Monday, December 5, 2011

Bits and Pieces

In Which our Protagonists get Back Into Island Life.
The Gringos Entertain Guests. Dooley the Dog Does Diddly.
The Usual Tropical Imagery.

It's December already. This is usually a pretty big month for us. For starters, the arrival of December means that Hurricane Season is officially over. Yee Haaa. Hot Diggity Dang. And a Whew. A Big Whew, in fact. And I'll even throw in a Huzzah. We are really happy to get through a year without more storm damage. I just took a moment to knock on some wood for luck after writing that part cheering the end of storm season. I don't want to jinx this. We went through Tropical Storm Olga here in December of '07, after Hurricane Season was "officially over". We've now bumped heads with the concept that cyclones do not feel any legal or moral obligations to follow guidelines published by The Government.

December is also the unofficial start of 'The Season', here. We have already seen an increase in the number of pale refugees from northern climates. Wandering around with silly grins on their faces looking for t-shirts and mispronouncing words like 'conch' and 'cay'. Saw some yesterday sitting at an awkward angle at a road intersection, in a rented car with the steering wheel on the right side and trying to figure out how to drive on the left while giving way to other traffic through a road change in a roundabout. (We don't actually mind that. They're safest when they're not moving and we can easily drive around them.)

The weather is cooler now here, just like up north. Our little weather station says that the temperature got down to 69 degrees F a few days ago. It's only up to 81 deg. right now. We are dragging our warmest stuff out of storage. A pair of socks for La Gringa, and t-shirts with complete sleeves and minimal battery acid holes for me. We typically get better sunrise and sunset photos this time of year, though. This is a sunrise from last week.

We do feel a bit of a relief when we no longer have to keep an eye on the weather between here and Africa on a daily basis. We've learned to respect the elements at a new level. I have also noticed that I 'knock on wood' (or "touch wood" as some of the Brits say) a lot more often since we've moved to this island. I don't think I started out being superstitious about close calls, but hey, it doesn't hurt to cover the bases. There might be some mixed emotions about that, too, come to think of it. I looked up this 'touch wood' thing on the internet. The general story of the origin has to do with old European superstitions. Touching wood seems to be the ancient equivalent of giving a high five to a wood sprite living in a tree. The last 'wood sprites' I touched knuckles with down here were trying to eat part of my workshop at the time. It got ugly. Maybe I got the wood sprite secret handshake wrong or something.

If you've been following this blog you might remember from the last post that we had just returned from three weeks in the U.S. of A. We got pretty busy with getting caught up in chores here. Some processes don't stop in our absence. Leaving the bugs, weeds, and corrosion on their own for three weeks in the tropics is kinda like leaving three teenagers the house and a couple of credit cards while you spend a month in Europe. They all run amok eventually, to some extent.

When we got back to Provo we had a couple of priorities to take care of. We managed to get out to Blue Hills for a badly needed conch fix. (We didn't notice any conch dishes offered anywhere we stopped in Texas, New Mexico or Colorado.) We noticed that the Conch Shack is now cooking up and bottling a local Turks and Caicos hot sauce.

And it's pretty good stuff, in our judgement. We like spicy, though. It might not be for everyone. I wouldn't suggest substituting it in equal quantities for ketchup on your french fried potatoes, for example.

Another thing we really missed during our time off island was the boating. Three weeks without a boat seemed unnatural. We were more than ready to again feel the spray on our faces. The sun on our backs. The wind in our hair. Well, the wind in La Gringa's hair, anyhow. In my case I feel it on my chin. And eyebrows and ears. (What the heck IS it with old men and ear hair, anyway?) The weather's been fairly scruffy due to a series of inconsiderate storms mucking up the middle of the Atlantic. We know that a number of cruising sailors have been waiting in the Bahamas for a weather window before heading across on their yearly trip south. I know that we jumped at the first opportunity to take the Hobie for a sail after our return.

