Friday, June 26, 2009

Back on the Blue

I realize I've been taking a lot of kayak type photos lately. There are some reasons for that. It's part physical therapy, it's partly due to the weather, it's partly because it's cheap to run it (a few thousand calories!) , and it's just downright fun. But we are past due for a post that talks more about the ocean than about the boat. Maybe even another sunrise photo?:

The kayaking is definitely not all we have been up to. This week alone we have been out several times on "real" boats. We took the water taxi over to North Caicos on Saturday and spent the day at Bottle Creek Lodge. We took a zillion photos of the Lodge, and might post a bunch of those up in the future. Then Sunday we decided to go try our hand at butterfly jigging again. SO, we took the Contender out for a run.

For those unfamiliar with the term, "butterfly jigging" is a style of fishing. It uses a reel with gearing so that it retrieves the lure very fast, along with a small, whippy, tough little fishing rod. And the name comes from the type of lure, which is a jig. This is a shiny, heavy piece of metal with hooks that you drop to the bottom and then crank back up in jerky motions that make the jig flutter and dart about on the way up. Hence the "butterfly jig' name.

Here are a couple of the jigs:

(And of course there was no way I was sneaking off to take a photo without you-know-who getting into the background..)

We got our hands on some Shimano jigging setups back when we had our previous boat, Cay Lime, and tried the technique a few times with some success. Then we seemed to start getting results from trolling, and lets face it, trolling is a whole lot easier than other fishing techniques. Jigging is work! Well, we have decided to dust off our stuff and get back into it. At $4.30 a gallon for fuel, trolling is expensive. Jigging is fun, a more active way to fish. Besides, we can troll to our jigging spots, and back. So it works out well. Usually. But definitely not always. You know how fishing is.

Dooley has heard it all before, of course. He has gotten rather blase' about the boat rides lately. His attitude is that we should only interrupt his naps if something interesting is going on:

and he knows that with his head on the box of lures, we are not going to be doing any fishing without him knowing about it.

Well, Sunday didn't go well at all from a fishing standpoint. We trolled all the way up to North Caicos, then stopped at several locations to fish with the jigs, and then trolled back. And we had exactly the same number of fish on board coming back that we had going over. Zero. We got completely skunked.

We did have a great day on the boat, which is always fun in itself. We called it off as the afternoon thunderstorms started forming. We had been fishing a couple of miles on the other side of the boat in this photo...and you can see what the weather was doing there when we left:

That boat, by the way, is Jay from Bottle Creek Lodge. He had told us that he was taking some friends out bottom fishing today. We metaphorically waved hello over the VHF radio. They did better fishing than we did.

Dooley snoozed again on the way back. With no fish for him to bite, and too far offshore to see anything on the beach, he just gets caught up on his napping:

He is an exceptionally light sleeper, though. He would be up in a heartbeat if anything fun was going on. And his idea of 'fun' is sometimes a little weird. This is a dog that will bark furiously at a buoy, remember.

Coming back through Leeward onto the Caicos Banks, we are struck by the difference between the water here and the ocean on the other side of the islands. Over there it's deep blue outside the reef. On this side, it probably averages something like 12 feet deep for hundreds of square miles, and the water looks like a swimming pool. I know it's difficult to see them, but there are some people wading in waist deep water just aft of that boat:

And it's a good thing that the water is so clear, because the charts for this area typically say "Unsurveyed Area" and "Numerous Coral Heads reported". There is a high pucker factor in running a deep V boat through here at speed.

Getting back to the marina, I am reminded once again that I need to have the boat hauled out and the bottom cleaned and painted. I don't know what I saw that reminded me of this, unless it was our next door neighbor at the boatyard..

No, ours is not that bad. Yet. You can still see the propeller on our boat.

Once we secure things at the marina, we are still faced with a fairly long trip home on some of the unpaved roads here on Providenciales. This, for example, is the Long Bay Hills road. It connects the pavement of Leeward Highway to where we keep the Contender:

We keep well back from trucks like this. They tend to drive fast, interpret the driving laws fairly loosely, and things fall off their trucks from time to time. They also kick up a lot of dust. And gravel. Which can get expensive in a land where windshields are ALL imported.

We were happily surprised to see that the road had been filled and graded this week. This is actually about the best shape that it's been in for about a year.

