Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Net Changes

We're going to have to use some more yellow kayak photos for this post. I know we've been taking a lot of pictures that include that boat lately. And we're looking for opportunities to talk about other aspects of our experiences here, but the fact of the matter is that we have taken every opportunity we see to hop on that Hobie Tandem Island and go sailing. So if I write honestly about what we've been doing on a weekly basis...well, that boat is just going to be a part of it. Also, it's difficult to take a photo from that boat that doesn't include it. It hogs the scenery worse than Dooley the Devious does. And he's great at it.

Last week we were out three times fine-tuning our conch diving from a kayak. And I figured that with it being the ides of February, there must be a few people reading this who could appreciate some clear blue water and beach photos. We got some of those in this post, as well. And I'll get to the conch kayaking experience right after this sunrise message from whomever is in charge of these things. Sure knows how to drain all the dark out of a brand new morning:

We wanted to see what was involved in sailing out onto the Caicos Banks and diving for conch from the little kayak trimaran. I'm not technically sure it's actually a trimaran, since there's no bridge deck holding the three hulls together. I don't know a Polynesian word for a boat with two outriggers. I don't think 'outrigger canoe' is accurate, either. Don't they just have one ama? Trimaran is going to have to suffice for now.

So anyway, whatever it is, we took the fun yellow sailing thing out to see if we could just basically duplicate how someone with nothing but a simple sailboat would go catch fish if he had no modern fishing tackle or bait. I know you realize this was just an excuse to go sailing. La Gringa says I have to have a mission in mind, and maybe she's right. It wouldn't be the first time.

First thing we did was sail out a few miles onto the Caicos Bank looking for some grassy places in around 8-10 ft. of water. We swooped by the new buoys recently installed to mark the approach to the Caicos Marina:

We found a likely looking spot about four miles out and I hopped over to take a look. At first I tried holding on to the kayak to tow it behind me while I scouted the area for conch. Dooley the Demanding is a real pain when one of us is in the water. He'll jump in with the least excuse. I don't know what he's thinking he is going to do when I'm swimming along in 10 ft. of water. No matter what he tells you, he is absolutely no help at all in any kind of fishing.

After towing the boat a half mile or so across the current I discovered it was just too tiring and slow. So plan B became me just swimming along looking and La Gringa and Dooley the Determined following me in the boat. That worked fairly well. We covered a lot more territory. .

Dooley the Distraught ramps up his anxiety level when one of us disappears underwater. After watching us make a few thousand sucessful round trips to the bottom and back, I think he could relax a little by now. I don't know how to explain to him that we've been swimming a whole lot longer than he has. He doesn't want to hear it.

And of course he is intensely interested in anything I might pick up, like a conch.

When we find one conch we know we're in a spot they like and if we look around there are usually a few more nearby. These days we only take conch or fish we plan to use within a day. We seem to have stopped killing fish to freeze and store them. It doesn't do the fish justice, for starters. Frozen fish is, well, frozen fish. In a place like this it just makes more sense to let them store themselves fresh and alive until we need a couple more of them. And fewer to clean makes the day more enjoyable, too.

Since this was primarily a fishing expedition I stopped at two conch this time. Our plan was to catch the bait by hand, and then see if we could work our way a little further up the food chain. It's fairly easy to carry two in each hand, but the shells are fairly heavy. I've found that trying to swim very far with more than four conch becomes a bit tiring. I have held four in my hands and cradled a couple more between forearms and chest for a total of six. But it becomes hard to get the snorkel far enough out of the water to breathe. And diving for that sixth one it takes a noticeable effort to get back to the surface.

We've discovered that it is a lot easier to swim along with a chase boat nearby than it is to anchor the boat and to have to keep swimming back to it.

When we find a good area we record the location from our little GPS and can come back here from time to time when we want some more. We've managed to find a couple dozen decent conch spots within a few miles of the Southside Marina where we like to launch the Hobie. We are still looking for good mutton snapper spots.

It was nice to be out swimming along almost five miles out in the ocean and have my support vessel right there. It was a lot less stressful than having to swim several hundred yards carrying conch.

And when I was ready to be picked up, I just gave a wave and they were right there. I did have to snag the boat as it went zipping by with La Gringa on the pedals. A real fun exercise while trying to video the whole thing:

Music: 'Gravitas' by Little People

Now this is an aspect of kayak fishing that I had not anticipated very well. Conch are not particularly messy, but they do accumulate silt and various types of growths on their shells. We've seen seaweed growing on them. Limpets. And sometimes even fire coral. And they are always the underwater equivalent of 'dusty'. I wasn't real happy to put them on the new boat. I just get kinda fussy about new toys. It's a character fault and I know it.

Conch are also somewhat mobile in that they can reach out with their single clawed foot and move themselves. We found out that they shift on the trampoline when we are sailing, too. Carrying two was okay, but a half dozen could start to get tedious.

