Sunday, March 30, 2008

Excess Humidity..

Well, I promised to take more photos today, and we did. And NONE of them are about the house or construction. As of yet. It was more of the type of day this blog was originally intended to highlight, I think. You know, riding around on the boat, clear water, colorful reefs, the whole tropical thing. Well, we got the tropical thing today, for sure.

The day started out pretty well. We got up before dawn, as we usually do if we haven't been socializing the night before. There were clouds from the very start.

But all in all, the morning didn't look too threatening. Ha. What do I know?

I took a look at the forecast online. I use "WindGuru". They have been pretty good on the wind and wave forecasts for the past year or so I have been watching it. Today is supposed to be the calmest day, wind-wise, for the next week. There is a storm forecast for tonight and tomorrow, with 12 foot seas, rain, and high winds. We wanted to take a look at the family's vacation home on Pine Cay to get an idea of what shape it's in. It has been occupied by vacationing North Americans now almost continuously for months. We have about a ten day window before the last guests of the season come down.

There are constant little repairs needed at the Pine Cay house. They are usually small things. Jammed up sliding screens and windows. Broken appliances. Loose hardware. Just the normal wear and tear on a dwelling that gets rode hard and put up wet. Besides, with today's forecast for calm seas, it was a good opportunity to get out on the ocean and run the boat. Get away from the house, and the hilltop. Get a break from being surrounded by all these little things that need repairing......hey...wait a minute...

Well, its an excuse to get on the water, anyhow. I guess repairs are going to be in my schedule no matter where we go here.

By the time we got away from the marina, we were already seeing some pretty decent squalls developing.

Yep. That's a squall, all righty. Our choices were to try to loop around it, blast through it, or wait and let it pass. It was moving too fast to go around. Rather than just run through it we decided to hang around south of it and wait it out. We thought we would just mess around in the boat until it passed by in front of us. Take some photos. Enjoy the water, and the day. We were in a pretty scenic little area, anyway. So I turned the boat toward the beach, and we just watched the ocean. And the weather.

As you can see, the skies are clear behind the squall. Well, relatively clear anyway. It's moving off from right to left in the photo.

The dog, of course, was nervous as soon as he saw the clouds. He hates dark skies, and rain, and he worries about thunder. I think he worries way too much about the thunder. He should be more worried about the lightning.

We were in the vicinity of some rocks just below the surface, which need watching when boating through here. The dog is good at watching things that he thinks are out of place. He thinks rocks out in the middle of his ocean are out of place.

We could title this one..."Dog staring intently at Rock." Just in case it decides to move or something, I guess. He's like that. He likes his ocean to be flat. He will bark at buoys, too.

I think right about here was where the dog came up with a fourth alternative to the squall situation, which was to call the whole trip off and haul butt back to the marina.

Since we were essentially just wasting time waiting for the storm to blow through, we took the boat over for a better look at the rocks. We have been through here in the dark, and in storms, several times. And in storms in the dark it's good to know the enemy. Rocks sticking out of the water definitely qualify.

The water here is about six to ten feet deep in most places. Safe enough water for a little boat like ours. But obviously, there are some spots where one would NOT want to be in a boat whether it was dark or not. So I noted where they were on the GPS, in case we ever need to be here in low visibility.

That's a pretty respectable shoal. It would eat a fiberglass boat and outboard motor quite nicely at 30 mph. You can also see that the skies out to sea are starting to turn surly, as well. Good thing we didn't try to loop outside the storm. We would have been a mile or so offshore and the visibility can get really bad in these things. More on that subject later.

The storm finally started to let up, with a clear patch behind this first squall line. We started to ease our way up the coast staying fairly close to the beach. It was a good opportunity to get some photos to post. Something besides house photos and sunsets for a change!

See? Pretty blue skies, fluffy white clouds, just a few minutes away. Well, they WERE fluffy white clouds last time I looked at them. By the time we took the photo they were starting to develop a bit of an attitude, though.

Then, something actually interesting happened. Well, interesting to us, anyway. I spotted a dark shape angling in toward the boat. It turned out to be a rather large dolphin.

They are not that rare here, especially this time of year. But this one showed a definite interest in us. It circled the boat several times, swam away, and then came back. It was within five or six feet of the boat several times.

