Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Goodbye March...

It is finally feeling like springtime again down here. We know that it might not seem like there is much of a difference just judging from the photos, but there really is a difference to the people who live here year round. Really, there is. We get cold when the temperature drops below 75 F.

I thought I would squeeze one more small blog post in here this last day of March '09. Mainly because we have some stuff planned for later this week,and these photos are going to be obsolete shortly. I may as well 'use them up' while they are still new.

The sunrises are happening a little further north every morning, which for us means that they are moving slowly to the left in these photos we take looking east:

And we are starting to see a day or two in a row here and there without the 15-20 mph winds. Yesterday La Gringa and I took Dooley the Dastardly Dog down to check on the boat. We started the motor. Then we decided the batteries would charge faster if we took it out of the slip and ran the motor up...well...to shorten this story, we ended up running it sixty miles at wide open throttle. Whoowheee. Bring on the summer!

We are still hopping in the 'new boat' several times a week. And in fact, we have figured out ( I should actually give credit where due and say La Gringa figured out) that if we just used the Samurai instead of the Land Rover, we could leave the boat on the vehicle and put them both in the garage ready to go:

Yes, I know the garage is a mess but hey, there is a lot of stuff going on in there. Usually. And that's my excuse, and I am sticking to it.

We bopped out day before yesterday for a quick kayak run, in fact. Instead of staying in the nice protected canals we took advantage of a break in the wind and scooted out into the actual ocean a bit. I didn't take a lot of photos, but we did go check out a small cay a couple hundred meters off of Provo:

Really not much to say about it, it's a lot like many of the other similar little islands here. But I thought it made a good photo. Looks like a good, private spot for a picnic, doesn't it? Maybe a few lobster lurking on the other side where it's deeper. And it's always deeper on the windward side. Always.

And it won't be here forever, as a look at the windward end of it illustrates:

Yep. It's got that 'undercut and fall into the ocean' syndrome going on. I guess the good news is that it takes a few hundred years, near as I can figure, for the waves to erode enough under the edges for the rock to fall over. But it does happen. Then it starts all over again. I was wondering, if the Global Warming fanatics are right, and the ocean is becoming more acidic due to CO2 absorption...will limestone islands start falling apart even quicker? Stands to reason, doesn't it?

Anyhow, after we left there and were headed back into the Southside Marina, we passed over an ominous shape that we could tell came up to within a few feet of the surface. We looped around it trying to get some photos, but the water was so stirred up by all the recent wind that the visibility has not had time to settle down back to it's normal gin clear mode. We are, of course, interested in rocky things that come close to the surface in areas where we are likely to be running the Contender. The first photo didn't come out all that great, with the sun behind me like conventional photography wisdom would have it:

So we circled the kayak around and grabbed a photo just as a small wave went over the top of it, acting sort of like a lens to bring it out a little:

With the sun in our faces, it let the shadow define the rock, or wreck, or whatever it is. We will definitely be back with some snorkel gear to take a look at this thing when the water clears up. Don't you just hate this cloudy looking sea water?

Headed back into the entrance of the Southside Marina, I snapped a photo of two of the channel markers, for you small boat drivers out there. How would you like to be doing this approach in a boat that drew, say, six feet, in the dark, in a storm?

Keep telling yourself, 'Red on right, returning'...but also keep in mind that the moment you clear that green buoy to Port you need to do a -90 degree hard turn before you hit that beach. And you will hit it real suddenly. You want to end up over to the far left there, where the other masts are sticking up. Tricky.

"And now" (imagine television announcer voice..)" back to Real-World Wood Butchering by the artistically impaired"... yes, I do have my own little DIY projects going on here and there. I am finishing up the first section of this new computer desk/bookshelf "t'ingum' I am making for La Gringa's office:

That's our rat patrol dog checking things out in the lower left. A rat would have to be a natural born fool to even think of coming onto Mr. Dooley's property.

I had put a Google SketchUP of what I am doing in the previous post, if anyone is really interested. Just click on the 'older posts' button at the bottom right of this page. (And "t'ingum" is a local word used quite often to describe things that have a longer and more technical description available somewhere else. Usually somewhere else far away.)

