Monday, December 8, 2008

Checking out Middle Caicos

We've been back from Mexico a week now and our life is returning to what passes for normal these days. We got a phone call from our friend Preacher around mid-week. He told us that he'd been working on getting "Cay Lime" back into float mode since we gave him the boat several weeks ago. And he was ready to launch it and fire it up for a test run. So we grabbed the dog and ran the Land Rover back down to the very scene of the Great Cay Lime Disaster of '08.....yes, the ramp at Leeward. And there we beheld.....

Yep. Preacher has had the major holes in the hull patched up, has replaced all the electrical wiring, and bought an Evinrude 200 horsepower outboard. He has forced the console back into roughly its original shape and screwed it to the deck. More or less. He has engine controls and basic gauges installed.He pulled the seat frame from another wrecked boat and bolted it down. It's not exactly what we would call 'pretty', but by golly it's a functional boat again!!

I won't go into the list of things that don't work on the boat. It's a whole lot shorter to just say what does work: The outboard, and, uh...well, it floats. See? Short list. But all the basics are covered. The steering does work, and the starter works. Most of the time.

Preacher asked if I wanted to go for a little cruise to check it out, and who could turn that down? I had thought I might never see this boat on the water again. There are driveways, back yards, and clearings in the bushes all over this island that are the final resting places for damaged boats . They're everywhere. Some houses have two or three busted up boats sitting there. And most of them will never be finished. The weeds grow up around them. So, to see that Preacher had put so much effort into "Cay Lime" so quickly was really a big lift. And oh yeah, I wanted to go for a ride.

That rock on the shoreline just where the boats are tied up is the exact spot where the old "Cay Lime" came to rest, capsized and battered for four days during and after Hurricane Hannah. And here she backed out right past it under her own power again. We thought that was pretty cool.
I am pretty sure I was floating over some of our former possessions that came out of the anchor locker, console, and seat when Cay Lime went over this same spot upside down back in September.

The boat still had some issues, of course, but man does it fly! Fifty horsepower more than we had on it new, and we had the maximum that the manufacturer would recommend. And with probably two hundred pounds less weight than it had new with all its equipment on board. There is also less wind resistance with no windshield or T-top. Preacher told us he was planning an excursion on Saturday to South Caicos, and another trip on Sunday to Middle Caicos. I think he likes the boat. And we are so glad we made the decision to give it to someone we thought would appreciate it and use it. Preacher definitely fits that description.

There seems (to us, anyway) to be some kind of balance in all this. Marlinsix ordered a new boat and gave us his old boat, and we appreciated his old boat and gave our wrecked boat to someone else. We definitely benefited from Marlinsix's generosity, La Gringa and I, and downstream from that Preacher benefitted as well. It's like we gained a boat upgrade for the cost of the shipping and import duties. Preacher gained an entire boat for the cost of some repairs and a new motor.

Could this hurricane somehow have been a good thing in some small ways? We have heard people here say that if the islands had not been clobbered mildly by Hannah, the damage from Ike's massive hit a week later would have caused a whole lot more damage. Hannah got everyone's attention, and things were buttoned up pretty well when Ike hit. Well, it was not much fun while it was happening. It got a little nervous out, if you know what I mean. But life goes on. I think that is my attempt to find a silver lining in that whole mess.

Oh, Preacher also invited us to ride along on Sunday on the Middle Caicos trip. More about that later. I am getting ahead of myself again.

Things back on our little hilltop are settling back down into the mundane day-to-day stuff. La Gringa and I had a lot of correspondence to catch up on, things that had gone on stand-by while we were incommunicado in Mexico. Dooley had hundreds of bushes to sniff and refresh as required by whatever little quality control standards he has established. I bet he drank three gallons of water last week. Re-establishing a neglected perimeter is thirsty work for a small dog.

He decided to start taking his naps in the bottom of my little BassPro Boat Bag that I use as a travelling suitcase:

Guess that's one way to make sure we don't leave without him knowing about it. Or even unpacking without him knowing about it. It's a habit of his. Sometimes he sleeps with his head on my foot so that I can't move without him knowing about it. Doggie logic, I guess. But it works.

