Monday, June 30, 2008

A little slack, finally

I can hardly believe it's been weeks since I wrote anything here. But the numbers don't lie. We have been almost totally involved in this new home situation. However, after a lot of careful thought, we have just made a few changes and decisions that should help it all along. We picked a date exactly six months after the day the house was contractually supposed to be finished, and we said "that's it. We'll settle up depending on what they can get done between now and that day." That day is July 10. It's getting better.

Meanwhile, life has gone on for us. The weather has been all over the chart, from sunny warm to cool and raining. Well, it feels cool to us when the temp gets down into the low 80's. We've had some nice rainbows, and I still have not figured out what was making that slash across this one. Some atmospheric thing, I suppose. Maybe the shadow of a distant contrail between the rainbow and the sun? I dunno. I thought it was pretty, anyhow.

Dooley the Demented (who we are beginning to think we should have named "Psycho") will wander out after he thinks the storm is over and take a look around:

That's one of his favorite spots there, by the little gate opening that I still need to build a gate for. It's on the list. It's a big list. He can see for miles and keeps an eye on things. Storms do still get him pretty worked up, but eventually he calms down.

This is not exactly calm...he is still keeping his escape options open at this point. Just in case a thunderstorm sneaks up behind him.

One night last week right at dusk we had a pretty serious squall line come through. We were sitting on the patio watching it,and right before our eyes a series of waterspouts started to form. The number varied between two and six of them and we watched them getting closer, and closer... By the time The Big Dummy (that would be me) thought to go grab a camera, it was too dark to get a decent photo. Meanwhile the storm system added thunder and lightning to the mix. We have noticed that we always get one more thunderclap than the number of lightning bolts we count. This apparent scientific anomaly puzzled us for a long time. We think we finally figured it out, though. We think the second thunderclap in the series is caused by the sudden vacuum of a small dog teleporting out of the immediate vicinity of the first thunderbolt.

Anyhow, I put the camera on a ledge to steady it, and let it run in video mode. So we have these video sections of darkness for a minute or so, and then a sudden flash of lightning very very briefly illuminated what was going on with the waterspouts. It was pretty eerie, we could hear the wind of course, but it was dark until the momentary flash of lightning. For just that fraction of a second we could see the waterspouts moving toward us. Although the quality of the images is pretty bad, I did grab a few frames from the videos to give you an idea of what it looked like:

I was almost expecting some witch to fly by on a bicycle threatening the dog...but she would have had a tough time getting this little Toto into a bicycle basket. Of course by this point in the evening he was a basket case already anyway.

(keep in mind it was also raining, and these are not the best conditions for nighttime photography)

This was probably the one that came out the best:

You can make out the lightning bolt, one of the better developed waterspouts, and even the surface of the sea where it was whipping up a pretty good pile of spray. We have a few more of those, but they pretty much all tell the same story.

Sure got our attention. We are only about a hundred yards from the water...and one of these things across the patio might rearrange the furniture a bit too much for our liking. Probably do a job on the canvas vehicle tops, landscaping, and lord knows what else. But they are fun to watch from a distance.

The entire month was not like that, of course. Although we do seem to be having one of the windiest June's we have ever seen. Possibly it's just this location on a hillside facing into the Trade Winds.

I managed to anchor the boat off the beach and hopped overboard to spend about three hours with a scrub brush cleaning the moss off the hull. That was one of the few calm days we have seen lately:

The dog keeps a keen eye on these underwater excursions:

I snapped that one right before ducking under the boat. And the moment I ducked underwater with the camera, it totally stopped working. Again. I was unable to get any more photos, so you will be spared seeing what scrubbing a hull underwater looks like. It's not that much fun, spending hours in 85 degree water. Well, actually, it's a little bit of fun. Hard work, though.

While tooling around Pine Cay we ran across some friends with their African Lion Hound. Our little Jack Russell just HAD to check this out....this is probably the biggest dog he has ever seen up close:

"Hey Ma! It looks just like a dog, only smaller!"

We still get a ringside seat on our patio for boats, airplanes, helicopters, waterspouts, kite boarders..

I still have ongoing thoughts about attaching one of these kites to the boat to try out as an emergency backup form of propulsion. Heck, with gasoline presently running around $ 5.75 a US gallon it might become our primary form of propulsion. We have plenty of wind, year round. And the Caicos Bank looks to me like a wonderful place to be a sailor, with a huge area of relatively shallow and protected water ringed by islands on the leeward side. I have been looking at these little sailing kayaks made by Hobie....("Adventure Island", anyone tried one yet?)

We were getting pretty burnt out on being here day after day, week after week, month after month waiting around just in case a subcontractor might decide to wander by with the correct tools, parts, and attitude. It gets old. So this past weekend we decided to take a mini-vacation. La Gringa, Psycho-Chicken-the-Dog and I packed up the boat and got completely away from it all. We left the Big Island of Provo ( that's a joke) and all the hustle and bustle of city life (it's all relative) behind for a bit and spent the last weekend in June out on Pine Cay just relaxing. We got completely away from contractors, sub-contractors, landscapers, electricians, plumbers and an architect for an entire weekend!

