Monday, February 23, 2009

A new toy.

The previous blog post here ended with this photo of the arrival at the house of our new toy.

No, not the Land Rover.. That's now an old toy...the new toy is in the cardboard box. We waited two weeks for a kayak we ordered from a Hobie dealer in Florida.  Nautical Ventures, if you're looking for a really good Hobie dealer.  The kayak finally arrived late Monday on an ocean freighter. I was able to get it cleared through Customs in only about three hours total effort, involving two trips into Providenciales. The way this works is that we get a call from the freight company that our freight has arrived. They ask if we want them to clear it and deliver it. For $ 250. I decided that for about a half day's effort I could just save the money.

So, after the call that the freight is in, and the decision to clear it myself because I'm frugal, the first step is to drive to the freight office and pick up the paperwork, invoice, bill of lading, etc.  This is a sheaf of papers. Then I drive to the Customs House, and buy an "entrance form" for seventy five cents. This is the 'fun' part, filling out the entrance form. It has a lot of mysterious terms and acronyms to work through but fortunately the TCI Customs people are very helpful. They help with terms like 'C.P.C., Exporter Codes, Declarant Codes, Tariff Codes, Duty Bases', etc etc. Then I leave the form with them, along with all the paperwork from the freight company and exporter. If I get this all done before 11:00 AM I can pick up the clearance after 3:00 the same day. If I submit it after 11:00 I can pick it up the next day.  Or the next business day.  You can probably tell I have some experience at this.  Not much of it good.   I made the deadline, so  went to run some other errands while my paperwork worked through the system.

At 3:00 PM I returned to Customs, wait in line again, and then comes the part where they try to find the paperwork. This can take, in my experience, anything from five minutes to  an hour. Eventually they always seem to locate it sitting in one unfiled pile or another. This form tells   how much import duty is owed, and in the case of boats here in 2009, that works out to about 11% of the boat price. After this I go stand in another line to pay the duty, and then sit around the waiting area watching television.  For about a half an hour this time.  Not real busy.  Thenl an agent calls me over.  Interrupting Oprah. The agent strips out all the copies of the various forms they need, and leaves me with the receipt verifying that I paid the duty. I am now done with customs, and can drive back to the freight company. I pay them their freight charges,which is a totally different thing entirely from the customs duty.  After I have a receipt from their front office verifying that I have paid the freight charges, I take that and my customs duty receipt and wander into their warehouse and they then start the process of looking for my shipment. This can take from five minutes, to (in this case) about half an hour or so. The package was loaded in the Land Rover, and I was home with it by late afternoon.

Out of the box it's all buckled up in it's own rolling travel case. Neat.

Assembled and inflated, and yes, it was dark by this time. I get kinda carried away with assembling new toys.

These things have a zillion little pieces and parts. I guess that's what happens when you take a simple design like a kayak and turn enough engineers loose on it for long enough. Fortunately, I happen to like mechanical doodads. For example, this is one of the two Hobie "Mirage Drives" that came with the kayak:

The inventor of this contraption got the idea from watching how penguins use their flipper-like wings underwater. Of coure we have already removed the stock flippers and put longer "turbo" models on it. Before we even got it wet.

The next morning I grabbed my coffee and sat down to read some instruction manuals and out of the corner of my eye I saw this thing in the slanted morning sunlight:

Man, did that ever make me do a double take. While I am sure I didn't move or scream or any of that stuff, it got my attention I hesitate to tell you what I thought it was, but a big ugly bug was high on the list.  I could see it's evil little eyes.  Big ferocious fangs.  And some kind of scary looking stinging device dripping venom from it's tail.  I swear I could see all this with just this one glance. After I snuck up on it like a creaky old Ninja wannabe with a flip flop shoe  to smash it with, I realized what it was. A small scrap of cardboard box I had cut while opening the kayak accessories package in the house the night before had fallen to the floor and the sunlight was shining exactly through the corrugated parts...

Sure got MY heart thumping... between the venomous centipedes, free roaming scorpions, and wasps as mean as they come , we have seen some serious bugs here. I was happy not to have discovered some new species this morning.

Okay, back to the topic...New it snugged up to the top of the Defender and went looking for someplace to launch it and start fine tuning all the little adjustments it needs.