I wanted to get some photos of some of the interesting sections, but it's difficult to get good photos from a vehicle moving 40 mph forward and a foot up and down constantly. The road we live on is about the same as this one. So in the ten miles driving distance from the house to the boat, seven of those miles are like this:

For us, off pavement driving is not a weekend adventure. It's our everyday life.

Wednesday we dropped friends at the airport, and stopped at Horse Eye Jack's restaurant in Blue Hills for lunch. Nice and peaceful, with a great view of the water:

In another half hour or so, the shade of that big Casuarinas tree would be making these hammocks a really nice spot to just watch the ocean and enjoy an afternoon drink.

We stopped by the grocery store for some supplies, and I spotted this car. I wanted to let you know that Provo is not ALL about trucks and jeeps. We do have some classy vehicles here, as well. Now THIS is my idea of what a Grand Marquis should look like on this island:

I don't know how practical the rims are in this environment, but the added ground clearance makes perfect sense to me.

Thursday we woke up to one of those rare, still days that we seldom see here in the Trade Wind Belt. Sailors don't much care for the 'light and variable' aspect of it, but the ocean takes on a whole new look when the winds drop:

We took the afternoon off, and decided to take the boat well out onto the Caicos Bank for some conch diving. Glossy water like this is just too good to ignore.

La Gringa was snapping a lot of photos while I drove and Dooley navigated. I especially like this one:

Speaking of Dooley and I navigating, I was enjoying the trip so much that I overshot the spot I had marked to look for conch. Turning the boat around, we got a view of the island of Providenciales about five miles off in the distance. This is how far out we were looking for conch.

After we drop the anchor I am in the habit of swimming over to it to take a look and make sure it is going to hold the boat. Of course on a calm day like this, there isn't any wind or much other than about a half a knot of current trying to move it. The anchor had caught up next to a small coral encrusted rock. No need to reset it this time:

The water was not as clear as we are accustomed to seeing. This flat top of the Caicos Bank is not as colorful as the reef system surrounding the islands. There is still plenty of colorful coral and fish to look at,

At least there is plenty to look at when the water is not so clouded up and the visibility so limited. This is in a more 'turbulent' area where the current comes up and over a little underwater hillock. The top is covered with coral heads, and the suspended sediment is a little more stirred up there:

Some might say we are spoiled on visibility. And I admit these are some of the clearest waters I have ever seen. Usually. We've had a lot of windy days lately, and this was the first calm day in a week or two. It takes several days for the little particles of fine sand to settle out and make it clear again. We were not going to let this severely limited visibility stop us from hunting the elusive and crafty conch, though!

We swam around a while looking for conch. Usually when I want to know where La Gringa is swimming, I just look at the boat. Dooley the Dedicated spends all his time watching over the two of us when we are in the water. You can see him there on the boat in this photo.

I know that if his little nose is not pointing at me, then it is pointing at La Gringa. Today there was no problem seeing where she was. On a choppy day it's a lot more difficult.

Now, back to the conch. They are not always easy to spot when we're up floating on the surface. We were in about 8 or 9 feet of water here, an easy dive. The procedure is that you just flipper around until you see a conch, then you dive down and get him. First, you have to see him.

There is a decent sized conch right in the very center of this photo, for example:

See what I mean? They get covered by sediment, until they are the same color as the bottom. And their shape helps them blend in, too. They can look like a lump of rock. After spotting a conch like that, I typically just shove my flippers up into the air, which pushes me down to the bottom:

(that's my flippers about to go underwater)

And down close to the bottom suddenly the conch becomes a lot easier to see:

Still, a pretty fine camo job, I think.

Grabbing the conch is easy. They don't move fast. I always turn them upside down to make sure there is actually a live conch in the shell. This was taken with me floating back at the surface, with my arm hanging down. Looking at it, I find it amazing to realize that photo was underwater:

I guess the visibility was not all that lousy on Thursday..

After gathering up as many conch as one can swim with, one heads back to the boat to drop them off. One also notices that a certain Dooley the Determined is keeping an eye on one's activities. Whether one is approaching the boat from the side:

Or from forward:

(oooohhh...nice Contender photo)

He knows where the snorkellers are at all times...

And he will walk all around the boat as needed to keep everybody in sight:

I just noticed that a ripple of wind ruffled the water in that photo. That was about the only breeze we saw all day.