There was no doubt whatsoever that this animal was specifically trying to get a good look at us.. It would roll slightly so that an eye was out of the water, and it was clearly giving us the once-over. It is a strange sensation to be examined by a large, wild mammal. There's a look of intelligence there, and it is very noticeable eye-to-eye.

After a few minutes watching, we figured out that it seemed to be pretty much blase about La Gringa and I, but was interested in the stern of the boat. Which happened to be where the dog was sitting. Of course none of this was lost on the dog in question.

The dog was behaving unusually calm (for him) as well. Normally, he gets real excited about fish. Any fish. He growls, and barks, and acts agitated. He will bite them if he gets the chance. And he will tell them, loudly, that he intends to bite them repeatedly at the very first opportunity. But this time, he just watched the dolphin, intently, and the dolphin was definitely watching him.

We just drifted for a few minutes watching these two mammals. There was no doubt there was a mutual interest. And Dooley is never this calm around another animal, no matter what it is.

The dolphin hung around for as long as we stayed there. It would circle under the boat, and return to where it could see the dog. This went on until we decided the weather window was now or never, and we pulled away and headed up the coast to the little Pine Cay marina. I am still thinking about what was going on between this big marine animal and this little terrestrial quadriped.

We made it to Pine Cay between storms without further incident, other than I discovered the boat's trim tabs are not working. (Oh Goodie!. Something new to repair!)

Transportation on Pine Cay is by electric golf cart. No noisy gasoline engines allowed. Here is La Gringa and Dooley the Demented, Delerious, Devious dog splashing through puddles left by that squall that just passed over. This is pretty much typical of roads on the island.

It looks almost tropical, doesn't it? It does to us, after spending most of the past month on that dusty, bare, sunbaked, unlandscaped hilltop where we live.

We visited the house, got some measurements we needed to replace a broken glass table top, worked on some troublesome windows, and picked up a few of our belongings that we had left there. After an hour, we noticed that the weather had gone from spotty to solid bad. There was another line of squalls even worse than the last storm, headed directly toward us. We were going to get clobbered if we stayed. We decided to make a run for it and see if we could get back to Provo before it caught us. We didn't take time to snap any photos, at that point. We just wanted to get back to the boat and cast off.

We did not make it. The storm caught us halfway back.

I was heading the boat in toward the beach in this photo. I had looped out near the reef trying to avoid getting soaked. It didn't work. Just left us almost a mile offshore in driving rain. The visibility was also dropping rapidly, and in this busy part of the 'road' between Provo and North Caicos, that concerns me. We could still see the shoreline at this point. I don't like being crosswise to the normal flow of boat traffic here when the visibility is down. And it got WAY down before it got better.

The dog was pretty miserable. He wanted to find someplace to hide out of the stinging rain, and this was the best he could come up with. Snuggled up next to the only shelter he could find.

We had to throttle back to near idle as the storm and visibility got worse. We got completely soaked, of course. We considered jumping in the ocean to dry off a little. We saw a few other boats out, and they were also trying to head back into Leeward to get out of the weather. The low visibility made it pretty slow going. Can you see the rather large boat we are about to pass in this photo?:

That's the 77 foot long schooner "S/V ATABEYRA", from the stern, heading into Leeward. They are doing maybe 5 mph, and we are doing maybe 20 mph. Well, we were doing about 20, we slowed it down a bit at this point. Just in case there were any other surprises lurking just out of sight. Keeps you on your toes, this weather.

This schooner ahead of us is a boat that sticks maybe eight or ten feet out of the water, with a thirty something foot mast. This is the "Atabeyra"

So....what would a small, unlit, slow, 16 foot plywood and fiberglass boat painted blue with four or five people in it look like under these conditions? When THAT boat looks like this:

Oh yeah, I slowed way down. It was basically IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) only at that point, anyway.

So, we made it, obviously. We got the boat tied up, and I tested the trim tabs (yep, still didn't work) and noticed the skeg on the outboard is bent. Someone obviously hit it with a boat while it was tied safely up at the dock. Oh gosh dang and fiddlesticks! SO, we can add "straighten the skeg" and "fix the trim system" to the 'List of Things that Need Doing'. This list is gaining on me. It's becoming the size of a novel. Well, a short story, at least.

