Thursday, August 30, 2007

Salt Cay, again

I did an earlier post on our visit to Salt Cay, and it generated a lot of attention.  But people have been asking for more info, so I am going to go back over it and show you a few more photos and try to do a better job of describing it all.

South of Grand Turk are several small islands, or Cays, as they are called here. 'Cay' is pronounced the same as 'Key'. I have also heard the word 'quay' pronounced the same as 'key'. The country is the Turks and Caicos, so I guess Salt Cay is a 'Turks' island since its on that side of the Columbus Passage. Anyhow, we spent a few days on Salt Cay earlier this year staying with Jim and Sharon Schaeffer at their Windmills Plantation. I have posted a bunch of photos of their place in here earlier.

Salt Cay is the least inhabited island in the TCI. I think it's also the smallest one with any discernible population. There's not much there. A small sort of town spread out along a road where the old Bermudian salt merchants kept facilities back in the 1900s. I read that salt was basically the only real export from the TCI from the late 1600s until the early 1960s. This is more or less the "main drag" of Salt Cay. The old salt merchants houses were on the left side of the road with their own little docks. On the right side are the salt drying pens or salinas:

The salinas are still there in several areas on the island. Back in the day they would let the tide flood them then close gates to trap the water in while the tide fell. They had windmills that pumped the water from one pen to another so that the first one was ready to take on another load of seawater when the tide rose again. They would keep pumping the seawater into pens to let the sun evaporate the water out of it.

 The old trails are still there running along the walls between the pens. Some of the older ones were built by slaves the Bermudians brought with them.

There was a famous story written by one slave woman who was shipped here to work in the salt pens separating her from her family back in the mid-1800s, I think. Her story was used by the abolitionists in the UK to demonstrate how bad slavery could be.
(I am adding a link to a more modern article that goes into a lot more detail about Salt Cay here).

There are ruins scattered here and there on the island. Some of them are from around 1700. There are no bronze plaques, no tour guides, no historical markers. Things just slowly fall down and become overgrown. We were told that the population of the island is now down to 57 people. I think we met most of them. They get together at a little place on the beach called the Green Flash cafe in the evenings to eat fried chicken and drink beer. Its outdoor tables on the water by the little harbor. The Salt Cay dive operation is there. Those are good guys, too.

We were told this was the government center back when the island was busy making salt. The fenced yard was to hold cattle they raised for food to supplement the fish. I almost fell through the floor of this place walking around inside it. Some of the craftsmanship is superb. Mortise and tenon joints, pegs hammered into holes in huge beams. The low structure to the right is a cistern to store rain water. The front yard of the place is fallen to ruin, like everything else, but it's not hard to imagine what it was like during its heyday back when salt was rare and valuable to Europe:

You see scrawny cattle and mules descended from the imported animals from long ago. They are roaming loose here and there on the island. If you look at the photos of Windmills posted earlier you can see that the walkways around the little hotel are surrounded by fences. They are not to keep visitors in; the fences are to keep the cattle and mules out of the rooms. They will roam inside an open door for water or to munch on a book.

One of the old salt family's houses is being restored, slowly. Mostly funded by private donations. The cellars of these were once filled with salt, waiting to be loaded on ships. The White House (this one) was owned by one family for generations. They built the original structure from the timbers from the boat that they sailed here. Again, some of the old craftsmanship is pretty amazingly good. Next time, I will take more photos. I promise. I know there are some fellow woodworkers out there besides me. Boat people are like that. At least some of you who are as ancient as I am must appreciate proper joinery. Especially made in the days before power tools. It still amazes me to see these hand hewn and cut joints still holding together after over 200 years of tropical exposure and hurricanes.

Here's another view of the salt storage area of that old house. The fresh cinder blocks and square lumber are new - part of the restoration. The original cellar walls are native limestone blocks cut by hand from an old quarry on the island. The old rounded horizontal beam is original one of the masts from the ship that brought the family from Bermuda. It's been scraped and gashed by generations of black men with shovels moving tons of sea salt from the salinas into the storage through those doors in the wall, then out again when a ship was tied up outside, just a few yards from here. They would have been done offloading food and supplies and then would load up with salt for the long trip back to Europe under sail.

One shovel at a time, one mule cart at a time, one day at a hard life at a time.

Long way from a relaxing Pina Colada at the beach at Club Med,huh?

Not much is left of the old windmills that pumped the increasingly salty water from salina to salina. Eventually the brine would end up in a very shallow one, all the water evaporated by the sun, and eventually become just a solid layer of salt crystals. The workers would scoop them up with shovels, load them into carts, and the donkeys would pull the carts along those narrow paths to the salt cellars.

These days ospreys nest on the old windmills:

And while the currently occupied houses on Salt Cay are still home to families that have been here for generations, they're having a problem keeping the young here.  There's just nothing to do on Salt Cay.  Basically, no future other than for a very, very few tourist oriented places like Windmills, the diving operations and some similar establishments.  The streets are pretty quiet these days.

I think our borrowed golf cart ( thanks Jim) was the only thing moving.