Since our intention was to use the conch as bait to try to catch fish, I also had to clean the conch out of their shells while we were still in the boat. If you are familiar with conch, you know that this entails bashing a hole in the shell in just the right spot with a brick hammer. Then it's sliding a knife in to slide down the inside surface and sever the ligament thing between the critter and the shell. Kinda like bullfighting for sissies.

And then we grab the claw and pull the entire thing out.

I won't go into any further details at this point out of respect for relatives of the victim...

Since we're trying to use this as bait we used the spare bits as chum in the areas where we tried to catch some fish. All we had with us for tackle were two of these "Cuban Yo-yo" hand line spools, some weights and hooks.

And right here's where I discovered another little aspect of kayak fishing that I had under-anticipated. I was not ready to have all this sharp stuff and bait in my lap. The good news is that it's exceptionally easy to wash your hands from here. Fishy knees, too. I am thinking a real flat, small tackle box with a cutting board glued to the top would be a good idea.

First we tried fishing over an old wreck, thinking that there must be some decent snapper hanging out here. We had a lot of problems. The boat has so much windage that it was really tricky trying to anchor it securely and have it stay where we wanted it to be near the structure.

These boats were not really designed to be anchored, we figure. The other problem we had was that the mast and trampolines really got in the way of slinging the hand lines where we wanted them. La Gringa had to climb out on the outrigger to fish. It was awkward. And while we got dozens of nibbles, we didn't actually catch a fish. If I had brought smaller hooks, we would have had a few fish. We also realized that we hadn't planned on what to do with a big flopping live fish if we did in fact catch one. A barracuda would be easy, I'd just cut it loose. But what if we wanted to keep a fish. Where? This whole idea needed some refinement. It was getting late and we had been sailing and swimming for hours, so we decided to come back another day. And I decided to make some changes.

You knew that was going to happen.

Back in town, I looked in several places for some suitable netting. I was hoping to find a nice nylon paracord hammock somewhere, but was unable to locate one anywhere on the island. I couldn't find real paracord, either. Best I could do was some ornamental netting.
(Now, don't worry or tune out yet. This is NOT a DIY post. really. This net part doesn't count.)

I know this won't hold up for what I have in mind, but it's a cheap way to do a little prototype and design testing. The yellow thing is a little butane torch for melting the ends of nylon line so it doesn't unravel when I cut it.

I made two mini hammocks, sort of. The idea is to replace the trampolines with these. As a place to keep grungy conch and leaky fish and obnoxious dogs who refuse to stay on the boat and stuff like that.

I tied one fairly loosely, hanging somewhat like a hammock.

And tied the other one fairly tightly. We kept the trampolines rolled up. La Gringa likes this a lot better from the forward seat. She has access to the water, and is able to look over the side of the boat into the water. The trampolines block all of that.

When we got to our conch spot, I hopped over to take a look. We also wanted to use the little folding anchor that we have for the boat to see how this would work out.

When we drop the anchor on any of the boats, if we are out "in the wild", I will jump over first and swim down to make sure the anchor is well set. I especially don't want it skipping along over live coral.

I don't want it skipping along at all, normally. I'll find some good sand to jam it into, up against a rock. Or sometimes between two rocks. And as I held on to the anchor, making sure everything I was drifting over was actually rocks...

On our most recent conching trip I had to swim back down to get the anchor loose from some rocks I had jammed it under. When I carried it back to the boat I noticed that we were drifting along pretty well. I stayed in the water to see how this might work to our favor.

I discovered that holding the little anchor was turning out to be quite a good way to travel over the area while looking at the bottom.

I tried swimming off the bow of the boat and towing it for awhile, holding the anchor. Then La Gringa had the idea to peddle the boat and tow me. After we got things working a little, she added the sail to her peddling, and away we went.

I was able to hang on to the little anchor without a whole lot of difficulty, and the Hobie towed me along at about a fast walk. Say 3 mph, as a guess. It was an almost effortless way to search the bottom. For me, anyhow. La Gringa got a leg workout. And my left arm is a little longer now.

La Gringa couldn't control the boat for long with me towed from the bow. I moved the towing point to the stern of the boat and it was better, but my drag on the end controlled the boat alignment. The ideal thing would be some kind of yoke arrangement towing from the center of the boat. So that she could still maneuver.

Food for thought.

It didn't take long to find a couple more conch. And we got to try out the new net. And the weight of just two of them stretched the lightweight net out so much that La Gringa looped it over the paddle to help keep them from dragging.

But of course they still did drag, and I realized that what I need is some less stretchy net. My original thoughts of a paracord hammock, or even a spool of cod-end net twine, are still seeming to be on target.