So here we are, first time in an inflatable kayak with Mirage drives assembled, installed, and adjusted. They work!

We went pedalling out past the Little Five Cays, and found a moderate chop running. No problems, the inflatable is really solid.

One of the Little Five  Cays, near our house. Great snorkeling there.

We travelled about two and a half miles the first day, pedal drive power alone. We even went into a new marina here under construction and took a look at a little cottage being completed by one of our future neighbors. This is all one property:

A shame to have to settle for a hovel of a beach house like that, in this day and age.  I sure hope their full time homes have some room in them.  That place looks cramped.   This is sarcasm. Or my version of it.

Our legs were pretty tired after the first kayak outing, but we already knew we liked the boat. All boats are compromises, to some extent. Our panga, for example, was a calculated compromise for these waters from the very start. We were looking for a good all around boat that would handle moderate swells and handle moderately shallow water. It did both of those, but wasn't as good offshore as the Contender is, nor was it able to go as shallow as a flats boat. A compromise.

But now we have a different approach. The Contender is a far superior ocean boat than the panga. We have found ourselves in ten foot seas a couple of times now, and are constantly amazed at well it handles bigger waves and chop. But in gaining this superior ocean boat, we did have to give up the shallow water exploring. So our hopes with the kayak is to open up the shallow water stuff again, and be able to have a separate boat for each scenario. In fact one of the things we like about the inflatable is that we will be able to put this kayak on the Contender and take them both anywhere in the TCI.

We did feel guilty when we got home after that first days kayaking. Dooley the Disheartened took one look at our wet clothes and the sand stuck to our feet and got really miffed. He just KNEW we had been to a beach or boating without him. He retreated to his room and was humming along with "Hound Dog Blues" for a while. Sad.

The next day was a bit calmer, and we thought we would try the sail kit that we got with the kayak. A mistake.

There were still too many things that needed adjusting and the sail just complicated things to the point where we decided that until we get a feel for the rest of the boat we are going to leave the sail at home. We still managed to boat about 3 and a half miles in the ocean on our second day with the kayak.

We have gotten our method down for getting it on and off the Defender.

(I just knew that aluminum plate I put on the 'bonnet' would come in handy sooner or later)

This time when we got home Dooley the Disrespected was really in a funk. He was moping around the house grumbling and listening to Chris Isaak music. Two days in a row we went boating without him. Unforgiveable. We figured that on the next trip we would take him along and see if he was going to be able to adapt to the change from the Contender to a rubber kayak.

Finally, yesterday we felt comfortable enough with the boat to actually go explore someplace new. We picked Chalk Sound for our first little excursion. It was La Gringa' idea and since we were having 20 mph winds out of the East the protected water seemed like a good idea.

Chalk Sound is a National Park in the TCI. We had seen it many times, of course, and knew that no power boats are allowed there, and that it has dozens of small cays in it. This is a Google Earth image showing Chalk Sound. The line in the lower left is one mile, for scale:

You can just make out all the little islands in the sound, many of them not much more than rocks. We loaded up the rubber duckie and the dog this time, and headed over. We launched the boat in an area protected from the wind. La Gringa took some photos, including this view of Chalk Sound from the Eastern shore:

The water is a light turquoise, and very clear. When it isn't being stirred up by the wind. Didn't look too gnarly to us, so away we went:

"Hey, this is easy!" we thought, as we headed directly downwind toward the first set of islands. You can tell the wind direction by the line of foam (called spindrift) running straight in front of us.

Dooley the Drenched (he had been swimming) was not too crazy about being told he had to stay on the back of the kayak. He kept trying to re-negotiate a seat up in First Class. But letting him wander in and out of those two sets of moving pedals was not a good idea. His tail is short enough as it is.

You can hopefully get an idea of what the water there is like. The photos really don't do it justice. It is almost iridescent. (Whoa! I just noticed from that photo that SOMEbody is overdue for a whisker trim. And it ain't Dooley.)

By the time we got about a mile out away from the protection of the shore the choppy waves were getting up there a bit. This is us approaching the near end of that first string of little cays.