Well, that and the donkey.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Capsized catamaran, Meridian Club Pine Cay

Last year we kept our little Whaler tied up in Leeward at a floating dock outside Gilley's restaurant. Tied the stern to a buoy and the bow to a cleat. This is how it usually looked... just another tranquil day in the lazy tropics..

One weekend, a friend of ours brought his SeaFox catamaran over and tied it up just inside us in that photo alongside a concrete quay.

That night we had a storm come through. The winds picked up to near gale force, and came around from the West, which is right on the stern of the Whaler in that photo. Just around daylight on a Sunday morning, we got a call from one of our friends at Catch the Wave charters telling us we needed to come rescue our boat. It was filling up with water and tangled. We ran down to the marina, and found the boat full to the splash well, with waves breaking over the outboard. It wasn't going to sink (Its a WHALER!!) but the water was up to the top of the battery, life jackets floating inside, the cooler loose and floating away etc. I climbed into the boat, (and they are very unstable full of water), and started the bilge pump and bailing.

The Seafox next to us had taken so much water through the open hatch in the transom that she flipped over and one of her lines was over ours and yanked tight. The cat's starboard bow was banging down onto our little Whaler and forcing the gunwale down. We needed to get her free. I cut her loose and pulled it down to a bulkhead in the lee pulling the drain plug and letting her rise on her own, protected from the chop. As you might imagine, I was pretty busy during all this, in and out of the water, and didn't take the time to snap any photos until our boat was safely away. Then I did relax and take a few shots.

The catamaran wasn't as lucky as we were. She was floating upside down, with the weight of the twin engines holding her at an angle. We were tied up right outboard of this boat just a few minutes earlier. You can see our bowline still on the cleat. It was jammed under the catamarans line.

A couple local guys hopped in the water and started cutting lines, diving to get the loose stuff out of the boat, turning her and moving away from the concrete:

Another friend ("Hammer", one of Preacher's brothers) brought his boat around and put a tow line on her to pull around behind the fuel dock. The fuel dock is a concrete bulkhead and was protected from the tidal current. The winds had died down and come back around by now but the tide was causing complications. The current was pushing the boat against the floating dock making it difficult, and dangerous, to work with it.

Got the boat turned over but there are no lifts here. No davits. No travel lift. No Coast Guard...its just you and your friends here. So its basically back to the basics, secured the boat, now upright, but the weight of the motors was still holding the stern underwater. We needed to come up with some way to lift it up far enough to be able to pump the hull clear.

Within an hour, one guy showed up with a gasoline powered trash pump, and another guy brought his compressor.... and two other guys had an inflatable banana. for future references.... inflatable bananas make excellent lift bags, in a pinch...

By the next afternoon both engines were running again. None of the people involved in this know the owner of the boat (except for Preacher and I) but they didn't hesitate to do what was needed to save it.

As a side note, a few months later a similar thing happened to another boat at the same dock. It didn't flip over, but it was sunk to the tops of the outboards. People were standing around watching it and I asked one of our friends how come nobody was doing anything to secure it, pump it out, or call the owner. She replied..."the guy that owns it is an a-hole..." Small community here, and it pays to be known as a good guy.

Nobody here knew the catamaran owner either but Preacher said he was a friend of his and that was good enough.

I can't wait to get back to the TCI with the new camera. The words, well, it was purely La Gringa's idea for me to do that and I am glad that they help clarify the images. And there are many, many more mental images than there are photos to talk about. Living full time in the TCI is sometimes like watching a screen version of "The Mouse that Roared" modified to star Eddie Murphy and the Wayan brothers. (The last election, alone, was certainly worth a chapter in someone's book but will probably never be written)

And it goes on every day. What used to feel like adventures now seem almost normal. The TCI is a beautiful little country, and it's full of really good people. I feel privileged to be wired this way, and to have gotten to know these people and these islands. We have observed many people who don't do either. Living in a foreign country is one of those things in life that you just can't be certain is going to go well until after you have already packed up your old life and made the commitment. A week in a resort is not the same. In our case, so far at least, it was a good gamble to have taken. I wish I were a better writer, of course, and a better photographer. I'll work on both.
I am scratching my head about what photos to post next. My choices are limited this week, to just what I have stored with me on my little laptop. I am still in New England until Saturday. There are certainly some good images up here, but it is definitely not the same as the TCI in any way that I can notice. I wouldn't be a fair chronicler of Massachusetts, with my heavy bias, and besides it would be very difficult to add anything to what JayA posts on his threads from Gloucester. I was up at 05:00 this morning looking at the lunar eclipse, but basically, if you've seen one eclipse you've seen them all. Except for the final one, of course.

I have mentioned that we spend a lot of our time out on Pine Cay. It's an 800 acre island between Water Cay and Ft. George Cay, and is owned by about 35 families who have vacation homes there. This makes it, technically, a privately owned island. My in-laws built a house on it sixteen years ago, and the family and family friends come down for winter vacations from November until about April, although some of the homeowners also come down in the summer when its almost deserted and very, very peaceful.