We really didn't have a destination in mind. We just wanted to go sailing around for a few hours. Sailing makes us happier. It's that simple. Feeling that surge of power and acceleration as the wind catches the sail. Listening to the sounds of the water and waves under the hull. Watching for the splash the dog makes when he goes overboard.. We don't get that same connection with power boats, although they do have a feel all their own. It's sort of the difference between driving a motorcycle and skiing. We were sailing along the south coast of Providenciales when we noticed light colored slashes in the rock lining the shore. We decided to sail closer for a look. We found out that these are where ledges undercut by wave action have broken off and fallen into the sea. The freshly exposed rock is the light, unweathered limestone color.

We hadn't noticed this many large pieces broken off earlier in the summer, so are of the opinion that these were precipitated by the heavy waves of Hurricane Irene in late August.

We also were having fun playing in the waves that reflected off of the rock faces when we were close to them in the light kayak. The smallish ocean waves were coming from behind and to our left in this next photo. This little wave was one of those that had bounced off the rock and was coming back, across the regular waves. There are some interesting effects in a boat this small.

That's another broken ledge, by the way. There are a lot of them. We returned to a smaller island!

Here you can see that the waves are just really a light chop, stretching out toward the horizon. But you can also see that when a reflected wave combines with an original wave coming in the opposite direction, their two heights are summed and the result picks the boat up suddenly. Rattles it a bit, too.

The next couple of weekends the weather was just too wild for our little boats. Oh, we would have gone out if we had a driving reason to do so, but we didn't. One of the benefits of living here full time is the luxury of waiting until the weather is better. No matter how long that takes. Well, within reason, of course. Touching wood again, here.

Then last week we had one of those visits that helps us get through the day to day trials and tribulations of maintaining this indolent tropical lifestyle. We had guests here on their very first experience in the Turks and Caicos Islands. We knew this was going to be fun.

Gina and Joe are friends of La Gringa's from a former life in New Jersey. We had invited them for a visit, and they finally took us up on the offer. We started them with a driving tour of Providenciales, hitting some of the usual spots. Here's a view of their first visit to Grace Bay beach (and you can probably see why we haven't been boating as much as we usually do).

I think I would call that weather borderline snarly, which is a word I just made up for a combination of snotty and gnarly. Our guests had seen the photos of this beach in an earlier blog post, but it looks different with 20 kts. of wind at high tide.

I have a question for some of our readers. You had written me saying that these rock and mesh wire basket erosion control structures are called gabions. I understand the idea of using smaller rocks to equal the mass of a big rock. But I am curious as to whether it is common practice to fill the bottom of the wire baskets with plastic bags of sand?

Looking at the exposed back side of this one, I noticed for the first time that the layer of rock is only a couple of feet thick, at most. I mean, it seems to me that bags of sand could shift and topple the gabion they were supporting, if you know what I mean...

Well, anyhow, we took Gina and Joe to several spots around Providenciales to give them an idea of what sort of place we live on these days. Of course we had to take them to the Conch Shack for lunch. I think that's now obligatory with new guests. They watched the guy knocking and cleaning conch for a while. You know, one of those annoying professionals who make it look easy.

We also took them down to Leeward Going Through to see about the possibilities of finding a ride over to Pine Cay in the next day or so. I was taking one of my semi-regular little surveys of the state of the outboard motor market here. I've learned to pay attention to what the guys who make a living with their boats use for a motor.

In this photo I find one Honda, one Mercury, two Evinrudes, an inboard of unknown manufacture, and twelve Yamahas. It would be fourteen Yamahas if I counted the two 300 HP four strokes on the back of the ferry to the left. But they aren't in the picture so I won't even use them in the statistic that I am not going to pursue any further.

I know that the North Caicos ferry boat to the left previously had two big Suzuki 300's on it, and I noticed that they've changed back to Yamahas. Of course this is of interest to us as new Suzuki owners.

I also know a lot of regular users of Leeward are going to be interested to see what kind of place develops here as a new, long overdue, eagerly awaited, and sorely missed restaurant goes through construction.