I took another shot of the boat ferry that runs back and forth from Leeward to North Caicos all week. It's rare that we see it sitting still enough for a photo.

These guys keep this thing making money day after day, and it's usually full up with paying passengers. We even know some North Caicos residents who own boats who use the ferry to get back and forth from Provo to North. Paying $25 each way on the ferry is cheaper than running their own twin-outboard boats with these gas prices!!

And for you other boaters reading this, YES the outboards of choice here are far and away Yamahas. They probably have 80% of the total market in the islands. Simple, rugged, and reliable seems to work.

The DIY people reading the blog will be happy to know that approximately five minutes after opening the house on Pine Cay to air it out....I had to remove a louver actuator assembly and start rebuilding it.....again...

Also while "on vacation", I got to troubleshoot a water filter system (someone put particle filters where a carbon filter was supposed to be) an electric wash down pump on the boat.. (not yet resolved whether its the pump motor or electrical connections) a sliding screen door (needed adjustments) and a beach chair (unfixable). Gosh, that's not much for a two day vacation...

Anyhow, for our mini-vacation weekend, we did a lot of swimming, or took some novels and refreshments down to a thatched hut on the beach and just relaxed..

The weather behaved itself for the most part, with the squalls passing to the south:

As is usually the case on Pine Cay on a busy Saturday in the summer, the beach was typically populated for as far as we could see to the right:

and just as equally crowded to the left:

Hey! Who put footprints on the beach!? Oh..wait....that was me...

Doolance Winchester McDog even managed to relax between swims and digging flying clouds of sand into his nose and eyes..

And we managed to fit a few shady, relaxing hours in each day, until the sun set and it was time to drag our weary bodies back to the house:

La Gringa took a lot of photos over the weekend. She managed to quietly walk up to a pair of American Kestrels (small falcons) who hang out at the house there:

As relaxing as lazing in the shade by the beach and reading proved to be (along with fixing window cranks, water filtering systems, etc.) by Sunday morning we were ready to get out on the water again. We decided it was way past time to top up our conch supply. La Gringa displays a nice pair she picked up in about 12 feet of water:

In about an hour of just flippering around we picked up a couple dozen conch. They were all on the small to medium side, but we have found the conch from the reef (locally called the "front") side of the islands to be both cleaner and sweeter tasting than the conch we get from the Banks (or "back") side. Of course gathering up the conch is the fun part. Then comes the work part. La Gringa took some photos while I totally made a mess of myself and the boat.

This is the top side of a medium sized conch:

and the bottom looks like this:

The animal is pulled up inside the shell, so you can't see the snout, eyes, and claw in that photo. We can remedy that.

First you determine where to knock a hole in the shell. I start counting at the oldest, most worn out knob nearest the shell opening. Count over between the second and third knobs or horns, and then skip up over the next row to the same general spot between the second and third row. Right about there:

Then one takes one's handy dandy el cheap-o made-in-China brick hammer (or equivalent) and knocks a small hole in the shell at that point:

It's not an exact location, it varies a bit from conch to conch. But you know when you hit the right spot because the shell is thin there and breaks easily. In my case, spraying bits of conch shell, sand, grit, etc. all over myself and the boat. You can tell by the photos that this was about the 18th or 20th conch I had opened at this point. What a mess. (And of course it was when I was ready to clean up the boat that I discovered the wash-down pump is not working..)

Then you take a knife and run it into the hole in the shell. The idea is to slide the blade down at the right place to cut the muscular foot of the conch loose from the inside spiral of the shell:

This takes some practice to do smoothly. Actually, it all takes some practice. And I found out Sunday that I was out of practice. Sometimes it takes me maybe a minute to knock the hole in the shell and run the knife down and cut the conch muscle loose. Other times it takes me five minutes. It takes the local guys about 30 seconds, every time. Oh well. Needing more practice is usually a good-enough excuse to go out and get some more conch. And we do love to eat conch. I think I actually like it better than fish, and we get some outstandingly fresh fish here.

When you get it cut loose you just turn the shell back over, reach in and grab the little claw and very easily pull the entire conch out of the shell:

If you've cut the muscle completely the animal comes out very easily and all in one piece. If you haven't done a good job cutting it loose, flip it back over and repeat the process...'cause if you don't completely sever that muscle it ain't gonna get pulled out of there.

Reckon this guy realizes he has just re-entered the food chain?

("Ah Oh....this is not looking good....I want a cigarette and a blindfold!!")

Make that two blindfolds. The eyes are on separate stalks on each side of the snout...and they move all over the place independently.

So, while La Gringa continued to take a series of photos during the rest of the process I won't post them all here. Basically you just remove everything but the tough, white meat that is the conch's muscle. That's the part you eat.