Some of the homes are available for rentals, and there is also a very small, all inclusive hotel called the Meridian Club. Pine Cay was my first exposure to the TCI, and I liked it from the beginning. The staff on the island have become personal friends over the years. I would say that other than the staff themselves, we probably spend more time on that island than anyone else. Certainly more than any of the other 'expatriates'. Many of the pix I have posted were taken on Pine Cay. The beautiful beach, the Aquarium, and the little marina where we changed the gear oil are all on Pine Cay.

The Meridian Club is not your typical resort hotel. It is small, secluded, and friendly. Most of the staff have made their working careers out of taking care of the Club and the owners' homes and boats, and many have been there for ten years or more. It has some of the best beaches in the world, and you have seen what they and the water are like.

This is the entrance to the Meridian Club - what you see after the managers pick you up at the little airstrip coming in:

Through the small lobby and you are at the pool. Outside bar to the right, and another inside bar upstairs. Dining room on the right.

Through the outside dining and cocktail area and pool, the beach is right there:

Looking along the beach from one of the guest room porches. They are all ground floor, with outside showers, sitting areas, etc. Very laid back:

That's probably our favorite table there in the far right corner, out of the flow, great place to watch sunsets with sundowners:

A couple chairs in one of the guest rooms:

The Meridian Club was built by the homeowners mostly to help defray the costs of having a restaurant, pool, and club on the island. It's a great place for privacy from the typical tourist mob over at the Provo resorts and gets the celebrity guests from time to time. La Gringa got into a little conversation just last season with Ashley Judd, for example, because her dogs and ours were mixing it up at poolside. It all worked out. We tend to keep track of past managers and people we have met here. Jim and Sharon left and now run Windmills on Salt Cay. Jeff is now working the Pink Sands on Harbour Island, Bahamas. Friendships made in remote areas tend to be remembered.

The MC is pretty tame not catering to the college crowd too much. While shoes are optional in the dining room dogs are no longer welcome poolside. I am sure it had something to do with a certain African Lionhound peeing on a sunbather and I am ashamed to admit me and my little dog were thrown out last year... but dogs are still welcome on the beach.

I probably shouldn't say much about Maria throwing the socialite guest in her designer gown into the pool last summer while the Saturday night band was playing.... so I won't. Boy, did THAT produce a stink..

We spend a huge part of the summer on Pine Cay, sometimes weeks at a stretch. We boat to Provo for groceries and supplies and to take care of mundane business like paying bills, checking in on our house, etc. I have been doing a lot of the maintenance on the family house on Pine Cay the past two years which saves a lot of money. I am also a bit more meticulous about modifications and repairs than some. If you want to live in the tropics, you really do need to be equal parts handyman and mechanic. Either that or be willing to accept the results of what you can hire in. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's not. It's always expensive, though.

I wish I had photos of the time we ran out of gas in the new boat on the other side of West Caicos. THAT was an adventure. Or photos I could post about the little sting operation we worked with the Financial Crimes unit of the TCI police. I could write about these, and more, but sometimes you just don't have a camera with you. So, I'll just keep writing about the pix that I do have.

I noticed I haven't posted any dog photos lately. I liked this one, and was trying to come up with something along the lines of 'faithful dog'. You know... having the faith to walk on water, etc.

Or maybe it should be " are you SURE Brian Wilson started this way..?"

The Meridian Club is very much open to the public. I forget how many rooms they have, I think its around a dozen, or less. Plus there is a little cottage set off away from the hotel, called the Sand Dollar cottage. It's an all-inclusive sort of resort. The chef, Franco, is pretty good. I give him a hard time about Texas Barbecue.... he thinks he knows it. (I would never admit to him it's pretty good). Meals usually give you a choice of three or four entrees. Breakfast is buffet or to order.

Several of the homeowners are serious fishermen and I know at least three of them will bring in their entire catch to the club to prepare for the guests and the homeowners who come there for their meals. So there is usually fresh grouper, snapper, dolphin, tuna, etc. in addition to beef and other choices. Saturday nights there is usually a small 2 or 3 man local band playing, they call that night 'Jump Up". People dance. But it's not a mob scene - just the guests of the hotel and whatever homeowners are on the island at the time who feel like socializing or who don't feel like cooking for themselves. I think the biggest crowds I have seen there were on the order of 100 people New Year's Eve. They put out extra tables and a lot of champagne. A bonfire on the beach, tons of food. We have gone to those the past couple of years. It's relaxed and low key. A usual night, though, would be maybe 20 people at dinner during the season.

The homeowners are from all over. I would say the majority of them are Americans, Marou is Russian, and there are several French, several Brits, an Australian, German, and one of the long time property owners here just sold her place to a nice family from Spain. He and I were talking boats not long ago, I think I posted a question on here about the catamaran he was looking into. He was admiring our Andros which is not a good boat for him and I told him so, etc.

