Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Fumble fingers and fine feathered fiends

Dawn came around yet again this morning (which is almost always a good sign) and although I know I have fairly well saturated this blog with same old/same old sunrise and sunset photos, I thought this one at least merited an honorable mention:

I thought that was a pretty good one even by our increasingly lofty standards.

It was even worth me stumbling bleary-eyed and sleepy out onto the patio with a camera. I was dragging because we were up until almost 02:00 this morning. Jay (owner of Bottle Creek Lodge on North Caicos) flew back to the States for a visit today and he had an early flight. We had met Jay last year when we took our own boat over to Bottle Creek to check it out. And then once again this year when he kindly invited my son and I to fish the Winter Wahoo Rodeo tournament on his boat.

So, along with his two dogs, he needed a place to stay on Providenciales last night so he could make his early plane. He had called a few days ago asking if we knew any hotels on the island that would take dogs. Big dogs. Well, uh, no. We don't. But being the unusually kind-hearted souls that we are, we offered Jay and his dogs the guest room. We were not influenced in the least by his offer to buy rum and dinner. Well, I will just shorten this story right now by saying that somebody had the three dogs howling at the full moon by midnight thirty.

For anyone who wants to spend a family holiday in a peaceful, laid-back part of these islands, away from the crowds and traffic of the Grace Bay resorts, without spending a fortune at one of the pamper palaces, I couldn't think of a better spot than Bottle Creek Lodge. You can fish, kayak, snorkel, beachcomb, and just relax. There is not a resort on each side of you. If you are the kind of person who would rather spend a week barefooted than spend a day shopping for shoes then you should check it out. (Hint: you would have about a zero percent chance of having a beer with Bruce Willis on Parrot Cay, but would stand about a hundred percent chance of having Sandy's homemade pizza with the Govenor of the TCI and his family at Bottle Creek Lodge tonight.)

Meanwhile, things continue to progress slowly at the house. Yesterday the sat TV guys were here again, hacking a trench into the ground, running cables, and attaching all that high tech looking receiver stuff to the dish. I don't know what kind of signal we are going to get from this thing yet, but if the orientation of it this morning is any indication, the Sci Fi channel should be coming in anyhow:

(Since the installation costs are 'over the moon' for this system, I thought the photo was appropriate.)

I have been spending a lot of time looking at water-related issues. We have cistern storage for about 20,000 gallons, which comes from rain water and from desalinated sea water which we buy by the truck load. A couple days ago we finally received a new component that I had ordered on the internet. I managed to stumble my way through the whole customs clearance thing yet one more time, hauled the box home, and opened it up. And there in all it's glory lay our new whole house water filtration system:

Along with easy installation and maintenance instructions, of course. Covering several totally different models. Written in Canadian.

Well I wasted no time in finding a space for this on the pump room wall. Made me almost wish I owned a jackhammer.

The next major step should have been hooking it up with a whole hardware store worth of little expensive PVC fittings. That's another story. But first, there was this little intermediate thing to do. The first stage of the filter is a sediment trap to take all the particles out of the water. I have another filter on the way, to take gravel sized dust out of the water before it gets to the fine filter. The middle cannister is a carbon filter to take chemical impurities out and improve taste. The last blue thingy there is a UV lamp chamber. It exposes the twice-filtered water to intense ultraviolet light to kill a big list of various microbes and bacteria and other extremely small critters that might have made their way through the other filters. If you are a nasty little bug, that "Door Number 3" is supposed to really ruin your day. This then leaves us with dust, chemicals, and bugs filtered out of our house water. All part of the master plan. So far. Sounds good, anyway.

Well, the system is shipped with the UV lamp and a clear, quartz sleeve in separate containers to protect them from shipping damage. Those are the two cardboard tubes in the first photo. The instructions were plain. The glass is special. With glass, "special" actually means expensive and fragile. They told me that part, about it being fragile. It is basically a large test-tube looking thing about two feet long into which the UV light is located. The approved method is to grease it up with silicon lube, and slowly, gently, with a slight twisting motion, push it up into a couple of o-rings in a fitting. Then you dangle the uv light down inside it from the top. This keeps it waterproof, you see. The intact glass tube is critical to the water-tight integrity and operation of the system. Essentially, it plugs a hole.

