Sunday, June 8, 2008

Back to the sea...

In author Kenneth Grahame's book "The Wind in the Willows", there is a passage where the Water Rat says:

"Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

And that is exactly what we decided to do here yesterday.

The morning started out crisp and clear. The dawn did promise us the threat of thunderstorms and squalls, but that's normal this time of year. People who fear getting wet should not live on small islands. We had a reason to go to Pine Cay, and we had not run the boat anywhere in a couple of weeks. It was time.

(If anyone is interested, by the way, that point of land in the photo above is on the market.)

La Gringa, Dooley and I boated over to Pine Cay and took measurements for some small maintenance projects we need to accomplish there during the "slack" season. Afterwards, instead of just tying up the boat in Leeward and going back to the hill, we decided to motor around and see the current state of the many changes going on in Leeward-Going-Through. La Gringa took over the camera for a change while I played boat captain, and she snapped a hundred photos. I thought I would post some of them, mainly for those blog readers who are familiar with the area.

This is what the "Star Island" project looks like at the moment. Its a pile of sand meant to be the start of an artificial island right in the middle of Leeward-Going-Through:

A few weeks ago there were two machines there and a dredge pumping sand from the seafloor onto the artificial island. It is in the middle of conch and fish habitat and breeding grounds. It is in the middle of a National Park. The sand and silt of the dredging operation is covering part of the reef outside Leeward, as well as killing conch, coral, and destroying the protective mangroves where snapper and zillions of other fish hatch, survive, and grow until they are big enough to handle the ocean. The developer's plan was to create an island and divvy it up into a bunch of homes, starting at about four million dollars each. Enough people got organized against it that the court here issued a stop-work injunction order. Yes, we signed the petition against it. Now world-wide coral reef advocates are getting involved. We hope the project gets stopped permanently. As of yesterday, no work was being done.

Dooley had not yet noticed the thunderstorms forming in the distance. He was snoozing underfoot, as he likes to do:

He likes to sleep next to my feet on the boat. Then he acts all surprised when I step on him. Oh well. There are plenty of other places to sleep, I keep telling him.

This is looking in the completely opposite direction from the "Star Island" project . This is a small dense grove of Casurinas trees I have been wanting to go scavenge for building materials. But notice the thunderstorms are starting in that direction, as well.

I think at this point I mentioned to La Gringa that it was looking like we might have to dodge some storms....and...

"Storms? Did somebody say storms? I heard the word 'thunder'...."

Now looking to the East at some of the little cays scattered around this area, and a definite squall line forming...

No napping for the little reprobate, now.

"Squall line? Thunderstorms? Are you keeping an eye on that thing??? Man, this looks serious..."

The water on the Caicos Bank is still crystal clear over on this side. This is just one of the little low, limestone cays. Water depth here is about six or seven feet:

These are one of the reasons not many boaters here run through these areas after dark. Hitting one of these could definitely ruin your entire week.

You can just see the crane boom at the artificial sand bar to the right of center:

I have read that there are something like 40+ cays that make up these islands. I don't know if these little bits of exposed rock and vegetation are all being counted. There seem to me to be more than 40 of them, though.

"Hey Dooley, come check out this neat little squall...":

"Don't bother me. I'm keeping an eye on this one...":

We were chugging around in less than two feet of water at that point. You can see that I had the outboard motor just about 4 inches up on the jackplate. We can raise it vertically six inches from the down position. Sure makes it nice to be able to take the boat where we want it.

..twenty inches of water, no problem.

But these clouds were definitely causing someone in the boat some anxiety:

We spotted a 'white thing' on one of the islands and went over to take a look:

It turned out to be about a 3x3x9 foot hunk of flotation foam. I thought about hauling it home, but couldn't for the life of me figure out what I would do with it.

Since I already have a thing about collecting drift wood, I thought I better leave this one alone. You have to pick your battles sometimes...

Back at the entrance to Leeward channel, the heaps of sand that have been pulled out are still there. Thirty feet high in places:

And the shoreline is cluttered with ugly, rusty dredges and barges where there was once a nice tree-lined peaceful beach:

The justification for all of this has never really been explained to the public, but it's pretty well accepted that it's all about being able to crowd increasingly bigger boats into this little channel. Those bigger boats don't exist here. Not yet, anyway.

This is the entrance to the older section of canals in Leeward. Not much has changed here in several years:

If we had bought land here we would be home now. We would also be living four to six feet above sea level. And that's fine, as long as the sea level behaves itself. We opted for more height, more solitude, more view, and more breezes. With all the changes that have taken place in this part of Provo, we are pretty glad we chose the property that we bought.

Now this is where the big Leeward changes are taking place. The Nikki Beach resort, canals, and marina now totally blot out what was once probably the major gathering place for small local boats in this part of the country.

Now the floating concrete docks are extended out almost all the way across the Leeward-Going-Through channel. Someone thinks it would be a good idea for this tiny ecosystem to be dug out so that people can park their "65 to 200 foot" yachts here.

