AmitiƩs de France


Anonymous said...

Great posts as usual!!!!!!!!
You're saving me the price of a subscription to International Living, I owe you a cool one.

If I was a writer, I'd tell you the story of me, a Hobie Cat and a boat training for The America's Cup on Martinique in 1968. :)


bill said...

Entertaining post as always! It's always fun to see how many "Dooley the d..." you can come up with.

How does the Hobie TI point to the wind?

I saw this neat boat on the web today, a Triak, looks like it is a competitor to the Hobie TI. It has a spinnaker that launches and douses to a sock on the foredeck, pretty neat system. Maybe a DIY project for you?

Have fun!

Anonymous said...

Hello Didier, Happy New Year to you, too. Your trip to Cambodia and Laos sounds like a good way to escape winter in France. We now have a friend here who spends his summers living on a barge in France, and his winters living on a sailboat here. Nice life. Writing any new books?

And it sounds like DaveDownEast has a good sailboat story. La Gringa has one involving her, a Sunfish, and getting kicked off the set while they were filming "Jaws" on Martha's Vineyard.

Speaking of stories, I just heard from "Ray the Pirate". He's sitting in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. Waiting for repairs to his damaged hull. He promises an update when he has some progress. It sounds like he is in a much better location to be stranded.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bill, your comment came in just as I was responding to the others. I did see the Triak when I was looking at kayaks online. There are a few others, too. That's a nice looking design. Very sleek.

The Hobie TI was a better choice for us, in our situation. For starters, it's faster. The mast is 18 ft. high on the TI, and each ama is 220 lbs of flotation. It can handle a lot of sail. We are willing to get out in the ocean in this one.

The TI is a tandem, which was important to us. We actually waited until Hobie came out with the tandem version of their Adventure Island. The TI has a lot more room in it for the three of us, being a 'sit on top' style kayak. The trampolines are nice to have a place to get the dog out of the boat, too. Even though the little booger jumped overboard last Sunday.

We really like the Mirage Drives over traditional kayak paddles. Using the leg muscles just works so much better. The Mirage Drives are faster and we can do that for hour after hour. It's like slow cruising on a bike.

The Triak is more expensive than the Hobie. And we have been very, very happy with Hobie as a company, and with the dealer in Florida. Their customer service and support is unsurpassed.

Jack Hamlin said...

i came down to provo from Denver for a week (sitting in a house on long pay now) with several books to read..instead i've read through this entire blog---so awesome how you've documented everything.

ill be subscribed and checking in weekly..thanks for the read!