Monday, July 14, 2008

this and that...

Summer weather seems to be here at last. Of course by many standards it's pretty much always summer here, but we have been waiting for some long periods of calmer winds and seas. Up until last week we were getting accustomed to seeing lumpy ocean day after day:

Lumpy ocean is better than no ocean, of course, and we are not complaining. Still, a few calm days in a row are nice. The ocean gets smooth and glassy.

The sunsets have been generally pretty tame lately, as tropical sunsets go, but some of the dawns are nice. Like this one with the sun rising behind the house we tried very hard to buy a few months before we moved down to the islands:

We got outbid on that house, and driving around in frustration during one of our visits La Gringa spotted a new "For Sale" sign on the lot we purchased and now live upon.

We built a home we feel is better suited and better located than the one we tried to buy, but sometimes I wonder if the stress and aggravation over the past year and a half was better than just buying an existing house and moving in. It's been a long journey to end up on this little hill.

The frustration of constantly living on a construction site seems to finally be drawing to an end. There are only a few things left on the list to be followed up. We are really, really looking forward to getting back to what passes for more of a normal life for us. We have not been fishing seriously in months. We plan to start rectifying that whole part of our lives as things get back on track.

One thing that got us fired up about fishing again was when our friend Captain John Mallette made up some custom fishing lures for us. John is the fishing manager for the Sporting Club on Ambergris Cay. About a week ago he called and told La Gringa and I to head to the airport and meet the Ambergris airplane, and that the pilot was bringing a package over for us. We boogied on down to the private section of the airport and sure enough, their plane landed and we walked out onto the tarmac apron and the pilot handed us a baggie with these inside:

Pretty cool, eh? These lures are so pretty I almost hate to throw them in the ocean. Almost...I said..

I just have to rig them up with hooks and leaders and take them out to the deep blue. That is definitely on the agenda. Somewhere out there are some Yellowfin Tuna and Wahoo just itching to bite into one of these babies.

This weekend we had three teenaged boys descend upon us for a two week vacation. Their vacation, of course. Not necessarily ours. So, what do you do with three teenaged boys? Well, one of the first things La Gringa did was to outfit them all with snorkelling gear and point them toward the local ocean.

They climbed down the rocks and spent the next two hours exploring up and down the shoreline here. The shore is undercut with submerged caves and it traps things that float to the island.

When they finally made their way back to the house, they brought their new-found treasures with them.

Those three sure look like there's some pirate or treasure hunting blood somewhere in the mix. Just need an eye patch and a parrot.

From left to right we have La Gringa's middle son with a nice shell, her youngest with a full bottle of rum (!) and middle son's friend Wil from Colorado who just climbed out of the water after snorkelling for the first time in his life. I think he liked it. Of all the places in the world I can think of to start diving this has got to be one of the top three or four on the list. Other places are going to seem drab after diving here. It's not all like the TCI.

And the full bottle of Barbancourt Haitian rum that youngest kid found on the bottom still has an unbroken seal.

This is the 'three star', 8 year old Barbancourt, which some people prefer to the 'five star' 15 year old. Now that's my idea of treasure...and of course the "local authorities" (that would be us) confiscated it almost immediately...

It's presently in our evidence locker just in case any Haitian sloops wander by asking if anyone found a bottle they lost overboard......yeah...right..

Hey, for all we know it came off of this newly wrecked sloop we saw yesterday sitting high on the beach just a couple miles up the shore from us:

This one looks to be in pretty good shape, for a disposable boat.

We took our own boat out yesterday to let the boys do some diving out on the reef since they enjoyed the local water so much. Youngest son stayed home with his brand new sunburn while La Gringa, Dooley the Delirious, our two Colorado guests and I went out to check out a late 1600's wreck site. We wanted to show them the ballast stones and see if we could find any more bottle fragments.

We were a little disappointed because the water was murky compared to what it usually is. We only had maybe forty or fifty feet of visibility. We usually have twice that. While I have no doubt that the ongoing dredging is affecting the reef here, I don't think the murkiness yesterday was due to dredging. I dove down about ten or twelve feet to pick up a couple of conch, and was surprised to find the water right next to the seafloor felt like it was five degrees warmer than the surface water. And the surface water is around 84 degrees. Some kind of an inverted thermocline, which I think might be solar heating of the bottom. We only spent a few hours on the reef, because we are having a lot of vehicle problems lately and needed to get back to Provo to see about sorting them out. More on that later, I am sure.

While out on the reef I tried a few underwater photos with an older camera I dug out of mothballs since the Olympus is no longer waterproof. It's not as good as my other camera, but it still works.

This particular coral seems to be doing all right. I have photographed it several times over the past three years and it still looks to be healthy. I should have gotten someone else in the photo for scale, as this thing is about seven or eight feet tall. But when I took this photo the rest of the mob was off exploring other parts of the reef. Sadly, we did not find any more bottles yesterday. Not full or otherwise.

