Saturday, June 30, 2007

Wintertime wahoo

We've been fishing before.  Both of us have a lot of experience fly fishing for trout, for example.  Or dangling worms under bobbers and catching little sunfish.  We've even caught a few ocean fish here and there.

But lately we've come to realize that fishing the waters down here can turn into a whole nuther thing entirely.   We're gearing up ourselves to get part of the action, but in the meantime I thought I'd show you a photo of what I'm talking about.

This a a Wahoo.  In Hawaii I think they call them Ona.  It's a real fast fish, with a mouthful of teeth you could use to saw wood with.  They're  dangerous, in fact. Could take off all your fingers and not even ask for horseradish sauce or mustard.  Just like that.

The lady on the right is Trish. She's 25. She's one of the charter captains for "Catch The Wave". She's been fishing since she was a baby, and runs a World Cat catamaran seven days a week. And when it gets down into the low 70's here, the locals get COLD. I have seen people wearing leather jackets in the 'winter'. No fooling. You should see the guys who work in the freezers at the supermarket. They dress up like its an arctic expedition. I walked into one of the local store's walk-in freezer barefooted one day, to grab some frozen OJ, and they were amazed. The thermometer in there said it was 25 deg. F. I told them I had lived in many places where the outside temperature at noon didn't even get up to that, but that i still would run out to pick up the newspaper, start the car, etc. barefooted in the snow. They thought I was pulling their leg. I think the low this past winter was 63 one night. Last year it was 64. But those frigid cold snaps don't last long. Forecast for today, High of 84. Low of 80.

Loose photos

Many of these early blog posts are just basically copying what we'd posted on the boating forum with a little bit of explanation. Still, people would see the images and send questions.   This just encouraged us to keep going.

These next two photos are from a spot where I keep trying to trap pilchards. Pilchards are actually  the local name for what we know as sardines, and they are great bait. They funnel through this little channel by the zillions, and there is an undercut at the base of the rock underwater. Casting a net here is usually somewhat of a disaster.

I've been trying to learn to throw a cast net here.   The rocks make it a difficult area.  The net keeps getting caught on the rocks, and the fish laugh at me. In great numbers.


Here's another image from the same area.  This place is called "The Aquarium" on Pine Cay.  There are usually quite a few different types of fish here.

And this is just a nice sunset photo on the way home after another day. This is very near where our house is going in.

A total lack of organization.

At this point we were still posting random images on the boating forum.   There was no real effort to tell any stories, or maintain any kind of continuity.  I was just thumbing through two years of photos and grabbing shots that I thought looked representative of life in the islands.  Things that people seemed to be interested in.  The beach  and water views got a lot of comments in the forums, prior to us starting this blog.  Things like these:


A view of the beach on Water Cay. Notice there are no other people on the beach. The only footprints are our own.  This beach is almost always just like this.  We like it.


The remains of a wrecked Haitian sloop slowly falling apart on a beach on the south side of Provo.

The stone cat, again. Silently watching over water where pirates once roamed.

A forum reader told me that the Herriots were Bermudans who came to these islands and built a family empire raking and selling salt 1844, and slave labor was very much in vogue.

An old Russian built hydrofoil. Later, after La Gringa convinced me to start adding captions to the photos, I looked into these and posted more photos.

Friday, June 29, 2007

People started writing with lots of questions,

I know it looks like every day here is a lark, with tropical waters, beautiful weather and not a  serious care in the world. The truth is that the day to day routine on a small tropical island is in many ways more complicated than daily life the USA. Things break here constantly, and much sooner than they do up north. And while fishing and diving are some of our favorite things to do, lying in the dirt replacing rusted starter motors on the side of a busy road  is not really that great.

One of the  THT forum members asked about moving down here.  He wanted to know the logistics of it all.  He asked who he needed to bribe. And everybody wants to know how much it costs, of course. We had these questions ourselves. We jumped into this with no prior experience living foreign at all. And we found that, actually, Americans are welcome here. No bribes needed, you just go through the application process, depending on what kind of resident permit you are looking for. You can own property here and come down for a month at a time with no permit at all. living here full time is a bit more complicated.