Imagine a 200 foot boat docked in the middle of this photo, a boat that is thirty foot wide. That will leave the space between it and the mangroves as all that's left for space to get through the islands at this point.

And imagine small boats sharing that space with the barge traffic coming and going through the same narrow waterway. The people of the TCI have lost a valuable resource here. Gone for good. Even if they stopped all further construction, it will never revert to what it was before.

We slowly nosed on up to the entrance to the canal that has been dug besides the new resort. Some workers on the bulkhead told us we could take the boat all the way in if we wanted. "Well" we thought, "Why not?" The rain was holding off, so we decided to motor in for a look around behind the Nikki Beach building:

We noticed that although it was late morning and the resort opened in April, all the deck chairs around the pool and on the beach were empty. There were few rental cars in the parking lot. It did not seem like there was much in the way of 'resorting' going on yesterday. I have wondered how safe it would be to swim on their little man-made beach. On the outgoing tide you would be in the, uh, digestive products of over a million fenced in captive conch just up stream. And we have seen 9 foot sharks going through the cut. I'm just saying...

Immediately behind the resort there are several canals with condos and a small marina with a few slips for smaller boats. Presumably for those who don't need the accomodations for the "65-200 foot" boats out front.

Our little boat is 22 feet long. There were very few slips in this marina that would accomodate it. I suspect 18-20 foot boats might be about the maximum they could handle.

Made me wonder what accomodations they had planned for those with boats larger than 20 feet but shorter than 65.
And the people who buy the condos can, I assume, put their boats on lifts right at the bulkhead. This 32 foot BW Outrage, for example, would not fit into the little marina slots. So it's on a lift, blocking about a quarter of the passage for the marina.

Gosh, starting to look like a lot of places in Florida, isn't it. I guess it's progress, to some.

When you get to the end of the canals dug behind Nikki Beach, they connect to the older canal system that was already in place. However, low bridges in both directions prevent anything larger than a small skiff from continuing. It was a good place to turn around, anyhow. We had pretty much seen enough.

Headed back out of the canals, this is the 'backside' of the Nikki Beach resort.

As we motored out past the workers on the end of the bulkhead, one of them shouted out "How did you like it?" La Gringa and I just looked at each other thinking "how does one tactfully yet honestly answer that?" when he shouted again "If you want to see the rest inside, you can dock your boat and take a tour!".

The man was very enthusiastic about this big project he was working on. I think that's admirable in an employee. We decided to pass on the offer of a tour. Actually, I suspect there is a very slim chance that I will ever see the inside of Nikki Beach. I cannot imagine me spending any time or money there.
By this time we were getting a bit weary, and the dog was busier than La Guardia's air traffic control trying to keep track of a dozen we left the canals of Nikki Beach behind...

('a hundred and fifty horsepower...come on Gringo....let 'er rip...)

On the way back to our own slip at the new public marina we cruised alongside the newest sailing catamaran, and noticed it's registered here in the TCI:

We don't yet know whose boat this is. That's the Premier's house in the background, but I don't think he's into sailing. I could be wrong. Besides, he's got his own dock there at the house.

Even though we were ready to head home, I wanted to swing by this little barge anchored out of Leeward.

I had been looking at it from a distance for some time. I still don't know what it's designed to do. Those look like racks for carrying lengths of something. But what?

So, finally, we managed to make our weary way home in time for the sunset coctail hour. Dooley was relieved to have survived another day of being surrounded by thunderstorms.

(Hey, it might only be six hours of dodging squalls to you or me...but remember he marks his anxieties in dog hours...)

Last night's sunset over Provo wasn't all that impressive viewed straight on:

Hard to believe those two sunset photos were taken within an hour of each other, isn't it? But they were.

As we walked around to the other side of the house we saw that the fading sunlight was reflecting off of the underside of the clouds and it cast an unusual light over the patio area . I don't know if the photograph can capture it, but I tried:

Somehow the bounced light turned everything some kind of pastel, just for a few moments before dark. Of course Dooley the Deranged Dog ignores these subtle lighting situations. All he knows is that the reflected Jack Russell Terrier in the sliding door glass seems to have a tennis ball just exactly like his...

It's time to put down the camera and play.

So, anyhow, that's how our Saturday went. I thought it would be another break from the usual drivel about what's going on at the house. And I know a lot of the people reading this are following the Leeward situation from a distance.


heinz said...

great post! Loved the pictures and narrative. You may want to consider a publishing deal, along the lines of Desiring Paradise (a couple's move to St. John). I think the author now manages rental homes there.

Anonymous said...

hello heinz,
Glad you liked the post. I am trying to wean myself from the constant "here's what's new at the construction site" posts of the past months. Hey I managed to get two in a row without house progress photos. Today we are taking the boat over to Pine Cay and I hope to get some more colorful photos. Thinking about firing up the diving hookah and cleaning the hull....