I'm pretty sure I speak for a few others when I say that in our opinion the community at Leeward lost a bit of it's soul when Gilley's restaurant was demolished some years ago. This won't exactly replace what the Caicos Islands lost when criminal greed got out of hand here, but it'll sure help. Leeward was a community center for a long time. It's been less than it once was for local boaters since the whole Nikki Beach and Star Island fiascos were allowed to happen. Personally, I wish the Turks and Caicos Islands government would seize the floating docks in Leeward Going Through and turn half of them into a government owned public marina.

I think that the other half should be moved the heck out of the middle of the navigable channel, where they were illegally installed in the first place. Sell them or use them for another marina over on North or Middle Caicos. This shouldn't even be an eminent domain issue, as I understand the term. This area should never have been treated like private property in the first place.

Now, I have to confess I didn't see this next toy first hand, or take these photos. This was last Monday, and we had just launched our little skiff to run our guests over to Pine Cay. I was in the boat when La Gringa came down with a load of groceries and borrowed my camera. She had spotted this contraption in the parking lot of the marina and wanted to get some images of it before the owners left with it.

I have seen videos of these things leaping out of the water like mechanical bottle nose dolphins, sort of. I would post a link to that, but I figure anyone interested in them can certainly find them using the information in these photos. I notice it has what appears to be a snorkel coming out of the top of it and two sets of movable planes that apparently move in opposite directions for extreme pitch control.

The controls look simple enough:

I'm totally guessing here that the big levers are for the diving planes, the pedals are for a rudder or some lateral control, and the throttle is in the left hand grip. La Gringa didn't get into the mechanics of it so we don't know what the drive is, but suspect it has a lot in common with those SeaDoos you can see four photos up from here. Back when I was babbling about Yamahas. There's room in there for the driver and one passenger in a seat behind him. I suppose that sooner or later we might be lucky enough to get some video of this thing in action. It does look like fun.

I have to wonder what practical uses it might have, other than the sheer thrill of it all of course. I have no idea of the range, but it seems to me that if one were to remove the rear seat and replace it with a auxiliary fuel tank and paint the whole thing Flipper Gray...... one might reasonably expect to get to meet some US Coast Guard personnel in one's not too distant future.

I hope I get a chance to take a look at this thing eventually. But as previously reported, I didn't see it myself this time. We took our skiff from Leeward over to Pine Cay and showed Gina and Joe around the island. Here's Dooley the Demented drafting a golf cart down main street.

Our friends were staying on Pine Cay for the rest of the week, while we returned to our mundane lifestyle in the thriving metropolis of Provo. We showed them the pathway to the beach, and I noticed that our original 'Christmas Stump'is still where we retired it. It looks like it might be starting it's new career as a sea grape bush.

We left the young lovers on Pine Cay with a place to stay and introductions to the bartender, and La Gringa, Dooley, and I returned to Providenciales

During the first week of December we had several days of beautiful weather, with sunny skies and light winds. We find ourselves awake well before sunrise during the short days this time of the year, which bodes well for sunrise photos over the next few months. You know, until the days get long and we get lazy again. Here are three conch fishermen heading out into a line of squalls, just a few minutes before dawn:

I had to grab whatever camera was available for that shot, and it was the little Pentax point and shoot. Hence the grainy effect of the small lens in low light. (Did you know that we can tell by the wake that this boat is probably not owned by someone from South Caicos?)

Now, when I say we had work to do on Provo, I wasn't kidding. I haven't even bored you guys with posting photos of all the DIY stuff going on around here over the past month since our return. We've replaced screens, fixed window cranks, worked on the boat, and cleaned most of the termite damage out of the garage. I've taken the opportunity to re-arrange my little workshop while working on my theory of tool tectonics. I also started a floor lamp project that I had intended to post a DIY on but sometimes life has a way of resetting priorities. I'm sure you know exactly what I'm talking about. I like John Lennon's quote that "life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans".