I should mention that among some of the local fishermen not much of the conch gets wasted. When word that I was cleaning them got around Pine Cay, first I had Scrape show up wanting the "conch slop" to use as bait for fishing off the dock when he got off work. There are a lot of bits that get discarded. A few minutes later Harry showed up wanting the shells, which he cleans up and supplies to hotel gift shops on Provo. I already mentioned that the conch we get out near the reef are cleaner than the conch on the bank. The bank conch tend to have more moss, barnacles etc. growing on the shells. Harry doesn't go out diving near the reef, I think he is nervous about sharks. So he likes the clean colorful shells we bring back when we go. We are not nearly as nervous about sharks as is Harry.

And this is what we took home with us from 24 conch:

I would guess close to ten lbs of solid, sweet tasting protein. La Gringa is planning to make a double batch of her Conch Chili-Gumbo from these. We will try to get out next week and pick up some more for conch fritters, cracked conch, sauteed conch...besides I need a lot more practice cleaning them.

We know a lot of it is just another excuse for us to get out on the ocean.

But then we could probably say that about our entire life here.


Anonymous said...

ok...i've been waiting on that post. good to hear you guys are getting out and about. Gringo, maybe next time you can show us how your landscape in comming along.

Anonymous said...

Yeah! You're back! Thanks for the conch pictures. MMM, now I've got a craving for conch fritters. Oh well, guess I'll have to make do with fried clams.

heinz said...

thank you for the conch picturs - I have never seen them until now. The African Lion Hound was huge!

Anonymous said...

The landscaping is struggling right now. The constant wind is really giving it a hard time. Oh, the Buttonwoods, Christmas Palms, and Fountain grass are doing great. And the Mahogany trees that are sheltered are holding their own. The succulents are doing well, of course. Finally got the irrigation system running, so we are in a wait-and-see mode for now to see what will live and what will have to be replaced.

I didn't realize so many people were interested in conch. Of course they are incredibly common to us now, but I do remember those first empty shells we saw lying around when we first got here. It was a curiousity to us then. And the first one we ever found snorkelling....we didn't even know what to look for. Even now it takes a good eye to spot them sometimes. Easy when they are 'sprinting' but when they are still they blend in very well with the sea bottom.

Anonymous said...

I just caught up with the news that you won the best DIY blog. Congratulations and thoroughly deserved too.

Anonymous said...

Hello Bender!
Hows the NZ winter going? We are getting so much constant wind here that the whole idea of taking up sailing is getting more and more attractive.

And thanks for the congratulations on the award. Pretty funny that it's a "DIY" thing..because that was never intended to be the tone of the's just inherent in this lifestyle.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see the update! The waterspout photos are awesome!

Anonymous said...

Gringo, can I come live with you? The weather here is foul. We've had week after week of rain and freezing cold gales. I was supposed to be on a mid-winter fishing trip today but 35 knots plus hailstorms dampened my enthusiasm. The only place it isn't raining is over the southern lakes that provide water for the hydro power stations so we have a critical water/power shortage. And they have just put the price of beer up.

Anonymous said...

Hey, you can send some of that rain over here if you can figure out how to do it.

We have been watching squall lines form to windward of us all week...and then they split before they get here. Some go North of us, by only a mile or so, and others to the South. We get a few sprinkles and that's it.

We could use a few hours of steady rain.

With Tropical Storm Bertha headed this general direction, maybe we will get some rain out of that. We don't need the winds...of course. We have so much 'breeze' here that the new landscaping is growing horizontally...

Sam said...

Gringo-Love the pics. Esp of your dog and the water. My computer got infected and it went to the shop for 3 weeks. I lost all my fav websites. Could you please tell me what the name of the website you are now posting on so I can follow along with your progress on the island?

Anonymous said...

If you mean which online forums...I really haven't been posting photos on any of them lately. I was putting some up on for a while, but that forum is really about fishing. Alas, most of what we have been tied up in over the past several months has been about building a house. Nothing to do with fishing. We hope that things start getting back to "normal" for us starting now. We have officially informed our builder that July 10 was the end of his contract as far as we are concerned. We should start having more time for ocean stuff now...we hope, without having to wait around for sub-contractors to come and go as they please.

We also had three teenaged boys arrive yesterday for several weeks stay with us, so I suspect some photo opportunities will develop pretty quick.

Anonymous said...

Well 7/10 has passed how do you stand with the house? I hope it has worked as well as it can. I look forward to your next post.

Mz Diva said...

I recently found your blog and love your photos. I have extended family in Belize and love Conch! I really liked the Conch soup and fritters they eat there. It looks like a lot of work getting to the meat! I wish I were there!

Anonymous said...

We havent done all that much that I would consider 'post worthy' lately. I have been doing a lot of DIY projects lately, and could certainly put up photos of those if anyone is interested.

We just had three teenaged boys descend upon us, and I am sure there will be photos taken on the boat etc. over the next couple of weeks. That should liven things up.

As for the July 10 deadline on the house....That was just Thursday. and it's only the weekend right now. We won't be feeling the full effects of our newfound freedom until around mid-week...I think.
That's when I figure it will soak in that we are not sitting here day after day "Waiting for the electrician, or someone like him..."
(anyone remember the old Firesign Theatre?)