And of course no return to the TCI would be complete without some kind of DIY project grabbing my priorities right off the bat. This time, it was another issue with the Land Rover drive train. I had crawled all under it literally the day before we left for Mexico trying to find the source of a new, rumbling noise. I was greasing universal joints, worried about wheel bearings, etc. Finally found out the front differential was low on oil, and topping that up fixed the noise. But in the process I was reminded of something we discovered when we were launching the Contender. The transfer case shifter was frozen in place. I could not budge it from within the Defender. It was permanently stuck in 4-wheel high range. No low range, no way to lock the differential. Knowing that I might need it if we have to haul the boat out of the water, I tackled that little job. It wasn't so little, and took up most of Saturday.

I started by crawling underneath and spraying WD-40 solvent all over the parts of the linkage that I could reach. That didn't do it. Basically I just ended up with an oily bunch of machinery that still didn't work, and a face covered with WD-40. And another t-shirt bites the dust. So I decided to see if I could just remove the rubber boots around the shift levers to see the problem. The short answer to that is 'no, one cannot just remove the rubber boots to look at the linkage'. Before it was all over, I had removed the floor mats, and the entire cover over the transmission, transfer case, and linkage:

Under that floor is some of the most complicated 4x4 linkage I have ever seen for a manual gearbox. And I have owned a number of 4x4's over the years. I decided to spare you the rest of the greasy photos, but at least I found the problem. My old nemesis: Corrosion. It always seems to be corrosion here in the tropics. Everything corrodes, oxidizes, falls apart. Salt and UV damage. At least the UV damage takes a break at nightfall and is easily cured by paint, covers, or shade. But as we all know....rust never sleeps. So I spent several hours with a wire brush and various lubricating oils. Used a big screwdriver as a pry bar. Tapped judiciously on various pieces with a hammer. Enriched Dooley's vocabulary. But I got it working again. Got it all buttoned back up in the dark. And even had some extra screws left over!

I haven't kept any kind of a log of vehicle repairs I have done here. But in just three years, I can think of a few. We had to replace the steel brake lines on a Ford. And the starter motor. And I had to sort out all the electric window motors and door locks several times. So far on the Suzuki I have mostly replaced rotten tires, but have also had to replace a shift spacer in the transfer case, fix the starter solenoid, and presently have a job on the list to fix the horn and windshield wipers. On the Land Rover, so far, I have replaced a leaking injector fuel line, replaced a clutch master cylinder, tracked down funny noises in the front differential, and unstuck the transfer case linkage. I don't know what you think, but to me that seems like a lot to do on three different vehicles in only three years. It's mostly corrosion-related.

And right now the Suzuki's windshield wipers and horn don't work, and one of the side mirrors rusted through and just fell off the door onto the driveway, while it was just sitting there. Oboy. More projects. sigh.

Okay, enough whining. Back to the adventure part of our program this morning...

So, Sunday we took a trip with Preacher to Middle Caicos. There is a place between that island and the northern edge of East Caicos that La Gringa and I have been interested in for a while now. Back in the late 1700's the area was the site of a settlement called Jacksonville. I can see the ruins of the old stone buildings on Google Earth, and have long wanted to go look at the area. Preacher knew about this, because I have asked him a lot of questions about it. Like, what kind of ruins are on Joe Grant Cay? Can you still see the old 1800's railroad remains? Can I get a boat between the islands, etc.

As we found out, Preacher owns a small piece of property not too far from the "town" of Lorimers on Middle Caicos. "Town" is a pretty small word, but it's still too big a word for Lorimers. It's a small settlement, on an island of 48 square miles that has a total population of around 300 people. I mean the entire island has 300 people, not just Lorimers. So the chance to go see that section of the TCI again has been on our list, and we lept at the chance to take a look. La Gringa had been to Lorimers before, but I had not been south of Bambarra. New experience for me, anyway. We figured it would be a good way to spend a Sunday. Get out of the house. Go for a boat ride. We did all that.

This trip was only 128 miles total from our home to our destination and back. Doesn't sound like much, does it? What is that under normal driving conditions...maybe two hours total? Make it three hours if you stop to look around at the destination and for a bite to eat. Ok. Three hours. Here's the route:

Well, this trip of 128 miles took about seven hours. Here's how that breaks down...the first 11 miles in the Land Rover from the house to Leeward. Then 12 miles by sea on "Cay Lime" from Leeward to Bellefield Landing on North Caicos. Then the big chunk, 41 miles riding in the bed of a Chevy pickup truck from Bellefield Landing, down North Caicos, over the storm damaged causeway to Middle Caicos, and then out to the end of a spit of beach near the settlement of Lorimers. 64 hard miles to get there, and another 64 harder miles back (same miles, just bruised and getting rained on during the return makes it seem a lot longer.) Long day. Great trip!

