In which the Gringos Explore the Islet Underwater, Undergoing Another Change of Plans on a Very Nice Day. Dooley the Devious Claims a Rock while Going With the Flow.
This is going to be a shortish (is that even a word?) follow-up post to that Turtle Rock trip we did a couple of months ago. We tried to get some good photos of Taylor Bay and failed miserably on that day, due to weather. But we've gotten over that. For the most part. Because the good thing that came out of that was that we found Turtle Rock. And if you recall, or even if you don't, I said we'd plan to return someday with some snorkeling equipment. Well, we just did exactly that. And here are the photos for your examination. And perusal. And hopefully, some slight enjoyment.
First I want to put a sunrise photo in here. I don't know why but it's just become sort of a micro tradition kind of thing with us. Does that make me a 'traditionalist'? I guess that sounds better than retro-grouch. Start with a sunrise, end with a sunset. Got a kind of a symmetry to it, or something. Feng-shui? Or as Dooley might say.. Fang-Shoe.
I'm kidding. He hasn't eaten any shoes in years. To my knowledge.
Here's a sunrise directly over the old freighter wreck. I can't get this strange idea out of my head that this is something holding up a cosmic pearl between it's fingers for our examination..
or Godzilla swallowing the sun. Could be that, too.
Maybe we should look at changing that sunset thing up a bit. Maybe put in a close-up photo of a local flower sometimes instead of the same old thing. Now that I think about it, I like this idea of putting some flower photos in from time to time. La Gringa likes taking them and has a good camera for it. And the color is a nice way to start a visual blog like this one. That was how the sunrise thing got started in the first place. I just wanted to have a nice colorful photo right up there at the front of the blog. I could write something like.."This is a Bougainvillea. They grow up the side of the house and have thorns. I have to clip them often, especially during the summer."
I freely admit I'm not much of a 'flower person', despite any rumors you may have heard from the '60's. Being somewhat colorblind, I never paid that much attention to ornamental type plants until we moved here. It wasn't such a big deal when we had no landscaping here on this rock. But we kept adding things, and I have slowly realized that I've somehow gotten myself involved in an ongoing relationship with these growing things. Prior to buying my first hedge trimmer, the only plants I was ever interested in were those I could somehow ingest. Tomatoes, as just one example of the potential joy of horticulture. But now... oh man. I got clippers, loppers, trimmers, three machetes.... and can still barely fight these suckers to a draw. They're not even good to eat and these Bougainvillea are some well-armed rascals, let me tell you. I come away bleeding from most encounters with them. Even though I wear my welding gloves (No, they're not Crocs) while clipping them. Likewise with some of the cactus plants around here. Bending over to double-tap a weed and backing into a Blue Agave plant will reset several of the upper limits of your surprise-response switches. Stabbed in the butt with a sharpened awl at a distracted moment. It will bleed. And sting. And cause you to exercise parts of your vocabulary normally kept dormant. Some people have used these things to sew bark canoes together. I'm just saying.
And this is their prime growing season, right now. All they've been waiting for was more rain, and if you've been reading this blog you know we get it this time of year. The thorny nightmares are growing crazy. The plant kingdom equivalent of Mardi Gras or Carnival, with some of the same morning-after results; the start of a new generation. Of course plants grow all year here, right along with the bugs. And by the way, if you are ever re-incarnated as a bug, I suggest you look into choosing a tropical environment for it. You're going to love it. We are loaded with happy bugs down here. Most of them ignore humans, but not all of them. The wasps are especially serious, but will apparently respect a truce if you leave them alone. Mosquitoes are not all that common here in the western, drier part of the islands. Not enough water, too much wind. But there are some mosquitoes and those gnatty little 'no-see-ems" that seem to consider coconut oil a candy coating.
