Sunday, October 7, 2007

Caicos Bank trip, little islands, shipwreck photos

Hot dang, it's Sunday morning and the low clouds are gone for the moment. The sun is shining, and the winds are down. There are some high, thin cirrus and stratus moving in, but we are gonna go for a boat ride. I don't know if we will get all the way over to the wreck site I want to investigate, cause there's another one a little closer that might be interesting and I know how long the weather will stay like this. And the primary purpose of this morning's trip, after all, is to round up some conch. Talk to y'all later.

Ok, its 17:30 and we are back. Really good day, it was rough on the 'outside', and the water was still stirred up, but we managed to grab a bunch of conch. Then we decided to spend the rest of the day on the Banks side. It was flat calm, smooth as a skating rink and the water was crystal clear. We thought we would explore that side some, for a change. We are going to be living there, overlooking the Bank, and we hardly spend any time there. We took 119 photos today. We got underwater shots, we got photos of conch (whoopee, right?) we by the shore and got some shots of small caves, we climbed onto some little uninhabited cays, and we looked at some shipwrecks. I know which photos to start with. Maybe just take them in order, but there are several days worth at the rate I usually post.

All right, the conch are cleaned and skinned and out of my hands now. I can post some photos.
This morning we headed out planning to grab some conch and investigate some things around that shipwreck site. Weather was finally good, again. High clouds, light winds. We have to boat about seven miles on the Caicos Bank side of the islands to get to Leeward-Going-Through. Leeward is where we can cut between two islands and be on the outside, with nothing but the reef between us and the deep blue.

The TCI is shaped kind of like a huge atoll with the southern side open to the sea. Its a plateau, with water a mile deep all around it, and its ringed with reefs all the way around. But on the flat top of the plateau is the Caicos Bank. When the conditions are right, its some of the most tranquil, clear, and peaceful ocean you ever saw. Its also shallow around the edges and in many places in the middle. It's dotted with coral heads, and most of it is "unsurveyed" as they print on the charts.

The weather and water were perfect as we left the marina this morning:

About half way to Leeward I noticed we were gaining on this boat pretty quick. I could see he had three outboards on it, and could see that the props were turning cause he had them tilted pretty well back. He was making turns, and moving real slow.

I asked La Gringa..."what in the hell are they doing? There's no fishing poles out..."

Then as we came abeam of them, I realized they had two look-outs on the bow and were creeping along dodging coral heads. The water was so clear, it looked like the bottom was about a foot down,when in fact where they were it was probably more like 4-5 feet.

We went zipping by, further inshore ( we were in maybe three feet of water) and gave them a wave. We could see them staring at us, probably thinking we were idiots to be doing 35 mph through this water. He was doing about 3. I could have told him to follow us, but he wouldn't have kept up...its just too visually bizarre when the water looks like its disappeared entirely. And I would have felt bad if he hit something. There are coral heads around here:

They are not hard to spot with some practice...if you see any bright colors on the top, its shallow. And it helps if you can get on plane and STAY there...but it does take time to get that confident. The first year we were here, I think we dodged every dark spot in the ocean.

This is kinda what you see zipping across it, but looking over the side of the boat, its like the bottom is right there. He was being prudent if he doesn't know the water here.

We chose a panga just for this specific water. Its not a boat everyone would love, but the things it does well, it does real well.

This is about a six foot piece of bamboo floating in four feet of water. If it were not for the shadow on the bottom, it would be hard to tell how deep it is:

When we got to the ocean side, There was still a heavy swell breaking on the reef. We decided to go ahead for the conch, but didn't put much time into searching for anything else. The stirred up water had the visibility down to something like 40 or 50 ft...we are not used to that. Also had to get pretty close to things to get a photo, but I snapped a few anyhow.

More coral heads:

La Gringa's conch chili recipe calls for six conch. We double the recipe so we can freeze some, so that's a dozen. I like lots of conch in the chili, so we agreed on fifteen. When she put the fifteenth on the boat, I had just grabbed four more (you can carry two in each hand if you hold them with your fingers inside the shells...and don't mind them pushing their little claw against your fingers) so, we got out of there with 19 conch.

We headed back to the Banks side. Cutting through Leeward, you come out by the Conch Farm. They raise conch commercially. That's what all the pens on the right are.
(La Gringa took a lot of these photos)

Our friend Hammer Stubbs was fishing for mutton snapper out near Bird Rock:

Weird day, huh? It was still mid-morning at this point. We decided to cruise down to the Five Cays area and look around.

Zipping over a thin spot to check out a buoy. You can probably see why there's a certain pucker factor running around here. Its almost better when its choppy, it doesn't freak you out so much. The waves give you some depth perspective. This water is 3 ft. deep. Plenty.

Ok, it was decision time. This is the buoy one mile out from the boatyard/marina where our slip is located. We were trying to decide whether to head on home or keep going. The day was young, the conch were still alive ( I still had to clean them, though) so we decided to keep heading west along the Provo coast. Explore our soon-to-be new 'neighborhood' a little better.

The water here is about 10 ft. deep. That's heavily growth encrusted chain under the buoy.

Zipping right along, we spotted some stuff sticking out of the water and went over to take a look.

Its a sunken boat, looks like a small landing craft, just under the surface. It was low tide, and only a winch and a piece of railing were sticking up. Nothing on the chart, nothing on the GPS, nothing to mark it.