Well, as fate would have it, a few days later we were sailing up off of Pine Cay and we spotted not one, but two big sections of commercial fishing nets that had washed ashore recently. We came back the next day with a couple of knives. And the dog. And a cooler with drinks. And a picnic lunch. It doesn't really take much of an excuse for us to go for a sail these days.

There was a good wind from the east blowing. So we had a nice stretch of fairly calm water between the reef and the islands. There were some squalls blowing through but we drug our feet til they passed in front of us. That white stuff on the left is about a six foot swell breaking out on the reef. We hugged the beach.

And in the lee of the island like this, beaching the boat was easy this time. A mile out from here there was a couple feet of chop on top of the swell. The wind was blowing over our heads at almost 20 mph, but it was nice and peaceful here tucked up behind Pine and Water Cays.

Here's the net we had spotted when we sailed by the day before.

Normally this beach is pretty deserted. Looking back up toward the Meridian Club on Pine Cay, however, today we can see four people at the edge of the water about a half a mile away. We normally try to avoid crowded beaches like this, but it's the middle of holiday season here. What can ya do? There's still enough pristine beach to go around.

La Gringa and I plopped down and started cutting the line lacing sections of the net together. I wanted a piece about two meters square, or a little less. Cutting the wrapping line took a fair bit of time.

After about a half an hour it was apparent that La Gringa's knife was a bit on the light side for a task of this nature.

So she headed out to take some beach photos, and left me to finish sawing through the tightly wrapped nylon.

Here's a better photo of the beach at Pine Cay. The distant point is the location of the old Loyalist fort at the tip of Ft. George Cay. There are still some cannon on the bottom where the walls collapsed into the sea. The cannon are easy to find, and in only about three to four feet of water.

I thought this might be a good place to stick in a couple more of her clear water, clean beach photos. Since I was busy sitting there sawing at fishing net for a while, anyhow. This is still looking up toward the Meridian Club on Pine Cay, but several hundred yards closer. You, too, could be spreading your blanket out under a shady umbrella on this beach, you know. A little over an hour's flight south of Miami.

I'm not sure what the ocean temperature is at the present. Somewhere in the upper half of the 70's. It's certainly very comfortable for short periods. Especially on a sunny day. The air temperatures have dipped down to the low 80's for most of February. Brrrrrrr....

The water is not the clearest it ever gets, but even with some sand stirred up...it's not too shabby.

While I'm putting in free plugs for local resorts like the Meridian Club, I should also mention that there are a number of ways for visitors to the resorts to spend the day on one of these uncrowded beaches. If you are up for a boating adventure, you can rent kayaks from Big Blue in Leeward and go find a secludd beach under your own power within an hours paddle. There are also a number of local boat and fishing charter companies who will bring you to an isolated section of beach and drop you off for as long as you want. They'll pack you a cooler with lunch and drinks, and some beach chairs and shade, and you can have a big stretch of beach all to yourself. They'll come back at the end of the day and pick you up and bring you back to civilization. You really don't have to worry about people crowding you. There's a good chance you won't even get close enough to another human to speak to, unless you want to. You'd have to get someone's attention at a distance somehow and wave them over. Maybe a passing boat. It's a real nice change from some public beaches I have known. And the good news is that it's in cell phone range if you really needed it. My vote is you put it in a plastic bag and leave it in your backpack.

Finally I managed to saw out a respectable square of the finer part of the wrecked net. If I cut this in half vertically I can make two more nets for the boat. But I have to admit, this stuff is probably too heavy for what I want. This piece weighs several pounds. I took it home, anyhow. I mean, booty is booty.

As you can tell by the length of the shadows in that photo above, it was getting late in the day. The wind had picked up a bit, and was now gusting to around 20+ mph on a regular basis. Fortunately for us, we had a nice reach all the way back to Leeward. That's a good point of sail for this boat, with the wind coming from the side and behind us. We moved out away from the beach far enough to pick up the wind in the sail, but trying to keep the hulls in the nearshore edge of the developing wind chop. It made for a pretty exciting sail back. We averaged about 11 mph until we had to turn into Leeward Going Through.

Here's a little video of what it's like skimming along in this little boat. It's exhilirating to have your rear end just right at sea level. It's way different than standing up looking down over the railing at the water going by. It doesn't all go by, in a Hobie. You get to experience quite a lot of it first hand. And face.

Music: Memphis, Tennessee by Johnny A

When we were lurking around the marina waiting for Preacher a few days ago, we were reminded of another one of the reasons sailing appeals to us. We had an exciting sail for about fifteen miles total today, and didn't spend a penny doing it.

That would have been about a $ 50 trip in the big boat.

This post seems to have rambled on longer than I intended. We have lots more photos of these kinds of things, but I'll stop with nets for now. We have a couple hundred photos of the Valentine's Day model sloop regatta to go through yet. I was going to put one of my DIY bits here at the end as usual. But I figure a break from corroded Land Rovers is probably in order and overdue.

