Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Irene, Part 3

In Which our Weary Waterlogged Witnesses Wander
Witlessly Whilst Winnowing Wreckage.
Dooley the Discombobulated Maintains His Low Profile.

We Take a Ride Around the Island.

We have one more post about our experience with this annoying hurricane, and then we'll leave it to our fellow Irene-ians up in the USA to deal with from here on out. We were lucky on this one and we know it.

We have now gone though the videos and photos we took during the storm, and found this one on the GoPro camera. It was taken mid-morning after the storm had mostly passed us by. We were still seeing winds of 60-70 mph with the errant gust that would get your attention, but were able to set the camera up in the lee of the house out of the wind. The camera is inside a plastic case, so the noise was doubly muted. Once by being on the quiet side of the house, and again by the camera being enclosed. We were not tempted to take a boat out today.

As soon as we had the house more or less back in useful order and drying out we had to take a trip around town. The storm surge receded even faster than it rose this time. This is unlike Hurricane Hanna's storm surge, which lasted for days. We know the usual spots in the road that flood now. This corner by the private (and mostly unused) marina is always one of the first places to wash out. The ocean has a direct path across our little isthmus here. And it takes it.

This is usually the fastest current when the road is flooded. Too fast to stand up in. Certainly too fast for a floating vehicle without propellers. We have learned not to drive the trucks in sea water if we can avoid it. It does them absolutely no good at all. So we wait for the seas to totally subside before venturing out. Parts are just too hard to come by to rust them out for no good reason.

Parking one of the Defenders up against the house worked out fairly well. When I first tried to start it the battery was completely dead. I think perhaps being blasted by rain water shorted something out and drained it. After drying it out and recharging it we had no further troubles. One of the things we like about the Defenders. They are pretty rugged and straightforward. No traumatized computers that we can see.

The storm did peel some more of the paint up off the top. I guess paint doesn't stick to aluminum very well in the first place.

The force of the driving mix of wind and water in a hurricane is very impressive. In the video we posted earlier you can see the water blasting by just on the other side of the Defender.

Inside the house we had a constant battle trying to staunch leaks. And they changed as the wind changed. And the wind direction changed as the storm swept just a few miles to the south of us with its circular winds. We started out fighting leaks in the north end of the house. I was in the attic with rolled up blankets and duct tape. I am not kidding. I couldn't stop the water from coming in, but could only diminish it by some amount. But that wasn't the end of it. Oh no. two hours later the water was blowing from the east, right over the open ocean. This is when we lost a lot of the paint from the house.

At one point the gusts of wind were pounding directly against the aluminum storm shutters that were closed over the closed sliding glass windows. The air pressure of the gusts was forcing its way up through the water in the door tracks. We had hurricane percolation.

Music is 'Neph' by Trombone Shorty

By daylight we were stuffing clothing and small dogs (anything that was left) against the windows on the south side of the house. We could trace the storms progress by looking at the caulking materials location around the inside of the house. The north side had fresh duct tape and towels. The eastern facing side had the remaining towels tapering into the t-shirt supply. And finally, the south side of the house had the better quality and favorite clothing and blankets. The duct tape supply gave out somewhere around northeast by east.

But that's the end of the storm images we'll post. By the time this gets uploaded the news media will be full of fresh images of hurricane damage. So we'll concentrate the rest of this in the sunny weather that always comes with the high pressure just after one of the storms passes through. The day after a hurricane always seems beautiful. But then perhaps I could say that about the next day after any kind of survival experience.

Leaving our neighborhood we could easily see how high the storm surge had gotten up the sides of the lower spots. There is a line of smashed up vegetation and formerly floating debris at the high water mark.

Our friend Preacher had called us to see how we weathered the storm. He told us that the floating docks at the Leeward Marina had let go, again. So we thought we'd start our trip by heading in that direction. Leeward Highway was flooded in all of the usual low spots. These guys were in pretty good spirits, considering the mess the water must make of the apartments here.

We were driving through fairly slowly, but some people are obviously not boaters and are apparently unaware of the "No Wake In Residential Zone" regulations.

Obviously the upper floor has more to recommend it than just the view. Although the fishing is probably better downstairs.