Going this way was easy. But imagine coming back into those waves in that little boat later.
We were surprised to see quite a bit of vegetation on the cays. There is no source of fresh water here.

We got to the end of that first string of rocks and it was turning out to be a very pleasant trip running downwind. At this point we were deciding whether to go even further or to make our way over to the slightly protected shoreline to the North. Knowing we would be fighting the wind and waves all the way back we opted to keep this first excursion kinda short and come back on a calmer day to explore the rest of it in a more leisurely fashion.

All of these limestone cays have the typical undercut rock edges that are so common here. Still, we saw plenty of what looked like nice private picnic spots.

Chalk Sound is just off the approach end of Provo's International Airport. We just happened to be there when the US Air flight bringing down La Gringa' brother and sister-in-law was landing. We gave them a big wave, but I doubt they noticed the two people and little dog in a kayak below:

This is what happens when the wind and waves eventually dissolve the rock enough that it can no longer support the overhanging edge. It collapses into the water.

Not far from that last rock we spotted what looked like a piece of some kind of metal wreckage. At first we thought it must be a sunken boat, but it wasn't rusty, really. Just grungy. So it wasn't steel. We were asking ourselves if maybe it was an aluminum boat of some kind.

But after a closer look we discovered that it is what's left of the instrument panel, cowling, and firewall of a small airplane. I guess if you are not going to make the runway, ditching in the sound's shallow warm water would be a good option. Sure beats going down in the solid rock hills all around us. You might be able to walk away from this one.

Dooley still wasn't all that crazy about being forced to ride in the back, but after we told him it was actually Business Class he put up with it. He's easy to distract if you tell him to keep an eye out for monster barracuda.

After cruising down the shoreline, we decided we had better cut the trip short and start back. We had no idea how an inflatable kayak would handle going into the wind, which was actually picking up a bit at this point. You can see the path it was taking in this opening between cays:

Before leaving the shelter of the line of rocks out in the middle of the sound, we decided to stop for a rest break in the lee of one of the little cays. Dooley said he had some fresh water to drop off for the plants, or something to that effect:

The boat is really stable. We were able to relax for a few minutes before heading back directly into the wind.

Our Shore Patrol hopped onto the little cay to check for undocumented lizards. Or whatever else he could find.

"Hey, an entire island with nothing already marked! I claim this land in the name of Dooley!"

It's not exactly the kind of shoreline that makes you comfortable about hauling an inflatable boat onto it. Or walking on it barefooted for that matter.

Nice water, though.

This is the rudder control on the kayak. Nice feature. You can pretty much just set it and not touch it again until you need to make a change:

The pedals don't go around and around like on a paddlewheel type system. They just go back and forth. Sort of like a recumbent stairmaster machine. The paddles clip to the sides. Nice touch.

You'll notice the boat was wet in that photo. So were we. I wish I had thought to take some video during the worst of it, but we were almost back in the clear by the time I remembered that I had the capability.

You can still hear the wind noise in the video. So, turn on your speakers and....

Just Push Play

We were very impressed with the Mirage Drives. Two of these let us power through the waves and into the wind without any real problems. Other than getting totally soaked going back.

(We were also very impressed with Nautical Ventures, out of Ft. Lauderdale. If you are looking for a boat and kayak dealer in that area we would highly recommend their help and service.)

Now all loaded up and ready to head home. Dooley the Dehydrated is already in the truck and ready to go. Heck, if he had the keys and could reach the pedals he would be gone already..

Still nice and calm water up at this end. Sure doesn't look like that out in the middle a mile and a half away.

A last view of Chalk Sound before heading home with plans to return on a calmer day and spend a lot more time exploring some of the larger rocks.

It will nice to be able to see what's on the bottom,too. Once the water clears up.

And finally back at the little house on the hill, another day comes to an end.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Into every life...

A little rain must fall. We know that. And we know we are not immune, but it would be okay with us if it picked days when we were not out fishing, but hey, you gotta take the bad with the good. And this post has both. The winter weather continues, with days of eye-watering wind and some seriously lumpy ocean interrupted from time to time by a day or so of relative calm while Mother Nature inhales. We have become serious weather observers while living here. Oh, we watched the television weather dudes when we lived in the States, of course. When the weather warranted keeping an eye on. Had to know what to expect. But here we seem to be aware of it continuously. Maybe because we are pretty much immersed in it full time. With the trade winds coming right across the ocean and up this slope over our home, we are part of the weather. The house is open to it, normally. There is no glass in our windows. We live in the weather.

