Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Day Races, '09

Finally, after what seems like weeks of howling winds and high seas, the weather has taken a momentary break from its winter attacks.

And this break just happily happened to coincide with the now-established and 9th more-or-less-annual Valentine's Day Model Sloop Races on Middle Caicos.

We made the trip over in '06, and then totally missed '07 and '08 due to our inattention, lack of planning, and life just getting in the way. But this year our friend Preacher called us up and asked if we wanted to go. Weather looked perfect, and it all worked out to put together an absolutely fantastic day. Especially for mid-February.

We met Preacher in Leeward, and boated over to Pine Cay to pick up the keys to JR's oft-borrowed truck on Middle Caicos. Along the way we noticed how quickly the view from Pine Cay to Dellis Cay is changing with the construction of this half billion dollar resort that is taking up the entire island. To be blunt, of course we don't like it.

But we won't dwell on that whole situation. Anyone who follows the news down here pretty much knows what's been going on there. So, on to more pleasant thought...the ocean is almost calm for a change! On the boat ride over we could look out over the reef and see the kinds of scenes we prefer, 40 foot catamarans swinging peacefully at anchor.

Once we trade boat for wheels, it is still an hour's drive down to Bambarra Beach. We made a rest stop along the way, and it was where Windward-Going-Through divides North Caicos from Middle Caicos. This is where the old ferry stop used to be, back before the government built the causeway there to the right connecting the two islands.

Yes, no kidding, this is the "ferry terminal." Two years ago, this was the end of the (dirt) road on North Caicos.

Since we had plenty of time to get there, we decided to ride along the old, original road that runs down the coast of Middle Caicos. It is just a single, one-lane track through the dunes that has been basically unchanged since mules pulling carts established it in the 1800's. For many, many years this was the only road:

It's not ugly.

This is Gamble Point, and that stretch of un-broken blue water out near the breakers on the reef is Gamble Cut. It's one of the few ways that boats can come from the open ocean in to the calmer water inside the reef.

We finally made our way to Bambarra Beach, and it was still uncrowded at late morning.

Of course most of the people were not here yet. It is not such a simple thing to attend these races, ya know. In our case, we left the house at 08:30, and without wasting a lot of time it still took us three hours just to get here. Some people fly into the North or Middle Caicos airstrips and start searching for a ride. Many people take the water taxi from Leeward to North Caicos' Sandy Point and catch the one hour vehicle ride from does take a bit of a commitment to get here, because of course no matter how you got here, you are going to have to repeat that process to get home again. So in our case, that's a good five hours out of the day just travelling. But the isolation does tend to keep the general holiday mob away. And that makes it pretty nice. Just before noon people started arriving in numbers.

The boat races have two age classes, and two boat classes. There are the under-12 year old kids, and the over-12 year old kids, and then the under-35 inch in length boats and the over-35 inch boats. Pretty simple. The contestants start on the beach, and sail their boats out around a moored buoy and back to the beach. The skippers can touch the boats to adjust sail trim or rudder position, and then are supposed to let the boat sail freely. They absolutely, positively, cannot push the boats (theoretically) and will be admonished through a loudspeaker if caught at it. Each time.

Here are a couple of the under-35 inch boats, which are fairly typical of the basic design using sloop rigs and a weatherboard.

Basically it has to be a sloop, meaning single hull and single mast. It does not have to have a weatherboard, and indeed the third place winner this year was a beautiful scale model of a Bermudian sloop. And it should have been second place, if it had taken a shorter line back to the beach.

Here we have the under-12 year old skippers being gently herded to the waterline for the start of their race:

And a bit later the start of the Over-12 year, under-35 inch mob's race:

While the crowd on the beach relaxed with beer, soft drinks, and lunch, the fiercely competitive and adrenaline-pumping offshore regatta continued....

The rounding of the buoy! You can almost feel the excitement...

There's the first, third, and second place boats screaming toward the beach...

While the rest of the field tacks and jibes still fine tuning their boats to make the transition from upwind to downwind saiing:

Back on the beach, of course, the tension was so thick you could have watched it slowly melting in the mid-day sun..but finally the spectators heaved a collective sigh of relief, for some reason. And once again the intrepid sailors had managed to safely complete the open water navigation of these boats through a difficult and complicated course.....

Which was also an excuse for another round of refreshments and continuing the party.

The competitors and spectators were a complex mix of nationalities. One of the competitors is 50% of the Middle Caicos police force..

