Monday, September 26, 2011

Little 5 Cays Picnic Trip

I realize that we've now done the last four posts on this blog with no boat photos. This will never do. That is misrepresentative. We never go that long without boating somewhere. We just got uncombobulated by that last unscheduled hurricane. But we do have some boat photos to get back with the program here.

First, instead of starting with a sunrise photo or a flower photo I decided to use a moon rise photo. Just something different.

This post is about a typical Saturday excursion in our 'local sailing grounds', and we thought that it would be entertaining to some of you. This was one of our typical Hobie sailing trips, where we packed up a small cooler, grabbed a small dog, and a small sailboat, and headed out in a small country in search of a small island to have a little picnic. You thought I was going to say small picnic, I bet. Oh, and we had it on a small beach.

We launched at our usual spot on the canal , and noticed that some of our friends are keeping their new cruising catamaran at a slip here. Jim and Sharon are the former owners of the former Windmill Plantation resort on Salt Cay. And yes, two 'formers' is correct. They are no longer the owners, and Windmills is no more. The resort was essentially destroyed by Hurricane Ike just months after they sold it. I would call that a pretty good example of the definition of serendipitous.

We usually take a turn around the South Side Marina to see if anything new is going on. It's very quiet this time of year. The cruisers all avoid this place during hurricane season. I can't imagine why...

We did see our friend Stanley, of the fishing/freight/support/passenger vessel Five Cays as he walked by some new construction going on near South Side. We hope that whatever they're doing here results in some more boat slips on the island. We don't particularly need a boat slip right at this particular moment in time, but one never knows what the future will bring. And it would sure be nice to have some options. This country could use some more protected marinas, and places to keep boats safe from storms. It wouldn't hurt the local economy if more cruisers could safely park their boats here during hurricane season, either. Would be a great place to kick off from, either north to explore the Bahamas or south to the entire Caribbean. Most cruisers that leave Florida never get out of the Bahamas, from what I can tell. Starting their cruise from here would solve a lot of time and distance issues. It's frustrating to see the unused marina in Leeward, the unfinished marina at Cooper Jack, and the privately owned marina at Turtle Tail.... all completely empty.

We really didn't have any agenda when we set out on this trip. It was blowing about 16-18 kts. which makes for some fun sailing on the Hobie. We decided to sail into the wind (east, generally) until we needed a break and then find a spot to eat lunch. Then of course we have an easy scoot back downwind to the canal. There are these five little islets (caylets?) not too far from our neighborhood. For some reason I have been unable to determine, these five little cays are locally called the Little Five Cays. It's a mystery. Maybe to keep them from getting mixed up with the Five Cays to the west. These are not much more than rocks with some bushes on them. But they're close by and easy to sail to..

I am thinking that some of you other boating people out there will be looking at that chart and noticing the areas marked "Unsurveyed". The places where there are depth numbers are the only places that have been surveyed. Not very many, are there? Imagine a boat with a depth sounder and a navigation system making two to four passes east and west on that chart, and that data is all we have. (Thank you, Wavey Line). It's especially good in a spot where the other major feature is a warning about Numerous Coral Heads. Numerous is a good term. Think in terms of thousands. It's a good thing the water is so clear here. Running a larger boat around here without visibility would be a very high stress job. Imagine the Mississippi River with sharp rocks three feet under the surface.

Sometimes we don't decide where to launch the boat until after we leave the house with it under tow. On days when the sky up toward Leeward and Pine Cay looks like this, we've found it prudent to just hang out locally on the Caicos Bank. We KNOW we would be trying to dodge squalls up there.

With the stiff breeze it didn't take long to sail up around the Little Five Cays. We played around with the wind and the waves for a while. We generally just sail for the fun of it. I'm reminded of what our ASA sailing instructor, Tim McKenna, once told us. Tim said "When you climb aboard a power boat, it's to go somewhere else. When you climb into a sail boat, you're already there."

We were looking for a good spot to eat lunch. We needed some place sheltered from the wind and waves, with a safe spot to either anchor or beach the boat. A lot of the shoreline in this part of Providenciales is rocky and totally unfriendly toward plastic boats. Steel boats, too, come to think of it.

We cruised around through the little islands looking for some shred of beach we could use to get ashore without having to climb anything sharp. With the attendant bleeding.

It doesn't show up in this Google Earth satellite image (from 2003 like the rest of this area) but there is a very small sand beach tucked up into some mangroves on one of the little cays. We had seen it several times over the years, but just never bothered to spend much time there. This was a good day to check it out.

Dooley the Diligent was helping us keep an eye out for obstructions, although we really don't worry much about rocks or reefs out away from shore when we are in this little boat. Still, Dooley knows my obsessions and he helps me worry.

Here's a short video of us sailing downwind and into the lee of one of the cays. This was the only stretch of beach we could find at the present. Of course that could all change with the season. Sand is like that sometimes in the ocean. It moves to the whims of the sea. We've learned a little about sand migration from boating around here over the years. Some of the sand bars are constantly changing.