How did I get off on that rant, anyhow? Probably because I trimmed the bougainvillea yesterday. Only cost me an ounce or two of hemoglobin. Well, back to the point of this post. Our trip back to Turtle Rock. I am not going to post up a bunch more photos of us launching the boat, choogling out of the canal, etc. I'm trying to keep the download time on these posts shorter for you, and besides you've seen all that in previous posts. What I can put up is what it looks like from the perspective of the skiff driver, headed across the Caicos Bank on a nice calm summer day:
Music is 'Groovin' by The Rascals
I was hoping you could see some of the underwater rocks and coral heads we were going over, but the camera was already starting to fog up at that point. We were having a lot of fogging issues with the little video cam. We think we've finally got that under control now, but all we could do at the time was to open up the waterproof case and air it out until the fog disappeared from the inside of the glass outer lens. Then we were good for about fifteen minutes of video before it went all cataract on us again.
This is approaching Turtle Rock from the landward side. That cumulonimbus cloud formation in the background is marking the location of the island of West Caicos, by the way. You can just see it on the horizon. You see, on a normal day, one really doesn't need a compass to navigate on the water here. On the typical Trade Winds Day, every island has its own cloud that stays right over it. It's when these clouds get out of hand and go wandering off that the trouble starts.
When the water is smooth like this every puff of wind puts ripples on the surface. Over the years we've found out that sometimes the ripples actually help to visually navigate around the coral heads and rocks. When the water is glossy like this, it acts like a mirror reflecting the clouds. And like a mirror, it's difficult to see through it at oblique angles. And looking out ahead of the boat is at an oblique angle. In this photo, I wanted to show you how the roughened up water surface works to let us see the rocky bottom underneath. Notice that you can't see much of the bottom detail past the ripples.
It makes navigating interesting sometimes. We try to look a few hundred yards ahead and plan the route to avoid big dark patches under the water. But shadows from passing clouds and areas of ripples that let bottom show through the mirror can sure be confusing. And heading west into the sun in the late afternoon on a day like this..... well... it's like flying IFR if there's a GPS track to follow, but pretty hard if there isn't. The sun reflects off the water right into suddenly seared retinas. We don't worry much about the thousands of uncharted coral heads when we're momentarily blinded in our little boats in open water, but we sure do in the Contender. And near other rocks, like this, there are usually some big pieces that have fallen off just under the surface. I was looking at a chart of this area after we made this trip, and discovered that there is an old submerged shipwreck marked on the shoal surrounding this rock. I need to do my homework before we make these trips. Well, it gives us an excuse to stop back by on another day and look for the wreck.
As we came up around the western side of the rock we startled a few birds who flew off shrieking like they'd been goosed with pine resin and set on fire .
And no doubt Dooley the Delinquent got a visual fix upon from whence they flew. He's good at stuff like that. Pays attention. With a memory an elephant would envy. He still remembers the exact spot where he ambushed an iguana five years ago on Pine Cay. Oh he didn't hurt the big lizard, he just wanted someone to chase through the bush. He would have been perfectly happy to turn around and let the iguana chase him for a while, too. Well, I guess maybe iguanas are kind of standoffish to dogs they haven't been properly introduced to. Or maybe they just panic at the sight of a Jack Russell bearing down on them. He probably looks a lot more threatening from ground level, but in either case they sure don't seem to get into the spirit of the chase and play thing. I am beginning to suspect that their version of it is more like Escape and Evade. But Dooley remembers the grand old time he had tailgating that iguana. And now, every time we pass that spot, we have to let him get off the golf cart and go make sure that yes, the iguana has moved on and does not hang out here just in case some friendly dog should come by and want to race. Poor thing is probably in iguana therapy somewhere.
There's a partial view of our proto-type Dooley Cam mount, too.
We are still in late bird-nesting season here. I think it likely that there are still chicks in some of the nests, and we have no intention of letting Dooley the Destroyer climb the rocks. We're not planning to climb them, either. Our interest today is what's under the water here. I'm not sure we even own the proper footwear for climbing this stuff. I'd really hate to blow out a flip flop on top. I mean, if you blew one out at the bottom you could just turn around and get back to the water with only a modicum of contusions.