This would be a typical sunrise on one of the calmer days lately, the sight that greeted us when we first opened the door to let Dooley the Desperate out for his morning bush call.

That's not too bad, and Sunday afternoon we decided to grab a few fishing poles and take the boat out for a quick afternoon fishing trip. Just to see what was biting, and to get out on the ocean. The fishing is really just an excuse to be on the boat. At least that's what we tell ourselves when we don't catch any fish. It works.

This is the route we took Sunday afternoon, just a swing up through Leeward-Going-Through ( and you can see why it got that name) and then up and outside the reef for some trolling, and back. About forty something miles all told.

You might notice that we swing way out past the shoals on the Caicos Bank these days, instead of taking the direct route up to Leeward. That is because our 'new' boat draws about a foot more water than our old boat, and there is some seriously shallow water there. With rocks and coral heads that seem to attract fiberglass and outboards like mobile homes try to attach themselves to tornadoes. That Google Earth image looks nice and clear, and it is usually nice and clear here. Really, most of the time. But not last Sunday. It was not nice and clear. It looked remarkably like this:

(There are some nice sunny tropical blue water photos in this post a little later, by the way. And absolutely no DIY stuff. Although I could tell you about the.....never mind)

We knew we were in for some grayscale when we saw this but we were determined to get some hooks wet, having come this far. We dodged squalls when we could..

La Gringa takes the wheel while I am in charge of fishing lines and Dooley the Disquieted keeps a weather eye out. He frets about weather, and heavy dark clouds are specifically just the very exact type of weather that worries him the most. He is a nervous wreck if anything in the atmosphere even looks like it might harbor the basic ingredients for thunder.

And this day qualified high on the thunder potential scale as far as he was concerned.

Sure enough, we finally met a squall we couldn't dodge, and the rain poured down. We could no longer see the islands, and while boat t-tops are good for shade, they really don't do much for you in a driving rain. Well, THAT was a washout fishing trip. Literally.

In fact, right before we decided to call it quits we were reduced to huddling in the one small dry spot on the boat near one corner of the console. And you can probably guess who was smack dab in the middle of that:

"Is it time to go home yet??? PLEASE??"

This is the reef off of Leeward looking back after we came in through the cut and you can see the swells breaking over the shallow parts.

Not so tropical looking this time. The brown looking water around the breakers is the surface of the reef just below the waves.

So, we headed home, and got in just before dark. Which also happened to be just about when the storms moved on, and it was starting to look like things were taking a turn for the better again. As they always seem to do, eventually.

Monday morning the day was looking like a real winner, and we decided to do something that we had been talking about for a year or so. We typically have gone to someplace outside the reefs on the north side of the islands to fish. The reef is only a mile or so offshore in most places so we are never really very far from land. We have been wondering what the fishing is like on the other side of the Caicos Bank. It is about fifteen or so miles from Providenciales, and most of it is out of sight of land. We decided the time was right, we had the weather and a very seaworthy boat, so we went for it. Here is Providenciales fading into the distance behind us,

as we headed for the southern tip of the island of West Caicos. This is the path we ended up taking on this trip:

We kept heading for that small group of clouds on the horizon. That puff on the left side of the cloud bank is over the far end of West Caicos:

Clouds form over islands when the wind blowing across the ocean gets forced upwards in order to go over the land. As the air goes up, it cools and water condenses. So this is a good way to tell where islands are likely to be. The clouds form continuously over the same spot where the wind hits the land, and while they get blown downwind new ones keep forming. It just keeps generating fresh clouds in the same place. If you look at the picture we took leaving Providenciales above, you can see the same thing happening there. The clouds form above the windward side.

After a while of zipping across the water we came to West Caicos, right under the clouds we had been aiming for:

I think the water here is some of the nicest I have ever seen anywhere in the world. We were in about 15 feet of water here, and could see the bottom as clearly as one would from the diving board over the deep end of a really clean swimming pool.