The MC runs a boat out to the reef every morning and supply snorkel gear. They have three or four little Hobie 14s if you want to sail. There are bicycles to use. Kayaks. There is a tennis court, a pool. They have a masseuse who comes over several days a week.

You can arrange to go fishing, but I think that is probably an extra charge. It would be bottom fishing if you went through the Meridian Club, they are not set up for offshore trolling etc. I am sure they could arrange bonefishing, but If you are serious about your fishing or diving more than the average basic snorkeling guest I would suggest you contact one of the companies over on Provo (seven miles away) and they will come pick you up at the club, take you diving, picnicking on other islands, offshore fishing, etc. and then bring you back to Pine Cay. You can arrange sailing trips with Sail Provo (our friend Jay, another one of Preacher's brothers). Some of the little companies like Catch the Wave will take you to a secluded beach, and drop you off with lawn chairs, a picnic lunch, an umbrella, and leave you to yourself all day. Then pick you up and bring you back. Or they will take you out and dive for lobster and conch, build a fire on the beach and grill it for you.

The homeowners go to the Meridian Club for cocktails, and meals, of course. There is also a fairly well stocked commissary if you need any of the basics, food, booze, toiletries. Small refrigerators in the rooms. There are plenty of books to read, if you just want to chill out on the beach and relax. There is a rec center with some basic workout equipment. Last summer they re-modelled the dining room and pool area and upstairs bar. This summer they are re-doing all the guest rooms. They have ordered something like five or six new boats from Parker and maybe some others. I know one of the small ones is already delivered. Its different from the Provo/Club Med/Beaches scene. Small, and secluded. Great place to get away and just relax. They have a web-site if you want to check it out. Just Google Meridian Club, Pine Cay, and you will find a lot of info.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Writing from Martha's Vineyard

Well, We are still on Martha's Vineyard at the moment. Counting the days until I can get on a plane home. Sorry folks, but I'm just not wired right for  Massachusetts.   I lived here off and on for 20 years, and met a lot of great people, but I know I was designed for warm beaches and clear water. I am glad some people love New England.  It's a beautiful place. Both my sons live here on Cape Cod but it's not for me.  

I was searching through my frozen ice pix to find something suitable from my previous life in New England when I checked back on the forum and saw that y'all want to keep it tropical. That's okay with me. I do tropical lots better than I do frozen north. I DO have scads of pretty good photos of Alaska taken last August, with wolves, bears, sea otters, etc. But will keep them out of here.

Also, I am having some issues uploading pix to ImageShack, due to a crummy wireless connection. Takes three or four tries sometimes. Frustrating. But here's some news...if UPS comes through today I should have a little 7 mp pocket camera with some shock and water resistance that I can carry around with me when I get back to the TCI next week. I see a lot of images I want to record, and never seemed to have a camera with me. This new one looks like I can take it everywhere without worrying about it, including conch diving. That should result in some decent photos, I hope.

In the meantime, just to keep this thread limping along, here's a pic coming into the beach at Pine Cay to pick up La Gringa, stepson and dog:

Some comments sent to me via PMs have gotten me thinking more about what I could be doing with the aerial photos using the helium balloons. I am going to dust that setup off when we get back. I think people living in houses on the beach would be happy to see nice photos of their properties from that perspective. maybe I can make a buck at it, who knows.

Also we have some pretty good trips in the works. Taking the Andros over to Salt Cay, visiting French Cay, Big Ambergris, the Seal Cays, Big Sand Cay....this should all happen between now and November. Maybe I will have some warm photos just as you guys in the North are getting buttoned in for the winter.

I'll keep posting them as long as people tell me they want to see them.

Its not always sunny. When it rains, sometimes it REALLY rains. This is Leeward highway, the main, four lane (for the most part) road on the main island. One guy drowned in his car just about 50 yards from where this was taken:

This was what it looked like out the windscreen with the wipers on full speed.  It was really coming down.  Dangerous to even be driving in, but sometimes, well, you already know we might take the occasional risk.

But oh, if you like electrical storms, we have some magnificent ones. I hope to get some good lightning photos from the hilltop house.

Here's one for Randall and the other kayakers on's not too hard to get away from the "city" here.....a few hundred yards will do it:

This is one of our favorite spots on Pine Cay. Its known as "the aquarium'. The water around this rock jutting out into the water is clear, and its over 25 ft. deep just a few feet out. Its teeming with fish. We have seen porpoises, sharks, tarpon, barracuda, etc. all in the deep water surrounding this point:

There are tons of mutton snapper here, but they are really hard to catch. Drifting a hook with a strip of bait or a pilchard works, sometimes.

Hmm...there's another thought. there are not that many "high end" boats down here. But I could concentrate on ANY boat. I bet the local guys would be tickled pink if I ran them off a nice 8x10 of their boat from above. And this might be sounding strange, but I would rather use what I know and some technology and money to make one of these guys happy and excited than to show a small profit. The payback is actually better.