We made our way to Leeward without much trouble. There are a lot of branches blown down and flood debris on the road but nothing to really hinder navigation. When we got to Walkin Marina in Leeward we could see that the floating plastic docks that caused us so much grief in 2008 had let go again. There were a few sections still attached to the mooring anchors. But not many.

And obviously the fencing around the Conch Farm has taken a beating in the storm. We'll have to keep our eyes peeled for any mass conch jailbreaks while the walls are breached.

We drove out onto the Heaving Down Rock area to see if we could spot any serious damage. It was eerily quiet, without many people around and not much boat activity. Judging by the angle of the outboard and anchor line, I suspect this one got dragged here from someplace else.

Looking around this familiar launching area I was again struck by how empty and quiet it appeared. Almost everyone had hauled their boats out of the water for the storm. And those who could not get their boats pulled out drove them up into the protected networks of canals where they could be securely tied and sheltered somewhat from the direct force of the winds.

The first few boats to be re-launched were showing up while we were there. Looking at this scene, we realized that the large landing craft that is always sitting here on the sand bank was no longer here.

Then we noticed it had gotten loose and been blown ashore over by the former Nikki Beach resort.

While we were looking around our friend Harry from the staff at Pine Cay showed up in his conch boat. It's been a long time since my feet were tough enough to wade from that boat to the beach here, but Harry had no problem with it. I think he's done it before.

Preacher drove up in his Jeep while we were there. He had come to give Harry a ride into town. We were talking to him while Harry was putting his pants and shoes on. Preacher told us that there had been a fire at the Big Blue dive and eco-tour operation.

We drove over to Big Blue to see how bad the damage was. Their main office building was untouched, but the storage and work shed that was next door was completely destroyed. Nice tropical disaster scene. We went to the Tiki Hut on Turtle Cove for lunch and heard that an electrical short caused by the storm was the cause of the fire. It won't put Big Blue out of business. They probably needed a new workshop area, anyway.

We walked around the area a bit to see if there was any obvious disaster footage to be had. And thankfully we didn't find much. Oh, the shrubbery here suffered from the wind and erosion. In fact we saw dozens of small bushes and trees that had the soil blown completely away from their root systems. I don't know what these plants are, but would be interested to see if they can survive this kind of abuse. We could use a few tough plants ourselves..

We found plenty of one of the local varieties of vine that is very familiar to us. The latin name for this stuff is Ipomoea pes-caprae but we've only heard it called Railroad Vine. We've got it planted at the house now, and it basically takes care of itself. It grows phenomenally fast, and seems to put out a fresh batch of blossoms every morning. Even after a hurricane:

I like the Railroad vine better than most of the other plants we've experimented with. It's good ground cover, and erosion protection. But still, I also have to admire the tenacity of some of these other guys. I bet this one was pretty glad when the wind let up and the water receded. I think he was on his last root.

I can't tell if it's trying to crawl home or just keeping in touch with his old neighborhood.

I also cannot tell you if the J&B Tours building was damaged before the hurricane, as we haven't been here in well over a year. Whatever shape it was in before the storm, it's worse now.

Looking out at the now peaceful water of Leeward Going Through, I have to think what a shame it is that the best built marina facility in the entire country is also one of the most useless. Years after their construction, these floating docks sit idle. They jut out into the Leeward waterway and impede the passage of people who have used this water for generations. As I understand it, building these docks on top of a National Park was illegal. What I don't understand is why the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands cannot seize it by imminent domain and turn it into a government run marina. There must be a few million reasons I don't know about. But most of the boats in the country would fit inside these protective arms if we could but use them.

At this point in our travels we decided to stop by the Provo Golf club to see if we might filch some internet WiFi signal. We saw a lot of palm tree damage, and debris blown down onto the greens, but in general it all looked to be in good shape. The big trees lining the entrance were all blown down. Again.

Leaving the area along Grace Bay road we saw that the usual spots are doing their usual flooding routine. There is really nothing new about this, either. This will all be gone in a day or so.

We were not able to get to the internet at the Golf Club so we tried at the internet cafe over at Turtle Cove. It's a relatively newer restaurant called "Greenbeans" and they serve Starbucks coffee. Alas, their internet connection was as non-functional as the rest of the island.

