Sunday, March 24, 2013

March Mutterings

We get a number of identifiable seasons here.  Tourist season, whale season, hurricane season, dry season, lobster season.  I guess we can say we're well-seasoned? Anyhow, right now it's The Season when a lot of the local businesses are at their busiest.  We've been doing a lot of driving around the island recently, and have noticed everything seems to be in full swing. As remote as we are, the increased seasonal population of Provo only touches  us when we're out for groceries or running errands. We hit restaurants early and are usually settling up about the time the last table fills. We know to do our grocery shopping on sunny days when the temporary population bloom in Grace Bay is concentrating on the beach and water sports. The lines at the registers are directly proportional to cloud cover. This has been mathematically described as Cr > Cl in the presence of Co (coconut oil). And it's true.   Compare the smell of coconut oil in the aisles of the grocery store on cloudy vs sunny days...  Well, okay, I admit it's not very scientific.  Nor peer reviewed.  I withdraw it.  Tell the Nobel people it was a false alarm again.

Other than those exciting times when we step away from our dreary existence to entertain temporary seasonal visitors from up north, life out here pretty much follows the same general paths through the winter days. We get storms, and we get good days. Often at the same time.


We didn't fully understand the geographical ramifications of this piece of property when we bought it.  We loved the view, of course. We anticipated the wind.  We  underestimated the effect of it, but we are learning.  Reading "20 kts." during an internet search is not quite the same experience as living in 20 knots.  The wind holds flies against the screens until they become flews. (Flews is the past tense of flies.... right?) And we knew when we bought this place that with the view of the boatyard and the Caicos Bank to the south we would quite often have something interesting to look at. And we do. We get to watch a lot of different boats come and go. We are also close enough to the departure path of the airport that we get to see a lot of air traffic. We like that.  Ospreys and kestrels are constant visitors. And sometimes we spot sea life. Here's an example of that for you:


See that dark blob just off the beach, where I drew the arrow?  It's not unusual  to look out over the Caicos Bank and see something large moving.  We've seen bottle nose dolphins, sharks,  a few big fish we haven't identified, and a lot of rays swimming along these south facing shores.  We've seen turtles on the banks, but not usually near the rocks here. They are very common in the passages between islands in places like Leeward and Pine Cay.  It's not always glaringly apparent what we're looking at if it doesn't surface for air, but that in itself is a good clue.  There are other clues. Sharks swim by flexing back and forth. Dolphins and other aquatic mammals swim by wiggling up and down, when you think about it.  Even us human aquatic mammal wanna-be types don't have a swim stroke that mimics any side to side spinal flex motions like fish do.  Turtles stop and stick their heads up. Rays swoop along the bottom like a stealth fighter flying low in terrain following mode.  It looks to be a little on the large side for a typical local stingray but I just read that they get up to 150 cm across.  So it's possible.  That's easily a hundred meters away. We've got sting rays, manta rays, and eagle rays here.  We've seen them leaping completely out of the water.  Local boatmen have told us that they do that a lot when storms are coming.  I think we've been too busy to go look, when we've been under those circumstances.

We've been back to Sherlock Walkin's marina at Leeward Going Through several times recently.  It hasn't changed much lately.  "Hasn't changed much lately" could be a mantra for a lot of places in the southern Bahamas and vicinity.  Sometimes that's a comfortable thing.  It hasn't been a stable thing on this part of Providenciales for some years now.   We  stopped for a few moments while passing through.  We wanted to  visit the former location of our slip here.  Dooley seemed to think there was something familiar about it.


This is a very familiar view, in some ways.  We kept our first boat, Cay Lime, here right up until early September '08.  If you've read some of the old archives from that period in this blog, you'll recognize this next view.  You have to imagine a floating dock extending out to where the boat is anchored, with power boats tied up to both sides between small floating spurs.  Our boat was in the second slip on the left.  Nice spot although a little tricky getting into  during max flood or ebb with a strong east wind.


Here's a link to what this very spot looked like the afternoon Tropical Storm Hanna decided to stop, turn hard to the south, and become Hurricane Hanna, the deadliest storm of the 2008 Hurricane Season. Sure thumped us pretty good, that one did.  There were a dozen boats on this dock.  They all got smashed when it let go.  I still feel like falling to the floor sobbing and rending my garments in anguish when I think about it.  Well not really.  I thought about doing that but the whole sackcloth, gnashing  and ashes thing turned La Gringa totally off.