Finished, 2 BR Condos start about $400K. Since we have been here, I have learned that people buy a property at before construction prices. Common way to finance projects here. Some of the new condos near us were sold twice before they were even completed. Each buyer along the way made money. Some buy in early and hang on to them for themselves, too. Just takes longer, but saves some money. Appreciation here has been running around 20 to 30 % a year. First six months of last year it was 16%.

Cost of living is a tricky question, as you can control a lot of it. In general, its higher. But its got some interesting angles. Almost no taxation whatsoever. Offshore banking is the other major industry here, similar to the Caymans.

...back to boats and fish:

We passed this stern wheeler on its way from the boatyard back to Turtle Cove. It looked so strange in these waters. We met the owner later.

Our youngest son on a good fishing day. These were the first two rainbow dolphin we caught here. Some people cringe when they hear us say we love the taste of "dolphin", thinking of Flipper or of us raiding SeaWorld. No no no. These are dolphin fish. You probably know them as 'Mahi Mahi", up in Walla Walla, or over in Pango Pango.

More boats! More fish! They cried...

Since this started as a thread on a very popular boating and fishing forum, people asked me to post more images of boats and the fish we saw down here.  Not too surprising, since we were basically playing to a fishing and boating crowd.  We tried to please.

And we found that the fishing here is similar to taking nice colorful photos here. It didn't take much effort before we started seeing results.  To the point where we could basically go out and catch fish just about any time we wanted.   Oh, we didn't always know what they were, at first, but we learned fairly quickly.

A Cero Mackerel. We had never heard of a Cero Mackerel, and took it ashore and asked our friends at "Catch the Wave" if it was good to eat. They said "Oh yeah!, you gonna keep that one...?" We did. They are delicious.

And we caught a lot of them.   We learned what lures they preferred, and even what bottom conditions and water depth.   Daniel actually hooked this one while he was dozing in the boat.   He's lucky that way. We had caught quite a few bottom fish, including grouper and snapper. But this was the first upper water edible fish we caught dragging lures around. We were so stupid in the early days....we did not know what we were doing. But we learned.

And we caught all kinds of things once we 'got the hang of it'.   It's not really rocket surgery, either.

We don't eat the barracuda, but they're so easy to catch that we looked for someone who might want them.  And we found plenty of local friends who love barracuda.  Besides Dooley the Demented, of course.  He thinks all fish are his.  And that they all need biting.

We catch small yellowfin tuna in season, and they're always a lot of fun.

Some of the stuff we hook gets returned to the ocean.  This one was just too pretty to eat.   Besides, we didn't know if it was legal to eat..

We don't target sharks, but sometimes they grab the bait before we can stop them.  We almost always throw them back, too.

Some of our visitors really like getting into a decent little tuna.  These are just the right size.  We couldn't handle much bigger on our little boat.

La Gringa hooked this nice wahoo and had to fight it for quite a while before getting it onto the boat.   These things are fierce, and are even dangerous once they're on board.   

Snapper, grouper, barracuda, wahoo...none of that matters to Dooley.  His attitude is always "Fish? Yeah?  Then Bite It!!"

We have to keep an eye on him.  Some of these fish will bite back.

The yellowtails are so common, and tasty, that they sell them in packs of three at the local grocery store.

A boat for sale in Provo ( local slang for "Providenciales"). I just liked the name.

This is a catamaran that got overturned at the dock in a squall at Leeward Marina. We wrote a lot more about this episode later, with more photos.  We were very unorganized in the early blogging days.  We just picked the photos we liked and randomly posted them.  We got better as we went along.

The folks on the fishing and boating forum wanted more boat photos. So we started keeping an eye out for unusual boats to show them.  And we found plenty.

At this point people started to get the idea that living here full time was like a big Corona beer commercial.  We had to start explaining that there was a lot more to island life than just catching fish and looking at boats.

