Sunday, August 30, 2009

Momentary Panics

Summer weather has been upon us big time like it has been for the rest of the northern hemisphere. The weather has been all over the place, as usual for this time of year. We get plenty of clear summer days. Some mornings lately, the ocean has started the day flat and calm.

We knew it was hurricane season. Everybody who lives in the tropics is intensely aware of when it is hurricane season. We think ourselves to be fairly well-sensitized to it after our back-to-back hurricanes early last September. We vowed to ourselves after that mess that next time we would not be caught unprepared again. But we almost were.

It's easy to start relaxing after June and July go by without any major storm threats. It's simple to remind ourselves that September is, after all, the most threatening month for hurricanes. And there's plenty of time until September. Until you wake up one week in the middle of August and suddenly the National Hurricane Center is beaming images at you like this:

That's enough to get the old heart thumping and start a search for candles, kerosene and canned goods. Especially when right behind Ana is what eventually became Bill:

Yeah, this got our attention. We kicked it into gear. While La Gringa concentrated on laying in supplies I started the nuts and bolts of several little projects that we promised we would have finished before this happened. I started cutting small storm shutters for the vents in the loft inside the house, where horizontal winds tend to spray buckets of horizontal raindrops that then become vertical waterfalls once safely inside the house. And we bought a backup generator for the next time we lose power. Oh, and the boat. If you follow this blog you already know the boat is sitting high and dry on a new driveway outside the garage. Well, we don't know for sure what 100 mph+ winds would do to a boat on a trailer sticking out into the wind. We have some ideas. We don't really want to confirm them.

So one of my priorites was to come up with some way to secure the boat. I hit every store on the island that I thought might stock some kind of ground anchor to tie things down with. I guess I was being a little naive, thinking that a tropical island in the hurricane belt would have a lot of these. They don't. So, I had to come up with my own. Nothing new here, I guess.

"Mommie, mommie, there's a big old fat bald headed guy playing in the mud!"

Well, I guess that's one way to look at it. I do enjoy a little sand-castle engineering from time to time. But that's an easy beach leisure activity. This was not an easy beach leisure activity. This was work!! And messy. The limestone dirt here is interesting stuff. It's soft and fluffy when it's broken up, being calcium carbonate with no hard crystalline structure to it. But spray it with water and let the resulting mud dry and it's one ingredient shy of concrete. Digging holes in it is a real challenge. I finally found out that I could turn the hardened dirt back into slurry using a pressure washer, and then use my hands and garden implements to scoop the mud and rocks out of the hole. I did come up with a method that worked. I did not come up with a way to do it without making a mess.

If someone had asked me to look at my watch and tell them what time it was, I couldn't have done it.

As already mentioned, I couldn't find anything to use as tie downs all ready to go. So I made my own. I took lengths of galvanized chain and cut up some pieces of steel re-bar, and made four of these doo-dads:

Hung these down in the holes with the rebar at the bottom:

Called all over the island looking for simple bags of "Ready-Mix" concrete. Nobody seemed to have any in stock. I guess a lot of other people must have suddenly decided to pour things in their driveways or something. I don't know. But I did finally locate one equipment rental place that had a few bags of what they called "ready mix". It's pretty well home-made stuff. I started out with four bags:

And ended up using two 50 lb bags per anchor. After mixing and pouring (by hand, of course) I ended up with what I hope are some fairly substantial chain tie-downs for the boat:

I admit I was a little annoyed not to be able to find the screw-in tie downs I had in mind, but after digging these holes I realize that they would not have worked as planned anyhow. There is NO way I could twist something like that into this dirt. I would have had to dig the holes by hand anyhow. And would have then had these steel things sticking out of the ground to stub toes on and worse. This way, I have nice loose chain on the ground. Pretty safe.

While we were busy preparing for the first two storms of the season (that passed by harmlessly to the north) life went on around us. We have been seeing a lot of USCG activity in the air lately. It sure does get your attention when a Sikorsky full of Coasties zooms overhead and then circles back around at a few hundred feet. I can just imagine the rescue swimmer in the door talking on the intercom...

"Lieutenant, Lieutenant, there's a big old fat bald headed guy playing in the mud!"

We did manage to get the kayak out a couple times in the past couple weeks, but not nearly as much as we would like. Preparing for hurricanes at the last minute while running around in circles, chasing our tails, and jumping to conclusions takes a lot of time and energy. Speaking of chasing tails, Dooley the Disinterested has gotten fairly blase' at the whole kayaking scene. I think he must have gotten bored and decided to start riding backwards to get a different view of things.

Those storms went by. Then Danny went by. And of course we started to relax a bit. I hooked up the new generator to the house wrong and fried most of our kitchen appliances But with the help of a local electronics expert they are slowly responding to the application of large amounts of hourly rate.

La Gringa caught a nice morning rainbow last week. No, not a trout. We don't have those. A rainbow:

Gambling that we can squeak by without a major storm for the next few months we went ahead and had our landscaping folks plant a lot of new bush to stabilize the new driveway. And to make it look better, as well.