Looking at that project after seeing some woodworker's efforts, it kinda makes me think I am doing the equivalent of laser eye surgery with a chainsaw. Some people take a piece of lumber and turn it into a work of art. I take a piece of lumber and just turn it into a shorter piece of lumber. Oh well. At least you'll be able to stand on mine. I don't know why one would want to. But the point is that you could.

We have some excursions planned for later in this week after a long time friend from the US comes down tomorrow. My oldest friend. Wait a minute, that didn't sound right. I don't mean that he is the oldest person I am friends with. I have a lot of older friends. I mean that he and I have been friends since we were fifteen years old. He's never been here before and we are going to show him around. Should produce some nice pictures.

I promise, I will try to get away from the kayak photos and find something interesting to write about next time. No April fooling.. And we are going fishing offshore in the big blue this afternoon. That's always a good potential for fun photos.

Oh, and of course if the sunrises are coming up a little bit further to the left every morning when we are looking to the east, it stands to reason that the sunsets would theoretically be coming down a little bit more to the right every night when we are looking to the west. And they do:

I know, I know, I moved back into the science portion of the program and forgot to mention that the art appreciation section ended several photos ago. I'll just blame that lapse on winter doldrums, because I KNOW y'all will never buy into a Seasonal Affective Disorder excuse from someone living here. Still, we are more than ready for springtime. ' We are ready for some serious boating and fishing. Another island phrase: 'soon come'.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Canals of Provo

We are still in the windy part of the winter here. Day after day of eight to ten foot seas offshore, and when the wind direction is right (or wrong, as the case seems to be) that also translates into an ugly little two to four foot chop on the Caicos Banks. It's usually pretty calm around dawn:

But it picks up pretty early. We don't let it stop us from necessary boat trips, but it does tend to curtail the long leisurely days spent offshore fishing. It's not much fun if it's not leisurely. We know the weather will be changing soon. In the meantime, we still find ourselves busy. We discovered that pedalling the kayak is perfect for getting a little workout while touring the numerous canal systems on Providenciales. I have also had a continuous stream of DIY projects going on. More on that later, but one of them started when La Gringa asked me if I could come up with some way to organize the silverware drawer. It looked pretty well organized to me,

but hey, it's an excuse to play with wood and power tools. I figured I could come up with something, and would think about it while we were out exploring canals.

Over a period of about a week we made three or four trips to various canals on Provo. The first batch is an area known as Discovery Bay. These canals are visible in this Google Earth image:

We launched the boat just right of the center at the bottom edge of that image, near the Southside Marina. We found a great spot to launch, and Dooley the Determined was in the water before we could even get the boat off the truck:

He won't go anywhere near a fresh water lake, but get him close to saltwater and he's in. Literally.

Here's another view of that general area, showing the marina there:

That one is through the plexiglass window of a 737 as we left the island headed for Texas last weekend. You can see some of the canals I am talking about here.

We started out touring the marina. Boats look bigger from water level:

We even thought we might stick our nose outside the protected water and maybe scope out the shoreline for any new wrecked sloops. This is looking out toward the Banks:

Looked pretty calm in that photo, and we actually did get out far enough to check out the chop, before deciding to turn around and spend the day in the canals instead. It was getting a bit 'lumpy' outside this point:

So we headed back into the marina,

Hung a left at the Flamingo Diving Center, and started up the canals.

It's nice to have the small boat to use when the wind is blowing offshore. All the canals are very protected from the wind, so that's not really a factor. There is a tidal current as well.

We found out early on that we needed to stay in the channel. This is the edge of 'Flamingo Lake".

And it's easy to see that the water quickly goes from six or seven feet deep right up to exposed at low tide. Here's another look at that edge

I guess these would be what could be described as 'salt-tolerant' plants. I don't know what they are, although we did see a lot of buttonwoods. And mangrove, of course. That stuff is everywhere.

We are still seeing signs of hurricane damage to boats here and there. The boat in the water here had some obvious rigging issues that looked wind-related.

The boat on the shore is in pretty good shape.

We are also seeing some boats that, sadly, are not likely to ever sail again.

We're still in the 'training' phase with Dooley the Disillusioned. He thinks he should be able to ride up on the front of the boat. We don't agree with him, and therein lies the dispute.

He's learning. Actually I think he already has learned. Now we are fighting stubbornness laced with a liberal amount of pig-headed. The dog is being difficult, too.