At the top.... well this would be a real booger to try to hop down on just the one insulated foot. There are very few shoes more useless than a broken flip flop. They just turn into inefficient flyswatters. Good for scaring small dogs, but as for rock climbing around here they're useless. One approach would be to crawl down on all fours backwards like a double jointed spider with it's belly to the sun. It's more stable, and spreads the pain of that rock/skin interface over a much larger surface area. Makes one look and feel like a bloody fool, though. Literally. No thanks. Never again.
Looking down into the water we saw big schools of small fish swimming around in the lee of the rock. Glossy clear water is great stuff to look through when you're looking straight down. This is a small crowd of a few thousand sardines and their relatives. Or as they call them here, pilchards. I don't mean that relatives are called pilchards. That's another word for sardines. I'll bet there are some other words for relatives, too.
The pilchards are absolutely one of the best native live bait fish we get around here. We have a couple of throw nets specifically for catching these. Maybe we should bring a net out here and do a video. That has the potential for some real laughs.
I didn't tell you guys that La Gringa fell overboard on one of our recent skiff trips. She valiantly restrained from grabbing the new VHF antenna to save herself. Dooley and I maintained a perfect combination of straight, concerned expressions, even after we knew she was all right. But it's my turn, now.
That reminds me, I need to register the boat so we can legally fish from it. I am waiting until July 31, which is when all the fish and boat related licenses here expire. Strangely enough, things like automobile registrations and driver's licenses expire on one's birthday. And it's a real annoying pain to forget until the last minute and then spend a big part of your birthday standing in lines at the Department of Road Stuff.
These were doing that synchronized swimming thing on both sides of the boat. What an excellent place to net bait. Of course this is a seasonal thing.
We eased on up into the protected lee of the rock. There wasn't any wind to speak of on this day, but it's nice to be able to control the boat drift when leaving it on the anchor. And to not let it drift into any rocks while we are off out of sight of it. And there are some submerged rocks here. I'll show you one in a few minutes.
That's an odd phrase for something written, isn't it. It must say something about the concept of time as seen by the writer and the reader. A really fast reader might get there in one minute. A slow one might take a while longer. Someone who reads this a year after it's written will still be only moments away from the submerged rock. And those who only look at the pictures will be there quickest yet, but then they have completely missed the experience of this great sense of anticipation I know you all now have. I'll move on now. My head is starting to throb.
This is the best spot from which to swim into that big cleft that runs between the two main hunks of this rock. We have to swim around that little rock in the foreground.
We just don't mind jumping into this water, at all. It's clear, soothingly warm, shallow enough for wading although we would rather float and not touch anything. Ocean things can bite, sting, and cut. It has big patches of fine, clean sand, some variously colored colonies of coral, and of course, rocks. We decided to hook Dooley up with his video setup and let him swim around the boat, cool off, and then maybe he would calm down and take a nap when we went overboard. Ha.
Music is 'God is Crying' by Joe Satriani
This is where we anchored. We took care not to drop it on that starfish. I never knew they came in Spiderman print.
As we swam away from the skiff toward the rock, I looked back to see how the boat was riding. The bimini we put up to shade Dooley the Dehydratable Brat was catching the slight breezes. With the current, the boat was right where we wanted it to be. I also always check the anchor on the first dive, to be sure it's stuck well enough to hold the boat. But Dooley the Determined doesn't look like he is going to settle for being on anchor watch for very long, does he?
He's one of those crewmen who only follow orders when the Captain is watching, if you know what I mean. And he's never been much of a disciple of delayed gratification.
We circumnavigated the aforementioned rock and flippered into the flooded cleft that roughly bisects the islet. We noticed that the birds had decided we were not the advance forces of a cataclysmic threat after all, and had quietly circled back and landed at their precious little ad hoc aeries. They were keeping an eye on us, but it seemed more one of interest than alarm. I suspect that from their perspective, once we were in the water we were no longer human, if that makes any sense. Upright humans are a threat. Things our size in the tropical oceans don't climb cliffs . I'm just trying to think like a bird brain here. Uh... scratch that. I could have pecked a better metaphor.
This is the view looking back toward the boat. It's on the other side of that rock on the left.
Well, I should have remembered that if I can't see Dooley, then he probably can't see me. This, to him, is an intolerable situation that justifies ignoring previous orders to stay put. He was probably already in the water when I took that photo. He hove into view a few minutes later.
