Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Bits and Pieces

We just put the last two of our visiting offspring on a plane today. They are headed home, back to their own lives. And the dog is acting lost and the house is suddenly seeming very quiet. It has been a very active three weeks. I have some photos of bits and pieces of the days since New Years, and I thought some of these images might be worth posting. Before life moves on as it does. And before what are very fresh images right now become old memories. Because we have some new stuff already being planned.

The weather continued to plague us with near perfect days through the first week of January.

I had posted a few weeks back about our trip to Middle Caicos. Well we had an opportunity to go back over and explore some more of that island. It was a good opportunity for some of our boys to see a part of the TCI that they had ever seen before. And we do like getting out of the "city". So we retraced the same route La Gringa and I took on the earlier trip. Last time it was cloudy and raining, and this time the weather was perfect. I hope that ends up being a metaphor for '08 compared to '09. We spent time exploring some beaches.

This stretch is pristine and somewhat difficult to get to. Very tricky by boat, and a long trip by land. It's still covered with sea grass washed up by the storms of September, but that's really not bad considering that this beach has probably never been cleaned in history.

And it's an absolute beachcomber's dream of a beach. We were a little pressed for time on this visit, but it was easy to see that someone could spend days just walking the beach and looking at the stuff that has washed up over the years. And once you finished going over it once, there would be a new set of things to let you start all over again.

There are things like sea fan corals:

photo by Jacob

Things that people lost or threw away:

photo by Jacob

I think we might have found out what happened to Tom Hanks' co-star, "Wilson":

photo by Jacob

(you would have to know the movie "Castaway" for that to make sense.)

With all this interesting stuff to investigate, Dooley the Detective was in overdrive mode. He was sniffing out every single exciting new smell he could find. And he found a lot:

He would sniff and dig for a while, run to the next promising looking place, give it a quick once over...and take a swim break when he needed a break.

After finding this place, we are determined to come back again with faceplates and snorkels and take a look between the beach and the reef:

The reef is very close to the island here, only a half mile offshore. And there are exposed rocks and coral all the way out. It would be quite a challenge to bring a boat in here without knowing the way.

When we were looking at those two little cays in the photo above, we noticed that there are some local fauna in the scene.

If you can't pick them out of that photo either, I cropped it again:

Getting a little grainy, but you can also see the reef is not far out past the cays with the Osprey nest.

Short on time, we had to head back. Dooley has finally discovered what many dogs in rural areas know: There is no way for a dog to see the sights when travelling that is half so perfect as a pickup truck bed. It's like supercharging his nose. IF he got all the sand from the beach out of it. And out of his eyes.

photo by Jacob, who had to ride in the back of the truck with Dooley the wet and sandy dog , who was now looking for a power nap lap.

He was tired, wet, and happy in that photo. And he reckons that with all the boating we have been doing lately he's got his sea-legs back.

We are going to have to order that dog another life jacket. He's getting a little too big for his britches, again.

The route back is becoming familiar to us now. At the landing on North Caicos we spotted what I think is another Hurricane Hannah 'victim' that is back in service, battered and bruised with a new outboard:

photo by Jacob

I am not positive that I know whose boat that is, but I think so. It had a top on it the last time I saw it, but we know how that can change. There are sure a lot of beat-up boats around here these days.

This is the point of land where we tied up for our local picnic on New Year's Day:

Plenty of things to dodge running a boat on this side of the islands. Some of these rocks could definitely be considered as 'hazards to navigation'. Could you imagine running into this at full bore on some dark night?

I just bet that would void some kind of warranty. The water in the lee of that little cay is ankle deep. It's about four feet under the boat at that point. There is a high pucker factor involved in running a boat and keeping it up on plane navigating through here. The natural inclination is to reduce the power and slow down. But that's not the way to do it. If you slow down, the boat comes off plane and rides lower in the water. There are things lower in the water. Rocks. Sand bars. Coral heads. Not good for boats. None of them.

This is not a good place to do things like that. If you slow down and hit the bottom, you can't get the boat moving fast enough to get it back up and running shallow again. If you do it at high tide, you are really in deep kimchee, because it only gets worse when the tide goes out. Of course if you knock a hole in the boat in the process, you would probably be better off with it sitting on a sandbar or rock than settling down into deeper water. Boating here takes some practice, concentration, and a small bit of nerve.

Yep, you definitely want to drive around these speed bumps:

These rocks are not 'fiberglass compatible':

photo by Jacob

They can be a little tough on bare feet, as well.