We met Preacher and one of his friends at the Leeward fuel dock, and La Gringa, Dooley, and I were once again aboard "Cay Lime". This is pulling into Bellefield Landing on North Caicos:

For some strange reason, Dooley the Determined Dog seemed completely at home riding on Preacher's new boat. He settled right in like he owned the place or something.

I didn't take a lot of photos of Bellefield Landing. Our friend JR was waiting there with his pickup truck, and we had a full day of travelling yet to do. After Preacher got his new boat "Cay Lime" (gosh it still feels weird to write that) tied up next to some other storm-battered but still useful boats...

with an anchor off the stern and a line ashore, we clambered into the bed of JR's Chevy truck and headed out.

Stopped briefly to check out a recent addition to the roadside attractions on North Caicos..

Ouch. Two lane road, late at night...who knows what happened. It did not look good, though. At least for the truck. Sadly, this is not an uncommon sight on the roads here. JR says the guy actually walked away from this one. I bet it was a pretty wobbly walk, for one reason or another.
The main road down North Caicos to the new causeway and bridge connecting Middle Caicos is actually pretty good, for the most part. I wouldn't exactly call the trip comfy with all these old bones bouncing around in the bed of a pickup truck. Somehow I seem to remember riding in the back of a pickup truck as being a lot less bruising. Maybe that's because I was probably twelve years old at the time, I guess.

Anyhow, these days we felt every bounce. Every pothole, every loose hunk of rock or rough stretch of pavement. Until the pavement ended. Which it did, off and on. Then we felt another fourteen miles of rutted dirt and limestone road. But I gotta admit, there was also something of a feeling of freedom riding in the back of a pickup truck again. No seats, no seatbelts. No airbags. No problems. Don't try this at home. You'll get a traffic citation. You might get arrested and your vehicle towed. But that doesn't happen here. This is one of the things we love about this country. Small freedoms add up. We think that's better than watching small freedoms disappear. But that's purely our opinion.

The TCI built a causeway connecting North and Middle Caicos about a year ago. For the first time since time began people can drive from one island to the other. This is a moderately big deal for the people living on those islands. Especially the people living on Middle Caicos. We were sad to hear that September's back-to-back hurricanes had severely damaged this causeway before we even got to see it completed. Well, it's still damaged pretty seriously, but it's passable again. Some of the quickly repaired sections:

The pavement was completely washed out in several places. It was intermittent pavement for the entire section across the low country between the islands. This is the single small bridge in the entire causeway. It was wiped out by the storm, and the new concrete is obvious.

See the three street lights and pole for one more in the distance? There used to be more. And they were functional, before. Not now. There are piles of smashed and destroyed street light poles lying beside the roadway. So this must be a pretty dark two lane road through here at night with no moon. Would be a fun trip on a motorcycle.

More damaged causeway, which was paved and lined on both sides with the concrete bulkheads. Only a few of those are left, and they are mostly damaged. There is broken concrete and rusty rebar steel all over the place.

The former road surface pavement is literally washed off to the side of the roadbed in sheets of asphalt paving. The pieces that came loose from all the water rushing under them are so big that the painted center stripe is still visible.

Pretty much messed up. It must have been a great new road when it was first finished. It's a shame it only lasted a year. Who knows if or when the money will ever be available to return it to what it was? It's functional for now. And down here, that often has to be the final deciding criteria. The next dollars available will be somewhere else, on some other project. And those dollars are scarce in these new financial times we find ourselves in.

We stopped by the terminal at the Middle Caicos airstrip, just to see if it had changed much since we flew into here a couple years ago. It hasn't changed, thankfully. The storms seem to have left it undamaged.

A trip like this makes me wish I was current as a pilot and flying a small plane around down here. Most of the major islands have airstrips. It would be a great way to get around. Maybe someday.

Dooley the Delusional Dog adapted well to riding in the back of a truck, but then what dog doesn't love that? He would doze off from time to time with the hum of the tires and the whine of the transmission pump when we were going down smooth pavement, but the moment the wheels ran off the smooth stuff and onto the dirt he was up to see if we were "there" yet..

After turning off the pavement at Lorimers, we rode 14 miles on this road. I took the photo on the return, when the weather was getting ugly. La Gringa, Dooley, and I were in the back of the truck. Those in the back of the truck got severely rained on. Are we having fun yet? Good thing the temperature was probably in the high 70's.