I took this photo only because we do get emails from time to time asking us about the status of the restaurant in Leeward.  Not as often these days, as people become accustomed to these kinds of unfinished projects.  And other small business men have stepped into the gap to fill some of the economic opportunity. There are a couple of small food and beverage vendors nearby.  It will be a great spot for a restaurant and bar. There is no doubt about that whatsoever. Any bank with any cents whatsoever would finance it.  So why has it sat uncompleted for several years now?  I'm sure there's a good reason.  But we don't know what it is.  Insane projects nearby seemed to take no time at all.


While we were looking around the marina we noticed that there have in fact been some changes. The entrance way looks spiffier than I remember it.  And there are some new planters defining what was a confusing open parking area.  This helps organize it into rows. Gives an aiming point to those drivers who seem to always park wherever their vehicle first comes to a stop.


We were driving a rented Jeep around for a few days.   The two door model.  We parked it next to a Defender 90 down at Leeward.  Interesting to see the differences between the type we've been driving and the new Jeeps.   They do have some things in common.  Solid front axle assemblies, coil springs.  I guess maybe form follows function in automotive evolution.


There are some more new planters along the front of the office building at Leeward.  This is where the marina and several of the fishing and sailing charter companies maintain offices. Sail Provo, Catch the Wave, and Leeward Marina all have offices here. I think the planters add a nice touch.


Looking out toward Bird Rock, there's a good view of the Conch Farm facility. There's still some hurricane remnants lying about.  Parts of these structures were in the parking lot next door after the last one. Rebuilding and cleaning up is a slow process.


The circular pens are for raising conch.


We were happy to see Cay Lime temporarily tied up at the marina. This is one of the  sections of floating dock that was rebuilt after the storms.  We noticed that Preacher has added a bimini top to the boat.   Good idea around here.  This sun will eat you alive, especially out on the water.  Having even a little shade to sit under makes a huge amount of difference.  With shade and the breeze, it never really feels uncomfortably hot here.


 I haven't been writing much about Preacher lately.  That's not by design.   We just haven't been spending much time in the Leeward Going Through area lately, and that's his main hangout. We haven't been pulling our boat down to that end of the island in recent times, because of our vehicle tow situation. Thus the bus is a bust with my hearty distrust of fatal sheet metal with deep cuss-ed rust.

In early March we made two trips out to Pine Cay with Preacher and  his boat.  Skipping along at 45 miles per hour in about eight inches of water is still pretty exhilarating.  I took several photos on the first trip over,  but most of them were too blurry to use here. There was just the three of us and I think Preacher was showing off.  I was holding on with both hands. It was windy.  Cloudy.  We got drenched in a squall that day.  Not very photogenic. On the second trip we had better weather. There were also five of us in the boat so it wasn't quite as lightly loaded, but still a thrilling ride.  I think Andros Boatworks should send their prospective flats boat customers down here for a ride in one of their boats.  Preacher should be their agent.

He'd  been out diving that morning and had a pile of conch to clean. He likes to cook native dishes and was treating us all to breakfast.  I forget what we were talking about.  Something serious and profound, no doubt.  Could have been hull design. Sailing. Sunken treasure. Local Politics. Airplanes. Diving. Fishing.  We were talking about fishing for the big Mutton Snapper. La Gringa and I intend to get back into fishing again, but not the same way we were into it the first few years we were here.  We want to concentrate more on the  local subsistence style that produces steady protein, and leave the big lure, deep sea fishing excitement to those guys with that hobby.   We're moving more toward sail boat living, and our fishing style should adapt to that.  I don't think S/V Twisted Sheets would be all that great at trolling for wahoo, so a lot of our future fishing will be at anchor or from small boats in shallow water. We like snapper, and have seen some really nice ones caught on the Banks.  It has something to do with the phases of the moon.   Preacher has promised to educate us.


We also haven't been getting out to Pine Cay as much as we'd like to.  Even living just a few miles and three islands away, that trip takes a boat or airplane.  We're always happy when we have the time and excuse to go out there.   Just coming into the landing at the marina there, and shutting down the outboard, feels almost like stepping into another country.  The only powered modes of transportation on Pine Cay are the electric golf carts, and the overall silence is nice.  Suddenly, the sound of the warm breeze ruffling the Gumbo Limbo trees is all you notice nearby, with the distant sound of waves crashing out on the reef. We can feel the relaxation settling in immediately.  Well, coming from a couple islands over it's a quick change for us.  We don't have as far to go as some. We've watched the process for years now, and some people need a day or two to completely downshift.  A week's about right to truly find neutral.   This is a great place for that.