I understood the instructions. I recognized the fragile nature of this glass tube. I smeared 0-ring grease on it, lined it up carefully, and gently began to push it up into the fitting with what I certainly thought should have been just the right slight twisting motion. ('Slight' is such an..... ambiguous word) And promptly broke off about two inches of the end of it. Shattered it, actually.

After the echoing wails of despair and self-recrimination subsided I got back online to see how quickly I could get a spare sent down. "Well" I was told via email, "don't feel bad. Everybody breaks these things. It's almost normal". Oh gosh. Now I feel better. Maybe a little better. But in any case, YES I can order a replacement, for only $65 US from the Canadian supplier. Now, here comes the part about living on a remote tropical island..

A $65 glass tube weighing less than a pound will cost about $150 to ship with Fed Ex ( shudder) or slightly less with an airfreight company. Then there is a 30% import duty, and we can pay another $100 or so to have a pro clear it, or spend about two to two and a half hours of my own time clearing it. And two trips to the other end of town. Always at least two. All this will take a week, almost guaranteed. So to replace the $65 part my fumble fingers broke would cost us about a week's waiting time, and about $335. cleared, or only about $235 and a half day of my time with Customs if I clear it myself. Ouch. (That should teach me to be more careful. But it probaby won't. Nothing else has, yet.)

I decided to try something else, first. Maybe this will be useful info to someone else with a similar problem. I took my trusty Dremel tool (love those things) and one of the thin abrasive cutting discs that come with it. I set it at about 10,000 rpm, and very, very carefully worked it lightly around and around and around the broken end of the glass tube. ("Oh yeah" you might rightfully say, "NOW the big oaf decides to be careful with the thing..")

After about two hours of this, it finally paid off. I hope.

Yep, I was able to cut off the shattered glass. The broken piece is on the right, with that nasty looking shard (don't you love that word...'Shard!'? Makes me look for someplace to use 'Egads!') sticking out. The now shortened, but newly unbroken tube is on the left. Oh, of course I used duct tape around it to give me a straight line for the cut. And to restrain any flying razor sharp jugular-seeking shards should this whole experiment fail. Sometimes they do fail, you know. Often. I don't know if it did any good, but I always feel like I am accomplishing something technical when I start out with duct tape. I think it's an addendum to the Law of the Sea, or something. I didn't get any flying shards at least. Egads, that could have been ghastly.

Grinding the cut end smooth was easy. And you can bet your bippy I was pretty careful at this point. I have a lot of time invested in this thing by now. And it will give me no more second chances. It begrudged me this one. So as soon as I finish this blog post, I am going to go see if I can get it all together and make it work. (Now where was that paragraph about the 'slight twisting motion', again?)

Otherwise, things continue as things do. La Gringa has learned the fine art of using a squeegee on big glass doors. They had built up a pretty good layer of dust, and salt spray residue from some of the winter storms. They splash waves on the rocks, and the wind blows some of it up here. But La Gringa managed to get them back to a mirror finish. We chose this solar reflective glass, and from the outside it works exactly like one-way glass. SO much like a mirror, in fact, that the doors have attracted the attention of some of the native birds. We have six sets of one-way glass in which to watch this new local entertainment.

First, they swoop down to examine what they obviously think is another bird staring back at them:

(that was shot through a screen door inside the mirrored glass)

We have seen a behaviour pattern develope. They start out by landing on some vantage point a safe distance away from their reflection. The backs of our patio chairs seem to be an acceptable combined observation perch and latrine. They appear to be trying to figure out who this other bird is that they have never seen before. They strut, and preen, and do that bird thing with first one eye and then the other, trying for some kind of response. Apparently the "other bird" does not have the proper password, or something, because eventually they decide to get beak to beak with the rude intruder, and they hop down off the perch to get closer:

Remember, all he sees is his own reflection. And obviously, something about it offends him because shortly thereafter he flies into a feathered fit. He breaks off all attempts at civil conversation with his reflection, literally flies into a rage and starts pecking and kicking at the glass:

This goes on for a few minutes, after which the bird flies off to ponder this fierce looking and mysterious intruder who never says a word and mocks his every move....