But not to worry, we have our port side bridge watch on the job as we make our way to the little patch of beach sand you can see at the end of this video:

Music is 'Let Me Go' by Dante Bucci

I don't think I even had the boat tied up before Dooley swam ashore and went exploring. It just wouldn't do for one of the people to find a rat, lizard, or grasshopper before he did. That would never do. He's one of those dogs who has to be the first one out of the truck, too, if you know what I mean. Pushy little booger. Obsessive. I think he might have been in a mongrel horde in an earlier life.

This is a really nice little spot for a picnic. The lee sides of all these little islands always seem to have some nice soft sand deposits tucked up close to them. In many cases the sand makes it too shallow to get close with a boat, and this ability to get into the shelter of small islands is one of the reasons I am always looking at a boat's draft. In many places in the world, such as the Virgin Islands, the water gets deep close to shore and draft is not so important. I was going to use the Pacific as an example, but then thought of several shallow parts of that ocean, too. The Polynesians invented multihulls, I think. Anyhow, it's not much of an issue for us anymore. We can get into less than a foot of water easily with the Hobie. We pulled the centerboard and rudder up and I tied it to a mangrove bush. The water was nice and calm here in the island's protection from the wind.

Here's our little picnic spot. It even has a picnic table. Of sorts. If you use your imagination a lot and squint your eyes a little. Well, maybe more than a little.

It's enough to handle two people and a cooler. And that's a shining endorsement for a lot of things I can think of.

Dooley was in overdrive as usual. He likes to live life at a trot. I don't think his transmission even has a Walk position. He has to check out every single aspect of a new spot like this. Once it's been inspected thoroughly, I suppose we could say it's been 'Dooley authorized'. Ouch.

It only takes a few steps to see over the top of the island to the Caicos Bank on the other side. This island is only 400 ft from end to end and a little over 100 ft. wide at it's thickest point. Still photos of the choppy water never seem to show the waves very well. It was pretty sloppy on the upwind side.

The islands are the same marine limestone based rock as the rest of the country. The stuff actually does have a strange name, but I prefer marine limestone. It's not that homogeneous, though. The rock here changes character from one spot to another. Some of it is so soft you can sculpt it with a spoon. Some is much harder. And all the islands here are made out of it. They look solid at first, but the rocks are all cracked and fissured. They're honeycombed with underwater chambers and holes. You can't walk around on these without paying a lot of attention to where you put your feet.

This is on the south side of the cay, looking east:

And this is looking back to the west, over some of the other little cays. No beaches on this side.

We walked around the little cay for a while, looking for any interesting trash, or just things to take photos of. It's not a long stroll, but it's a slow one. Some of the holes in the rock are unique. I tried for some time to figure out why this one is shaped in this distinctive pattern. And I have to admit, I'm stumped. It's got straight sides to it and is about a meter deep. You can see the full size conch shells in the bottom of it for scale. This is calcium carbonate basically, and I suppose any number of acidic chemicals would eat a hole like this in it. I mean, the 'bedrock' here fizzes like an Alka-Seltzer if you just drop vinegar on it. And I've tried that, back when I was making our new house number out of a piece of it. It just wouldn't make much sense for anything like vinegar to be here in quantity on this little deserted rock. Must be another explanation.

Here's another angle on the little picnic spot. I think the mangrove roots are starting to help hold the sand together here. We've seen from other spots that the mangroves like shallow, sandy spots. And their roots block the currents that wash the sand away. So in a way, they help build their own favorite habitat.

Another example of a real fine place to turn an ankle or worse. Imagine stepping into one of these because it was covered with vines or seaweed.

One member of the crew continued to be exceptionally interested in these little grottoes and sinkholes. I think he probably gave every single one of them at least a cursory sniff. Most of them he signed off on immediately, but some of them really got his attention.

These dogs are quite happy at disappearing into burrows. I think Dooley was annoyed that the life jacket kept him from going all spelunker on us. Which is why we left it on him. Well, that plus the very real possibility of him falling off a rock into the ocean. All it would take would be one little rat like animal bolting over the edge and away he would go. The term "single minded pursuit" might describe what happens to him when the game's afoot. And if he fell into the ocean here I would have to go in after him. And then I would have to swim him around the island to the other side. Naaaaah. Easier to just keep the life jacket on him. Then we could pick him up at our leisure.

He seemed quite certain that this one hole was worth watching. I didn't see any tracks that would indicate that something lived in this hole, but Dooley was adamant. The sand probably gets swept clean at every high tide, anyhow, so no fresh tracks might not mean anything.

He said he could almost taste it.

Looks to me like it must have tasted remarkably like dog nose.

And I still have no clue what it might have been that interested him. I have to keep in mind that this dog is perfectly happy to spend hours staking out a path a rat once took.

It doesn't take long to explore a rock this small. I was considering what it must be like to be marooned on a small island for a long stretch of time. Of course there is no source of fresh water on this one, unless there's some in mangrove stalks.