I hope y'all don't mind this, but I thought I would try it out to see how its received. I am still varying between my natural inclination to post a photo and keep my mouth shut, and La Gringa's suggestion that I add some words to explain it. To me, this goes over "adding some words". But y'all tell me, okay? I mean... almost thirty thousand viewings of this little thread? (and before you ask, no, my mother does not have a computer) That's powerful. Makes me want to see what else I can do along the lines that make you other boaters and dreamers keep coming back to see it again.

Okay, here comes more words and a few photos.

You thing I have noticed down here is that the older locals don't seem to have much use for charts. and you can forget GPS for the most part...that's a magic box nobody understands. If you ask a local to give you directions to an airplane wreck ten miles offshore on the Banks (which everybody here knows about) will drive you nuts. Now, you or I would just probably rattle off a set of GPS coords, or at the least, lat/long or a start point and a compass heading and distance, and leave the nav to the seeker. Not here. It involves a series of directions such as "past bird rock, then toward the BIG black rock,(not one of the little ten million little black rocks) then kinda south until the water changes, then around that sand to the west, then about ten minutes thataway". I am not kidding.. that's typical. On land? forget it. This nation has no mailing addresses, very few street names, no house numbers....try explaining that to a Brit who you are trying to get a quote from to deliver a tow hitch for a Land Rover....

But you know something? These guys can navigate themselves back to a specific crevice known for good lobster, or a small shoal full of conch, without GPS, or radar, or even a compass. They been doing it for generation after generation. Remember, the first grocery store here only happened in the last 20 years.

I have been paying attention to how I think they do it. Its tough, because they cant explain it.. I think natural born navigators always know about where they are and its relationship to where they want to be, but the nuts and bolts of how they do it speaks to me of a lot. I think they subconsciously use visual clues like running a certain direction until they lose sight of a specific key ( that's what, 8 miles at sea level?) So if you think about it...if they can pick a high point on the land such as a cliff or hill, and pick a discernible geographic feature half way down the hill, etc.....they are using that as an indication of range. Then they might use their relationship to the pattern of a line of afternoon cumulus clouds that almost always form over Middle and North Caicos due to the trade winds, and they now have an azimuth, and a windage, and dang if they cant put themselves back where they want to be ten times out of ten. With no more fancy electronics on their boats than the battery that starts their motor.

I know most of y'all know how this works. Certainly the lobstermen of Maine, the Bahamian fishermen, the people who have been doing it all their lives. But there might be some people here, of the Blackberry and GPS generations....who would be interested in some observations from someone who lives with people of the really, old school. On a daily basis.

For example.... This is looking East from Pine Cay. That line of cumulus clouds runs from South Caicos to North Caicos.. this photos is of the North Caicos end...and after a while, you can tell where the gaps between the islands are. Its the trade winds blowing across 4,000 miles of the Atlantic, then being forced upwards by the first islands they encounter. Adiabatic lapse rate and all that...

But what it IS is a visual indication at sea of where those islands are.

Then, this is a typical view looking south. I took the photo because the iguana was up next to Hammer's boat ( Hammer is Preacher's brother btw) but look at the clouds. No islands down there on the other side of the Caicos Bank...but there is a huge thermocline from when the deep blue runs up to the shallows...and that increases the thermal warming of the shallows, which makes an updraft,and then those winds sweeping across from Africa start moving upward and upward means they get cooler and cooler means they precipitate moisture....y'all know all that....and when the wind is right....the long time boatmen here have a reference line of clouds. An East/West reference to go with their North/South...

Lastly, the third part of the triangle solution to visual navigation. I am using a photo of the little hill where we are building a house.

If you are at sea, and you can see only half way up this hill....there's your indication of range. You are twelve miles offshore. But where it gets tricky is when you run out of visual sightings.... then.... I guess.... you look at the clouds...

dang, that got wordy. Sorry. I'll get back to mostly photos when we get back to the islands later this week...I honestly cant wait.

If you guys want to live in the tropics...and can swing the it. No fooling. don't wait. It wont always be there the way it still is. Its changing quickly. The whole world wants to be Orlando. Don't wait. Really. Come down for a visit, if nothing else. Your kids wont have the opportunity, and will rely upon grandpas description of how it used to be. I would normally say stay away...but I have come to realize that the truth is that there are darned few places like this left.

I spent last evening with several Hollywood people. They have turned their attention to the TCI as one of the last places where it still is what it is. That means its gonna be all over. Don't wait, really, guys. Five years from now...I wont want to live here.

If you gave one of these guys a chart, or a map, and asked them to put their finger on the location you were talking about.....they couldn't do it. They have no concept of the" bird's eye view". Most of them have never seen it. If you want to see what I am talking about, just TRY to find a chart of these islands online. The Southern Bahamas chip for the Garmin is the best I have found so far. If you can find one..look carefully at the areas where you would be boating. For the most part, its labelled "Unsurveyed". No depth info, no reef info. Whole new world for people used to having every single coral head and obstruction charted and marked.

Yeah, as near as I can tell that's the basic difference in the cameras. The 720 went to ten feet, the 770 to thirty three. I am just getting used to it, the controls are different from all the Sony's I been using. I snapped a buncha photos yesterday here in Edgartown, but wont post them here.