Another photo, and this is of Fire Coral.  It's called that because it will burn the everloving stuff out of you if you touch it with bare skin.  I mean it.  Listen to me.  This is the voice of sad experience talking to you.  Do NOT let this touch your belly or anything else important to you. Even the little bitty rice grain sized pieces of it that might fly off a conch shell when you hit it will burn for hours if they contact your skin.  Well, the coral doesn't burn, of course.  It's quite comfy.   It's wherever it touches you that burns.  I sure hope I've made my point here. 
Learn to recognize this stuff.   It really hurts.

That one is only about two feet tall, so you can see that without something for scale in the photos they are misleading. I'll do better next time.

While we were all in the water, we could hear the mournful cries of Dooley the Disgruntled, who was ordered to remain aboard while the rest of us went swimming.

You can just make him out sitting on the boat trying to keep an eye on four snorkellers at once. And he whined and grumbled and moaned about it the entire time. Poor little dog...

He gets really peeved when we order him to stay on the boat. He loves to swim and in most places near the beach we let him. In fact it's hard to stop him. But we have seen a lot of sharks out near this area and a little morsel like him dogpaddling around on the surface.....well it just doesn't seem like a good idea.

We don't want him to literally turn into dog meat.

Just so you don't get the impression it's all fun and games down here, this has been an extremely DIY-intensive week for me. And it's not over yet. Come to think of it, the DIY lifestyle is pretty much continuous. Stuff breaks in the tropics. Stuff breaks in the ocean. And we have both in great abundance.

(The rest of this post is all DIY, if you don't care about the nuts and bolts aspect of it all, this is a good place to stop reading. I'll just leave you with the tropical underwater images. Although there are some wooden box photos near the end.)

The first thing to fail since the last post was the washdown pump on our boat. We discovered it was broken, unfortunately, right immediately after I made that huge mess cleaning conch on the boat. I only cleaned them on the boat because I thought I had a functional washdown pump to clean the boat up. I was wrong. After putting a voltmeter on it to be sure it was getting power (it was) I removed the whole contraption from the boat and found out that the electric motor was covered in rust on the bottom, which had gotten inside the housing and the pump was frozen solid. "Oh, Drat.." says I. Well, that's not exactly what I said but you probably get the picture.

Of course I don't have a service manual for the pump. And in my experience electric motors that get anything like seawater inside them are pretty much toast. But since I had it out of the boat I decided to take it apart and see if there was any hope for fixing it. Without spares, without a manual. I figured maybe at least there might be some parts in there I could use someday.

So, I got the whole contraption apart on the bench. Reduced to it's major sub-assemblies it looked just like this:

It actually did not look like this when I took it apart, to be accurate. By the time I took that photo I had spent several hours working on it. I had already cleaned up the rust and corrosion when La Gringa said "hey, you ought to be taking photos of that..." Dang it, I forgot. So I grabbed the camera and started, but unfortunately I don't have any images of the mess I found inside that motor.

What I DO have is a photo of the rags I used while cleaning it up:

Those three rags were white when this started. So was I, come to think of it. All that gunk and rust came from inside the electric motor. The outside of the pump, of course, was pristine except for the rust on the bottom.

I got online and found a website for the manufacturer. I could not read the model number of the pump from the label (it all washed off sometimes during the past year).

Pretty useless label, I think. I mean, if you are going to make a pump for use inside a boat....shouldn't you at least use waterproof ink on the dang thing?

I could read the manufacturer's name, at least, and found their web site. But they make a whole lot of different sizes and styles of pumps as well as other products. Finally I found a drawing of something that looked pretty close to what I have. For those mechanically minded folks, this is how this thing goes together:

Of course, this was useful for putting it back together, but not very much help for what was going on inside Item 7, the motor itself. No details on that, but dc motors are all pretty similar. I noticed the bearings they use are the exact same ones I used to install on inline skates, by the way. Good. At least something was familiar. Unfortunately the problem was not with the familiar part. These motors have four very strong, permanent C-shaped magnets glued inside the housing. The seawater had caused the surface of the steel housing to rust under the glue for the magnets, and one had come completely loose. Of course it jammed the motor solid. My first inclination when I saw this was to just throw the thing away and order another pump.. Then I looked online and found out these things are about $ 250 on the internet, which means that by the time I got one flown down and cleared through Customs....I was looking at somewhere between $ 400-$500. Ouch. I decided it was worth a try to see if I could fix it. I didn't think there was much of a chance, but hey, you never know unless you try.