He was spoiling for some excitement, and managed to get into a shouting match with a couple of local dogs defending their turf from loud-mouthed little pirates like Dooley:

Just Push Play

The water in the canals is clean and clear, like most of the seawater in this little country.

We didn't get very far the first day in the canals. We probably explored about three miles worth. We had to head home to beat sundown, and wanted to stop by our slip to check on our real boat. We check on it in person every few days when we are not taking it out, and of course I check it several times a day using binoculars from the house. I like to check the lines, start the motor, check that the automatic bilge pump is working. The Contender is quite happy:

Oh, and I did come up with an idea for organizing the kitchen drawer, and got onto that project next. Just cut up some scraps into quarter inch thick slats, and start dowelling them together. It's a little tricky with a hand held drill.

I did screw up a few pieces before I got the hang of it, but it started going together pretty fast:

I don't like using metal fasteners at all if I can help it, and it takes a bit longer to drill, dowel, glue and clamp. Would be easier with screws, I guess. But there's nothing in this method to rust. And it's more fun.

A couple of days later we again got the boating bug, and the wind was still blowing. This time we got past the low flats and actually got up into some nice neighborhoods in the Discovery Bay area. It's pretty easy to see why the vegetation here tends to be on the low, scrubby side. In addition to the lack of rain, there's just not much in the way of topsoil. A couple inches below the turf, it's limestone:

Dooley the Disingenuous is slowly getting used to the idea that he rides in back:

His feet are wet, and he's happy. Now if he could just get into a good shouting match...

We were approaching the house with the dogs that Dooley had gotten into a bark-fest with several days earlier. We had thoughts of sneaking silently past them without causing a ruckus. We were hoping that Dooley the Debater would not remember that they were there. We were out of luck. The dogs must have been waiting for us because they were barking before we even got around the corner. I think they were waiting for Dooley's return. Hopefully they got it out of their systems:

Just Push Play

This photo shows not only the nature of the island, once you cut into it, but also the tidal range in the canals. We were there just after low tide, and the marks on the sides show how much higher the water level gets during normal high tides:

There are a lot of nice homes in this area, and of course just about everyone who lives on the canals seems to either have a boat or two in the water, or in the yard. We were surprised at how big some of the boats are that use the canals. These must draw at least four feet of water, yet do not seem to be having any problems:

These are even bigger, and there are a number of them tied up to docks next to their owners homes:

These must draw near six feet, and I have no clue how they launch and retrieve them. I would dearly like to watch them do it, though.

I most especially would like to see the crew that puts this one back in the water:

That must be good call for a party and a half when that gets floating again. I have this mental picture involving rollers, trucks, ropes, and cases of beer...and a big splash at the end.

We tend to get absorbed in the kayaking, and once again notice that we will be racing the sun to get back to the truck before dark. Makes for some decent photo opportunities, though:

And we are still able to fit in the time to sand and paint the DIY stuff. I think this looks a little more organized, anyway:

Having pretty much seen most of the Discovery Bay canals, we decided to see if there was anything new going on in the Leeward Canal area. This image of that part of the island is at least four years old:

I don't know why the TCI images have not been updated in four years. Maybe it's because this sleepy little country is not deemed worth the intelligence community's attention. Or maybe, being a short hop from Cuba, it is. Either way, that image is misleading. That canal has been way more developed than it would appear from Google Earth, and in fact there are several more canals cut into the rock now that do not even show up there. The entire Nikki Beach resort has been built since this was taken. So, we set out to take a look.

Coming into the Southernmost canal entrance from Leeward Going Through, we pass right by the Chief Minister's home and his own mini-marina:

Imagine being able to boat right past a US President's house, without worrying about a bunch of guys with radios and guns doing body searches.

A little further along we pass our dentist's new home on the canal.

We were next door neighbors back when we both lived in condos while building our respective homes. I saw the owner of that house just today, and asked him how they fared during the hurricanes. He said they had water in their basement, but that the storm surge did not hurt them. That was one of the issues that prevented us from building on the canals here back when we were making decisions. There were other reasons as well, but concern about storm surge was high on the list.

The homes in Leeward tend to be a bit more upscale than the average house in Discovery Bay, but not by much. I think that's mostly due to the sudden rise in land prices over the past three years. Most of the homes here on this canal have substantial docks and boathouses. Very nice:

One of the very few bridges in the TCI:

Damn the toredos! Full speed ahead!