That freighter is only a couple miles south of Leeward. There are boarding ladders hanging from it, if you are adventuresome and want to climb aboard. I saw some photos online about a year ago, from someone who did go inside it, and it looked to be in pretty good condition inside, above the waterline. The hull is totally rusted through at the waterline, of course. There's no chance to refloat it. Its sitting in about six feet of water, and it normally draws nine.

If you understood the situation here, you would know there is no chance the government of the TCI is going to do anything with it. Really, why would they want to spend money to do anything with it? Its a convenient landmark. Its a good place to duck out of a squall, we've done it several times. And if they brought it ashore, what would they do with it, cut it up and pile it on a landfill? What would be the point of that? Nahh... Let it rot, and join the other 1,000 plus shipwrecks estimated to have happened here in the past 500 years.

Don't worry, that freighter will still be sitting here when you visit. I'll find you another photo of it...I know I got a bunch.

Ok, here's one. I am having a tough time with a WLAN here...took forever to upload this.

The anchor actually streams out from the bow AFT toward amidships, like the crew was trying to stop the forward movement of the boat. In this area, they have 9-12 ft. of water just a hundred yards behind them. Then it shoals up to around five feet for about a half mile or so, then as shallow as 2-3 ft. the rest of the way to shore. I have asked about the boat, and been told that it was driven onto the shoals here in a storm. I don't know how long ago.

If you look at that photo above, between the hull and the anchor chain, you can see the shore of Providenciales off on the horizon. I am guessing its something like three miles, roughly.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Grace Bay Beach

We boated back to Provo Friday night, found out the internet was down where we're temporarily camped til the house is built. Just got it turned on today. Phone company probs. There are always phone company problems. Unless there are water company problems or perhaps power company problems. What used to cause indignant outrage in the USA is now normal minor annoyances down here. It's just too common to get all worked up about.

We had power outages on and off all day Saturday. Early Sunday morning the wind was howling. We went down to Gilley's at Leeward for lunch Sunday, and there were whitecaps in the channel there. Most of the boats were in, tied up with double lines. Saw several flats boats tied up over in the lee of Mangrove Cay. Didn't get any photos, dang it. It was alternating rain squalls and I didn't want to get my remaining camera wet. It's the one I use for the aerials. I did snap some photos of the new house progress...but those wouldn't look much different to you guys. It does to us, of course. I have been playing with some pano software that matches up photos and puts them together automatically. It strips out a lot of the resolution, but its not so bad for emailing etc. Here's a couple of those, just for you photography types. This is the side of the house that faces the hill, taken from where the driveway is. This is three photos put together by the stitching package. Not much scenery - it's more about playing with the software:

The perspective is wrong, because I swivelled in one spot taking the photos...typical dumb ass east Texan. That open frame on the left is where there's going to be an outside shower,it will be enclosed in glass blocks. And this is four photos put together, the view from the hill looking over the salina to the WSW:

As you can see, I have some learning curve to muddle through, but it might produce some good photos after I mess with it for awhile. If I cant beat the crummy resolution thing I am going to have to come up with something else. (like quit messing around and buy a camera good enough to take a wide angle lens??)

I haven't yet posted many photos of the most popular beach on Provo, which is what people that live here call the island of Providenciales. Its the busiest town in the TCI, the closest thing we have to a city. Its not a city, of course. How can you have a city without a single red light or a MacDonald's? Its not the capital of the country, officially, nor the seat of government, officially. That's Grand Turk. But unofficially, Provo is the place. Grand Turk does have the new cruise ship terminal, where those giant floating cities can tie up and people can swarm ashore and buy souvenirs made in China or hecho en Mexico. They can spend three hours a the cruise terminal and tell people at home that they saw the TCI. Those ships are taller than anything man-made that many of the locals have ever seen before. They can have a cheeseburger in paradise courtesy of Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville restaurant, and they can buy one of Jimmy's t-shirts with a parrot on it. I may even still have one of those myself, but mine probably came from Key West. I don't have one that says Grand Turk. It was closed the afternoon we were there. It only opens when the ships come in. The one on Key West opens whether a ship is there or not. I got married one time in Key West. But I don't hold that against the town, the island, or even the state of Florida. I am sure I must have done dumber things in different towns. Well, almost as dumb.

This is some of the beach at Grace Bay, on Provo:

Grace Bay beach stretches along the north side of the island, inside the reef. The water is warm, and crystal clear for the most part. The sand is as soft as baby powder, since its made from limestone. Its different from the coarser sand you get on continents, which is made largely of quartz. The sand here is very white. I don't think its as white as the sand I remember in Panama City Beach, but if not, its close.

If you bring your wife or girlfriend down and stay at one of the increasing number of new resorts here, you will most likely stay on Grace Bay. You can spend your entire vacation at Beaches or Club Med and don't really ever have to leave their care. Someone named Emilio or Tomas will bring you a drink right to your chair, and adjust your sun umbrella, and people will take you diving to a beautiful reef. Or you can rent a Hobie down the beach and go for a sail. They will arrange a fishing charter for you. It's a good place to be. It's not Cancun, nor Miami.