We were riding in Preacher's boat again on this trip, and of course he seems to know every grain of sand in this country personally. It's still a thrill to ride with him over water that you would swear is no thicker than a spill. When we got back to Leeward and hauled his boat, I saw something that made me feel a little better about my own boat handling...:

Yes, even Preacher shaves it a little too fine from time to time. Every boat down here has an outboard motor with a sand polished skeg. If you see one with all the original paint on it, I would guess that either the boat isn't being used or the owner smashed his last outboard and just bought a new one.

Back on Providenciales, we had some other things to do between boat trips. Dooley, for example, got into some heated political discussions with the neighbors' cat.

The cat, of course, seemed to be trying to maneuver Dooley closer to the pool. Little does he know that tricking Dooley into the swimming pool would be like throwing B'rer Rabbit into the briar patch. I guess cats figure getting wet would be a horrible and fitting justice for a yapping dog. Maybe from their perspective it is, but Dooley knows the ways of cats. And doesn't mind getting wet at all. The fools.

One of my sons swears he sees a face in these clouds.

photo by Jacob

I wondered if we should make him start wearing a hat in the sun, myself.

Having guests over the holidays completely destroyed our cache of conch chili. It's pretty popular, especially over Texmati rice with a suitable dollop of shredded cheddar on it. They cleaned us out. So it made sense to run out a few miles onto the Caicos Banks and see if we could find some conch while I still had some slave labor to help clean it. It wasn't really a question as to whether I could find some. I have come up with a method for locating productive conch areas, and so far it's working just fine. We picked up three dozen in a little over thirty minutes, still taking time to explore some coral heads. So this is the first TCI conch aboard the Contender:

First fishing trip we caught a rainbow dolphin. First conch diving trip a total success. I would say this boat is adapting to our lifestyle just fine. I hope this week sets the tone for the rest of 2009.

It was a bit choppy on the Banks, so we pulled the boat into the lee of another small cay back close to the island to clean the conch.

This is not very far from our house. In fact, we can see this little cay from the front porch. It's the small one in the center of this photo:

I took that photo of two of the boys making a run into town in the Suzuki. I thought it would be nice to know they were keeping it on the left side of the road. That's another new experience for them, and they seemed to handle it just fine. I figure it will be good for them should they ever need to drive in England, Australia, New Zealand....oh....and here of course.

After we cleaned the conch we decided to take on a small DIY project that was waiting for an opportunity like this: the boat anchored in calm, shallow water with a sand bottom. Over time the rubber flaps that keep water out of the scuppers had bent to the outside. Horrible working conditions for the repair but sometimes you have to just tough it out:

I couldn't find any replacements here (what else is new) and decided to try turning the old ones inside out. One of my sons rocked the boat over to the side while the other one repaired the scupper. I could get used to this 'delegating' thing. Frees me up to take photos.

And now the water doesn't gush in when we get into lumpy water. I will still need to replace these fittings but this certainly bought us some time to find the right ones.

So, the 'kids' are all scattered again. Things are quiet tonight. We will be getting back into our normal sort of schedule, post holidays. And speaking of 'post-holiday' issues...some of us, those who are not supposed to be on the furniture...

...are just going to have to learn to get through the day without someone slipping them pizza crusts when they thought the old man wasn't looking.


Cassie said...

This was a fun post! Great pictures, and I'm afraid I see a face as well in the cloud! I've had my fair share of serious sunburns though, so I would get the hat out for him just in case....

I'm glad that you found Wilson, I can stop mourning now. I'm still a little peeved at Tom Hanks for not going after him however!!!

I bet that is really scary keeping the boat up on plane while dodging rocks!

literacylady said...

Glad to hear you found Wilson, too! A quick question which you my have already answered and I missed it: What is gas costing you these days? (It's gone down muchisimo here in the states.) For comparison's sake, what does a foray to Pine Cay marina cost now versus 6 months ago?

Anonymous said...

Well, six months ago we were running a smaller boat and kept it a lot closer to Pine Cay. But just to adjust it apples to apples for comparison sake, six months ago it would have cost us about $ 90. USD in fuel to run our present boat from our present marina to Pine Cay and back.

This week the same trip would cost us about $50. in fuel.

Last week when we fueled up the marina was charging $ 3.75 per US gallon. The marina prices are a little higher than the gas station prices. I think the gas station prices are down to around $ 3.50 a gallon right now.