Oh, I was standing in the pouring rain doing all this boat inspecting and ephithet uttering. I bet I said "shucks" and similar things in the heat of the moment. I was soaked through and through. My waterlogged shorts were trying to inch their frigid way down over legs. Hey, we signed up for this adventure...didn't we?

Well, finally three very wet, cold animals climbed into the Land Rover and headed back to the house to dry out and watch the weather. That was actually enough adventure for one morning.

Looks a whole lot better from in here:

And the sound of rain on a tin roof is everything I remembered it to be.

Hey, the cisterns are almost full, now. That's a good thing.

What the heck, by the time I wrote this it was sundown. Since I started with today's dawn, I will end it with tonights dusk.

And I got through a post with no photos of the house.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


We are still here. We have been unpacking, and repacking, and repairing things we once thought we couldn't live without. Until we lived almost three years without them. That's the problem with 'stuff', you have to have a place to put it. It has to be dusted, or folded, or washed, or vaccumed, or sanded and varnished. It has to have a place. It demands attention. Does it look better here? Would it look better there? Could it have looked best still in storage, out of sight out of mind? It really is amazing how much stuff one accumulates, and drags around with them.

We continue to throw things away. I braved the Dump, er, I mean Landfill again this week. People I don't know and who do not work there helped remove things from the Land Rover. It's a good thing they were things I wanted to chuck anyhow. They took old leather belts, worn out shoes, and t-shirts with holes in them. Which they promptly headed off into the bushes with.

La Gringa has been chasing down DSL dropout issues for over two weeks. She finally got someone out to look at it. Its getting better. Today the phone company shut off the phone line they finally installed two weeks ago. They don't mail out phone bills here. It's up to the customer to remember its time to go see how much they owe, in person, and stand in line to pay it. We were not expecting to have much of a bill after only two weeks of an intermittent phone/internet connection, especially one that had been reported as faulty something on the order of a dozen times.

I have not been taking that many photos this week, just the usual sunrises and sunsets. I did manage to get a few, and I will take some new ones tomorrow. I got a new table saw, and have built sixteen feet of workbench so far. It's coming together. So slowly.

I will try to get a better post on here tomorrow, for those who still follow our misadventures.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

One small aggravation at a time....

Even though the posts have been thin lately, life goes on here much as before. The sun still rises every morning from the sea, looking like it's only a day's sail away. And it sets every evening over the island of Provo.

Since discovering that the front step archway makes a nice frame for a photo I have been looking for a new angle on that. I mean, how many tropical sunset photos can I post? Surely, it's getting boring to look at.

Well, this morning just as the sun was coming up in the east, the full moon was setting exactly where the sun goes down in the west. I tried to get the same photo as before, but this time with the moon instead of the sun:

Not as much light to work with, of course. But you can see the light top of the cloud, and the sky brightening from the top down as the sun's rays begin to illuminate what looks to be another sunny, tropical day.

I apologize about the lag between posts. As you probably realize, we have been totally involved in a zillion little, and some not-so-little, details and problems over the past few weeks. Take the normal sort of aggravation most of you know about moving from one house to another. That's a lot in itself. It's a big event you remember all your life. Start with that.

Then add the complexity of taking things from storage that you haven't seen in almost three years. This pile of "stuff" includes many things that are ruined, some that can be salvaged, and a lot of "what in the hell were we thinking???"

For example, WHY did I think I would need to bring Harris tweed sports coats to the tropics? Multiply that idiocy by a few hundred...add rat, mildew, and water damage. Each item of thousands now has to be re-evaluated. Can we save it? Do we want to? There is an assortment of projects accumulating in the garage that need repairs.

Oh, and the biggest complication of them all, moving into a newly constructed house that has never been lived in before. When you move into a house that has been established, just about everything works. Previous owners have taken care of the little things like bolting in the oven, hooking up the dishwasher, and making sure the door latches are installed rightside up. Every day we find at least one more thing that needs sorting out. Yesterday, for example, we discovered the solar hot water accumulator was installed upside down. It's now full of water that cannot be easily drained since the drain is on the high side. So it weighs a few hundred pounds more than it did empty, and it's made of glass....little things like that. Every day.