After Preacher finished up  cleaning and rinsing his freshly caught conch (above) we went to the home where some visiting friends were staying.  Preacher handled everything, tenderizing the conch, and mixing up one of his specialties...


Conch and grits.  Turks and Caicos Islander style breakfast at it's finest.   We went back for more.  I don't think there were any leftovers.


The chef took a bow, as well he should.  I think we were discussing something else by that time. We had a lot of catching up to do.  There is a lot going on in the Turks and Caicos Islands at the moment. The government is transitioning from direct UK control back to elected officials. It's great to get Preacher's perspective on some of it.  His loyalties are well established, and he knows all the players.  He grew up with them. We don't vote here, being US Citizens, but of course we are keenly interested in the politics that affect us as residents.

 
Day trips to the other islands mean an early return, so we really didn't see much of Pine Cay on this one. Nobody really likes to boat around here in the dark. Back on Provo we had the rented Jeep. We could only keep it for another day so we decided to take a trip up to the other end of the island.  We hadn't been up to Malcolm Beach in quite a while.  The road over that part of the island has some unimpeded  views out across the 'bush' to the reef.


We had heard that improvements had been made to the road here.  We were actually looking forward to really trying the rented Jeep out, and we knew this road was typically one of the steepest and most rutted on the island.  However, the rumors are true.  Well, not entirely true.  What we actually heard standing around the bar at South Side Marina was that 'they fixed the road'.  I'm reminded that fixed is a fluid, and flexible term here.  In this case, the worst of the ruts gouged into the solid rock road surface have been filled in with concrete, and all in all, it's now actually better than the road we drive every day.  This one is certainly more fun.  Especially in a rented jeep.


Our first impressions of Malcolm Beach still linger in our memories as indicative of what to expect when we get to the end of the road.  Eight years ago it was just a rough trail along the coast.   It's all changed now, and has been like this for some years.  The road ends in a small parking lot, with an elevated wooden shelter and steps to the beach.  It's nice.  When we first came here the road turned right at this point, and we drove down the ruts until we found a break in the vegetation that we liked.  Each one was a shady picnic site.    We noticed that there is a security camera setup on a sturdy wooden post here now.    I wonder who monitors it and what the response time might be.

Dooley ran around this wooden platform several times when we got here.  He looked like a small pylon racer, going fast and turning left.  He did several loops and then zoomed right back down the steps.


He gets this intense look on his face when he does these things.  I have to wonder what complicated set of formula must be running through his little skull as he careens around and around on the very edge of losing control...


The view here remains spectacular, as I'm sure it's been for a very long time. This is the view straight out from the beach. There are two SCUBA dive charter boats anchored off  the steep drop off.  Right out there where the ocean starts getting serious about its blue mood.


I noticed the break in the shore rock here on the right, and the unnatural underwater pile of rocks.  I saw the sand there and was thinking it might be a place to wade into the water barefooted. But it doesn't extend out very far.  Something man made to investigate there.

This is the view  up the beach.  Now, I don't really know why I called that direction up the beach.     I guess I imagine some general convention regarding up north, vs down south.  Up the beach compared to along the beach.  I'm up for looking into it further as long as I can get down with the definitions.


 This view to the south might be considered down the beach.


But in this case down beach leads to very much up scale, if you know what I mean.   That group of buildings down past the little point is the western end of the Amanyara resort.  From that aforementioned little point it looks like this:


Can't really see much of the resort from here.  That's the main beach, and also where the  charter dive boats pick up hotel guests who have booked a dive with them.   We've never actually visited the resort itself.  But if we could win our choice of a weekend getaway to any place on Provo, this would be the place. Don't get the idea that photos of the grounds are forthcoming any time soon.  

I thought this was as good a place as any to try the little Nikon's panorama mode again.  It works okay but needs a really big format to view it.  This is probably why I don't take more of them.  It's one of those "Oh  yeah...NOW I remember..." moments.  I'm starting to think that 180 degree panoramas are a gimmick, and 360 degree panoramas must be targeted toward an audience of owls. Or accident victims, past and future.


We wandered up and down the beach for a while, as we tend to do.  The beach here is like the water.  It's very clean. There's not much flotsam here to pick through. And the water is beautiful.  I know I've been using words like 'crystal clear' and such when I write about the ocean here.  It's difficult to describe without using the same old words for really clear water.  The photos show you some of it, but even this doesn't accurately represent how clear it is.

You can go from having dry sand beach to  a thousand feet of water  underneath you  in just 800 yards of movement here.    Some of the best diving within easy reach of Grace Bay is here, and it's usually somewhat protected from the east wind.   Nice.


