Friday, January 2, 2009

Adios 2008...

The last week of '08 went fairly smoothly for a change. We still have three of our sons from that big country up North staying with us. Nothing major broke down (knock on wood), and the weather decided to behave itself for the most part. Oh we did have some passing showers and squalls around mid-week. We can always see them coming from miles away, usually from the Northeast.

They blow in with the trade winds and start to roil when the clouds get forced up over the island's land mass. All that moist air has to move upwards to go over, and then things start to happen. We think we are getting pretty good at understanding the dynamics of all this, since we are in an excellent location to watch it happening. If we are lucky, this is when they drop some rain on us and replenish the cistern supply.

We did get some much needed rain, and then the showers passed over us and back out to sea. And even those had their brighter side.

First I will get the latest DIY project out of the way. If you are not interested in looking at greasy automobile engine photos, please just skip down until you see blue water photos. But auto repair is very much a part of living in a place like this full time, and that's supposed to be what this blog is all about... after all.

The little Suzuki in that photo above was parked there because it was the latest victim in the never-ending list of things that break down in the tropics. This time it was while one of the boys was driving it and it totally overheated. We fairly quickly determined that the water pump was not pumping water. Which is the difference between a 'water pump' and a hunk of now useless, expensive metal. While already thinking of what I would have to do to get a new water pump shipped down from the States I went ahead and made a call to the NAPA auto parts store. To my grateful surprise, they did have one water pump for a 94 Suzuki Samurai in their inventory. We zipped on down and grabbed it.

With my mechanically-inclined son doing most of the actual work, I was able to basically sit back and supervise this time. What a rare luxury. Because in order to replace a water pump on a Samurai, we found out, one has to basically dismantle the front of the engine compartment. This is a good project for a 'shade-tree' mechanic. And would have been even better if we had any shade trees. We still prefer it to working on a water pump in the snow. Time to haul out the metric socket set and get to work.

The radiator,fan, and fan belt had to be removed to even access the water pump. Not exactly laboratory conditions:

And at this point we discovered that the water pump is bolted to the block behind the timing belt cover:

So the timing belt cover and the tensioning pulley both had to come off as well. This is getting a little deeper into it than we had hoped, but having come this far with it we just kept on unbolting any whatchamacallits, thingamabobs, and doo-dads that were in the way:

You know when to stop taking things apart when you end up with the broken part in your hand. In this case, once we got it out we immediately saw that our initial judgement was correct. This pump was toast.

Can you tell which one is the new one?

Fortunately, this was one of those jobs in which you find that figuring out how to get things apart is the time-consuming part. Getting it all back together only took half as long as dismantling it. When you finish putting it all back together and you don't have any nuts or bolts left over, that's a good sign that you may have done it right. A handful of leftover hardware is generally a bad sign that the DIY gods have been messing with your head. But by mid afternoon we had a running vehicle again. Total cost: $60. Total vehicle down time: one afternoon. Not too shabby by island standards. I have no clue what a mechanic shop would have charged us, but we could start with $125 to tow the vehicle to the shop in the first place. And I would imagine a week to be about a reasonable amount of time to get the vehicle back, hopefully running.

Okay that's the end of the greasy DIY photos for this post. Because the day before New Year's Eve we woke up to good weather and decided to finally try our hand at fishing with the new boat and outrigger setup. We started off by visiting with our buddy Bernard at the Caicos Marina fuel dock, where we pumped 100 gallons of gasoline into the Contender. That is a new experience for us, buying that much explosive liquid in one go. This is Bernard acting serious for a change:

(I don't know why he was acting serious. I will tell him to knock it off next time. He was grinning until I lifted the camera.) The fuel price has dropped to $ 3.75 a gallon, which is the lowest we have seen it here at the marinas in over three years. Good thing, as the Contender holds 180 gallons as compared to Cay Lime's 38. With gasoline weighing around 6 lbs per gallon, a full tank in the Contender weighs about 850 lbs more than a full tank in Cay Lime. Four big adults and a case of drinks, with ice, more. This kind of thing can be some useful information when comparing the two boats...but there are so many other differences that this one just falls into a long list.

Anyhow, starting from a dead stop; by the time we got all the troops awake, fed, and mobilized, transported to the boat, fuelled up, got the boat rigged for fishing, and boated about ten miles to get outside Leeward to the nearest reef it was mid-afternoon. Finally we were fishing once again, with a whole new setup. The outriggers let us put four lines in the water, with a "Toad" teaser trailing off the transom. La Gringa finally got to drive the new boat while the rest of us tended to the fishing lines. Or loafed and took photos:

We just had time to troll up to a point outside Parrot Cay when we had to turn back to be sure we could made it back the now 18 miles to our home marina before dark. We were thinking we were going to get "skunked" our first fishing trip on the new boat because for an hour and a half we had absolutely NO bites whatsoever. We were to that point where we were telling ourselves that just an excuse for a day on the water was good enough. Figuring a change of lures might do something, we switched to cedar plugs when we turned around to head home. Within about ten minutes we spotted two rainbow dolphin streaking into our spread, and both of them hit the lures. One of them spit out the hook and got away, but we managed to keep the other one.