I did notice an interesting sight across the parking lot from Greensleeves at a local furniture store. I just took this photo to show Dooley the Distraught that he's not the only dog that gets scared stiff during severe weather.

It might be too late for medication, here. I meant me. Not the dogs.

If you have read back into the blog to September of 2008 you might be familiar with one of the things we tried to do during the last hurricane. We drove down to the Caicos Marina and Boatyard and took photos of the damaged boats there. We did that in response to a lot of emails that we were getting from worried boat owners. We were staying in a place with one of the few internet connections and electrical power still functioning on the island at that time. The boatyard phones and power lines were out. We were able to show people which boats were damaged and which ones were not.

We didn't do that this year. Oh, we went to the boatyard, all right. We have our Contender parked there and wanted to make sure it came through the storm okay. Just getting to the boatyard at the end of Long Bay Road itself is a bit of an ordeal at the moment. This was too deep even for the Land Rover. We had to drive around using other roads

The roads are fairly open. We did have to dodge some debris from time to time. We learned the hard way to avoid roofing shingles on the roads, because they very often hide roofing nails. Sometimes it's hard to see them. It's NOT hard to see the nails when entire sections of roof have blown into the road. We were not too happy to see that this is a standing-rib metal roof design similar to our own. Ah oh.

The staff at the boatyard had hauled every boat that they could lift out of the water. They were relaunching some of them as we were there, and I suspect some of these came from private homes up the nearest canal. The floating docks here were also in some disarray, but these will quickly be put back together.

We didn't feel the need to take photos of damaged boats and publish them time around. We had already been contacted by several boat owners privately and asked if we could check on their boats for them, and this we were happy to do. This time around we only saw a very few instances of damage. Two monohull sailboats got blown over, and we saw several instances of shredded jib sails. And the boatyard sent out emails this year telling their customers the status of their boats. So we don't have to get involved this time, and that is fine by us. Looking at damaged boats is not really much fun, and telling people bad news is even worse.

It's no secret that we are multihull enthusiasts when it comes to sailboats for the Turks and Caicos and Bahamian waters. The dangerous reefs, thousands of uncharted coral heads, and shifting sand bars around all these little islands just seems to point us toward shallow draft boats. We had been thinking of a specific catamaran design, until we spoke at some length with the owner of one of the boats we were favoring. We think we are in the process of changing our minds. The Hobie Adventure Island has taken us up over 10 knots of water speed several times now, and we like the speed. We find ourselves starting to adopt a saying one of our correspondents used in an email... "life is too short to sail slow". So lately we've been thinking more along the lines of a trimaran. They're fast. They are kind of spartan for living quarters, it's more like camping in a Volkswagen microbus than living the condo-maran life of a big cat. Some of them (like this nice little F-28R below) are trailerable. And we just discovered another aspect of the trimarans that we like.

They don't fall over in hurricanes.

So, once again we find ourselves on the output side of another hurricane. Hurricanes are massive experiences, even at their mildest. (If they weren't serious storms they would never make the classification.) They change things. Some of them are big changes, some are small, but make no mistake, things are never exactly the same after a storm like this than they were before.

Island people learn to pick up the pieces, make the adjustments, and hope to be ready for the next curve that life throws their way. As long as nobody gets hurt, the rest of it is just stuff. Boats can be replaced. Roofs are fixable. So are satellite dishes, by the way. This time.

This is hopefully the end of our experience with Hurricane Irene, although we do have family still in its path. But here, the seas have calmed, the sun has come out, people are fixing damage and making plans, as always. The flamingos have extended their vacation to sort through the stirred up goodies in Juba Salina.

And after all was said and done we were lucky. We got through this one with nothing much worse than the human equivalent of some ruffled feathers.

And now we can get back to the fun parts again. We hope.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hurricane Irene, Part 2

This will be a really poorly done blog post, and I apologize for that. I am trying to upload photos and get Google Blogger to run, and it's not going smoothly. But we'll try to see if we can get something out.

We’ve just experienced the violent weather of another tropical hurricane. Takes a little while to shake that experience off. These things are intense. Now the recovery phase begins.