I have only been gone from the TCI for 24 hours at the moment. I haven't missed "home" this much since the first time I got sent away to Baptist Church camp. Some folks are island people, and some aren't. It's become pretty clear to me which type I am.

It has been difficult for me to get online here, though. Its a wireless system, and I can't get enough signal most of the time. I think its the wireless plug-in thing that goes into the slot on the side of my Dell laptop, La Gringa isn't having a problem with her Toshiba getting signal, which has internal wireless. Gotta be a better card I can plug in.

I am thinking of getting one of those little Olympus cameras that are shock resistant and waterproof to a few meters, just to have one I can carry more. I see lots of things I want to photograph, and 90% of the time I don't have a camera.

We spoke with Preacher earlier this week. He is going to deliver a catamaran to Jimmy on Salt Cay sometimes in the next month or two, and wants us to follow him over in the Andros and bring him back. That should be a good trip. Its 22 miles across open ocean, a mile deep, from South Caicos over to Grand Turk. We will try to get down to Big Sand Cay, and a few other places we been wanting to see on the way back. I will take a lot more photos than I usually take.

This isn't a vacation for us this week, its business tied in with a family reunion. We have to travel to the US to attend board meetings twice a year. We often ask ourselves where we would go on vacation from the TCI. Its common for people to leave there in late Aug or in September for a few weeks, to get away from the sun. September is the harshest month, as the Sun heads back overhead on its way south for the winter. But we find ourselves somewhat acclimated, and it doesn't seem unbearably hot to us. The problem with vacations is that there are not that many places left that I want to visit that I haven't already seen, plus the fact that I really like where I live now, and have a lot of things going on. I am planning to revitalize the aerial photo experiments, for example.

What was strange was landing in La Guardia yesterday, where the pilot told us it was 61 degrees. That was two degrees colder than the coldest night we had all of last winter, and its August. Now we are on Martha's Vineyard, and borrowing clothes. I brought only t-shirts, shorts and one pair of crocs. That's pretty dressed up, for me these days. The last time I had long pants on was in December in Pittsburgh. I haven't worn a pair of socks since early '05. I am usually barefoot ( and I am right now, its the principal of the thing.) Of course, my toenails look like something a sadistic character out of a Stephen King novel chewed up during a nightmare.

This is the beach where we usually go, when we do go to a beach:

There are some other beaches I want to get photos of. One we call "trash beach" not because it's ugly, but because all kinds of interesting stuff floats up there. You could fill a pickup truck with net buoys, for example. There's another beach like it on Salt Cay. And some photos I have seen of the 17 miles of beach on the outside of East Caicos makes me want to go spend a day there, too. I should be able to keep posting photos as long as someone wants to see them.

This is where we use the south Texas nautical term: "'Fizehew"

As in...I wouldn't take this boat much further in that direction, 'fizehew'.

We flew in in one of USAir's little Saab commuter twin turboprops. You know the ones, seating designed by a sadistic ergonomics engineer who was grudgingly forced to accommodate a convention of skinny hunchbacked Munchkin businessmen carrying nothing larger than a Blackberry? Only six people on the plane, typical NYC to the Vineyard group. Strange conversations. Sounding stranger than a Mexican to the untrained ear.

I was told that its supposed to be "up" in the low 80's by Saturday. Well, that's all well and good...I think 85 is the low-end of what the air conditioner is set to in the house we are staying in down in the TCI. And we only turn that on when we have visitors from El Norte.

I am north of you right now. And it's cold, and ugly. I think I am gonna get this blown up full size and stick it over the window here:

But the bright side is that some of the stuff I ordered online to be sent here has arrived, so I am gleefully cutting open Fed-Ex and UPS boxes. So far, I got a couple new Trevala jigging rods, two pop-up cleats from the good people at Andros, an amp, connector, and speakers to play MP3 on the boat. I am in the process of ordering a carb for our Brownie's diving hookah, and I am looking real hard at the Olympus 770SW camera, thinking I need a camera I can stick in my pocket and take with me everywhere. That one is pretty shockproof, and waterproof..sounds like the way to go. Frozen ocean on a tropical thread? Yer scarin' my dawg!

I got a lot of ice photos from when I lived in Mass and in Alaska....I don't miss it even a little bit. It's not natural for humans to live in places like that. Makes 'em mean.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Roosie's boats

That's one of our friend Roosie's boats. I was just talking boats with him this afternoon. He stopped by to see what I was doing with the shovel, in fact. Its a little thing, kind of a fair weather toy. Goes like stink with that little outboard. People typically put a couple pieces of 4 or 6" PVC pipe under them as rollers, and pull them up with a car, or whatever. Block them up and let them sit for weeks at a time. A lot of the home built boats here are made with fiberglass over plywood, and not always marine plywood. They rarely build in any foam at all. When they start getting 'loggy', or saturated, its common to haul em out and let them dry out for a while. Then, they cut out and patch the rotten places, glass over them again, and they're good to go for a while.