You know those dramatic photos of fish leaping out of the water in a spray of droplets and bright colors? Well, none of us grabbed the camera quick enough to get that photo this time. But it was definitely there. Nothing yanks one out of a pleasant lethargy quite like that ZINGGGGG!!!! sound a fishing reel makes when a serious ocean fish grabs the lure and runs with it. Let's face it, these fish think something the size of your average freshwater trout looks about right for a between meal snack. And these fish leap entirely out of the water, shaking and thrashing. It looks really nice in the sunlight, and it's pretty much a lot of fun to be on the other end of that string. So we were all too busy to get some photos this time, but we did see the the full color changing display the rainbow dolphin puts on as it goes through what must be a rapid series of mood changes when what it thought was a snack turns out to be a hook. It gets excited. Which gets everyone on the boat excited. It's really what fishing is all about. We had it up alongside the boat before anyone thought to take some photos:

A quick pull with the gaff and we had this guy on board:

Not a huge fish as dolphin go, but plenty good enough for our first fish in the new boat, and what would turn out to be our last fish of 2008:

And guess who was running the boat when we got hooked up?:

A few more trips like this and I am going to have to start calling her "Captain La Gringa".

Normally we would have run back and forth through the area to see if we could locate the school of dolphin and hook up another one. They rarely travel alone. But we had miles to go and daylight was starting to fade, so we headed home with our single fish. Dooley the Demented Dog was happy to be on the water again, especially with visiting relatives who would scratch his neck and provide a supply of laps to sit on during long sea voyages:

If you are wondering why Dooley the Devious Deliquent is tied to the bow line, it's because he goes absolutely berserk when we hook up with a fighting fish like the dolphin. We usually have to go through a quick check list that includes "engine in neutral", "clear the other lines", "pull in the teaser", "find the gaff!" and in our case, the very un-seamanlike command; "SOMEbody please get a line on this #*%$@% DOG!!"

Even though it was on the small side, this one fish was more than enough to feed the five of us, and we love fresh dolphin. By the way, I guess I should clarify that rainbow dolphin is the exact same fish the polynesians call 'Mahi-mahi' and that is probably what most of you see on the menu in restaurants that serve it. Spanish speaking countries in Central America call it the "Dorado". The correct English name for it is rainbow dolphin, or sometimes 'dolphin-fish' to distinguish it from Flipper. Flipper is an Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphin, which is an intelligent, friendly mammal of the whale family.

Don't worry when you read that we ate dolphin, we do NOT mean Flipper, or Jo-Jo the local equivalent. Different animal entirely. These rainbow dolphin are just cold blooded fish. With scales. They do "light up" when they get excited, going through irridescent color changes like a chameleon. They might turn some combination of blue, green, yellow, and even silver. This all happens very quickly and they are beautiful, fun fish to catch. And delicious when properly grilled.

This photo is out of sequence, since it was later at the house when I filleted dinner. It's not the last photo in this post specifically so that I can end the post with a sunset photo.

That works out to three boneless fillet portions per side, six total, with nothing left over in this crowd. Even people who did not previously like fish seem to change their minds when they have it freshly caught and cooked within hours. It never tastes that way again, even the next day or after being frozen. We have gotten totally spoiled while living here. I don't even order fish in restaurants anymore, other than conch. Conch stays good a long time.

So that was our last boating trip of 2008. We are hoping that it was indicative of how '09 is going to go, because we could sure use a normal year right about now. And if it doesn't work out to be all smooth sailing (and let's face it: it NEVER works out to be all smooth sailing) at least we can be content if we just get a few days like this one from time to time.

Once again we found ourselves racing sundown home, running fast in a light chop:

And once again we realize that there's really no place on earth that we would rather be. And that's a real good way to end the year.


Cassie said...

That's an interesting fish, I'm glad you cleared the Flipper bit up!!! It seemed to change to many different colors in the pics.

Best wishes for the New Year!!

Anonymous said...

Lovely photo of that dorado in the water. Even the smallest ones have amazing colours. That's a great name for them because they really do look like minted gold. But the Polynesian name is good too. I think mahimahi translates as Extra Strong. The skin is supposed to make a good skirt for a fishing lure - but I don't know if any preservative is necessary to keep it from deteriorating.

Good luck out there!