Sometimes, from some angles, it can be difficult to realize that you are actually looking at a conch. Some of them have entire ecosystems growing on their shells:

I guess it's the underwater version of spending your life riding on a slow moving train. Not much in the way of enlightened conversation, but at least the scenery changes.

The conch in that photo above looks like this out of the water:

And close up you can see there are several types of other critters living on this shell:

I wanted to mention something here, in case you are ever out diving for these things. The most I can carry comfortably while swimming is four. That is two gripped in each hand. Now, I have carried up to six or seven in the past, but I try not to do that any more. One reason is that they are heavy and it is a struggle to keep your snorkel above water carrying that many. But the main reason is that in order to carry a half dozen conch I needed to clamp a couple of them against my chest with my arms. This is a mistake. No matter how clean they look, there are little things growing on those shells. And they sting. They won't hurt the palms of your hands where the skin is tough and thick, but if you crush something like that hairy alien-looking mass in the photos above against your  ribs....I'm going to stick my neck out here and bet that you'll decide not to ever do it again.

And even knowing better, I got 'bit' on this trip, too.

We commonly pile the conch onto the motor bracket/swim platform until one of us is in the boat.

(hey, notice the brand new swim ladder, just installed last week and used for the first time today!)

Now, see the interesting looking coral growing on the shell of that conch to the left? It's why I took the photo. We don't see that often.  Neat looking, wouldn't you agree?  Clean.  Non-threatening.

Well, when knocking a hole in the conch to cut the meat loose, I hit a piece of that coral with my conch hammer. It shattered, and sent little bitty fragments flying. I got maybe a half dozen or so very small bits of it hitting me on the chest, belly, neck, etc. No big deal, I always get 'splashed' with conch bits when bashing holes in them with a hammer. It's part of the whole experience.

But THIS time, within seconds of those bits of coral landing on me, I felt like I was on fire. It literally felt like huge wasps were stinging me. Or that drops of liquid lead solder had splashed on my chest. (don't ask me how I know what liquid solder feels like.) I couldn't believe how much it hurt. I had to stop what I was doing, and grab the shower hose on the boat and rinse it off. The little flecks of coral were about the size of a grain of rice, and yet they stung for a long time.  Ah.  so that's why they call it Fire Coral.

(I am glad we had the fresh water pump working. Our sea water washdown pump is kaput, sitting on my workbench waiting for me to buy a replacement. They are just so expensive here, I was hoping to be able to repair it.)

So, back to the story, I had been 'saving' my t-shirt to wear home. I didn't want conch snot all over it. Well, after getting the coral on me, I put the shirt on. I know eventually I will get better at this conch smashing thing, but for now, I am wearing a shirt!

Once we find a productive area of conch habitat, it doesn't take long to grab a dozen or so. And with us back on the boat Dooley the Detrimental keeps his eye on the "fish" for a change:

You might notice he is wet in these photos. And NO I did NOT squirt him with the fresh water. Well, not much, anyhow. But that's not why he's wet. He's wet because he repeatedly jumped overboard for a swim during all this. La Gringa was headed back to the boat with a couple of conch in her hands when she felt something hit her flipper. Now that will get your attention, especially out here. We were only about two miles from where we nervously eyeballed a12 foot bull shark a while back. Most sharks are pretty cautious, and even timid.  But if you follow the reports, whenever a shark decides to go for the other white meat, it's often a bull shark. 

Once she got her heart back down out of her throat, she realized that what bumped her flipper was Dooley the Demanding paddling around in the ocean. Five miles offshore. And as yet, he has no way to climb back into the boat.  He jumps in hoping that one of us is going to put him back aboard.  Trusting little soul, isn't he? (More likely, he is just lousy at long term planning.)

She had to put him back on the boat three times. He finally agreed to stay on board after I got out of the water, too. He wants us all in one place or the other, water or boat. He's been reading up on wild dogs on the internet.  Lately, he's been playing Pack Animal.

Well, that was pretty much how our Thursday went. We picked up 14 conch, to add to the 12 we already have in the freezer, and will be making another batch of conch chili shortly. I can post photos of that, again, if anyone is interested. I think we did all that on the blog about a year or so ago, though, if you want to look back for it.