West Caicos is essentially uninhabited, especially these days with the resort project on the island in financial limbo. There has not been a permanent population here in over a hundred years. I guess 'permanent population' is not exactly correct, then, is it? There was no one on the beach, not even a foot print. We were in a rush to get to the reef to try fishing, but this water was so nice we cruised along the shore checking it out on the way. We spotted wrecked Haitian sloops, with this one being almost intact:

That boat is about thirty feet long.

There are plenty of nice small deserted beaches, isolated by the remoteness of the island and separated from each other by the rocky sections of the shoreline:

Dooley the Determined was really wanting to go ashore to explore, and I'll admit that the idea was very appealing.

The water is plenty deep enough to take the boat right up near the beach and anchor.

Some of the small sandy sections are completely covered in seashells a foot deep, with no one there to pick through them. A shell collector could go nuts here:

As we got near the end of the island we could see that the land flattened out a bit. We were going over rocks that seemed to be just inches below the surface, but we still had ten feet of water here.

I am really interested in taking a look at some of the caves we could spot even on this brief cruise-by:

That one is big enough to stand in. We could not tell from the water how deep it might be.

There are some apparently abandoned, futuristic structures here, along with a small cove and what looks like the beginnings of an unfinished boat ramp:

Here's another view of that, as we boated by:

Although our curiosity was going wild at this point and we were sorely tempted to just anchor the boat and explore, we decided to stick with the mission, which was to go troll outside the reef. We promised ourselves that we will pack a lunch and some snorkeling equipment and come back to this part of West Caicos for some exploring at the next opportunity.

Meanwhile, we put some lines out and started trolling. Within minutes something hit the lure hard enough to break 65 lb. braided wire leader. We never saw what it was, it just bent one of the rods almost double, and then it was gone. So of course we got pretty excited, and kept fishing. And we caught fish. Lots of fish. A half dozen or more, but the problem is that every one of them was a barracuda. Decent sized barracuda, to be sure, but they were not what we were hoping for.

Well, not what La Gringa and I were hoping for, anyhow. Now Dooley is another matter. He thinks all fish need to be bitten. It's his way of participating in the fishing, I guess. I know HE thinks he's fishing. He sees this as his own little part of the mission, and even though some of these barracuda are bigger than he is, doesn't seem to matter :

And even the smaller ones were getting him excited:

Other than the barracuda (which we threw back), we did not see much out there. The water is as you can see, crystal clear. It varies from a couple feet deep where there are sand bars on the edge of the reef, to a very steep underwater slope that keeps on going down to 7,000 feet just a short distance out. In several hours of fishing, we saw a few other boats in the distance but otherwise had the ocean to ourselves. Oh, one tug boat came by and crossed our wake on it's way to Providenciales:

But that was the closest we got to anyone else all day. Finally we had worked our way along the reef all the way to French Cay. It was getting late in the day, I was tired of unhooking barracuda, and we decided to call it quits on the fishing. Once through French Cut, we had clear water all the way back to Provo. The average depth was between 9 and 12 feet deep all the way back. Except for when it was suddenly four feet deep over any one of a zillion uncharted coral heads. This one is about ten feet across:

Once again we just made it back before dark. Having been boating for three days in a row, on
Tuesday we more or less just took a break. We had boated over 140 miles in two days and were a bit sunburned and weary. We didn't manage to hook any keeper fish, but we sure found an area we intend to go back to when we have time to spend hours on the beach exploring.

Ah, then Wednesday came and I was able to clear our new kayak through customs! We have been waiting two weeks for this. As you can see I was losing daylight when I backed the box into the garage to begin putting this thing together:

Can you believe there is a fourteen foot tandem kayak with Hobie Mirage drives, two paddles, and a mast and sail in that box and one other small one? It even comes in it's own rolling luggage case!

So over the next few days we expect to be trying our hand at kayaking again. We think this kayak should fit on board the Contender, and this combination should be good for some more blog photos. It is also going to give us the ability to get into some places to explore where we could never take the bigger boat.

Can hardly wait for the next stretch of good weather, and it should be any day now.
In the meantime, here's what was almost a really nice sunset.