And then he comes back for another angle....never knowing that calculating eyes with an evil intent are watching his every move...from behind the one-way glass like a bad cop in a crime movie.

"Yeah, they all sing......sooner or later...." or

"Opposable thumbs! If I only had opposable thumbs, I could open this door and we could settle this nonsense right now...."

Or maybe it's "WHY isn't this bird afraid of me? Is he stupid? Does he know who I am???" He's never gotten that close to a bird before...and it's really annoying him.

And other than these mundane snippets, life continues. We have watched our third full moon now while living here, reflecting off the increasingly calmer water as winter fades away:

(This is one of those times when I really wish we had a camera with more lens. I just cannot do this justice with the small pocket digitals.)

And we are falling into a local rhythm with the winds, the sea, and the birds. We watch traffic in and out of the boatyard. This is almost always interesting to us, being 'boat people'. Oh...speaking of 'boat people', we also have a nice place to watch the TCI's Marine Police patrol as they leave harbor every evening just before sundown. They spend about twelve hours per night, seven days a week, in all kinds of weather patrolling the Caicos Bank. They are looking for little wooden sloops full of desperate, illegal Haitians trying to make landfall here. And we watch them return from their patrols every morning after first light as the deep blues of darkness are changing into the brilliance of another tropical day:


Anonymous said...

Hey man, all I can say after this post is that things must be comming along nicely at the house for a change. Thats the old gringo back and I for one am glad to see it. Classic post and one that was worth waiting for.
Thanks mate,


Malicious Intent said...

I WILL NEVER grow old of your sunsets, never! Keep bringing them. You get to see everyday what many of us never will see.

Bring it on!

Anonymous said...

Sir Reel offers an anonymous observation...
these mundane snippets, life continues,
They may seem that way to you but they are exactly why we continue to check daily with hope that there are some new mundane snippets. Your lives are no longer your own. We want to be a part of them and look forward to all that you share. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thank you all very much for the supportive comments. Feedback is very much appreciated.

We keep getting frustrated that our lives have been taken over by this house lately. We miss the swimming, diving, fishing, exploring aspects of life here.

Moving into a newly constructed house is a lot different from moving into a house that has been lived in. A house that has been lived in is functional for the most part. Everything in it worked, at one time. Oh, they need repairs, and probably modifications, but you start out with a fully functional house.

Not so in a new construction. We are surrounded by annoying little things that were never installed, or worse, installed wrong. Or things never completed by the people who were paid to complete them. People who did as little as they could get away with, took the money, and are gone on. I don't mean to say they are dishonest. We have not seen any of that, really. We have seen some incompetance. Some cases of cutting corners due to laziness. A few cases I would call lack of professionalism, or maybe lack of professional pride. Something as simple as correctly installing a garage door, or electric water heater would be taken for granted in many places. Here, well, good luck. I think La Gringa nailed a big part of the problem when she realized that many of the workers here cannot read. So things get installed by people who cannot read a step-by-step installation manual. Some things make sense, and it's why I have essentially finished the installation of almost all of the appliances, for example.

It's slowly getting done, but in the meantime it consumes almost all of our everyday. So, snapping the odd sunset or sunrise photos and throwing in some boring house details is about all I have been able to do for the most part lately. The winter has been windy, as well. This has contributed to keeping us off the boat on many days when we otherwise would have been out getting nice tropical photos to post.

However, if the whole theme of this blog is meant to be a description of what it's like to live full time in a small, tropical, island nation, I guess we have to accept a mix between boring times and fun times. We would just like to alter that ratio a little bit. As they say here...."Soon come..."

Anonymous said...

the bird story is so funny! kind of reminded me of an old windex commercial-although of course all those birds did was crash into the window.

i still can't get over that picture at the bottom of this post. it's amazing!