A tank of diesel in the Land Rover can last us a month, at about 30 or so MPG. The Suzuki gets similar mileage on gasoline, and I have not filled it up since early November.

Anonymous said...

Sir Reel wrote:

Yep.. I'm still following your adventures. I have to say I was very relieved to find that this latest post "Bits and Pieces" didn't have anything to do with boat damage and/or fiberglass shards floating around. Good use of misc pictures and activities. Have a great year!

Anonymous said...

Nope, no fiberglass shards. I have dinged the skeg already, by just nonchalantly heading through an area we had scooted over a hundred times before. But I am getting reprogrammed to the much deeper draft of the Contender.

In fact, just this morning we were talking about changing where we spend our time fishing. It used to be about a fifteen mile trip from this marina to where we liked to troll, off the reef outside Ft. George and Parrot Cay. Now we have to swing way out on the Banks to clear the shoals that we used to skip over in Cay Lime. So that trip is now more like 17 or 18 miles each way, with the first half of it in pretty nervous conditions.

But if we left here and headed SSW, we are only 15 miles from the reef on that side. It's away from the shoals, so we could really haul at cruise RPM and cut our travel time way down without the pucker factor. Additionally, heading SSW in the morning would put the sun at our back going, and coming back in the afternoon would put the sun at our back returning.

We like this factor, as well. Going to Pine Cay and returning late afternoon the sun is low in the sky and blinding from when we clear Leeward all the way home. Additionally, having good vision of the water in front of us is way more important in this boat.

So we are going to start fishing a new area for us. It just makes sense on many fronts, and besides, those reefs between French Cay and West Caicos are not nearly as fished as the ones on the other side. And we get to become accustomed to being out of sight of land a big part of the day.

Anonymous said...


I am Miguel,...Mike53c,... from the Bird and his combo forum.

I just "discovered" your blog....and oh boy!, what a great site have I been missing...

My playing ground is very similar to yours only much, much, much smaller.

Unfortunately a few years ago we lost must of the coral, the reefs remain, but mainly of dead coral.

First the black, long spiny sea urchins disappeared in just a couple of months.
And we were happy because it made wadding and snorkeling in shallow water much easier...but we should have known that something was wrong.... after a couple of years all the coral was gone.

Looking your pictures brought so nice memories...
Over water it is still beautiful though.

When we began coming to Morrocoy, down here in Venezuela, our kids were 5 and 8 and they cried all the way home every time we left.

They grew loving Nature.

Now they are 30+ and don't cry, but boy,...they hate to leave.
Almost as much as we do ourselves.

Keep posting photos and writing....your stories are as good as your pictures....



Anonymous said...

Hello Miguel,
We are glad that you like the blog, and we really appreciate the comments. Sometimes we wonder if anyone is looking at it all, and then when we get comments it cheers us up and we keep going.

The reefs here seem healthy to me. I did see some white spots on coral a couple years ago, when a lot of dredging was going on in both Leeward and Dellis Cut. But that has all stopped now, and hopefully it will all return to normal. There is no heavy industry here, or farming, or much that would hurt the coral being generated locally. I have never seen the long spined sea urchins here. The ones we do see are in deeper water, too deep to wade in. And they have short spines. And they are still looking healthy.

Anonymous said...

"We are glad that you like the blog, and we really appreciate the comments. Sometimes we wonder if anyone is looking at it all"

I check the site everyday. I just don't always leave comments, please keep the pics an stories coming. I love them!!


Anonymous said...

Maybe the boys would like to try driving on the Left here in the Virgin Islands next --because with the mountains,cliffsides and twisty roads they would become experts for the TCI terrain.
What a great blog - I am a waterman here so I love the pics and stories.

Anonymous said...

That's it , I'm selling everything and moving in next door............

I wish :-(

Anonymous said...

Like Travis, I check everyday. And since this post is (gasp) three days old, that means that I need my "fix".
You are very generous to share about your life in TCI. It really warms me to read your posts. Thank you for having this blog.

Anonymous said...

I too contstantly check for new posts. I suspect many of us live vicariously through you.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the nice comments. We spent a long day yesterday back on Middle Caicos, and got what I think are a lot of nice photos. We will be posting those as soon as I finish cropping the better ones to fit. Lot of remote beach pictures.

You know, if you click on the the "suscribe to email updates" box at the beginning of the blog page, you will get an email every time there is something new posted here.