On a sunny day I am sure it's a lot prettier.

When we got to the end of the road (and I do mean the end of the road) we only had a short hike through a grove of shady Casuarinas trees and we were on a totally untouched beach. Photographically speaking it's a bit of a shame that the weather was turning squally on us. It's really a beautiful spot.

The water is clear, and the reef is just over a half mile out. Since it faces the open Atlantic on this side, the waves crashing onto the reef are pretty spectacular. I did not have the camera to get an image of that from a mile away. Maybe next time (and there will be a next time, probably by boat).

There was no sign of human habitation up or down the beach as far as we could see. Well, not exactly true in one sense. This area is a beachcomber's dream. There are layers of neat stuff washed up all along it from the storms. In the photo above, you can maybe make out a speck of something white in front of the distant tree down the beach. We decided to take a walk to check it out.

It's the left rear corner of a sailing catamaran:

I don't know what "BPO.." means. It's nothing familiar to me, and I could not find any other identifying marks on this section of hull.

It got washed up onto the rocks pretty far, after obviously going over the reef offshore.

This is looking north along the beach, and once again the only footprints are the ones we made. I didn't notice it when I was taking the photo, but when I was cropping it to post it here I saw that bright spot of light off the beach several miles north of us.

I tried blowing up that section of the photo to see if I could make out what kind of aircraft that might be, because it surely wasn't looking like something I would expect to see there. In fact, I couldn't tell what it was. It looks pretty strange if I expand that portion of the photo:

I have convinced myself that it must be the top wing surface of a high-wing aircraft like a Cessna, making a 90 degree bank. Now, that doesn't entirely fit, as I would expect to see the tail and body and engine of the plane, too. And I don't.

And the sun was not shining from the right direction for that to be reflected sunlight. Oh well. Guess I will never figure that one out entirely.

I thought I would get one more photo of the catamaran's remains, and then move on. Now that's shipwrecked pretty good right there, by just about anybody's definition. I wonder if this boat is still considered missing from some other island, somewhere.

After we left the beach we wandered back through the trees and helped Preacher searching for some survey markers to try to figure out just where the bounaries of his property are:

Nah, we didn't find them. He is going to get me the lat and longs for it and I will plot it out on one of the sat images.

This is about where Preacher is thinking he would build, if he decided to build here. With a view like this from ground level, I can just imagine how nice it would be from an elevated porch, looking over the trees and out to the reef. Nice.

And secluded? Oh man, this place is secluded. Very, very quiet. The only sounds are the waves and the breeze blowing through the Casurinas trees. Very nice.

When we got back to the truck we found out that JR had built a fire and was roasting ears of native corn in the husk. That sure made a great snack before the trip by Chevy, Cay Lime, and Land Rover back to Provo. But we loaded up and headed home. After all the excitement of trying to sniff every piece of driftwood on the beach, Dooley found out that he can nap quite comfortably in the back of a pickup truck :

Or at least he can sleep comfortably as long as he has his people to sleep on. And yes, we are wearing shorts in mid December. Its a big part of the reason we moved here in the first place. We'll still be dressed like this in February,too.

A view back along some of the paved road between rain squalls:

Notice the congestion? The traffic? The grid lock, strip malls, fast food and muffler repair shops? Nope. Us neither.

So finally we made it back to Bellefield Landing on North Caicos. JR dropped us off and headed home in his truck, and the rest of us wearily loaded onto Cay Lime for the water portion of the return leg of the trip.

This one is without potholes, or (hopefully) rocks. We could use a smooth ride about now.

Headed out toward the reef, we could see that we would be cutting just to the south of a pretty decent developing squall..

I wasn't concerned. Preacher wasn't concerned. La Gringa wasn't concerned....

But Dooley, yeah, Dooley was concerned.

I wonder how his hairy little mind works..."When in doubt, stay with the big guy. The lightning will hit him first, he's the tallest thing in the boat. Crocs are insulators. I bet I can work this hatch cover...."

That actually was a pretty decent example of a storm going on. We just had to scoot under that section right below the sun to clear it.

No problems. We didn't even get wet, even though for us pickup truck passengers it would have been the third or fourth time that day if we had. And despite the blessing of having slick, calm water to boat over, these conditions are actually a bit nerve wracking in a small boat around here. The reflection of the sun in your eyes makes it really hard to see what's under the water. And here you can be in five or six feet of water and be surrounded by coral heads and rock outcroppings that come to within a couple feet of the surface. Aids to navigation are very rare down here, too, so knowing the route and being able to read the water are very important.