As for a publishing deal, I think that would be a lot of fun. We have taken thousands of photos here and the captions are easy to write. But I don't have a clue about the whole book-writing/publishing business. Hey maybe eventually someone who does know that business will stumble across the blog and point me in the right direction. I do appreciate the kind words, too.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I gotta say I love this blog. We have recently built a home in the Bahamas and also have 2 Jack Russells (the world's coolest psycho dogs) and this is the best site I've seen that puts me back in the process. We haven't been able to live in our house full time as we still have a child in high school, we want to grow up and be just like you guys and live the dream. We have a ton of war stories we could share regarding "getting tings dere, men soon come, need to order de part, and such. I wouldn't trade the experience for anything, it's been a blast!

La Gringa said...

Where in the Bahamas did you build?

Matt Cook said...

You posting things of the island sure was a flashback to the THT days Gringo! Keep up the good life.

Anonymous said...


I have to say I read your blog everyday. I stumbled upon it..funny how things happen at certain times in your life..through my tavel forum. A guy there (somtime poster) has your blog link on his blog. I am just finished with October of 2007. I check back daily to see that you are still blogging..I would hate to get to the end and well, it be the end. You both are living our dream. We frequent the trip is in about a week. We are bareboating and land based as well. Anyhow, we are working towards this very dream and it is awesome to see how it works day by day. BTW..we are in Houston. One request..could you take a close up photo of a conch out of it's shell? I have always wanted to see it! Take care, Heather

Anonymous said...

Hello Heather.
Thanks for writing, and we are glad you like the photos. Yes, we are still blogging. Just been real thin on new content around here lately. Still getting constantly vaccumed back into the landscaping/construction issues. Was just fighting with the contractor over window cranks (of all things!) a few hours ago.

We still want to add a sailboat into the mix at some point if we can swing it. And in the meantime we think of bareboat chartering in New Zealand and Greece. We all keep on dreaming, don't we. But that's the only way to make them happen.

Good idea on the conch. We were just talking about rounding up a dozen or so for a batch of La Gringa's conch chili. Man does that go well over Texmati brown rice with shredded cheddar on top.

The weather has been keeping us in port a lot lately. Its squally season here. Night before last we sat on the patio at dusk with ringside seats to a humongous thunderstorm and from four to six waterspouts dancing our way less that a mile from us. Wasn't enough light for distance still photos, but I did shoot some video and when the lightning illuminates the night the waterspouts are right there. Problem is that my twice-failed Olympus now seems to have decided it does not want to be a USB device anymore. Guess I need to find an XD memory card reader. Not much chance of that locally.

Good luck with your BVI plans. We have not been there yet, although I have worked several oceanographic and US Navy related jobs out of the USVI.
And I still get homesick for the Houston area from time to time.
But I get over it.

Anonymous said...

I am from Louisiana but have been here for 3 years. We moved right before the storm. Conch chili sounds wonderful. I actually just read the post today where La Gringa had the photos of it as she was making it. Looks great! Being a cajun, I wonder what conch etoufee or gumbo would taste like. Have you guys tried it?


Anonymous said...

Actually, it's called conch 'chili' because it's based on a recipe of that name from Sip Sip restaurant on Harbour Island. But La Gringa has modified it a bit, and it really doesn't taste like chili at all. I would say it's closer to a conch gumbo than anything else. It has a sweet pepper taste.

Fresh conch, alone, does not have a strong taste of it's own. It's not fishy, for example. I nibble pieces of it raw sometimes while I am cleaning it. It's chewy. Conch are herbivores, they graze on algae, and their meat is white and almost pure protein.I guess it's a lot like abalone. It takes on a lot of the taste of whatever you cook it with. It would be great in any Cajun dish.

You must be able to get fresh conch in the BVI?

Anonymous said...

Yes, we can get it most anywhere but we have a friend who gets them out of the sea like you needed.. in Anegada. We have three days to go till wheels up! Can't wait! I miss you guys about a pic of a conch before I leave? :)


DineDriveRealEstate said...

Still loving your blog, esp. the posts about the contractor troubles.

I think that barge may be used for setting moorings or the like. I think the two forawrd frames are for "spuds" that hold the barge stationary and so not allow it to spin. a friend of mine sets helix (augur style) moorings with a barge that looks just like that one.

Anonymous said...

Contractor troubles....
well...that's changing now. I had a mini fit and decided July 10 is the end of the contractor's involvement in building this house. I realize I am basically taking on the entire "punchlist" myself by doing this, because we do not expect him to do much between now and then. I thought about that, and I am more than willing to do it. The alternative seems to be an open-ended frustration that has already gone on too long. We wanna boat! We wanna dive! We wanna explore!
What we do NOT want to do is sit around this house six days a week just in case some subcontractor feels like stopping by.
So I pulled the plug on it. Hopefully, we won't have to get lawyers involved.

It's too windy for us to go out for conch right now. It's not a problem in the water, of course, but it's a problem getting back onto the boat. The shallow water conch would be a pain because the wind has whipped up the water and the sand is stirred up. So we would have to go out near the reef where the water is clear...but out near the reef there are six foot plus waves breaking on it.... We do plan to stock up on fresh conch this weekend, though.

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