This is looking across to the other, windward side of the rock. From a geological standpoint it's easy to see what happened here. This rock developed into one of those mushroom shapes so common when the ocean erodes the soft limestone and undercuts the side of the rock facing the wind and waves. Eventually, the overhang breaks off and falls into the ocean. This then protects the remaining rock from the wave action until the fallen bit is broken up to the point where it's all underwater again. I suspect this takes quite a while.
See that little bit of exposed rock there in the middle? I got past that by a few feet, face down and snorkeling, when I heard a splashing noise behind me.
This is what was going on to make all the noise:
Music is 'Orbit' by Jesse Cook
And this is the view I had looking at Dooley the Dreadless as he claimed this rock for whatever purposes he came up with. Maybe you can tell from the video, I can't. I'd like to think he was looking for new camera angles, but he refuses to discuss it at all. Typical.
When I watched the video I realized he climbed the rock because it gave him a vantage point where he could keep an eye on both La Gringa and I at the same time. And he does.
Swimming ahead, looking at the rock directly under us this next photo is pretty much what the rock looks like. All kinds of hairy little critters living on it. We try really hard not to touch anything alive. There are plenty of places where there is bare rock, if we needed to stand up for some reason. We prefer to float. It gets deeper off to the right, with numerous little crevices and caves where the sun doesn't shine. I tend to avoid those places.
Now when I saw this one, I thought it would make a cool photo. It's wide enough for me to swim through, and if I had a t-shirt on I would have gone for it. But experience has taught us that even slightly brushing against anything alive on the rocks with bare human shoulder skin is basically a bad idea.
This is what that crack through the rock looks like from the top, above water:
I was using the Olympus Tough 8010 in its underwater housing for these photos. It's got a great feature in that it can be set up for still photos like this but you can push one button and instantly change into video mode. I think all cameras should copy that feature. There were some fish down there in the bottom of this passage:
Music is 'The Storm Sings' by Ottmar Liebert.
I'd mentioned coral, so I thought I would show you at least one photo of some. If I got started on coral photos, we could be here for hours. So I won't.
Oh yeah, there's a fish in this one, too.
Fish are all over the place, of course. I normally don't even bother to take photos of them anymore unless there is something about them that looks interesting. This is just to show you the fish congregating in the deeper water in the shade. It's a crummy photo otherwise.
Here's another crack all the way through the rock to the outside, from just under the surface. And I wouldn't have fit through that one on my skinniest day ever.
La Gringa and Dooley had seen enough sunshine and salt water at this point and they paddled their respective ways back to the boat. I continued on around the seaward side of the rock just to take a look. For the most part it was more of the same. Deeper water, which didn't photo all that well on this day for some reason. I did do a little video of a huge hunk of rock off the face of the islet. It runs up to within a foot of the surface. Man, this could ruin your whole day if you hit it with an outboard at about 30 mph.
Music is 'Never Alone' by Jeff Beck
After I climbed back on board the skiff we were thinking that it was only mid-day, and the weather was so good maybe we shouldn't rush home just yet. I know we've beat the Osprey Rock views over at West Harbour to death on this blog, including photos from every angle and inside the caves. This is probably the best set of those images of Osprey Rock. So I am going going to subject you to a new set of Osprey Rock photos. I'm trying to find new stuff here, ya know. But we did leave Turtle Rock (skipping the nearby Maggot Rock entirely) and went over to cruise that distant shoreline, that ends in Osprey Rock at the end.
And once we got there, we decided we still had plenty of daylight left, and so we decided to head out into the sound to try to find these shoals we had seen on the charts. This was a perfect day to go looking for shoals. And I am going to take the rest of the images we took on this day and make another post with them. I don't plan to make this a serial cliffhanger type of deal here. Not at all. But I know what having forty or fifty images to download does to some people's computers. And we have quite enough for another post.
So, at least this one time, please tune in next week, for another unexciting footnote in the ongoing micro saga of "where we gonna go to scare ourselves silly out on the ocean again this time, Honey?"