We’ve taken a few photos, but they don’t look like our typical sunny tropical environment snapshots. Hurricanes seem to turn the world around them into some pretty severe gray scales. We have had no internet connection to upload photos. In fact we’re now into our second day without town power or internet. We run our portable generator about an hour or so several times a day to keep the fridge/freezer cold and to run the water pump. The cisterns at level full, so water is not a problem. I guess I should say that the LACK of water is not a problem. Water itself, well, I know you’ve heard the phrase ‘too much of a good thing’. We’re familiar with that. We’re scruffy, exhausted and grumpy from getting no sleep for two nights. Our ears are still ringing from the loud incessant noise of it all.

Today the internet is in and out, and we are still running our portable generator for power. I attached a piece of tubing to the gasoline line in the skiff, so we have about sixteen gallons of gasoline. If we run the generator on a schedule, we can go awhile. I would imagine the power company should have the electricity back on within a day or so, after a piddling little storm like this one. Listen to me now, eh? Now that it's all over and we know we made it through. I was a lot more anxious just before dawn this morning. Some noises are louder than others. They distinguish themselves in your imagination. "Oh, was that the roof I just heard? Or maybe just the barbeque grill hitting the Land Rover." You know how silly one can get during these stressful times.

At dawn I crawled down around the edge of the house, keeping in the lee and out of the wind. It was still blowing really hard. In fact the roughest winds we got were around 04:30 in the morning. Believe it or not, this IS a sunrise photo.

We lost power at 03:30, and I waited until daylight to see if it was safe to open the garage door. I was creeping around with a camera. Not much to see at that time of the morning. The quality of the photos is because of the low light to a large extent, but also it was impossible to hold the camera still in the buffeting winds. We were still seeing winds in the 80 mph range at dawn. And water. The air was filled with water. These are the little rocky hills down on the water that are usually in the foreground of our sunrise photos. Nice, eh I think the tanning index on this one was a negative three digits. I'll show you what it does to paint in a few minutes.

I had managed to get the generator started up and a power cord run to the house. We had the coffee maker going, at least. I was having trouble getting the house to run on it though. I waited for a little more daylight, and fortified with several thousand milligrams of fresh caffeine, then I went out troubleshooting.

This is what could be called a 'bracing' morning excursion. Those columns of water are the overflows from the two cisterns. They are level full. No water shortages today, by golly.

And with the amazing miracle of stop-action flash photography, I can show you electrically minded folks why I was having some issues with hooking the generator up to the house.

The fractured stream on the left next to the PVC pipe is being shredded by the wind. The stream on the right is bigger, and just slightly tucked out of the main wind. It was just a matter of angle. But notice what the solid stream on the right is doing. It's splashing on the top of the irrigation system's air tank, and the water is going into the open circuit breaker box. The plastic lid has broken in the wind, and the box blows open. Aha. This, I can work around.

While I was working my way down to the garage and trying to hook the house up, La Gringa managed to shoot some video. This is on the protected, landward side of the house, just after dawn. The buttonwood trees are being shredded even as we watch:

Music is 'Juan Loco' by Rodrigo y Gabriela

I am not going to bore you with all the little details of how we spent the rest of this morning. Mostly trying to stop leaks. Water was blowing horizontally through large parts of our home's interior airspace. And getting into things we would rather have kept dry. You know how these pesky hurricanes can be. Danged inconvenient at times. Every single time, come to think of it.

Looking out at Juba Salina, you can see that our only road out of here is under about two feet of water at this end. Unfortunately, if it's two feet deep here at our rocky end, we know it's between three and four feet deep at the lowest spot a few miles up the road. No sense in driving the Land Rover through this. We're stranded, without power, internet, or sat tv. We can run the generator and the cell phones still work. We know we can't get out, so we don't even try. Driving in this stuff is really bad for the truck. This is sea water.

We took a lot of photos of the same subjects over and over. These rocks were a little easier to see now that the sky had lightened up and the rain diminished. The winds were still howling, though. It was very difficult to walk upright anywhere except immediately up against the protection of the downwind side of the house.

Guess what this stuff is?