We noticed quite a bit of variation in the architecture along the canals. This home has a definite 'Moorish' influence, I think.

There doesn't seem to be much restriction in the style of home here as long as it meets the stringent new building codes. IF the contractor follows the building codes (and that is a big "If" sometimes) he will produce a home that should be able to withstand 140 mph winds. Ours was tested to 150 mph just last September.

The Leeward Canals are not very long, and we were still wanting some more boating exercise when we finished with them. So, we decided to scoot across Leeward Going Through and check out the other side, which is the South side of Mangrove Cay. We had to zip across the channel between boats, such as the "Amanyara" day charter:

Within a few minutes we were cruising along the mangroves:

These grow in large amounts all over the islands. They are essential to the ecosystem, being a place where fish, turtles, and conch can spawn and have their young survive with protection from predators until they are ready to strike out on their own. There are some tasty fish to be caught here, including a version of Gray or Mangrove Snapper.

We managed to drift right up to a young Osprey in the kayak. One of the nice things about the Mirage drives is that you can propel the boat very quietly with a minimum of motion, and keep your arms and upper body relatively still. We got within a few feet of this guy before he started squawking and took off. I even managed to get part of that on video:

Just Push Play

Here is another view of the Chief Minister's home, from across the channel. The entrance to the canal where we started is just to the right of the house:

We ventured into a small, natural channel that took us several hundred yards back into the mangroves. There we came upon another sad sight, another victim of Hurricane Ike. This catamaran belongs to a friend of ours, Preacher's brother, Jay. He owns Sail Provo and this boat "Two Fingers" is his personal catamaran:

He had tied it up to the mangroves for the storm, and normally that would be a good idea for a number of reasons. But the 150 mph winds of Ike tore down all of the mast and rigging, which is now lying half in the water on the other side of the boat. Hopefully, it will be not too expensive to get it repaired eventually.

This is where we launched and retrieved the kayak on Heaving Down Rock, just about forty yards from where Cay Lime got smashed during Hurricane Hanna. These landing craft look a whole lot bigger from sea level, too. Why is it that boats look so big when you are on the water looking up at them, and yet so small when you are standing on them when a squall hits?

So, that's been about it for boating over the past couple of weeks. I have some new projects going on, as is usally the case. There are ALWAYS projects going on, it seems. Some are planned, and some just happen to me. One of the planned ones is to build a desk and some bookshelves for La Gringa's office. This will be the largest DIY I have taken on inside the house so far. Not counting the house itself, of course, but that's a whole other story. I used Google's SketchUp to figure out a design that will custom fit her office:

The bookshelf bits are seven feet tall, and the desk part is twelve feet long. The idea is that both of us can set up our laptops on it, and still have room for monitors, printers, whatever else we come up with. I am making it out of 2x10's, and figured I would just start with the shelf sections. Get those in, and then make the desk surface to fit. Here's the first of four all glued and dowelled:

Will take some creative thinking to get this up the hill to the house when I add another piece like that plus the shelves. I figure the total installation will be something like 600 lbs.

And as an example of DIY projects that suddenly spring themselves upon me: the 'nut' on my guitar finally broke during the holidays. The 'nut' is the fret-like thing that holds the strings up off of the neck, and mine broke and I could not find a replacement for it here.

I asked Preacher for the hardest piece of wood he knew of, and he brought me a twig of Lignum Vitae.

And it is definitely hard wood. I had worked with it before in South America, and was telling La Gringa that this stuff is so dense it won't even float. Well, to prove I was not blowing something through my hat, I thought I would demonstrate by filling a bowl with water and dropping the wood into it. Sure enough, it sinks:

(Whew. It's always a relief when things behave as I swore they would.)

I now have a piece cut that fits the slot width exactly. I just have to finish shaping it and cut the little grooves for the strings.

I never had to make my own electric guitar parts before. A new experience every day.

I think that this pretty much brings us up to date. We plan to get offshore fishing as soon as the winds let the seas lay down a bit, and there will be more in the way of kayaking, and unfortunately, DIY projects. I hope nothing major crops up until I get the desk finished.

And so another winter day ends in the Tropic of Cancer, here in our little corner of the Bermuda Triangle.

We can hardly wait for summer now that we have a boat with some range that can handle bumpy water. There are a lot of islands we have yet to see.