For example, on the way home pulling the boat with our little Defender 90, I noticed that the hand brake was no longer working correctly. I had a few days before needing the boat again and decided to fix it. This is the third of these handbrake fixes I've gone through so far, so I guess 'fix' isn't really the right word. Nothing ever really gets fixed here, except for certain financial transactions I have only heard rumored, although with several arrests on the books this month, perhaps now 'rumor' isn't really the right word any more than 'fix'. But back to hardware...

While I had the hand brake apart (the Brits call it a transmission or propshaft brake) I couldn't help but notice that the rear universal joint was well on it's way to iron oxide. Sigh. Good thing I bought four extra universal joints, the last time this happened. Last year.

I used an extra socket in close cooperation with a large hammer to drive the old one out:

And yessir, I think even the most creative of shade tree mechanics would agree that this u-joint is toast. There comes a time when repair is no longer a feasible option. Rust and corrosion aside, there are too many big pieces here, and too few little ones:

I held one of the abrasive Dremel cutting discs up against a piece of hard metal (steel file handle 's sharp corner) to give it a square edge, Then I used that to clean out the snap ring grooves on the driveshaft yokes. They were in pretty bad shape.

And when it's all over, voila. A brand new freshly greased universal joint:

They look so cute when they're young. But check back with me in a year. This u-joint, too, shall come to pass.

While we were showing our friends around the island, Joe had quite reasonably stepped onto one of the folding steps of the other Defender to climb up into the truck. It basically collapsed. I decided there on the spot that this was to be the end of the great maintain-the-folding step fiasco.

It's been an ongoing battle, and I've learned a lot about corrosion, but I don't think people should have to worry about tetanus to ride in our vehicles. It took me the better part of an entire day to get all four steps off the truck. But I did. Sixteen corroded, gummed up bolts to undo. They were so bad they were between wrench sizes. I don't even want to know what Land Rover would charge us for four new ones, and it's immaterial, anyway. I might have to come up with some kind of step. A simple stirrup of stainless tubing might work, but I think having a lot of moving steel parts is pretty much a recipe for a limited lifespan in this climate.

On Friday our friends returned from their little holiday on Pine Cay. We picked them up at Leeward and they stayed with us again while awaiting their flight back to the USA. They wanted to take one last look around before leaving the island and decided to just walk around our neighborhood. We grabbed some cameras and tagged along.

These are the rocks surrounding the entrance to Juba Salina. The TC Islanders call this eroded limestone "iron shore'".

The far entrance, marked by two poles with flashing lights, is the entrance to the Caicos Marina and Boatyard. The entrance to the marina is safe, and about seven feet deep at high tide. The entrance to Juba Salina is not safe, and is probably three feet deep. One would not want to get these two entrances mixed up when bringing one's boat into the marina.

Dooley the Distant was off looking for small animals to terrorize. It's almost like he was playing a game of 'Where's Waldo?" Can you spot him in the middle of this photo?

Perhaps we could call his version "¿Dónde está Dooley?" He's actually pretty easy to spot in reality. He's always a moving object for one thing. And he typically doesn't roam too far away from us. He's afraid he might miss something exciting.

We wandered down the shoreline for a while, and it was very interesting to us to see our little section of island through fresh eyes. This is all stuff we started taking for granted years ago, and rarely look at very closely anymore unless something gets our attention. This has become another of our normal background images. It looks so different when someone else is saying "Oh my GOSH, just LOOK at that! Gimme a camera!". I have to stop myself from spinning around and saying "What? What are you looking at?"

Oh. It was just one of the neighbor's houses and some more of that perfectly clear warm ocean water. Ho hum.

We've got some more good photos of that view taken later in the day, by the way. I'll save those until the end of the post.