I started building my workshop bench, starting with a section 8 ft. long. I did that so that it could be moved while our construction crew could seal the concrete floor.

So, they removed the lower shelves, drill press, etc. to make it light enough to move away from the wall, and sealed that half of the floor. Once they are done ( maybe Wednesday?) I will complete that bench all the way down the wall. Looks fairly neat and clean in that photo doesnt it.

But that's because they heaped everything that was in semi-disorganized but recognizable stacks into one huge pile that takes up the entire other half of the garage...

and just when I kinda knew where everything was. Can you imagine what this looked like before two solid weeks of unpacking, evaluating, and hauling stuff up to the house? It was daunting. Still is.

And outside we are constantly reminded that we are still living in a construction site. Despite one garbage truck load of trash hauled away a couple days ago, we still have a 'driveway' lined with machinery, scaffolding, concrete forms, materials..

Those dotted lines are where I am thinking I want to take a jackhammer and cut down into the solid rock that we have built upon. I want to lower this part of the driveway maybe a foot, cut a 'curb' into the section on the left to protect the house and add some landscaping appeal. On the hill to the right I want to cut that edge out a bit more to move the entire driveway further from the house, and give us more room. Like, enough to park a boat on a trailer and secure it during storms. And of course I want to level it. Like I don't have enough other stuff to do to keep busy these days. At least it gives me a good reason to buy another power tool, an electric jack hammer. With all the limestone up here, I suspect it will pay for itself on the first job. But it's got to get in line behind some other more pressing necessities.

This is the solar collector for the hot water. It was bubbling right along in the sun yesterday morning, and I took a close look at it and discovered it was installed wrong. It needs to be rotated 180 degrees in the horizontal plane, which will put it right side up and put the fittings over by the wall protected. Sigh...

As soon as I realized that the bubbling noises I was hearing coming from this thing was water turning into steam, I covered it with a sheet of plywood. Nice to know it works, anyway.

See how everything I can think about these days is house-related? Heck, it's not even that interesting to ME, much less does it make good material for this blog. But we are stuck with these mundane things for a while to come. And nothing is ever as simple as it seems, and everything takes three times as long as we expect. If we are lucky.

To the moving, add the day-to-day repairs that seem to be a part of life here. The little Suzuki transfer case froze up on me last week. I got it apart, and discovered I needed a little bushing under the shifter.No biggie, right?

Well, it doesn't exist here. So, I found one online, and ordered it. It is a $ 14 part. I had it shipped from Utah to Miami, two day delivery so it could be brought down by curly-headed stepson this week. Now the $ 14 part is up to $ 38. I don't even want to add the round trip airfare from Miami...but anyhow I got the part yesterday, and spent a few hours reassembling things through this little hole in the floor of the 'jeep':

(any small 4x4 vehicle here is called a 'jeep'. So we have a Suzuki jeep, and a Land Rover jeep, for example)

So, bottom line here, we have not really been able to do anything interesting to write about. Or post photos of. And that's my excuse, for the most part. Oh, and I am lazy, to boot.

We HAVE managed to get on the boat a few times, but two of those trips were night crossings to another island and there are no photos of the white knuckles. Going through images from the last couple weeks, I do come up with a few that are not house related. For example, yesterday we went to the marina to check on our boat. There was an awesome catamaran tied up at the dock, a boat we have never seen here before:

La Gringa and I are both sailors at heart, and we are very interested in catamarans. This one is pretty interesting, a bit different from the production cats we see all the time.

We have been dreaming of a much smaller version of this kind of boat for ourselves, a boat called a "Gemini". There are a bunch of reasons why, and if any of you sailors out there want to discuss it I will be happy to do so. We love talking about boats. We are pretty much ocean people, in case you hadn't noticed.

Last week we ran across our friend Roosie at the marina. He is now in the slip next to us, and he just bought a "new" used boat himself.

It's a big step up for him from the boats he has been running. He does have some outboard issues to sort out, but he will.

Passing through Leeward, we get a view ( whether we like it or not) of the new "Nikki Beach" resort going in where Leeward Marina used to be.

Now this is purely my own personal opinion. (I can do that on a blog, right?) But I think this thing is hideously ugly. It looks, to me, like what you would get if Disney hired Carmen Miranda to design a cathouse for the rich and famous. But that's just one grumpy gringo's opinion. I am sure many people will like having it there. I just try to not look at it when we go by.