Oh.. I just thought of something I can do instead of rusty car pictures. I can just tack some updated examples onto the nearest end of my incessant whining about corrosion and how it's destroying my sanity here.

When I was making those little nets I had plans to use some marine hardware I had bought about a year ago. Little brass and chrome plated cast aluminum pulleys. Guess what? Whoever decided these things were 'marine' hardware never spent much time in a place like this. This had spent about three months as a mainsheet block on our inflatable kayak. It's toast:

I had also not used my conch hammer and knife in about six months.... before last week. I was amazed at the extent of the corrosion. I had made a little safety case for the knife out of PVC, with two wooden slats jammed in there to hold the blade flat. I made it so that the blade fits real tight. I d soaked the wood with light oil. This had been inside the console of our boat, sitting in our driveway.

It's a fishing knife. Made in Japan, by people who understand the fishing industry. It's made of stainless steel, so it's should be pretty impervious to the air here, wouldn't you think? I mean, that's certainly what I thought when I bought it. I remember thinking "Hmm... Japanese fishing industry, plastic handle, stainless steel... this'll be the last knife I need for conch unless I lose it." You just know I had high hopes for it if I bothered to make a sheath to keep it in.

Well, I was wrong. In addition to the oil on the wooden slats inside the sheath, I had rinsed it with fresh water and put it away after I last used it. It wasn't corroded six months ago. The part of the blade inside the sheath, in the middle is basically okay. But the thin tip near the exposed outer edge of the sheath....not so okay.

(I keep imaging some Australian accent saying something like "Thet's nottah knoife....")

Do any of you guys know if titanium knives would hold an edge? Maybe a ceramic one would be a better choice.

Okay, that's all for now. We've got some better material coming up shortly. We had another good day on the beach at Middle Caicos last Saturday. No yellow boats and no DIY stuff! Well, not much DIY. Maybe a little. And there's more of Dooley of course. There's no way we can leave him at home all day alone with access to his imagination and a working telephone. Idle paws are the devil's workshop, and all that.

So I can finish this post with another one of La Gringa's sunset photos. She's getting pretty good at it. A real keeper. And so is the photo.


Travis and Maggie said...

Dooley is just too cute!

Anonymous said...

I know it is going to be a good day when I get the email notifying me that y'all have posted a new blog update. Love each one. Keep 'em coming. Thanks.

Bill said...

Another good one! I really like the photo you took from the water of the back of the Hobie TI and La Gringa while you were being dragged by the anchor.

Have you seen the GoPro camera? It takes 1080p HD movie and is waterproof and ruggedized, small too. I saw one at our local diver's direct, their website has a bunch of good clips of people using them in water sports.

Looking forward to the post on the model sloop regatta!

flexstallion said...

LOVE YOUR BLOG! Keep 'em coming! It helps SO MUCH getting through to our next caribbean adventure!

tikifarmer said...

I have been enjoying all of your postings here and on the Hobie forum . Looking forward to the next installment ...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the feedback. We have seen the GoPro cameras on the internet. I understand they now make a little LCD viewer for the back of them. Cool. Missed some really nice shots of Dooley the Disoriented in free fall yesterday. He was getting tossed in the air on the kayak trampoline, and I was too busy to grab a camera.

Steve Bonham said...

Gringo & Gringa,

Awesome blog - awesome lifestyle. I am sooo jealous!

I am just back from a couple of weeks sailing in the Bahamas and want to do that for at least a long while...

I've put up a "journal/log" of sorts about our trip [la Gringa, there are even a few nice sunset photos!]. It's at: http://academics.georgiasouthern.edu/cet/SB/MistyBlueBahamasJanFeb2011/Webpages/

Keep up the wonderful posts and great stories!


Anonymous said...

Hi Steve. I think I saw that original contact on one of the sailing forums, was it Sailnet?

Glad to hear it went well.

Wasn't that boat planning a circumnavigation?

Steve said...

Yes G. That's right... sailnet - about six or seven weeks ago. Funny how things work out. I have had my name on "want to crew" lists other places for a couple of years now and Patty and I finally got the nod. We had little offshore (nearly none) experience before so it is understandable... BUT NOW - we are "pros!"... "Sailing Gurus!" ummmm - well slight exageration. LOL But we did learn an awful lot. Ian (Capt. Wansbury) was great and we sure look forward to doing a lot more offshore cruising in the future.


Dos Gringos Wannabes (Steve & Patty)

Stecve said...

And - Q#2....

Yes. Ian will eventually return to Australia in Misty Blue. Right now he's back to work on a beautiful "little" sailboat as First Engineer on "Ethereal" - Do you know it?
Check her out!

Island Store said...

We love your photography, any time you want to share some, we are constantly on the lookout for new island images! Great blog!