Can you imagine slipping off this rock and falling on that piece in the lower left? I think the light color of that rock, and the still sharp edges, are indications that it broke off the main rock not that long ago. Most likely in Hurricane Irene a few weeks back. It looks that fresh. The rock turns a dark gray with time and exposure, and the sharp points wear away.

Here is the view looking to the east, more or less. That is the nearest point of land to the Five Little Cays. I hesitate to call it a point of land. It's also rock. Just part of a bigger island.

La Gringa Suprema and her faithful sidekick Dooley the Detective explored all the way out to the edge, camera in hand, to get a closer photo of the last rock in the chain.

While I took some more of those photos of the waves and the broken rocks, etc.

That was a good spot to get a little wave video and a shaky panoramic view of the entire rock:

La Gringa found several spots where the fissured nature of the rock was very evident. The water in this hole moves with the waves and tides.

Here's one of the photos La Gringa took of the easternmost of the Little Five Cays. It wouldn't be that difficult for a good swimmer to reach this from the beach.

Looking at the chart, I see that the rock we are on, and this little one to the east, are called the "Dick Penn Cays". If we followed the conventional way of referring to things around here, this would make that rock's name Little Dick Penn Cay. Of course this would mean that we had our picnic on Big Dick Penn Cay. And I am going to let this speculation on the naming of cays coast to a stop right about here.

This would probably be the best spot should someone want to park a rental car on the shore and swim/wade out to this little cay for a picnic. It would be waist deep for the most part, if you stayed on the sand. Might not even have to swim. There's a good place to park a car over there. I'm just saying....

We didn't see a lot of trash on these little cays. Oh, there is always something washed up, but since the current and waves constantly hit the rocky faces of these I suspect most floating stuff bounces off and continues onward down current. Of course we did see the omnipresent shoes. There are always shoes. Shoes and plastic water bottles. Has anyone ever thought of making an affordable homeowner's version of an electrically heated plastic smelter, so people could scoop up plastic bottle trash and melt it into bricks and build homes or pave walkways with big plastic fake rock Legos? I guess not. Unless maybe the Earthship people have thought of it. They sure do some nice stuff with beer bottles as construction materials.

We had our little picnic, and then sailed smoothly (downwind) back to South Side Marina and the canal. A trip like this is something we could easily do in three hours, if we wanted to do that. We find ourselves stretching out our sailing trips lately, though. We rarely shorten one unless the seas start getting ugly or the weather starts rattling the dog too much. And he rattles pretty easily. One thunderclap will certainly do it, without question, 100% of the time. Sometimes his memory of a thunderclap will do it, if the sky looks threatening enough to make it possible. We have even seen some occasions when the clouds start to darken, and a camera flash goes off, and Dooley the Demotivated is watching the clouds, and sees the flash, and starts shaking in anticipation of the incoming thunder. I swear, if he had a watch he could tell you how far away he thought it was.

Remember the dark clouds over Providenciales in that previous photo? Please notice that even when we are on a smooth, mellow reach, Dooley is facing the cloud bank over Provo. He likes to keep an eye on the squalls. His version of a horror movie. The suspense builds.

But as long as they maintain their distance, he can handle it just fine.

Music is 'All Day Music' by War

He's learned to move to the windward side of the boat now every time we tack. He gets pushy about it, in fact. He thinks that His moving to the upwind side is a sailing command priority that the rest of us are just going to have to accommodate ourselves to. We've also noticed that he will move into the shade of the sail on hot days when he can. He's becoming a pretty good little boat dog.

We continue to try to look at everything we can find to look at. Lately we've been discovering how much we like going over to West Caicos, so there will be some more posts coming up on that. There is some interesting history there. Well, interesting to me, anyhow. I'll try to keep it brief when the time comes to describe it. In the flow of things, as it were. Or as it is meant to be. Which are not always the same.

Dooley the Devious settles in for the cruise home.

Or he tries to settle in, but it's not exactly the venue for a relaxed nap.

I looked at all the sunset photos La Gringa has been taking and I liked this one for some reason. I think it's the 'time-to-turn-the-headlamps-on' end of the day kind of feeling I get from those few, fast fading tropical moments between sunset and dark. It happens fast in these latitudes. We go from sunset to dark pretty quickly.

But there's still room in that little window for a "Red sky at night...Dooley's delight" moment from time to time.


PaleMoonDove said...

What a wonderful day! Look forward to your next excursion...and the next "Dooley cam" moment!!!
Smiles to you both...
Doll (& Capt'n too)

Caspar said...

They're working on it Turning plastic into oil. Obviously needs power, but you might have enough sun for solar.

Anonymous said...

Dooley Authorized......?! That dog really seems to enjoy your excursions ..Great shots of those little islands.

In a recent post you had mentioned the addition of a small restaurant at South Side Marina. Is that still in the works??

Anonymous said...

As far as I know, Bob is still planning to build a small restaurant/bar there on the hill overlooking the marina. We see him fairly often, and I'll ask him about the situation. I hadn't noticed much progress but these things tend to go in fits and starts around here as funding develops and gets scarce, or contractors become available or otherwise committed.