On the other hand, we also get views of boats going in and out of the boatyard near the house. To me, that's a much more pleasing sight:

Ahhhh...that's more like it. Good thing we didn't buy a house lot in Leeward, I guess.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Barely moving...

This move-in is taking forever. Of course the fact that we decided to live in an unfinished structure might have something to do with it. We have been in here since Feb. 20. And still, it goes slowly on.

We have gotten into the habit of stopping whatever we are doing each day to check out the sunset. We found that standing on the front steps at sunset frames a sunset like the pergola frames the sea:

I been using that one for my desktop. It's got some dark places to stash icons around the edges.

A lot has happened since the last post here. We have made several boat trips to Pine Cay, including two in pitch darkness. With all the unlit dredges and a forest of uncharted bouys surrounding the entrance to Leeward, night crossings have a fairly high 'pucker factor' lately. We have had house guests already, while subsisting on toast, pizza, and cold sandwiches. Oh, and things I can cook on a charcoal grill.

The house..well, everyday we seem to find something new that needs being dealt with. Small things, for the most part. Craftsmanship issues. Omitted components. Nonfunctional necessities.

For example, this is a photo looking straight up at a ceiling fan in the laundry room:

See the little pull-down attic door to the right? Stairs fold out of it so one can ascend to the attic. There one would do things like hook up vents, fix the plumbing on the water heater. These are things that need done. But first, notice that the ceiling fan prevents the attic stairs from unfolding. This was discovered about three weeks ago. It looks just exactly like that at this very moment. See what I mean?

We continue to unpack boxes of things we have not seen in literally years. Every day except Sunday, if our luck holds we have Romeo and Patrick here chasing down a massive 'punch list' that I keep adding to. We have sub-contractors for electrical, plumbing, glass, cabinets (don't get me started) coming and going. Things are getting done.

La Gringa put this year's "Christmas Stump" out to see how it would look. We have driftwood ideas. A lot of them.

Saturday I was headed up from the garage (now dubbed "base camp") in the Suzuki (now dubbed "Sherpa") in "4x4 low" with a full load for the dump. At the top of the driveway I went to shift that little sucker into "4x4 High" for the three and a half mile back to the nearest pavement. It made a pretty definite 'clunk'noise and jammed in neutral. I could not get it to shift. So I spent a big part of Saturday lying in the dirt with wrenches disconnecting driveshafts that have not been disconnected since 1994. That have been living in a high-salt environment. I was reminded of why wrenches ('spanners' to some people) are also known as knuckle-busters. Could NOT get it into gear.

So I spent a big part of Sunday learning the intricacies of the inside of a Suzuki transfer case. I even got it running again.

La Gringa and one of our new neighbors have found that they are kindred souls. They take our respective dogs on long walks along the beach. La Gringa has taken the camera along, to show me photos of another wrecked Haitian sloop sitting in the sand:

She knows I am interested in the hardwood planks and beams.

She is also finding some pretty interesting pieces of driftwood.

Of course there's really no shortage of it. Now if I can just get that workshop finished. I have spent the last two days on that.

When they return from the walks, Dooley the Delerious usually gets hosed down in the outside shower and then crashes on the patio. Working on his tan.

So, basically, we have been busy. We end the day dog-tired and covered with dust.
This is how I feel after dealing with a certain sub-contractor who shall remain nameless at this point:

Just kidding. That's a sunset from inside the shower looking through two layers of glass blocks. Bizarre, huh? Gives you an idea of my mind set.

Hey, at least we made the local paper. Page 47, but there's the official local media version of the story. All there in black and white:

We're the guys down in the corner, the "Reel Job" crew, in case you thought I was making it up.

We still wake up every morning to a new day, with new developments, and one of the first things we see is the sunrise over the ocean. It's a pretty good way to start a day.

And we remind ourselves that sometimes the only difference between an ordeal and an adventure is your attitude about it.

It could be worse.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Devils in the details...

I apologize for a paucity of posts lately. Our "laid-back" island lifestyle has been severely impacted by moving into an unfinished house. There are a zillion little details to get uptight about. Like, where's a bowl? Why doesn't this light switch work? WHEN are the cabinets going to be finished? And more. Much, much more.