Someone asked me how we spent our days when we were not fishing or diving. The question came at a good time, and I answered:

"I just spent two hours, sweating, slapping bugs both flying and crawling, lying in the dirt on the side of the road trying to get the starter off a Ford Expedition. Two dogs tried to move in, under the shade of the truck. It was 90 deg. Woulda been easier if I had known Ford is using metric freakin' bolts."

A new Bosch starter/solenoid for a 98 Ford V8 is $320 bucks here at Napa. The top bolt is a certified bitch to get out, especially if you don't wanna twist it off. Them suckers get froze up pretty good after 180,000 miles..."

Yeah, that's a pretty typical afternoon.

Questions started coming in..

At this point, people on the boating forum started responding to my posts. Some were interested in the construction of the house. I had mentioned that we basically took our design and ideas to a local architect, and he turned them into house plans. People started with specific questions, such as one about the amount of wood in the house (answer, very little) and we would reply with:

The inside roof is cypress. This is the Master Bedroom area, and there will be a loft over the bathroom, etc. Notice there is zero wood anywhere near the ground in the entire house. No rot. no termites. Most of the house is steel reinforced concrete block and poured concrete. We are designing for hurricanes.

Other people had questions about some of the underwater photographs. The dolphin hit a chord with people familiar with "JoJo". He is famous in the TCI as a curious, people friendly wild dolphin that hangs out around Provo startling swimmers.

I don't know if that's Jo Jo or not. We see lots of these guys this time of year...we saw three last week in a group, one just a baby. Everyone says its Jo Jo, but who knows, really.

This is what he looked like right before I jumped over the side with the camera. he scooted away, but came right back to check me out.

A mix of images

If you're reading this first post at this point I am going to assume you've decided to check this blog out from the beginning.  I'm thinking I should give you a bit of background information.  On us, and how this all started.

In 2005 we moved from the northeastern USA to the Turks and Caicos Islands.  This is a group of about 40 islands, and a whole bunch of rocks too small to be called islands, in a little country that is one of the countries that comprise what's called the British West Indies.   Only about 8 of the 40+ islands are inhabited, and the population of the entire country hovers around 30,000 people.  This means that this entire country has a smaller population than either of the two towns we left in the USA.   That was Falmouth, Massachusetts for me, and Sparta NJ for La Gringa.

When we decided to try the island life we were three humans and one small dog.  At least we thought he was a dog. He  seemed to think he was also a human. In the years since  we've become  full time residents of the TCI, we've gone though some changes.    One of those changes has certainly been generating content for this blog We didn't even know what a "weblog" was when we left the US.

We're ardent amateur photographers and this little country is about as photogenic as one would wish.  The land masses are not that dramatic for the most part, although the islands facing the open Atlantic to the east do have some great views.  But the water, oh the water is wonderful.  We spent our first couple of years just exploring and taking photos.  We didn't really do much with the photos.  We just get a bit of a grin when we get a good one.

In 2007, I joined a boating and fishing forum on the internet called "The Hull Truth".  It was a good source of information and advice on boating and fishing .  Local sources of information are very limited in the Turks and Caicos.  After I had posted a few tropical images of this little country south of the Bahamas, some of the other forum members asked for more photos. It was easy enough to do, as we had taken hundreds of them. At first, it was a mixture of images we had taken during those two years, in no particular chronological order.  Random shots.

When we eventually figured out how to start a blog we just copied the photos we had already posted on The Hull Truth onto the blog.  These first posts are mostly just random images that we took and thought other people might like to see.

Some TCI island boys during a model sailboat race on Middle Caicos. This was taken at the newly established and hopefully annual Valentine's Day Model Sloop Regatta at Bambarra Beach.  That first year we attended there were about thirty people there, total.  Boy, that sure changed over the years.

 This underwater image above is La Gringa Suprema using our "hookah" floating diving compressor setup.  We have a "Brownies Third Lung".  We have hoses and regulators to allow three divers to use the system at the same time, and the little compressor runs for hours on a gallon of gasoline.