There are a couple of very large inflated rafts moored off of  Amanyara's beach.  We didn't see anyone using them while we were there.  But hey, it IS winter time here.  Not everybody braves these fierce Atlantic weather conditions.


There really isn't much in the way of collectible junk washed up here. This part of Providenciales is basically tucked up into the lee of the trade winds and the current.  Floating things tend to keep going and not come onto shore here.  Did you notice the way all the boats are riding, sitting on their anchors?  That's pretty much the prevailing conditions here.

 There are are numerous marine fossils in the rock. And walking barefoot is not unpleasant if you don't stub a toe.  The rock is smooth and the sand is soft.


We came back by that break in the shore rock that is near the little beach shelter.  It's also right in line with the road.  It's easy to see the two dark objects that emerge from under that line of rocks.


And a close look reveals them to be two cables.    I couldn't be sure what kind of cables they are, but I would assume communication. It's pretty modern looking urethane so I'd guess fiber optic. I'm puzzled as to where they might go.   They leave the beach here on a heading of 282 degrees.   There's nothing in that direction.  Mayaguana is much more to the north, and West Caicos is to the south.   The cables are marked on the nautical chart, but not as to their destination.  On the chart they are drawn from the beach and continue for  a short distance to the west before disappearing into the deep ocean at the point where they no longer concern boaters.  Kind of like in real life.


We never get tired of looking at the water here.  It's interesting to us even on bad days.  And we've had a few bad ones.   And on good days it's just amazing. If you ever visit the Turks and Caicos Islands, the chances are that you'll fly in from Miami to Providenciales. If there's a choice of seats on the plane,  I'd pick a window seat on the right side.  You'll see plenty of reef, and the water all the way past West Caicos.  Including this spot right here:



Every time we've come out here we've told ourselves that we need to plan a trip specifically for snorkeling. There are spots where one can walk out barefoot over soft sand until the water depth exceeds one's draft.   We've just got to come back here with the underwater camera.  The people on the boats in that video are diving on places with names like  Shark Hotel, The Crack and Hole in the Wall.   And just past that, the water is a mile deep. Floating on the surface in a mile of clear ocean is always such an otherworldly experience.  If you watch long enough, eventually you will see large shapes deep below you. Just on the very edge of your vision.  And every now and then you'll see something you can immediately identify, close enough to be clear enough to be just enough to send a little jolt of adrenaline though your system. And then it swims away and disappears from your view into that deep blue mystery that transforms turquoise into something darker than blue ever gets. And suddenly the ocean seems a little bigger than it did a moment ago.  And I always feel a little smaller.

"It was the Law of the Sea, they said. Civilization ends at the waterline. Beyond that, we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top."  
Hunter Thompson
Dooley the Digger immediately seemed to feel right at home in the rear seat of the Jeep.   It's a good size for him.  He can see in every direction.  I guess the day at the beach wore the poor old fellow out, though.  He was snoring by the time we hit smooth pavement again. And I have to tell you, this little Jeep is a lot more comfortable to ride in than either of our badly beaten Defenders.  To be fair to Land Rover, it's probably not cricket to compare a six year old suspension with a one year old suspension on these roads. It's also probably safe to say that this rental Jeep spends most of it's time here on the pavement.  Our Defenders definitely do not.  I guess we can say the rear seat on the Wranglers has now been Dooley Approved.


We've had Jeep on the brain a lot lately.  We've already had both front and rear tow hitches imported and waiting for ours to arrive.  We only rented this Wrangler for two days.  Then we moved into the cheapest rental we could find for the long haul.  Have you ever heard of a Fiat Panda? Strangest transmission that I've ever seen.   I'll take some photos if anyone is interested.  Or bets on whether it lasts a month on our daily drives.

I realize that this next topic's something only a pilot would consider when thinking about tropical islands, but Provo now has a flight school capability.  Long time local pilot Ben Gearing has been training students for several years now.  This is a photo I recently took of Ben's trainer, a little Piper PA38 Tomahawk, right after it touched down at Providenciales.


And I was taking the photos because La Gringa was in the pilot seat, taking her fourth flying lesson.   Dooley the Distracting and I sit in a car alongside the runway with an air-band VHF radio and a Kindle e-reader while she's up flying.   Very relaxing way to spend an hour or so.  For me, anyway.  I'm the one comfortably on the ground with a radio and a good book.

This is a nice place to learn island flying, too. The major airport here is not that busy for most of the time, and it's almost two miles long and brand new.  All nice and smooth and up to current standards.  She snapped this photo  while circling out over Chalk Sound one day during a lesson.     I don't know how that little Piper two seater was able to get behind that X-wing fighter... but the inescapable truth is that the little Tomahawk landed safely that day.  No X-wing fighters made it to the runway at Provo....