By the way, Preacher told us that on his first major excursion to South Caicos on Saturday, his new propellor fell off. He somehow managed to find another prop that would fit......but it was the opposite pitch of what he needed. In other words, when he put the outboard in forward gear, it pulled the boat backwards. So, Preacher just put the outboard in reverse which made the boat go forward, and he drove it all the way back to Provo like that...

Just thought I would stick that in here.

See? No sweat. And La Gringa is wearing her winter jacket, I noticed. That's a long sleeved denim shirt. Seems to get her through the cold snaps.

The rest of the trip back was pretty uneventful. This was all familiar territory. We know this water very well. And we were on a very familiar boat. Well, it was familiar in some ways, but different in others. It was pretty quiet on the ocean yesterday afternoon, without much boat traffic. I suspect the spotty squalls blowing through had a lot to do with that. We did run across one solo sailor braving the sudden wind gusts that these things bring, working his way back into Leeward during a calm period. It wasn't until we were blasting past him at about 40 mph (hence the blurred photo) that we realized that it was the architect that designed our house for us.

So that was our Sunday outing to Middle Caicos. It was nice to get out of the "city" of Providenciales and out to where things are a whole lot more basic, even by TCI standards. It was also nice to get back home, to the land of rum and aspirin and upholstery.

We are already planning our next trip back to that same area. We were very close to the ruins we want to explore but there is no way to get there by automobile. So we are just going to have to work out how to do it by boat. That should be good for some more photos. Hopefully we can find some good weather stretches this winter. I think it would have to be be a calm seas kind of trip if we come in through the reef.

And meanwhile we are keeping our eye out for decent sunsets.


Anonymous said...

Thats a very nice story and its nice to see Cay Lime back on the water again!

I am sure many more adventures await you folks down there!

You are surely right about traffic, congestion, malls, fast food joints, etc, etc here in the States! And cold weather too !!!

I hope you decide to write a book about your adventures in the TCI one day and the people you both share your lives with on the islands now! A book just might turn out to be a very big hit !

Keep the stories coming, thanks !

jschieff said...

Sounds like great trip but I would need Advil administered by IV after bouncing for so many hours on rough roads in the back of a pickup.

Will you be able to visit the ruins in one day, or will you have to stay aboard the new boat (NAME?) overnight?

Do you have to continually dodge shallow spots on long boat trips or is it generally deep enough everywhere to blast along on a compass (GPS) course?

Enjoy the blog as always. Cold, dank grey rain here and blowing so hard my SUV is hard to control on high bridges.

Dad said...

And boy oh boy is THAT a decent sunset??

We are barely above freezing here in dark and wet London, so keep those pictures coming.

For your information, my winter jacket just happens to be a denim shirt too.

With a jumper, cardigan and overcoat as well. Just to be sure!!

Anonymous said...

Them Crocs are looking pretty rough
Maybe time to ask Santa for a new pair.
Been below freezing temps here at home the past few days, looks like we have another 4 to go before it warms up above freezing.
Seeing a lot of MukLuks around these parts.

Anonymous said...

Great post Gringo and Lagringa. I can't get enough of Dooley. I love Dooley. I'm finally catching up on your blog and enjoying it. Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the encouragement. The feedback from readers is really what keeps this blog going.

I didn't give it three months...a year and a half ago. Wow.

John,The water is fraught with hazards. Its crystal clear, which helps enormously when the sun is high. But there are shifting sand bars, rock outcroppings, reefs,and coral heads. you really have to be on your toes unless you are well outside the reef in deep water. We are one of the very few boats that go anywhere at night. Thats mostly because few of the local boats have lights or any nav gear. Boating here is basically a VFR operation. Of course we use GPS and can run IFR in areas where we know. Most of the coral heads, etc. are totally uncharted.

Anonymous said...

Hi Folks,

Loved the story about the little jaunt to Middle...I actually am involved with the Wavecrest 40 acre land development on Middle at Platico Point and we are getting so many people like yourselves who have found paradise in these islands interested in building lots...great place to be :-)
I lived there from 1994 to 2003 on Provo, but can't take the huge amount of development there anymore...they give you a dirty look when you don't have shoes on now...way too
Have a great time on more read...cute dog