I cleaned out the rust, scraped the old glue off, mixed up a batch of super epoxy, and after smearing only around fifty gallons of the stuff on my clothes, feet, hands, and workbench I managed to glue and clamp the loose magnet back into place:

It took me several minutes and two clamps to hold that evil little sucker of a magnet. In the presence of three other equally powerful magnets it did NOT want to remain in position. It was a struggle to get it right. At this point I gave the whole motor repair idea about a 25% chance of being successful.

While the expoxy was setting, I cleaned up the rest of the motor parts, which were mostly rusted from the seawater. There were also several serious dings on the iron whirley-around thing. I smoothed them out with a file. Then I sprayed the whole kit and kaboodle down with some electrical lubricant stuff.

Looked pretty good cleaned up. I had it together here without the housing because I was trying to figure out just how in the heck I was going to get these spring loaded carbon brushes to open up enough to fit around the round slotted whatchamacallit thing they have to contact to make the motor work.

I am actually not sure if whatchamacallit is the correct technical term. It could be a thingamabob. I am kinda rusty on my electrical troublshooting nomenclature. I do seem to recall that connecting up a number of doo-dads in series makes a subassembly called a hootis...or is it a thingum....and it's not until you get them all together correctly that it turns into a pump. And this one sure does have a lot of little parts. But it's fun figuring out what they do. Cheap entertainment.

I figured out, for example, that the little rectangular thing there on the top left is a thermally operated microswitch. Ah, so THAT'S how motors know to turn themselves off when they overheat. I didn't know that, not having a manual for it. But it's a good thing to know. Now if the pump shuts off I know that it might just be overheating. Otherwise I would curse it and threaten to throw it overboard. That and a MasterCard usually fixes these things eventually. With 'eventually' being the operative word. I don't usually give up easily though, if I think there is a chance I can fix it on my own.

So, anyhow, the brushes have to fit around this thing:

I finally figured out that I could move the springs to take the tension off and would be able to just reach into the housing once it was all back together and move them back into place. I used a small nail after I modified the end of it with a hammer. I had to flatten it so it would fit between the housing and the end cap, with maybe a sixteenth of an inch to reach through. It worked.

The magnet glued back inside the motor housing:

I wasn't sure the evil little SOB would hold, but it seemed solid.

And surprisingly the round spinny thing with all the wires fit back in there too..

Recognize the RollerBlade bearing? Those must be some kind of world standard.

After finally getting everything back together into something resembling that drawing, I realized that I was one motor mount short. One of them had gotten ripped when I removed the pump from the boat, and since I figured I would never be able to repair this thing I threw it over the side in a small fit of pique. so NOW I had to come up with a motor mount to replace the missing one. The shock mounts for the motor look like this:

But notice the one that should be on the left is gone. I knew I didn't have a chance of finding something like this locally, so I started looking around to see if I could come up with an alternative. And once again, I noticed the straps on my new Crocs....

Hmm....cushy, tough, elastic....must be a way... I mean, a Croc is nothing more than a big shock absorber anyhow. Lord knows nobody wears them for the way they look.

I started out tracing the shock mount and tried cutting it out with a chisel..

But that made for a pretty ugly shock mount. So I looked around the garage and found a piece I had hacksawed off a towell rod I installed in the batchroom...and as luck would have it, it was the right size. So I chucked up a little grinding wheel to the drill press and put a sharp edge on it..

And by using it as a cookie cutter, I managed to punch out some better looking pieces of Croc strap than I was getting with the chisel.

I stacked up three of those. Its a lot thicker than the original shock mount, but this stuff is also a lot squishier and should compress down to the right size.

Voila, a home-made shock mount:

We took the pump down to the boat and got it re-installed in the bilge:

Complete with a new Croc-shock on the top right...

Other than the never-ending series of repairs that seem to go along with life in the tropics, I also have a few little side projects going on. I know a few posts back I mentioned that I was playing around with one of the local woods, from the Casurinas or Australian Pine (which is not a pine). I took a limb from one of these locally abundant trees and cut it into small planks, just to experiment with. I really didn't have a project in mind for it yet. I just wanted to see how stable it was. Whether it would warp, split, shrink, etc. after it was cut. I don't know why, exactly, but I took a few of these and cut box or finger joints into the ends of them, and then put them together into a little box. Which looks like this:


I let that sit around the workbench for a few weeks, and it doesn't seem to be shrinking. At least the joints were still tight. So I edge-glued some more pieces and made a bottom for it, and used small dowells to pin that in. After a couple more weeks it still seemed stable, so lately I have been messing around with a top for it. A few people picked it up off the workbench and said 'What's this?'. So, I figured I would clarify that, with my usual lack of imagination.

The wood has a nice look to it, with these 'rays'. I am hoping some fine sanding will bring those out.

Well, that's how life was chugging along until yesterday. First, I hooked up the hopefully-repaired pump to the battery in my little Suzuki to test it out. The battery went dead. Oh well, not a big deal. It was due for a battery anyhow. At least the pump worked.