This has consumed all our waking hours for the most part. This whole situation would also have to happen during the busiest part of the year, visitor-wise. We moved two weeks ago today...and we have workers here at 07:00 every morning but Sunday. BUT progress is definitely being made almost daily.

The winter weather has not been much of a factor, although it's been windy every day. This photo was taken at 7:30 one morning this week:

The biggest issues with the wind have been that we find excuse in it not to spend as much time on the boat as we would like, and it blows dust. LOTS of dust over a still raw construction site. Driveway issues are still bothering us, but not as much. Once you get used to the idea of needing four wheel drive to get to and from the garage, it all starts to seem normal again. Yesterday we had a big honking rolling machine packing the dirt down, and crushing rocks:

It made a big difference to have all the loose rock compacted. This machine has a "vibrate" mode that was a little startling to us. When the driver switched it on, the vibrations travelled right up through the very foundation of the house. We could feel it through the soles of our feet. The water in the toilet bowls was making concentric vibration patterns like a scene from "Jurassic Park". But it's a better place to drive now.

We have been waking up to wonderful sunrises over the ocean. And it's kinda nice to look out the door and see our vehicles parked here at home. Our first official "home" in almost three years.
Ah, the signs of domestic urban life...the Land Rover, the Suzuki, the pile of empty carboard and wood scraps...the "Gradall 524D..."

....uh...that's not ours. But it's been living here for weeks now. Handy machine to have around. Yesterday Romeo used it to finally move the big yellow plastic tank from where it's been sitting for the past year. Hey, one man's eyesore might be another man's windbreak.

Monday we loaded a new gas grill on the boat and ran it out to Pine Cay. While we were there, a tremendous squall line came blowing through. Dooley the Degenerate Dog and I sat it out in a golf cart with the rain curtains down. Looks like a typical wintry scene, doesn't it:

I think the showers brought the air temperature down into the high 70's for an hour or so. Not exactly the tropical scene, is it. But hey, its winter.

Any time heavy rain and dark clouds are part of the equation, Dooley turns into fifteen pounds of spineless mush. Nothing I say will convince him that whatever hairy god he worships is not specifically targeting him with thunderbolts. While he usually follows orders to "stay in the back" of the boat/car/golf cart....all bets are off if he thinks he is about to be struck by lightning. I wonder how his mind works, though. If he thinks that HE attracts lightning...why would he insist on huddling next to ME??

I repeatedly got him into the back of the cart, but the moment I turned my head he weaselled his way back up front between the seats. So I gave up.

Sometimes it's just easier to just put up with a wet, shivering, terrified terrier scrunched up next to you and leaving little muddy paw prints all over everything. It's only sand, it brushes right off as soon as it dries.

We did not take a lot of photos on that boat trip Monday, it was pretty much hit and run and dodge the squalls. Most memorable part of it was assembling the new gas grill. I will say the Weber company does a great packing job.

Once we returned to Provo, we found we missed a little excitement on the road we now call our neighborhood. Seems someone in a rental vehicle missed one of the turns and took a quick and unguided tour of the salina:

That's at low tide. It got a little uglier once there was another foot of water in there. And that's sea water. I know in the US, once a vehicle has been in the ocean it's a write-off. I would expect the rental company to call this a write-off. I would also expect to see this car driving around the island under private ownership in a couple of weeks. If you come down here and rent a car, please remember a few things. We drive on the left. The roads are bad. They are also slippier than they look, with loose gravel over solid rock. There are potential surprises around every corner. And if you are not accustomed to driving a short wheelbase 4x4 fast over rough advice is to slow down.

Yesterday Romeo and Patrick poured the footings to install the solar water heater:

So we should be a lot more environmentally responsible in the next few days when the solar collector itself gets installed. After that, the electric water heater should only kick on sporadically if we don't have enough sunshine. I could see it happening if a lot of people wanted hot showers at dawn, for example. That is pretty rare here.

Sunshine, on the other hand, is not rare at all. And here is a photo of some of it from the new patio. I think this might be the first image of this view without a big yellow plastic water tank in the middle of it:

See, I told you it was getting better.