Boats here are precious things. They keep getting patched and fixed, bought and sold, down through the years. One pretty much has to be un-fixable to be junked, and its rare to see one totally abandoned. If you've got a boat, you can feed yourself and your family. you can get from one island to another. You can haul people who will pitch in for gas. These are not recreational boaters, its more a way of life.

If it can be made to float, somebody, somewhere, wants it.

Ok, here ya go:

It's got a wheel, throttle, fuel gauge, tach, and radio antenna....what more do you need?

The first time I saw this boat was over a year ago. I noticed it because the guy that owned it was leaving Leeward, obviously headed for North Caicos (about ten miles) in it. He weighed maybe 200 lbs. The lady sitting on an ice chest behind him probably went 250. I don't know what was in the ice chest, or the four grocery bags...but it was a load. Hey, they made it.

But not long after that, Roosie showed up with it. Perhaps the previous owner's Mrs. said it was time to move up to a bigger boat.

Here's one of his other boats, his daily commuter. Have seen him load eight guys and their tools in this one and head home..

Right now he's all PO'd because he took it to the local mechanic to get it tuned up and now, $1100 bucks later it runs like crap and he cant get more than about 35 mph in it. We raced him in this boat, in our Dauntless 180 with a new 150 Optimax last spring, and he just barely beat us. We were doing 46 on the GPS. He was grinning ear to ear.

I notice he just put a lighted compass on it:

He musta cleaned it up. Usually got a few green bottles rolling around in it.

Yeah, there are a lot of Montauk-shaped conch-boats around. BWs are a well known and admired brand name here. I think its probably that someone, sometime years ago chose that particular boat to pop a mold off of, and it was probably the only mold in the country for many many years. So, if someone wanted to build a boat here, they could either go the plywood route, or go work a deal to use THE mold.

The Meridian Club on Pine Cay is in the process of replacing their little fleet of boats, which includes three Whalers and several other boats. I think they have ordered something like five different model boats from some company called Parker. You guys have heard of them, right? The first one just got delivered a few weeks ago.

I was talking to one of the MC staff captains yesterday about it, and was surprised to find out that, so far, he doesn't like driving the Parker. He'll take a Whaler just about anywhere, though.

Supply run day. Each Wednesday morning the Pine Cay staff takes this boat over to Provo to pick up groceries and supplies for the week. This time of year, there are not too many people staying on the island. By the way, that's Roosie (Roosevelt) holding the bow-line. Raymond is the captain, and Evan is on the stern line. We give a lot of our barracuda catch to Evan. he loves em.

I am guessing that this boat will be replaced this year by one of the new Parkers. Do they make a model that would serve well as a sea-going pickup truck?

Notice the flag. the wind here is just about ALWAYS from the right in this photo, and the incoming tide is in your face, the outgoing tide at your back from this perspective:

So, getting into these slips is always a cross-wind landing. We come in from the right. Not so bad on the incoming tide, you keep the bow into it and allow for drift. On the outgoing, you end up giving her a real good shot of reverse at the last moment. At full tide, it can be 2-3 kts current and 15 mph winds on the beam. Makes for some interesting tie ups when its crowded in the winter busy season.

Someone asked about Molasses Reef, the development (not the reef itself). It's on West Caicos. The guy doing most of the development on it lives two houses away from where we are building our house. We took the new boat out there on our first long trip after we launched it. Looking at it from the water, it seemed to be pretty well thought out. None of the structures are glaringly obvious, they fit in with the landscape well. It doesn't look like the typical over-developed, high-density resort, at all. The little marina/harbour there is well protected, with nice bulkheads all around, etc. They have obviously put a lot of work into it. The entrance is a nightmare, though. you have to come in through a small cut in the reef, and waves will be breaking on either side of you in any kind of swell.

From what I have read, they are working to make it environmentally sensitive, and putting a lot of effort into preserving most of the island. I also heard that a small, one-bedroom condo was going something like $ 2,000,000.

That's where we ran out of gas outside the reef and I swam for almost an hour towing the boat back through the reef to someplace protected and shallow enough so we could anchor. They sent someone out to tow us in, and sold us a tank full of gas. Good people.

It runs about $ 250-300 per sq. foot for the main house, depending on the type of finish, what type flooring and roofing, quality of windows and doors, appliances, etc.

The construction here is different from the US though, as I tried to show in some earlier photos on this thread. CBC, concrete, rebar. There are NO wood frame exterior walls allowed. Residences must have cisterns to store rain water...etc. Its expensive, but you end up with a better built house that has a good chance of surviving a storm if you ain't real stoopid where you put it. Of course, if a Cat. 5 parks over you for a few days, its probably toast. the building codes here are meant to produce buildings designed for gusts to 140 mph. We kinda went a little overkill on ours.

The weather has gone from muggy and hazy to off and on thundershowers. I think Hurricane Dean is still too far away to be affecting us. But whatever it is, it colored up the sunset tonight a little: