Sunday, August 31, 2008

just another boating day in paradise...

While we are "hunkered down" here watching Tropical Storm Hanna blow all over us, I thought I would stick up some more photos. So far this season we have watched storms Fay, Gustav, and Hanna go by us on their way to the USA. We watch the weather very closely this time of year, of course. We cannot just hop in the car and drive inland. Well, we could, but two miles from here we would be back on the beach again. Not much help. It's a nervous feeling stuck out here facing Africa and watching storms approach on the weather sites. Kind of like trying to play dodgeball when you can't move your feet.

In between storms, we are still getting some usable "atmospheric" photos, although not our best shots:

Lately it seems the dawns are a little more interesting than the sunsets have been:

But I am sure that is subjective. I am biased. It's possible I like the water and sky without all the island stuff between the scene and the camera.

Yesterday we took the opportunity of the last nice day in the forecast for a while, and spent the afternoon on our boat. No specific destination, just enjoying the day and the ocean. We cruised up along the shoreline of several small islands, keeping an eye out for any interesting driftwood that might be useful for something. I have been trying to collect bamboo lately. I have an idea for using it to build some small gates.

The reef side of Water Cay is one of our favorite local areas. The shore there is lined with small limestone caves, and little private beaches. Perfect places to anchor a boat and have a picnic:

And of course we have our usual crew on lookout duty in case we see something that needs investigating. Or perhaps something that needs biting. Or just something that he feels needs to be annoyed.

I like this spot. We are going to have to pack a lunch and go hang out here one of these days when we are not on a mission:

The dog really is good for keeping a lookout. Anything at all that breaks the water surface gets his attention. He kept his eye on this shipwreck for at least a mile before we got to it:

Every time we find ourselves running this route between Providenciales and Pine Cay at night I tend to stay a half mile or so offshore, just because of this and a few miscellaneous rocks:

It could ruin your whole evening to hit this thing in the dark in a boat.

While we were checking out the beach for driftwood (we didn't find anything worth getting wet for) I looked out a bit further and spotted what I suspect is the same bottle-nosed dolphin people here have named Jo Jo. So I turned the boat and headed out to see how close we could get:

And it's no problem to get near him. In fact, as soon as he spots Dooley the Delinquent Dog on the boat, he comes over to us for a look:

(sorry for the blurry photo, I think this camera is continuing to develop some issues. We are looking for a waterproof replacement.)

This happens to us now every time we see the dolphin. I am convinced that there is some rapport going on between him and the dog.

He will pace the boat, staying on the same side as the dog. And while the dog would be barking frantically if this were any other fish...he is strangely quiet and attentive when it's the dolphin.

We continued on up to Fort George Cay, which is usually a good place to find some driftwood. We did not see any bamboo. We did spot some likely sources of seasoned wood, but not having a saw with us we decided to leave it for another day when I wasn't feeling so lazy:

We did see three pelicans sitting in a tree:

We motored over to see how close they would tolerate us before flying. We don't normally see these birds in trees, and I guess I had assumed their webbed feet were not great for holding onto branches. I thought they would take off, but they didn't:

Maybe the dolphin called ahead and told them to check out the funny little dog.

Or maybe he told them to mark that pile of driftwood for us...

We motored around for a while longer, looking at beaches and a place to drop the hook, turn the boat off, and go for a swim. The tip of Ft. George is usually a good spot for that:

But when we rounded the point we found the beach there was absolutely mobbed with boats and people...

So we motored on off to a more private spot where we spent the next couple of hours just floating around, relaxing, and messing with the dog's head. I did not get any swimming dog photos this time, because we no longer trust the camera in the ocean.

Other than watching storms, repairing things and DIY projects the past week has been a bit on the quiet side. I am almost finished with some workshop drawers:

Which has allowed me to get enough clutter off the workbench to actually be able to see the workbench. Now I need to straighten these up and build four more for the other side.

We are still planning some boating trips this season, if the hurricanes will give us some breathing room. A friend I met on an internet boating forum is in charge of all the fishing activities out at Ambergris Cay. He posted some photos he took of a sailboat out there, and we have now added that to the list of places we want to go snorkel around for a look. Here are a couple of photos that got my attention:

(sunken sailboat photos courtesy of Capt. John Mallette)

Ambergris Cay is a private island being developed as the Turks & Caicos Sporting Club.It would be about a 90 mile round trip for us in the boat so we would not undertake it at the last minute. It would be a full day, and we would for sure want a good weather forecast. It should be good for some nice photos. Or at least I imagine it should be.

As usual, I will finish this post with some more sunset photos. We must have a few hundred of these by now. A shame they are not good for anything but looking at, but somehow I hate to delete them:

And one with some of our new fountain grass foliage:

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

More storms

A week ago we were watching Tropical Storm Fay get rolling just south of us. And you folks in Florida know what happened with that. Now we are watching Hurricane Gustav get ramped up just about in the same place, with another one just forming south of the Canary Islands. Plenty of weather to watch this time of year. And stuck out here in the ocean like this, we seem to be on the front lines for these things.

One of the "benefits" of the storm season here is that the clouds come through and from time to time we get some decent sunrises and sunsets. Since I don't have a lot of other stuff to report in our lives this week, I thought I would just mostly put up some new photos to look at. Add some color to the blog, so to speak.

This one is a late morning one, looking over the Caicos Marina, with Jay Stubbs' new catamaran sitting easy and safe:

We watched the rain starting to fall out of this one, and we were wishing it would blow over this way. We can just about always use the water.

Some mornings the clouds have been such that the sun doesn't really make much of an appearance until later in the morning. We don't get the bright colors in those cases, but if you like looking at the ocean (as we obviously do) it can still make for some nice "change of pace" scenes:

And some of the sunsets have been getting a little more colorful than they were last month:

Another sunrise:

And one with local lobster fishermen getting an early start:

Since we are tyically up at dawn, we do enjoy a nice view across the water with the morning coffee. And when the storms come through with these bands of heavy clouds and torrential rains, we just have to grin and bear it.

Yesterday we drove down to one of the local small marinas to meet up with our friend Evan (J.R.) who is now a Yamaha mechanic. He managed to find me a used propellor to try out on our boat. I am trying to see if we can get a few more miles per gallon out of it. Something sort of put the whole mileage thing in perspective for me as we were hanging around the marina waiting for our mechanic. I am concerned about mileage on a single 150 horsepower outboard while these guys are running a thousand horsepower:

We haven't seen that boat underway, yet, but it's gotta have a whole lot of "giddyup" to it. And somehow I don't think they worry about gasoline mileage.

These guys have a different issue...they are trying to refurbish this trimaran.

The last time I saw that boat it was being worked on for the local sailing program. I am not sure if that's still the case. It has a long way to go. That photo was taken yesterday, and you can see one of the early bands from Hurricane Gustav about to roll over us.

On the way to the marina we passed this car that had a problem on our "road" just about a week ago. I had been meaning to take a photo of it, to illustrate one of the most common of all automobile problems that we see here. The tie rods and pitman arms break on these roads, and everything comes to a sudden stop when the front wheels are no longer pointing in the same direction:

I have lost count of how many cars and trucks we have seen sitting on the side of one of our rougher roads with one wheel pointed all out of kilter. Dozens in three years. We were laughing at how accustomed we have gotten to seeing a disabled vehicle like this sitting on the road, blocking one lane, for a week or two at a time. Back home in the US, this would have been towed away within hours. Here things are a bit more laid back. No need to add insult to injury, as long as people are not complaining the car can probably sit there for as long as it takes to find the parts to fix it.

This has been a week for trying to get caught up with home projects. I don't know that I will ever get completely caught up, as things here seem to break faster than I can fix them. Still, it could be worse. I managed to finish building some drawers for the workshop, and am now thinking of ordering a small band saw and a lathe for some woodworking projects I have planned. And life at the house goes on. The shrubbery seems to be getting a foothold on this rocky little hilltop:

And after the rains of the last two weeks stuff should really start to grow.

Two nights ago I had a momentary start....actually, it was somewhat of a small but substantial bout of sudden arachnapobia. I was taking a nice leisurely shower, and when I went to reach for my towel I discovered that I had been sharing the shower with a visitor:

Now, I know that these are probably no worse than the local wasps when it comes to the sting. But there is just something about realizing you have been blithely standing there naked and barefoot with soap in your eyes (shaving soap, in my case) a couple of feet from a live scorpion. Wasps are not a shower issue,normally. I am hoping scorpions don't become one. I would like to maintain a 'live and let live' relationship with these guys if possible.

Late yesterday afternoon we watched the wind pick up and it was starting to blow the spray fifty or sixty yards from the shoreline:

And we thought we might be in for another nervous night. The dog was doing his near-terminal cringing and shaking thing with all the thunder. And after all that, and after all the worry about Hurricane Gustav, we woke up this morning to a beautiful clear dawn:

Even though the storm is just over on the other side of Haiti from us as I write this. The high mountains of Hispaniola and Cuba have really helped this little country dodge the hurricanes that run south of those islands. We can basically kiss Hurricane Gustav goodbye here, even though it is still almost a week away from the USA. Now we are watching the next tropical wave southwest of the Canary Islands.

So I told the dog "Hey Dooley, the storm is all gone! No more howling winds, no more lightning and thunder! It's all clear now!"

And he says, in his own way...

"Yeah, right.."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Stormwatching Season

I know I have not posted any photos in a couple of weeks. It's been pretty quiet since our teenaged guests left. I thought I would put something up here even though we do not have any news, really. Whenever we see an image that we thing might be colorful, we try for it:

That is actually very typical for here. It is raining on the hills on the right side of the photo. And not on the left. This is definitely a land of scattered showers and thunderstorms. It's the beginning of the warmest part of the year here, which is August and September. This is the start of the closest thing the TCI gets to a 'rainy' season. This country averages 350 days of sunshine a year. That should tell you something.

This is a great time of the year for weather watching. We appreciate the changes from day to day. Some days are calm, some days are stormy, and of course we keep a constant eye out for approaching cyclones.

On the water every trip becomes a mini-adventure as we dodge squall lines and thunderstorms:

Sometimes we go around them, sometimes we circle to let one pass in front of us, and sometimes we just grit our teeth and blast through them.

The most recent weather-related thing in our lives was watching the storm first known as 'Invest 92" form out in the Atlantic. It turned into Tropical Storm Fay just as it went a little south of us here. As I am sure you can imagine, we keep a pretty close eye on several weather sources on the Internet. We also watch the Weather Channel on television, but by the time the North American broadcast people pick up on a storm threat it's probably already in our backyard. Not nearly enough advance warning to do us any good, so we watch them coming all the way from Africa.

This time we would look at the sat images such as this one:

and then walk outside and look to the Northeast and sure enough see:

Which would then turn into this:

And then as the storm passed to the south of us and started piling up on the Dominican Republic we got more serious bands coming through:

That dark band is the leading edge of a rain squall just about to whack me in the camera...and then things got really thick, and even the boat disappeared:

Looking up the coast, it's not our normal view at all:

The good part of this, for us, was listening to thousands of gallons of water gushing into the cisterns. And watching the dog shiver and try to hide under any horizontal surface he could find. I guess I should have taken some more photos of Dooley the Discombobulated and Distraught. But he was shaking so badly I am pretty sure any images of him would have been blurred anyway.

And today, while CNN, Fox, and the Weather Channel are keeping an eye on where Fay is likely to hit Florida, that's yesterday's problem to us. We are already watching "Invest 94" which you can see south of the Cape Verde Islands over on the lower right side of this image:

And in more graphic form, here is our next potential "gotcha"

Oh boy, another week of watching sat images to look forward. And a boat and house to worry about. Such is the Caribbean lifestyle this time of year.

Meanwhile things continue to fall apart just so that I can put them back together here at the house. A few days ago La Gringa was sitting at her computer when she heard a strange sudden noise from the ceiling fan over her desk. By the time she could say "what the..." it had dropped down from its mounting, spinning at full tilt, wound up the three wires attaching it to the house, twisted the wires completely off and came crashing the rest of the way down. It looked like a helicopter that suddenly lost power and tried to auto-rotate to a hard landing. Fortunately, the spinning blades hit her computer monitor and it deflected the fan off into a chair. It missed her by maybe two feet. If the monitor had not been sitting there it could have gotten ugly.

When the dust settled I took the thing apart to do a post mortem. I found out that the installer had not bothered to tighten the set screw that holds the entire fan to the threaded mount. It didn't look good for the fan wiring, but I decided to take it apart and see if I could fix it. This is what it looked like in pieces:

I wish I had thought to start taking photos while there was nothing but three very tightly twisted wires hanging from the ceiling. In any case, I cut off the damaged parts and soldered them back together and re-assembled the fan. I hooked it back up to the ceiling (yes I tightened the set screw!) and turned the wall switch on. Nada. So I put a volt/ohm meter on it, and had no power coming through the wires.

This led me to tracking back through the wiring until I got to the wall control switch. Yep, had 120 volts on one side of it, but nothing coming out the other. Opened it up and it looked pretty well fried. There is not supposed to be any black soot on capacitors.

The printed circuits were blown right off the board. Well, I tried bypassing them by soldering wires from point to point. Got it all back together, and then when I applied 120 volts to the input, I got 120 volts on the output. Problem was, I got it no matter where the switch was set, even if it was set to 'off'. So, I knew one of the capacitors or the switch itself was most likely shorted. Oh was worth a try. Can't win em all.

The ceiling fan? I just wired past where the switch was. It's happily spinning away. And I brought up a ladder and checked the other fans in the house. I found another one in the kitchen that had never had an allen wrench touch the set screw.

In between minor disasters life goes on. We took Dooley the Devious out to Pine Cay to visit some friends from the US. La Gringa tried to get him into the pool, but strangely enough he had absolutely no use for the idea of swimming in fresh water.

Maybe it's the chlorine smell. Or lack of a barracuda smell. I don't know, but he doesn't like swimming in fresh water.

I think he has become spoiled by the ocean. I know I have. But in his case, he is really becoming a 'salty dog':

Yes, that is wet sand stuck to his nose, chest, legs, and in his eyes. He doesn't care. He loves the beach.

The almost constant need to fix things here has slowed down some of my other DIY plans. But I try to keep some project going all the time. Lately I have decided to add some drawers to the workbenches. I am brand new at building drawers , but am slowly working my way through it. Anything made out of wood here needs to be made of something that will not interest termites. So I took some pressure treated 2x4's and cut them into lengths corresponding to the size of the drawers I want to build:

I ripped those into thinner boards, and ended up with enough side pieces for four drawers out of two 2x4's.

That's $12 worth of bugproof that's a pretty good deal financially.

I did not want to take the time to cut box joints for the edges, and I have a strong aversion to using nails or screws for joints so I got on the internet and read how to make this thing called a 'locking rabbet/dado' joint. Once you set the tablesaw up, you can whip through these just about as fast as you can push the wood through.

For any woodworkers out there, this is what the drawer joint looks like:

(and NO I do NOT wear white Crocs in public. Those are only for working in the garage.)

The side frames for two drawers, with grooves cut for the plywood bottoms:

Those joints are tight enough that they hold the sides together dry. After I put some glue on them they should be very strong.

And looking at that workbench you can probably see why I need to build some drawers to organize things a bit. I seem to spend more time looking for tools than I actually spend using them once I find them.

One of the basic drawers with the plywood bottom in, and clamped while the glue sets up:

Four of those went together really easily. Now I just have to figure out how to keep them from coming all the way out when I pull them forward on the wooden slides I made.

We've been watching storms roll by and involved in constant DIY projects and we have not been using the boat much. For some reason as yet undetermined, the gasoline mileage on the Yamaha has dropped until we are only getting about 2 mpg! I checked all the obvious things, and then called in the cavalry. Our friend Evan is now a certified Yamaha outboard mechanic. I managed to talk him into a "house call" last week just before the storm tied us up for two days:

He found a few air leaks in the fuel lines, but did not find any major problems that would explain the lousy gas mileage. And at $6 a gallon, we need to find out what is going on. We will be taking the boat out for a run sometimes in the next day or so and if it's still not acting right I may change the prop on it. But that still won't explain what changed in the first place.

That's about it for this post. I realize it's on the lame side, but at least it's something different to look at for those of our friends and family who like to keep track of what we are up to.

And we will continue our quest for the perfect sunset, of course. And make do with the average ones until that stunner comes along.