Wouldn't you love to run into this puppy in the middle of a dark night, or in a rain squall with a two to three foot chop running? Ouch. That could ruin your whole trip. Might even scratch the gel coat.

We put a mark on the GPS for it. I was wondering if it might not be a good spot for Mutton Snapper ( they are thick on the Bank).

La Gringa spotted this fish, its not a mutton snapper. We know they are pretty harmless unless you annoy them, but still, there's just something about one of these swimming into your vision out of the corner of your eye when you are not expecting it. Must be some primordial instinct or something...but it just gets your attention. The little fish off his port quarter is about a foot long:

After this, we scooted along the coast down to the Five Cays area, and took a lot more photos. Climbed up onto some little uninhabited islands, etc. I will post some of those tomorrow if you guys want to continue this.

Yesterday we explored more of the area near where our new home is being built. We had not really spent all that much time on the Caicos Bank. We found it pretty interesting on a glassy calm day. We could see the sea-bottom as easily as standing on the edge of a clean swimming pool and looking down at the lane marker tiles on the bottom. It is that clear. We saw sharks, rays, conch (of course) shipwrecks, tons of coral heads, zillions of fish...

We started out by running next to the shoreline for awhile. One of the first thing we noticed was the huge number of sea-caves in the bluffs and underneath them all along this section of coast. Some of them appear to be pretty deep. It would be a great place to explore by kayak:

While we were cruising, I kept hearing these little solid sounding 'clunk' noises coming from around the outboard. Of course I was concerned, and would turn around and look at the motor. I couldn't figure it out. Then, while I was looking I saw one of our newly captured conch trying to make an escape attempt. They come way out of the shell when they are turned upside down, and try to hook their single little claw into something. This is one of them trying to flip back right-side up:

Another cave, and this one was pretty interesting. It goes way back into the hill, and slants upwards. Its also connected to another cave a few yards to the left:

Steel hulls are not immune to the sea, rocks, and storms here. But they do hang around awhile longer than the wooden ones.

Yesterday's excursion taught us that there are a LOT more wrecks on the Banks side of the islands. These are all relatively newer ones, in the past 10-20 years, but the shallow waters and coral heads have been here a long time, and boats have been sinking here for five hundred years...

I wouldn't want to run into this one in the dark, neither, but at least its marked on the chart:

Some of the views are pretty neat, at least we think they are. There are small islands all over the place here, enough to keep us in exploring material for quite a while. And one of the nice things about this area is that its only ten minutes from where we keep the boat. I almost think this one would make a decent computer background:

Notice, again, the water depth and clarity. It is actually about four feet deep here.

Now that's a pretty cool rock right there:

only a mile out. And I bet we have found ourselves a place to catch mutton snapper.

Can you imagine throwing a party on this one and watching people try to get back to their boats?

We kept cruising from island to island. They all have basic geology in common, yet they all have distinctly individual characteristics, as well. Of course> we just HAD to drop the anchor and wade over to this one to climb it:

You woulda done the same thing, I bet.

Provo in the background. You can see these little uninhabited cays are not that far away at all. Some dynamite picnic spots. And I am really looking forward to doing some snorkeling on the outside of them. The water is deeper on the side facing south, typically 12-15 ft. from what we saw. Prevailing currents sweep the sand around to the leeward side, just like islands everywhere.

For an idea where this is, that little hump right smack dab in the middle of this photo is where we are building the house. Its almost due East of here, and as you can see its a pretty straight shot by boat. We will get to watch the sunset over these islands from the house. Pretty cool, eh?

Oh, those cumulus clouds to the left in this photo (above that's where we would have been if we had stayed out on the reef today.) Good choice to come check out this side..

We tied up at yet another island, and I cleaned the conch. We were getting pretty parched, and it was time to head back to the house. It was so peaceful, the boat in a little cove with a perfect untouched sand beach. There was a neat rock on that island, with a hole going all the way through it, and a great photos....but we didn't take it!! Like I said, we were getting parched. And I made a royal mess of myself and the boat smashing holes in 19 conch shells. Thank goodness we opted for the raw-water washdown That's a real good option to have on a boat.

On the way back, we passed over another wreck, this one completely on the bottom. I had to hop over the side to get some photos, and of course, to wash a million little conch bits off of me. (Man, was I popular with all the local fish...)

The wreck is covered with silt, and the debris of the sea in a gentle blanket giving it all a softened look. The wood is rotting away, the iron turning to rust. Coral is starting to grow in various places, and there is sea life making a home here. I saw several anemones:

(of course, perfect opportunity to mess around with the new little U/W closeup mode)

The sun shining through the ripples on the surface made these constantly moving waves of light crisscrossing the bottom. The visual affect was stunning. I SHOULD have switch the camera to movie would have been worth posting a link here to show you the patterns. It was absolutely hypnotizing. And even though I am very limited as to which colors I can see, even I could tell that where the little ripples crossed there was a moving prism effect, and thousand of miniature rainbows surrounded me, moving across the sea floor and the old wreck.....I thought maybe I was finally having one of those flashbacks I paid for and never got... or it could have just been the sun...oh well, never mind. I guess you hadda be there.

After my trip over the side to look at this wreck, we had enough for the day and headed back to the slip. I still had conch to "skin" (the hardest part) and La Gringaneeded to get to the supermarket to pick up supplies for her conch chili...oh man, I can hardly wait.

We did not even get to the little cay with the "x" marked on it. We didn't get to a third of them. We just ran out of day before we ran out of stuff to do. Next time. I promise. Its very near here.

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