I've started to feel a bit remorseful about laying that last blog post on you. The one with all the rain and the wind and the squalls. I know some people look at this blog specifically to see nice tropical scenery. We know this because they write us emails and tell us so. Especially in the winter. And I know that they probably aren't even vaguely interested in watching Mother Nature power wash an exterior terrier. I contritely figure we owe you a sunset. And I think we've got a good one here.
One evening last week we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at the Tiki Hut. The Tiki's certainly not the most upscale place to eat around here, not even close. We're talking about an island where wearing a shirt and shoes to dinner is considered formal and is by no means mandatory. We eat there because the food is decent, the service is usually good and the ambiance is what we like. We like looking at the ocean and we like watching boats. The Tiki is great for all that.
It's an open-air dining kind of place, as are many of the local establishments. They don't really need to be seating people indoors when the yearly temperature range only varies +/-10 degrees from 80F. Providenciales is a comfy place weather-wise. Usually. There are some exceptions of course. I think that must be covered in the fine print somewhere.
It's warm, anyhow. No matter what else might be going on with the weather.
We had a nice meal and eventually finished up our shrimp, the quesadillas, and my cracked conch. I always order conch if it's a option. I know for a fact that conch is local and fresh . We usually eat at the bar when it's just the two of us, so service is pretty quick. We finally noticed it was getting dark and left the restaurant. We headed over toward the Land Rover and couldn't help but notice that the sunset was beginning to show some potential. Clear sky at the horizon, scattered clouds.... some nice smooth reflective water..we've come to recognize the ingredients of a good sunset. And in this case they looked just about exactly like this:
You can just see the parts all coming together, can't you? Sun, clouds, clear horizon, smooth shiny water.... all headed for the same spot in the universe at the same time. I know everyone wants to see the elusive green flash but sometimes we just have to settle for a gentle collision of tropical illusions.
We were in no particular hurry to be anywhere specific and we never need much of an excuse to look at boats of any kind. We'll even look at ugly boats. If there is such a thing. We decided to take an after-dinner stroll around the marina. It's probably healthy, and anyhow we really wanted to see what the Great Spirit had planned for this particular palette. I had the little Pentax W80 'point and pray' camera in my pocket, as usual. Not the best lens for low light scenes but with this much sky but I had hopes.
Turning and looking to the east we could see the setting sun reflecting from something across Turtle Cove. The trade wind had just taken that sundown breather thing it does sometimes before it notices itself, and the water got smooth and glossy. For just a few minutes before the wind picked up again everything was reflected with a warm golden glow. The cove was literally a mirror.
I guess if one were hanging upside down for some reason, it would look like this:
No, I don't know why one would hang upside down at the Tiki Hut. Unless one was batty,of course. But I bet it's been done. I was just looking for an excuse to use that inverted photo. That's about as artistic as I get.
There are a lot of empty slips in all of the local marinas this time of year. This is not not unusual. After all, we are now officially in the first week of the 2011 Hurricane Season. Most of the power and sail cruisers have gone way north, or way south for storm safety this time of the year. I think the safest places to be in a boat during hurricane season is actually south of here. Panama, Trinidad, these places seldom get hurricanes. The cyclones almost all curve northward before getting that far west. And we all know there's no place truly safe up the US east coast.
The inclement weather that we've been experiencing lately is all part of a large mass of bad tempered atmosphere that has been lurking just a few hundred miles south of us. It's gearing up to clobber poor Haiti with heavy rain, again. This is still pretty early stuff for storm season. We usually don't start worrying too much until around August.
Ah, but tonight...this was a pretty sweet place for a couple of photo junkies and sunset affectionados to be strolling.
Sunsets and sunrises don't last long in the tropics. The surface of the planet is spinning along at a pretty good clip near the equator. Being on the belly band of the Earth, we have a lot more distance to cover than places in higher latitudes. This means that a sunset can be all finished here in a matter of a few minutes. Standing near the fuel dock at the marina, and looking out to the southwest and toward the entrance to Turtle Cove:
We walked along the dock admiring the visiting boats and admiring the celestial display. This is also called a quay in some places. Which is pronounced the same as cay. Which, of course, is pronounced exactly like key. I just now decided I'm gonna use the word dock, the noun. Dock is pretty straightforward, and is also a descriptive verb. Good enough. Simple clarity. I have also decided to try to break a long habit of using the terms 'port' and 'starboard' when I am on a power boat. It's going to be difficult after 40 years of talking like that professionally. But I've had to realize something in the recreational boating world. When telling someone which side of the boat to immediately throw something critical toward, and having but one brief chance to avoid a sticky situation.... it's not good for them to have to stop to mentally translate what's frantically being screamed . Left and right works amazingly well when time is short and clarity is of utmost importance. I think the old terms will always have a place in sailing lingo. "Right tack" just doesn't work very well.
Oh, in that photo above we were of course drooling over the sailing vessels that were in the Cove on Tuesday. The very next boat at the dock was a surprise to us. The Sara Jane had just come in about an hour before. This is a Gemini 105Mc. This is the very model boat La Gringa and I were planning to buy last year, before the government here raised the import duty from 10 to 40%. Ouch. And now we are hearing rumors it's going to go to 44%. Well, we gave up on the sailboat idea while this golden-goose massacre mentality is in effect. No, thank you. We will most definitely NOT be giving the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands 44% of the value of a cruising sailboat. They shot themselves in the foot with that one. We would have whined about 10% but we would have paid it.
We are still very much interested in these shallow draft catamarans-built-for two. We spoke for awhile with the boat owner. He says the boat is slower than he would like. Well, that's probably predicable. What sailor would NOT want his boat to be faster? But in this case,we noticed that he was sailing with his family, including two teenage girls. We have some experience with the level of support logistics and materiel that two teenagers would require for an extended cruise. That would mean the boat is fairly heavily loaded and Gemini's are not known for speed in the first place. They wouldn't be our first choice for long blue water voyages with two teenagers. But for two old gringos and an obnoxious little dog gunk holing around the TCI and Bahamas, we still think the Gemini is a good choice. Being able to duck up close in the protected lee of an island overcomes a lot of speed deficiencies, in many cases. I am thinking the ability to duck might trump the ability to sprint. Nobody outruns squalls in small sailboats, anyhow. I'd rather be comfortably hiding out someplace protected than nervously trying to out run or out maneuver severe weather.
That's all academic, of course, as long as this import duty is in place. I suspect there's been a drastic reduction in the number of pleasure boats imported here in the past year. But for the cruising sailboats just passing through on their way to someplace else, this is still a very friendly little country to be in. I'm going to post one photo with the stern of the Gemini in it, and then I'm going to shut up about sailboats. For a while. Look at that sunset.
Speaking of sailing vessels, this is a particularly nice one. (That didn't take long, did it.) We've heard the crew talking with Bob Pratt (Southside Marina) on the radio in the mornings. Bob is a big fan of motor sailors, and this one is 70 foot ketch that has come up from Brazil on its way north. If I'm not mistaken, this is a home built boat. Wow. I am pretty sure something like this doesn't come in a big cardboard box as a kit.
There were still a few motor yachts in the marina, too. These guys don't have all that far to go to get home. It was nice to watch the fading sun turn the stainless steel to gold before it all faded to starlight gray.
As mentioned, sunsets don't last long here. Before we could get all the way around for the rest of the boats we started to lose the light. But we did what we could before the little red warning LED started complaining.
And this is going to have to be the final shot in this series. Also my personal favorite for a Tuesday in June between squalls. So far.
This next part of the post is a sort of footnote to the earlier French Cay sequel post. Maybe it's an anecdote? But anyhow, a few days after that happened we ran into our friend Preacher down at Leeward. He told us a little story that's related to the previous post. I wanted to pass it on while it's still fresh news.
A few days after we navigated our way back to Provo using a wristwatch compass, we wanted to make a little boat trip out to Pine Cay and back.
One of the outcomes of the previous trip in the squall line was that we discovered that it becomes difficult to stay inside this skiff while it's being driven over the tops of waves at planing speeds. That blurred photo of Dooley wasn't a joke. We realized that there were not enough places to hold on to on the boat, basically. So I installed some hand hold grab rails and this was enough of an excuse to take the boat out...
even though it was on a day when we didn't particularly need grab rails. I put two rails on the little deck area where the seat is located, and a small one on the console. That one makes a huge difference for a passenger standing up. I'm not done yet. I'm mentally picturing a sort of roll-bar hoop coming up from the deck, high enough for there to be some mounting tabs for a plexiglass windscreen. Attached to the deck and console, I was thinking maybe a tube frame that would have legs and a padded seat in front of the console.
But for now, we have new handles!!
(yes, compass is next on the list)
We needed to pick up something that was left on Pine Cay. This was our other justification for the trip, like it takes much for us to go boating. Easiest way for us was for me to anchor off the beach, and La Gringa and Dooley the DingDong swam ashore and ran our errand on the cay.
But back to the story. When we returned from our little cruise, La Gringa backed the boat trailer down the ramp and I goosed the skiff up onto the trailer and we were about to head away home when we heard a bump and a shout. Our buddy Preacher had just come back from a fishing trip in his brother's skiff.
I was tightening the straps on the boat trailer, so La Gringa grabbed the camera and went down to get caught up with Preacher. We hadn't seen him since his birthday party back in May.
In case anyone cares, this is the view of what I was doing. So I didn't hear all of the first part of this conversation.
Basically, Preacher had been out fishing in a borrowed boat. He had six conch, a Nassau Grouper, a Mutton Snapper, and a crab. The Mutton Snapper is under the anchor..
See? I told you it was under there. Next time, no questioning. Okay?
Oh, and the crab. I got down withing hearing distance just in time to hear Preacher say he was getting too old to catch crabs. Well, we were at his birthday party so I knew what he meant by that remark. But I was so internally tickled about him admitting to being "too old to catch crabs" that I didn't think to ask him why he had a problem catching a one-legged one. I probably misinterpreted the situation. Been known to happen.
Anyhow the whole point of this addendum (yeah! that's the word!) is that we asked him if he'd gone to the South Caicos Regatta on that previous Saturday. He had not. He then started describing various stories of people caught in the storm on Saturday. He told us that the weather was so bad, one boatload of people headed from Leeward to South Caicos got completely disoriented. The captain was something like two thirds of the way to South Caicos when that squall line (the same one we showed you in the last post) blew through this little nation like... like... heck I can't use that metaphor in a family rated blog....... well... it blew through like Wiley Coyote with some ACME Explosives tight up behind him. (How's that?) Preacher says the pilot of this boat "used his dead reckoning" and then demonstrated how he locked his hands on the wheel and held it totally steady, in an attempt to keep on his course to South Caicos until the storm passed. I gather he didn't have a compass or GPS either. A GPS would be very rare on a local boat, but most of these guys have compasses.
But look who's talking here. I should shut up about local boat instrumentation at this point.
As you might recall, we wrote that this squall line went on forever. It was thick. It was blowing. It was raining horizontally. The leading edge of the squall was a rolling electrical storm with lightning bolts hitting the surface of the water followed by booming thunder. Closely followed. That mile or so it took us to break out of the leading edge and get up ahead of the front was kinda tight knuckled on my part. Dooley was beside himself, of course, and that explains why it was like dealing with two of them. We couldn't see anything but dark, wet, blowing gray in every direction but down. That was dark, wet, and gray but at least it was staying below us. (This is a big part of successful boating, by the way. This whole concept of keeping the water below you.)
As we were finally breaking through the leading edge of the squall we were seeing and hearing the electrical storm and lightning bolts were hitting the water all along the front. Once we broke out into some visibility, we decided not to hang around just to see where the next lightning bolt was going to ground. I made a command decision to sacrifice passenger comfort in the interest of rapid progress in our travels over the waves. This is the part of the trip when photography became difficult due to platform motion. This is also the part of the whole trip with the highest pucker factor.
We were moving in the right direction, and we were in it for something around 10 miles. This is based upon us being in it within two miles of leaving French Cay, and coming out of it about four miles off of Provo. Those are just visual estimates, but probably within a mile. Well, the next detail that Preacher related of the South Caicos excursion is that when the storm passed and the visibility finally returned, the captain of that boat was looking at the stranded freighter just south of Leeward.
He started in Leeward. Got 2/3 the way to South Caicos, and came out of the storm within sight of the wrecked freighter, La Familia.
This what I can show you with just that information alone:
I would love to see a GPS plotted track of where he went. I bet he would be amazed, too.
I think his strategy of just holding the course would work in a small squall situation, when the visibility was only closed out for five or ten minutes. This is pretty common here with scattered squalls.
But this big bad booming booger of a squall line lasted a long time. It was miles thick. We were in it for something like an hour, unable to see even fifty yards. Many times, not even fifty feet. And we were going in roughly the same general direction. We never got turned around. With an hour to work on the boat, the wind would have shoved his bow to the side and turned him without him knowing to correct for it.
When we told Preacher we had come back from French Cay in that storm, in this skiff.... he was somewhat amazed. I told him we didn't have a compass or GPS. He was even more amazed. He doesn't use GPS himself, but he knows that I depend upon it heavily. And I gather the other party was in a much larger boat. Twin outboards. That makes sense. He had to have been moving pretty quick to get that far during that storm. I suspect he made some circles on the way. And never knew it. It would be easy to do in a small boat in a storm like that. Looking at that Google Earth image above, I'm glad we didn't let that happen to us. We would have been somewhere between West Caicos and Great Inagua, Bahamas. In an open skiff with no supplies and no radio. Plenty of gas, though. We would have been okay when the visibility returned. We think.
I didn't tell Preacher we drove from French Cay to Southside Marina in that storm using a plastic wristwatch to navigate. I wasn't sure if that might not make him question the rest of the story. And maybe I would rather let him think we did it with pure nautical instinct.
Our 250th blog post coming up next! I can't believe we ever let it get this far out of hand. Maybe we should seek therapy.