While we were snooping around I noticed these little plants that seem to live quite happily with no topsoil or steady fresh water supply. We've had very mixed results with the imported plants that our original landscaping contractor supplied (don't get me started). We are always on the lookout for local flora that looks good, actually likes it here and doesn't require the plant kingdom's version of perpetual intensive care to survive. We found the sea sage by observing the native environment, and it's doing very well at the house. I don't know the name of this little shrub yet. I wonder what it would do if it had regular water. Would it grow large enough to be a hedge between us and the wind? Would it repay our kindness by attacking us with thorns in the manner of bougainvillea and certain relatives? I might just have to find out.

Walking along the shore line we were again reminded of how different things were during the last hurricane. Debris is still scattered along a contour about ten feet above the normal high tide level. We would assume most of this splintered timber was thrown here by Hurricane Irene in August.

The maximum recent high water mark is probably marked by another lost shoe. I wonder if there's any shoreline on earth still unmarked by human footgear.

After dropping Gina and Joe at the airport for their flight home we once again found ourselves walking along the road with cameras in hand. We decided to see if we could get some good sunset photos over the ocean, from a high point with an unobstructed view. See? Our summer laziness is slowly evaporating. It's that time of year.

We were hoping for a good photogenic sunset. The clouds and rain squalls were moving all around us even before we got there. Was there really a time in my life when I believed that this might mean gold and riches just over the hill? Well, for starters, that's the wrong hill. Tropical Leprechauns can't fool ME! Ha. I know there's water on the other side of that hill.

Oh....uh....wait a minute Gringo you dummy. In the tropics, come to think of it, lost gold is usually under water...

Come back, Mr. Leprechaun, please. I didn't mean any disrespect, sir...

In our determination to get a good sunset photo La Gringa brought her DSLR camera and a monopod along, while I carried my trusty pocket point-and-shoot. The difference in the photo quality between the two is rarely more pronounced than when we shoot side by side images of colorful subjects in low light conditions. Just before the rainstorm overtook the afternoon and drove us to seek shelter, La Gringa took this one with her Pentax K-x:

I was a short distance further to the right, toward the middle of the island with my little camera, and taking photos as the rain squalls began to move through. I was hoping for some dramatic lightning photos. Well, not TOO dramatic, of course, but you know what I mean. Boy, the rain in the air between me and the sunset sure wiped out the colorful aspect of it all:

That was probably the last photo we took yesterday before the heavens opened up. I guess I could have finished the post with that one, but I much, much prefer the sunset photo La Gringa took just a few moments earlier:

Gotta give credit where credit is due. Besides, I wouldn't want to annoy a good resource like that.


Too late.


Ashworth said...

Your writings are like a good book, I start and can't stop until there is no more to read. By the time I am done, I want more. What can I say?
Being it is getting cool at night, how do you keep warm when the temperature drops. Do you have a heater of some type, a fireplace, or do you just turn on the oven and leave the door open?
Great to see your friends from Jersey came for a visit. Keep the great writings coming. We are now starting to get down into the 30s here and it won't be long before that white stuff appears.
Thank you for todays story.
New Jersey
Lil Provo

Anonymous said...

Wild guess. Empty sand bags are a whole lot easier to cart over there than rocks. The rocks look like a half hearted attempt to complete the job once they ran out of bags? Do they look like they were scavanged from the immediate surrounds?

With the place practically being limestone, do they have their own concrete/cement production?

You could make mini-dolosse* on the cheap and shore up the whole place once and for all :-)


Anonymous said...

There is no conventional source of room heating in our house. We could open the oven door or run the glass cook top in a pinch, I guess. It hasn't gotten so bad that dressing warmer and cranking some of the windows down didn't fix it.

I think all the concrete here is imported. You have to burn limestone to make cement, don't you? I have often wondered if there wasn't some kind of chemical concoction one could dump on crushed limestone to solidify it. The locals have told us that dumping sea water on a crushed limestone driveway makes it more durable than using fresh water.

We still have massive erosion issues on this hill.

I think I read somewhere that there is an old curse that goes something like "May you live an interesting life".

Anonymous said...