We had a great day, under rare conditions almost perfect for snorkelling. And this is what the view looks like heading back to our island home at about 45 mph:

We plan to do some more jigging over the weekend, and hopefully will have some fish photos in a day or so.

Or not.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"Low Cay" in Turtle Cove

We decided to take the little kayak (which we have now named "Low Cay") over to the Turtle Cove area. Plan A was to start in Turtle Cove, boat out toward the reef, go into Thompson Cove, and then return. This was the planned route, over and back:

We figured that if we pedalled around sightseeing in both Coves, and added in the return trip, this would work out to be about six miles of pedalling, with most of it in open water. This is all part of a master plan, you see. We want to get to the point where we are ready to take the little rubber boat from Providenciales across an appreciable stretch of open water to West Caicos, and back. That trip will be about six miles each way, as the Cuban Crow flies. So we are working our way up to it. We have been doing a lot of five and six mile kayak trips lately.

The boat ramp at Turtle Cove is probably about the best non-private ramp we've seen here yet:

This one actually has pavement extending into the water. A real luxury. Even though we did have to pay a Rasta-man dockmaster five bucks to use it. It was worth it.

There are about a dozen or so decent sport fishing type boats in the marina right now, including a number from the USA. There was a blue marlin tournament here recently, and this is considered to be the start of the bill fishing season . So while the winter time is when we see the 'cruisers', the summer is when we see the sport fishermen. Summer is also when we see more divers down here on vacation. That's when the water is at it's best. Clear, calm, and warm.

The first nice boat that caught our eye was the very slick "No Excuse" out of Islamorada:

At this point we departed from our game plan. We decided to check out the rest of the visiting boats in Turtle Cove, and to THEN decide whether to try for Thompson Cove. There was a squall line developing to our West, and we wanted to see what it was doing before leaving the marina in "Low Cay". I mean, it's a great little kayak and all, but it IS a rubber boat.

These big toys sure look different from down on the water looking up:

And as impressive a boat as "No Excuse" is, there were some even bigger ones around. We were very impressed as we slowly kicked our way toward this beauty, "Aquaholic" out of Boca Raton.

Man, what a boat. La Gringa and I were just wondering, if we sold our new house, and the Contender, and the Land Rovers, could we just get something like this and live on it full time? I swear this boat must have more square feet of living space than our little house does:

Of course reality set in, and we realized that not only would we still not have enough money after selling everything we own, we probably wouldn't even be able to fill the fuel tanks on this beauty. Still, one can dream.

There are always at least a few decent 'blow-boats' in the marina here, and it's no secret that La Gringa and I are sailors at heart. We always detour by them to take a look when we get the chance;

Come to think of it, there just are not many boats that we don't like. I mean, they are all different, and we all know that all boats are compromises. But they are all good at something. Here are a couple of local TCI boats:

Conch Pearls are very rare, and valuable by the way. We have not seen one 'in the wild' yet. But then we have probably only cleaned a few hundred conch so far, at most.

Coming around to the other side of the marina, and considering our own power boat as being 'extra small', in this photo you have small, medium, large, and in the background to the right, the extra-large.

We did have a reason for kayaking over to this side of the marina. We had been exchanging emails for some time with a member of a fishing and boating forum where we 'hang out' online . We knew he has been down here fishing and getting this boat together for it's new owner. So we thought there was a chance we might catch member "reel fool" on the job.

And we did!:

Being so 'out of the way' down here we don't really get to meet many of the people we talk to on the internet. But it does happen every now and then, and yesterday was one of those days. We spent a half an hour ( five minutes if Jeff's boss is reading this) shooting the breeze while Jeff cleaned up the boat from their marlin fishing earlier this week. It's nice to be able to put a face to a screen name, and see that all these people we meet in cyberspace are, in most cases, reel people.

We continued to explore Turtle Cove. It all really does look different from water level. We saw plenty more beautiful boats down for the billfishing :

And we were able to get a really close look at the sloop that I have already talked about here in earlier posts. Man, is that sucker smashed or what?

We could read the name off the stern, "Alliance"

If it were not for those lift bags, she would fall over and sink in the slip. I think the keel is probably touching bottom already. This reminded us of our earlier conviction that if we ever do get a decent sized sailboat down here, it will be a catamaran. Monohulls are heavier than water. They have weighted keels.  Let the water in, and they sink. Catamarans might end up upside down. But they will still be floating.