It's a handful of the shredded leaves of the buttonwood hedge that is standing off in the distance in this photo. Most of the leaves are gone from these. The wind stripped them off and beat them to a pulp as they circulated around and around the patio for hours before being thrown out over here into this pile:

The storm peaked passed at its closest point at 2 in the morning, but we got the strongest winds here later than that. We were seeing winds of 98 mph at 4 AM. It was an interesting day. I didn't say it was a fun one. We’ve changed into dry clothes three or four times in the past twenty four hours, and I don’t know if there are many dry shirts or towels in the house right now. They’re soaked through, and scattered all over the floor, and jammed into windows and the bottom of sliding glass doors. A lot of our wardrobe got drafted as weather caulking. This is a good time to note one’s least favorite t-shirts. Those seem to be the ones I grab without hesitation when I need to jam something up against a leaking louver. This storm blew a lot of water horizontally with considerable force. We were dealing with the water all night.

Nobody I know could have slept through all those howling, rumbling, shrieking and whistling noises that a hurricane produces. If you’ve never ridden out a hurricane while stranded and isolated in a dark house in the middle of a tropical night…. my advice would be to avoid it.

We started preparing the day before the storm, and were still stashing loose objects and securing shutters as the winds increased throughout that afternoon and last night. Irene tracked just a few miles to the south of us and was at her closest early this morning. We didn’t sleep through it. This was a real one. It was a Category Two here, with winds of 100 mph. We have since heard that it was intensifying as it passed us, and it was a Category Three as it left here. That fits in exactly with our own experience, and explains why the winds were stronger two hours after it passed at it's closest point. It was growing. We knew all this was coming, of course. The nervous anticipation is a big part of the experience. There was no way to avoid it, there’s really not too many places to run to on a small island. The Providenciales International Airport was closed as the storm approached so hopping a flight out wasn’t even an option. It's still closed as I am writing this. We know there are a lot of stranded people here who thought they were flying home in the last couple of days. Extended vacations abound. With a good excuse.

I had mentioned how hard the water was blowing. We are finding these spots all along the windward side of the house. The wind and water basically just pressure washed the paint right off.

It was strange to feel that the day had turned nice when the wind velocity dropped down to around 50 mph. This lizard had been taking shelter behind the stump of the light that was actually a victim of Hurricane Hanna back three years ago. We have still not replaced these lights. We have about 20 fixtures that were destroyed. We have not been able to find anything that we like the looks of that we also think will survive these conditions. These particular lights were falling apart within six months of being installed. We won't make that mistake again.

The plants are all trashed, of course. 75% or more defoliation. I had to walk around looking to find even the remnants of a single bougainvillea blossom. And this was on the protected side of the house.

At one point I thought it would be some silly fun to try to film a mock Corona beer video. It wouldn't work. We did manage to get this still shot of the beer bottle there in the 'tropical environment' background....

But the truth of the matter is that the bottle wouldn't stay there for even a few seconds. If you look at the background you can see we were still in the storm at this point. I was just out of camera view staying close enough to grab it when a gust of wind started blowing it toward the edge. I had to pin it down until La Gringa was ready to take a photo. But the moment I took my hand away, it started going walkabout.

So we abandoned the Corona beer commercial idea. I think cabin fever must have been setting in at this point.

And just when we would start to be able to convince ourselves that the wind was dying down, another stronger gust would come roaring through as bad as anything else we had seen. A band of rain would blow through stinging any exposed skin like frozen sleet. And the visibility would close right down again.

At mid morning we had the highest storm surge. I've already shown you one photo of the flooded road. This is a photo across the flooded salina looking at the Caicos Boatyard and Marina. The big white boat is one of the local live-aboard dive boats, that is too big for the local equipment to lift it out of the water. The water in this photo is only about a foot or so below the level of the dock. This was a close one. The good news is that the maximum storm surge peaked at low tide. If it had come six hours later it would have been a whole 'nuther level of aggravation around here.

I was really encouraged to look at this image closely, because I can see a whole bunch of sailboat masts in that photo. The good news is that they are all upright this time. I think the guys at the boatyard learned a few things during Hanna and Ike. Remember, until 2008, the last serious storm that had hit Providenciales was Hurricane Donna in 1960. We had two generations of Turks Islanders living here who had never experienced a hurricane. Well, that's all changed now. We've been through three of them here, now. We'll stop by the boatyard later and see if they had any damage, once the flood drains and we can get out of here.