And we had some innovative yacht design including the inclusion of on-board consumables for the duration of the race:

I realize the beach looks crowded in these photos, but it's not, really. The entire population of Middle Caicos is probably 300 people, and about a third of them were here on this stretch for the races. Add another couple hundred coming in from the other islands, and the total crowd was probably less than 300. That's about the size of the line at the Sno-Cone machine on many beaches I have visited in my life.

In fact, if one just turned their back on the 'boating-crowd' here, the beauty and isolation of the beach comes right back into focus:

La Gringa took most of the boat race photos for this post. I was having a bad-knees day and tended to relax on the blanket where she told me and Dooley to "sit", and "stay".

And there comes Preacher in that photo. Of course he knew most of the several hundred people at the scene and was so busy getting caught up with island news that he missed the first two races. But that would be easy to do if one was not paying attention. Or even if one was just here for a nice day at the beach and really didn't give a rat's hip pocket about the toy boats..

Preacher did eventually get focused on the boats, just before we had to leave to start back to Provo. Here he is observing Brodie and H (our good friend and architect of this house) getting warmed up for the over-35 inch race.

After watching for a few minutes, Preacher told me that fifty years ago he built toy boats like this to race, but that the ones they built were much faster. "O-HO!" thought I, and asked him what was different about the boats he remembered building. Come to find out, he remembers how they were built very well, and his experience supported some of my observations. This led to some discussions and the general trend of this is that we can expect to see both Preacher and Gringo competing with their own boats in next year's race. That's the present plan, anyhow.

We could not stay for the rest of the festivities, which I am certain carried on into the night in many cases. But we had a borrowed truck to return and a boat trip back to Provo before dark to complete. So we left not knowing how the over-12 kids with their 0ver-35 inch boats did. I am sure we will be hearing about it, eventually.

The ride back to Provo was smooth and calm. Dooley the Delusional was enjoying the day as much as anybody. Sometimes I wonder what goes on in that furry little mind of his on these excursions.

"Here's the fearless SeaDog, keen eye to the horizon as he scans for opportunity on land or sea with the fresh salt breeze blowing his ears back. Nothing can disturb his stern concentration..."

Except maybe "Did you hear thunder?"

Back at the house this week it's been the usual. A couple more DIY projects completed, and to spare you the agony I won't go into construction details this time. I managed to finally, for example, cut up the 8 foot diamter aluminum sat dish that the hurricanes destroyed. My first project with that was a drip-pan for the work bench.

That's just something I can use when I have to work on something that is dripping fluids. I have also found that it works as a good place to apply finish to little wood projects. And it only took a couple hours and a small pile of Band-Aid wrappers to complete!

And I continue to build some frames for various things that La Gringa Suprema wants frames for. This one was actually a mistake. I made it too big for the place she wanted to hang it, so I built another one the right size, and just made a stand for the back side of this one.

I guess I got a little carried away playing with wood scraps and power tools..I just figured out that this has 25 different pieces of wood in it. A bit busy. We are just going to stick various photos in in until she decides what she wants to do with it.

We have several days of good weather forecast right now and are planning to take the Contender out fishing this afternoon. We are planning a trip to West Sand Spit with Preacher sometime soon, and we have ordered a new kayak from the US and expect it to be here tomorrow. With some luck we will have it cleared through customs and be able to get some more photos from that before the winds kick up again. And they will kick up again. So there should be a few decent late-winter posts coming up in the next week. Please check in from time to time for more photos of two gringos and a dog stumbling around in the middle of a different life.


spawnofgringo said...

hey pops-
great post glad you and la gringa had fun, love the pictures hope you had a good v-day. wish i was still there, miss you both
love ya
spawn of gringo

Matt Cook said...

Still with you through every THT post and all these Blog entries. Thank you for staying with it!

I never tire of reading or seeing your life down there.

Gringo, someone said 'Hello' for you on the forum recently... I had a good laugh!

I'm sure the "Audience" has grown since the begining, but thank you for not getting stage fright!!

Matt in Alabama.

Bill said...

You have a great blog and I always enjoy your posts! Its always exciting when I see that you've posted something new. The photos really add to it too, a nice bit of escapism from the NY winter.

Keep em' coming!

Anonymous said...

Great post... I got a good chuckle out of the bandaid comment. It does look a little sharp in some places.


Anonymous said...

We are really glad to see that people still like the blog after all this time. I can't believe this has now gotten up to 185 posts. Amazing, when it started as just putting up some photos on a boating forum.

We were out fishing in the rain on Sunday, and then made our biggest boat trip yet on Monday, fishing the south side of the reefs between West Caicos and French Cay.

Beautiful water off West Caicos, really spectacular. I will post some photos, probably today. Right now I need to go clear a kayak out of customs. That should be good for some more photos, too.