We know which scenario we like better.

Besides, the specific catamaran we have in mind for ourselves would have probably cleared that reef that did "Alliance" in. And we have lots of reefs here. Just a thought.

We pedalled by the ruins of the original Third Turtle Inn. This was the first public accomodation/hotel on the island.

This was built as a ten room hotel in the mid 1960's. It was the only hotel on Providenciales for almost twenty years, until Club Med built their resort here in the early 80's.I bet these old stone walls have some tales to tell. There had to be some real characters coming through here in the 60's and 70's. (Heck, there are some real characters coming through here now.)

At the far side of Turtle Cove there is a small canal with a few houses on it. We had often looked at it when having a meal at the Shark Bite restaurant, and the kayak was the perfect way to check it out. There is a neat looking old boathouse there on the canal:

We finally decided to try to complete our planned trip. Leaving the mouth of Turtle Cove, we could just feel the dog's anxiety level increasing. While most people in a small boat would probably be looking at the rougher water just outside the protected marina that you can see in this photo:

That dog just radiates a lot of nervous sometimes.

Dooley the Distraught wasn't worried about rough water. He laughs at rough water. No, he was sweating the dark clouds. He knows that where dark clouds lay, thunder's not far away.

And it was a bit lumpier outside the protected waters. Nothing that "Low Cay" can't handle, though.

What a fantastic property. Can you see the planetarium/observatory on the left side of the photo? That one's for sale if you've got some spare change lying around.

Here's another nice home for those who appreciate those kinds of things:

Nice seclusion, nice view, and a nice private beach as well. Its' all just Nice.

Well, Dooley the Delugional was right. The squalls moved up between us and our goal. Not wanting to get soaked and possibly dumped, we turned around as the bottom started falling out of the increasingly ugly clouds. You can see the rain there ahead of us, and a couple drops on the camera lens.

We almost made it, too. The house on the point there is at the entrance to Thompson Cove, which was our intended destination. We turned around and headed back. Sometimes you just need to listen to the dog. Dogs know things. At least that's what ours keeps telling us.
The water is exceptionally clear in this area, and we could see all kinds of coral and sealife on the bottom. We are now planning to come back on a sunny day and get some photos of the underwater part of this trip. Even though the day had turned gray and darker, we could see that the seafloor has some interesting features. It's an excuse for another trip, anyhow.

I know it must seem that we have only been using the kayak lately, and that's because this is, in fact, the case. We have not been using the power boat nearly as much as we usually do. There are a few factors in that, but we still use the other boat. We have a planned trip coming up, and I am doing some repairs on it even now, to fix a few things that have needed fixing.

I have been having problems with spark plugs fouling. We will be zipping along, and suddenly the motor starts coughing and sputtering and losing power. So far we have been able to throttle back and limp home, but it's a pain. It makes the trip slow, and the fuel economy goes out the window when these boats are not on plane. The plugs that this outboard uses are non-standard plugs. In fact, I couldn't find any in this entire country. The local Yamaha guy told me they had never seen this particular motor in the Turks and Caicos. SO, I finally managed to buy a set last time we were in the US. So this week I took a 'boat morning' for maintenance. I changed the plugs, and the bottom two were in bad shape:

Now THAT"S a fouled spark plug. I have been told I should possibly upgrade the fuel filtering system, that water in the fuel can cause this kind of fouling.

Other than the spark plug issues, the motor looks pretty good:

I think it might be installed a little too low on the bracket, though. I've been trying to think of an easy way to lift it up a notch or two without taking the boat out of the water. Nothing has lept out at me yet. Maybe something with some big C-clamps....

Last time we went out for conch, the water was rough and we had some real exciting moments climbing back onto a pitching and rolling wet platform. So I also just installed a swim ladder. Ever notice how on some jobs you never just seem to have enough hands?

The finished installation:

This should make it a whole lot easier for people to climb back into the boat when it is rocking and rolling. Sometimes one is a bit weary after an hour or so of snorkelling. This will definitely.

We have a fishing trip planned for the weekend. We are also thinking of running out to Bottle Creek on North Caicos to visit friends. I have decided to make a real push to finish up some of the several DIY projects I have going on at the moment, so we will have something other than kayak photos to post here shortly. And of course we are always keeping an eye out for decent sunrises or sunsets.