HAH! That's a great pic of Dooley in his natural ghillie suit. I had to cheat. I wonder if people aware if you click the picks it takes you to where they are hosted and you can zoom in to the full size of them, incredibly clear and huge in their original size. Brilliant resolution in their original size and format.

Yes, it is heated to produce clinker which is ground down to cement. That's and idea, a binding agent of sorts. Probably some liquid plastic of sorts but cost prohibitive. Out of my realm. In Africa they hand compress mud/clay and bake it in the sun which produces rock sold bricks (stronger/same than/as fire kiln). I wonder if you tried that, combine the natural lime stone and salt water and compress it and then leave it in the sun, how it would work out? In between DIY and everything else, I picture a miniture press exact same as your tortilla device, all you need is say a 1 x 1 cube mold. Compress it as hard as you can and leave it in the sun to bake. Then smack it with a hammer to see how resillient it is. I expect cheap building blocks there would be a runaway success?

Anonymous said...

Yes, if you click a photo it will take you to the albums on Picasa. But they're actually not the original size. I usually crop them and reduce them to 50% before uploading them. As you can see, they are still plenty big. If anyone ever wanted a full size one we could email it.

I typically upload about a quarter of the photos we take. La Gringa goes crazy with her little built in motor drive sometimes, but it means I usually have a few good sunsets to choose from. It's difficult not to just post all of the good ones, but then the posts would be 150 images and take a week to load. It's tough to edit them to around 30 or so.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I have been coming to Provo for 15+ years. We own at OC. Your comments are spot on - especially about Leeward. Very happy to hear about a restaurant coming in BUT it will never replace Gilley's!!!

joe s said...

just finished pounding conch for christmas dinner. missed 2 lobster so we made up for that with more conch. new respect for those very inexpensive conch fritters, conch salad, conch lazagna (?)

Anonymous said...

I hope y'all had yourselves a wonderful Christmas this year.


Anonymous said...

Thanks gw, and we hope the same for you. We are still in the throes of the whole Christmas thing. We had two offspring here for Christmas, with a third arriving with a friend to join us all for New Years. Full house.

Anonymous said...

Hello Nelson. Thank you for writing, and a Happy New Year to you, too! I know what New Year's can be like in Rio. I went there during a career. I worked in Brasil a few times.

I did visit your blog. Very nice. For any of our other readers interested in art, and literature, I would recommend checking it out.

And from a mechanical perspective I really like that feature that allows the reader to translate from your original Portuguese to any of the other major languages. We must add that feature here, if we can! Does it translate DumbA East Texan into English?

Bob said...

Came across your blog via a forum post about shoal draft sailing craft--have you ever checked out "The Slapdash"? It's a Gemini catamaran, manufactured by Performance Cruising in Maryland, now owned by Hunter. I've been on one, great vessel.

BTW, your blog is great, I went back to your first posts and read forward. Great insights on island living (I'm a UH alum), life in general, and THE PERPETUALLY SNOWBALLING DIY EFFORTS! I'm so totally there. My nickname when I lived in Asia was "Maguy-wee" which is Chinese for "MacGyver." Go figure, I had a Swiss Army knife.

On another note, my JRT Buck saw me reading your blog, and then snuck off with my iPawPad to "Like" Dooley and send him a Friends Request on Facebook. I think they may be from the same litter....

Keep it up, great blog, and great example of what you can do with blogger. When does the coffee table book come out?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kind remarks, Bob. Yes, we followed the adventures of "Slapdash" for the most part. Last I heard the boat was headed back across the Atlantic to the US and is for sale. Would be the perfect boat for us here, to continue exploring and writing and taking photos much further afield, don't you think? They could even deliver it to us.

Maybe we could take up a collection...Buy the Gringos a Boat! We promise lots of photos and funny descriptions! Dooley will be on board!

We'd love to do a book of some kind, but unfortunately don't know where to even start a project like that. This is our first blog attempt, and 260 posts later we're still trying to figure out what works, and what people find interesting.

If anyone here knows someone in that business that thinks it would work, please send them our way. We have thousands of photos. And plans for many more.