I want to get this uploaded while the internet is still working, so I won't take a lot of time to edit or proofread it. We could be dead in the water, internet wise, any moment. We're taking the truck out and driving around the island today and will get some more photos for one more installment and then we'll hopefully be done with this Hurricane Irene experience.

During one of the lighter periods between rain bands I managed to get this photo of the rocks. It was one of the better still shots. You can almost tell that the white frothy top parts of the breaking waves are being ripped off the water in a single big sheet that instantly gets shredded and vaporized and blown horizontally along the ground. This is the stuff that was shredding leaves, peeling paint, and stinging exposed skin. Hopefully you can see that entire wave tops were being lifted.

And once the winds had died down enough that a camera would stay upright on a tripod we managed to shoot a little video of the same scene:

Music is 'On Your Marks' by Lymbyc System

We've got some other videos, but those will have to wait for the next installment.

And then hopefully we can get back to our laid back tropical island story. We're ready for that part.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hurricane Irene, Part 1

We had another post well on the way when this tropical wave thing suddenly seems to have turned into Hurricane Irene. Since this is definitely a very real part of life in the tropics, I thought we'd interrupt our regularly scheduled program about the nice parts of tropical life for a snapshot of the down side.

We were surprised at how quickly this storm developed and we watch these things religiously. Yesterday afternoon I was fooling around in the garage working on my next little DIY project. I was finishing up a set of curtain rod holders made out of wood from Gilley's old bar in Leeward. Suddenly a gust of wind blew through the garage that astonished me. I checked with La Gringa, and the weather station had just recorded a gust of 55 kts. It's was mostly from the north by northeast so the water wasn't getting too stirred up close to the lee shore.

By lunch time today we definitely were feeling the effects of the wind, with bands of intense rain blowing through from time to time. I got caught between the house and the garage during one of these and the rain pellets actually stung my numb skull. That takes some velocity.

Starting late yesterday and through all of this morning we were buttoning up the house. Battening down the hatches. Trying not to step on the dog. Worrying about things we may have forgotten. Is anybody ever really ready for that first hurricane of the season? We know we get complacent and rusty after months of being lulled by friendly trade winds. I took a quick snap of some of the bougainvillea blossoms while we were re-learning the deployment sequence of hurricane shutters. Soon to be gone bougainvillea blossoms, I should have said.

When we batten down, we close these folding aluminum storm shutters over all the sliding glass doors on the house. They start getting noisy above around 60 mph , but do a pretty good job blocking the worst of the wind and rain.

We managed to fit the skiff, the Hobie Tandem Island, and the smaller Defender inside the garage. It's crowded but there's essentially nothing outside except the gas grill, which is pinned between the front bumper of the other Land Rover and a wall. The living room is full of lawn chairs and outdoor chaise lounges.

The other Defender is pulled up into the lee of the house where we can get to the doors from the house without having to expose ourselves to too much weather.

I grabbed a hunk of wood that I'd trimmed off La Gringa's new tortilla squisher and made a quickie GoPro camera mount. I'd changed the tortilladora from rectangular to octagonal, and this meant I had some nice blocks of wood scrap with both 90 and 45 degree angles. Not what I would have designed as a camera mount, but all I had to do was drill one hole for the bolt for the camera and counter sink it. Having both 90 and 45 degree angles is useful for clamping to various structures.

We started by clamping it on the patio wall with a view of the oncoming weather. This would have a good view of the boats in the marina, too. I wonder how good the quality will be in driving rain against the lens, though.

The fallback position is more protected, being on the lee side of the house. This is a lot easier for us to get to if the wind gets really obnoxious.

This is the view as of early afternoon from that corner in the photo above. I am thinking that a time lapse from here would show the palm trees clocking around with the wind as the storm goes by. Maybe a battery's worth of time lapse from each location.

So this isn't our typical sunny, blue water, tropical sunshine post. We've got plenty of those. This blog is supposed to be about our experience living in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Hurricanes are a part of the price for the tropical life experience.

If this storm misses us, I won't have much of a Part 2 this time. And that would be totally acceptable to us. We've already had the smashed island experience. I wanted to get an explanatory post up in case we lose power. It's happened for less reason than this.