 The compressor floats on the surface, and we tow it behind us as we explore the reef.  We've kept the hoses short enough to limit the depth, because it would be easy to get into nitrogen saturation issues with long hoses and a compressor that runs for hours.   The rules for breathing compressed gasses still apply whether it's SCUBA or  surface supplied.   I've been a diver for over 50 years now, and I'm still here.  So I suppose I do know a couple of the basic things about it.

It's much easier for us to work with a hookah setup than dealing with SCUBA tanks.  We don't have to fill them, we don't have to store, inspect, or transport them.  And with this hose setup, I can keep my experienced eye on a couple of guest divers.  

If you decide to keep reading this blog, you will see a lot more underwater photos as time goes on.  You'll also see lots of aerial photos, time lapse photos, boating and fishing photos, sailing photos...well you get the picture.  Nyuk nyuk nyuk.....a little expat photographer humor here...

 This is a place called "Devil's Cut" on Pine Cay, during the incoming flood tide.  We don't know exactly how it got the name Devil's Cut, but we suspect there has been more than a few boat hulls damaged over the years if people tried to run through here on high slack water.   The safe way through here is on the far side of that little island.

An aerial view of the  space between two islands.  The one on the left is Water Cay, and the island on the right is Pine Cay I don't know if this was always filled in, or if this is the result of Hurricane Donna in 1960.  That hurricane did a lot of damage here, and made major changes in the topography.  Moved a lot of sand around.    The point of land nearest us on the Pine Cay side is an area locally known as  the "aquarium". We've been spending a lot of time there.  I'm sure you'll be seeing more photos of all of this as time goes by.

This is a good example of a boat type that is a traditional Caicos sloop.  This boat,  "Ranger" shows how boats have been built here for generations by local boat builders. The TCI Maritime Heritage Federation organizes races with these hand built boats, which are faithful to a design going back hundreds of years in the Caribbean.

Here's a view inside the "Ranger" after I helped get it launched in Chalk Sound.   The bags are filled with sand, and used as ballast for the shallow draft boat.  Sometimes rocks are used.

La Gringa kicking back after a day working on a deck project at Pine Cay.  Yes, the water really is that color.

Sail Provo's "Arielle" from our aerial balloon camera. Owned by our good friend Jay Stubbs, Sail Provo operates three charter boats out of Providenciales. Two catamarans and a trimaran.

A wrecked freighter on the Caicos Bank.  Providenciales is two miles away. They didn't even come close to making it, if that was the intention.  Somehow, I think there is more to this story.

A Nassau Grouper, very common here. And delicious.

A small shark, also very common here, and we don't know how it tastes.  Yet.

Graffiti on Sapodilla Hill, Providenciales. There are names still here from the 1700's.

A stone cat on the south side of Providenciales, in a lonely area near a cave.
Nobody that we've asked so far seems to know who carved it. There are several of these in various states of completion.

A squid, surprisingly graceful, and great fun to watch if you don't spook them. And although we don't always see eye-to-eye like this, there's almost a hint of a glint of intelligence in there, I think.  Certainly there is an interest that comes across more as curiosity than it does anything else I could think of.

Someone made a swing along a stretch of rocky coastline on the south side of Providenciales.  The masts in the background are at South Side Marina.

The beach at Sapodilla Bay from the top of Sapodilla hill.

Another version of that same view taken and a more focused photographer.  This is Sapodilla Bay and Chalk Sound.

A Hobie cat get together on Little Water Cay.

The remains of a Haitian sloop that made it all the way from Haiti to the beach at Long Bay, Providenciales.  We're seeing these wrecked sloops quite often.

An underwater photo of a piece of an old wreck that we tentatively identified as being  from around 1750.   We anchored the boat to it before we realized what it was.   We've found igneous ballast stones, which are definitely not from here.  We've found an old anchor, and various other bits of metal.  We're also seeing broken wine bottles from a a time when bottles were blown by hand.  Further investigations are going on.

A view up the beach at uninhabited Water Cay, looking west.  This island is only moments from Providenciales.....if you have a boat.

After I posted these, people started to get interested, and asked for more photos. Having taken hundreds of them, I kept posting them, on a variety of subjects.