Just kidding.  La Gringa says it's a chip in the windscreen.   Just my imagination.... running away with me.

I've been keeping a steady string of DIY projects going.  Usually several at once.  Most of them are probably not even worth mentioning here.   Maybe one recent one and only because it's probably an unusual scavenging of materials.   A few years back I picked up a mangled road sign in the bushes here. I cut off the bent up part and ended up with a semicircle of aluminum plate.  I am working on a project that needs a smooth flat piece of aluminum, and I cut one out of this old half a road sign.  I had to scrape, saw, sand, etc. I don't know what kind of adhesive they use to put the reflective surface on these signs, but I sure wish I had some of it.  


It took a while to get it smooth and flat.  I used the electric sander to get the rough surface flat.   The dark gray areas are where the metal is still low.  The shiny stuff is the high parts.  I milled it on flat glass at the end.


That's one of the last parts I needed to complete this little 3D printer kit.  I still need to come up with a way to clamp this to the headed bed, but I'm getting closer to being able to make plastic and ABS parts.

I use a lot of aluminum plate here these days. It's generally good stuff  if you  work within its limitations and keep it out of contact with other metals.  I've taken another piece of our storm destroyed HD satellite dish and along with the strap from a diving face plate, I've put together another Dog Cam mount for Dooley the Director. I wanted something that he could wear on our walks that could handle a GPS or a camera. I didn't want to make him have to wear the entire life jacket with the other Dooley Cam mount. Running around looking like a miniature version of the Great Pumpkin wasn't cutting it.  I think it embarrassed both of us.  So I came up with a more canine friendly mount.

This one is like a jockey's saddle.  But unlike a thoroughbred horse, I can't find a spot that doesn't bounce on this dog.   I tried showing him videos of squirrels and cats, so that he'd get an idea about how to run smoothly... we wanted the camera to flow... But I learned not to show him videos of squirrels or cats as good examples.   He got the wrong idea.   He thought we were watching a hunting video.  At least he seems okay with this mount arrangement.   He didn't seem to be too upset on a trial run we did.   I explained how this was going to work, and I'm sure he was carefully thinking about all my instructions on how to walk level and smoothly.  I could see he was paying attention.  He listens to every word I say.  I could tell that he committed my entire speech to memory...


This brings us pretty much up to date at this point.   We were just over at the shipyard and a lot of progress has been made in rewiring the S/V Twisted Sheets.   A lot of the old tangled wiring is gone now, replaced by heavy cables, simplified runs and marine-rated switches.  And I have a brand new shiny helm station to replace one that gave me a whole lot of trouble last year. These are huge improvements to the boat.  And we've got more in mind once we get her back in the water where I can get access.  We're estimating another month in the yard. And then we plan to start doing some sailing.

We haven't been in position to take any outstanding sunset photos lately.  I thought this one was mildly interesting only because the reflection is crisper than the actual image of the sun.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love the way Dooley listens to your every word...wink, wink! - Chris

Anonymous said...

Another beautiful post. Incredible job with the flying P... I'm surprised, is B getting too old to fly? I thought he would be the one behind the stick, then again he has one too many projects to take on another! There is no other feeling like controlling an airplane. Congratulations on Twisted Sheets also. How is the re-fit at the shipyard going? I wish you both the best of luck.

Anonymous said...

Love the idea of weekly posts with pictures!

Gringo said...

We'll see how I do with a weekly deadline kind of attitude. that's the biggest obstacle. writing captions is easy.

I just updated my pilot's license. They sent me a brand new one. It's burning a hole in my imagination.

Karen said...

Your photography is stunning... the WATER is stunning.. I've been to Bermuda, Hawaii, St. John, the Gulf of Mexico.. your waters appear even more turquoise and "clear" as you say.. just beautiful.

Amazing and envious, the life you are living.

Gringo said...

Thanks, but we can't really take the credit for the images. This place is just so photogenic I don't know how to take a bad photo of it. I guess cloudy days really don't do it justice, but we don't get that many days like that.

I find myself getting jaded sometimes. We'll hop in the car, drive to the other end of the island for some errand, and then back...and suddenly I find myself staring at the water, as though seeing it again for the first time.

I, too, have been to the places you named and many others. And I have seen water that memory tells me is just about as nice as this, but I don't ever recall seeing any that's better than this. So I guess that on this planet, for a diver, this is about as good as it gets.