Then we took the Land Rover down to the marina for our boat trip to the reef, and well, we didn't make it to the marina. About halfway there the clutch went to the floor and hydraulic fluid dribbled out all over La Gringa's feet. We coasted to a stop and left it, intending to come back later with the Suzuki and maybe tow it home.

We went out to the reef, and when we got back I dropped La Gringa and two of the boys off in front of the house.

Not exactly the picture one has in mind when they say "just drop us off at home"...

They swam and waded ashore while Dooley the Demonic Dog and I ran the boat back to Leeward Marina. She was to drive the Suzuki down to pick us up and deal with the clutchless Land Rover. She didn't make it. I am waiting at the boat when our friend Preacher shows up and said he got a call from La Gringa and he was there to take me home. She couldn't get the Suzuki started. When I got home, an hour or so messing around with the little Samurai leads me to believe it's either got a fuel pump or carb float problem. It's got spark, but no evidence of fuel in the carb. Sigh. way to get the Land Rover....except for our friend Malcolm.

This morning he drove me down to the marina, and the lonely Land Rover was still sitting there on the side of the road. We towed it home with one of those nylon tow straps. I noticed a lot of people looking at us, and then realized that while people towing cars around here with straps is pretty common it's not that often you see two white guys with a tow strap and a Land Rover on each end. In any case, we made it and it's now sitting in the driveway with no clutch. Not far from the Suzuki with fuel problems. We just rented a car a few minutes ago.....and as soon as I post's gonna be back to my DIY life. Maybe I will remember to take photos this time. was your weekend? Probably something pretty similar I bet.


Anonymous said... are MacGyver, for sure. I'm glad to see that we are getting more post's from you guys.

La Gringa said...

Yes, we are starting to get our lives back. Having the kids here definitely helped jumpstart us.

Anonymous said...

You are lucky that you have a reasonable degree of mechanical/electrical knowledge and skill. I feel that people like me who are woefully inept at DIY repairs would have a tough time in the Turks and Caicos putting up with never-ending mechanical breakdowns and lack of repair facilities. The blissful weather and unparalleled boating/fishing are powerful attractions, but your absorbing blog makes clear that not all parts of island life are conducive to stress free pleasure.

Anonymous said...

Gringo I think the correct technical term you are struggling for is a Phitiatua (fit ee ar too a. It's well known that these items frequently suck the kumara and are therefore known aa komateed. (Ko-mart eed.)

How good is your Maori language these days?

Nice to see a new post. It's still cold here and the beer is dearer. What a hell hole.

Anonymous said...

Well, first off...I think it helps us when someone like Wil comes down. We get a bit jaded about all this, living it day in and day out. Its just our normal day-to-day mundane stuff. Seeing this place through someone else's eyes helps make it new again.

The same thing happens when we get the positive feedback from this blog.

As far as the DIY stuff...I think most people underestimate their ability to fix and modify things. Maybe it's because they rarely are challenged to do it, since the convenience of a shop or spare parts is right down the street. It's just a matter of money.

For us, however, no reasonable amount of money will produce a skilled craftsman, or a part that is not already here. Warranty on appliances, for example, is a joke.

So in my case, I am challenged on the DIY just about every day. At least is seems that way.

Someone wrote that the difference between an ordeal and an adventure is in your attitude about it.

We try to remember that and keep it going as an adventure.

And my Maori is non-existent. I remember seeing it written when I was in NZ and thinking that it reminded me of seeing Finnish written.
I studied Swahili in school....but that's not much use here either.

Anonymous said...

right now I have the clutch box from the Land Rover on the workbench, the master cylinder from it sitting on the dining room table while I try to find one in the US, and I am just about to start tearing into the Suzuki's fuel pump and/or carb float problems.

Should I bother posting any of that?

Anonymous said...

Post away bud, some of us like to see it.

I have to offer an alternative name to benders suggestion, those parts can also be known as dooferies, which is the male version or dooferetteries which are the female version.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Ok, I will take a few pix of the ongoing stuff... I won't put so much DIY stuff in going forward. Sometimes I have to scratch my head over what to post. We should be doing some more boating over the next few days. Our visitors have it in their heads that they want to clean some conch....this should be interesting.
I have managed to steer us away from the constant posts about the house, landscaping, etc. Sometimes that's the only new stuff going on, because after all...(you ready for this?:

We live in a desert in a house with no name
It feels good when we get some rain.
In the desert, we got tradesmen to blame
and the contractors who will drive us insane...."
(my apologies to the band "America")

July 17, 2008 9:13 AM

100 Thoughts of Love said...

what a beautiful place! and photos!

heinz said...

Your America song reminded me...did you ever decide on a name for the house? Enjoyed the post as always!