We have not been spending much fun time on the boat. It continues to be plagued with engine problems, despite all my efforts at expanding its vocabulary by example. That motor should have picked up several new colorful phrases by now. Two of our kids are visiting this week, and with their help I have been making some progress. We raised the motor on the boat to keep it out of the seawater more:

We have found clogged filter screens in places that I did not even know existed two weeks ago:

And we've discovered that the gasoline inside the boat's fuel tank that we bought at the local marina does not look like the gasoline we buy at the Texaco station down the street:

This model motor is notoriously finicky about gasoline. The gasoline here is notoriously nonchalant about things like quality and consistency. This gas doesn't mind a few lumps in it. Something is going to have to change.

We have found that having the boat on a trailer greatly simplifies maintenance and repairs. We've pressure washed most of the seaweed and marine life off the hull. Raised the motor on its bracket and changed the gear oil. I needed a screw-in fitting to do a neat job of changing the oil and the localist marine store (is 'localist' even a word? I meant 'closest') doesn't carry Yamaha parts. I figured it was quicker, easier and, to be blunt, cheaper to just make my own fitting out of some threaded rod:

Buying the fitting would have taken at least an hour, a trip down island and cost $ 30. This took five minutes with a piece of scrap threaded rod.

As mentioned, two of our sons are visiting. They have been enjoying the change from their home in New England. Warm, clear ocean water is still a novelty to them. A self portrait by Jacob:

He also found this piece of ancient conch shell embedded in limestone:

Wish I could chisel a block of that out and make a wall sconce or something out of it. But we have enough projects going on at the moment. More than enough. There are elements of three ongoing projects in this next photo. The Yamaha that seems to be constantly ailing is on the boat in the background, the next piece of La Gringa's office furniture is taking shape in the garage and the Defender 90 is waiting for it's new canvas top:

On the subject of the Land Rover, we made another change to it in addition to cutting down the top to make it a micro-pickup truck. After backing two tons of boat up the new driveway around two 90 degree angles I was thinking in terms of how to make that easier. At the same time, the bumper that came with the other Land Rover we bought has been severely damaged, and is actually broken and patched up with Bondo. I looked into what it would cost to buy a new front bumper for it in the UK and to have it shipped here. The numbers for that are $300 for the bumper, $200 to ship it, and then of course another $100 customs duty. When I added that up the first time I balked at spending $600 for what is essentially just a sheet metal bumper.

But, after putting some thought into an idea I had to park the boat easier, I went down to the local machine/welding shop on the island and explained what I wanted. Roland, at Tibor's Machine Shop, understood perfectly. He built me a bumper with some serious backbone, and a receiver hitch welded right through the middle of it:

This solved two problems at once. Pushing a boat trailer in front of a vehicle is a huge amount of more simple than backing that same trailer up a hill. We have been taking the boat down to the ocean to try it out after every little change we make in the fuel system. Putting it back at the garage has gotten incredibly easy with this bumper.

We tow the boat normally (well, as normally as we do anything) to the point where we need to back it up.

(And yes, I realize that riding in the boat is probaby illegal where you live. That's just one of the reasons we don't live there)

Then, we crank the boat up, unhitch the Land Rover and turn it around. The Land Rover, I mean:

Pushing the boat ahead of you this way is incredibly easy. It's as easy as pushing a wheelbarrow. Easier in a low-gear 4x4. Going around corners is simple:

Put it right where you want it, chock the wheels and unhook. Piece of cake:

And the part of this new solid bumper that I really like? It cost $360. I will now take the standard bumper that I removed from this Land Rover, clean it up and paint it, and bolt it to the other Land Rover with the crummy smashed up bumper. I have two new bumpers for $360, instead of one new bumper from England at $600. I like that.

Having the receiver hitches on both ends has given me some more ideas. I am looking at that front bumper as a possible place to carry the spare tire, giving me more room in the back for other stuff. It also might be useful for transporting the kayak without deflating it, which is what we have been doing lately.

The kayak is a bit too long to balance well on the new shorter canvas top supports:

But I was thinking that if we made a support bracket that would fit either the front or the rear bumper...we could carry the kayak, and also the odd piece of lumber longer than the 8 ft. that will fit inside the other vehicle.

I found that there is a company that makes these in the USA and their product would be perfect for us. However, I suspect that by the time we bought it and imported it, it will be cheaper and faster to just have Roland at Tibor's Machine build us one locally.

So, this is what we have been up to lately. Scrambling to get ready for the next storm and getting caught up on projects around the house. We feel we have 'dodged' four storms so far this year. And as I write this on Sunday morning, I get the little 'ding' noise that tells me another email came in. This one from the National Hurricane Center telling me that there is another potential storm coming this way. So, checking "StormPulse" I find this one bearing down on us.

Wonderful. Just what we need.

Such is life on a small tropical island, it has it's trade-offs. And we accept them.

And we still find time to marvel at the sunrises every morning..

And we still get some pretty danged good sunsets at the end of the day, as well:

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Backroads and boat ramps

I usually try to start these posts with a sunrise. But I didn't want you to get the idea that every morning is perfect. Just for a change, here is a shot of one of those mornings when the sun just didn't quite make the pretty tropical photo because of squalls. We love squalls. Squalls mean rainwater in the cisterns. And rain also means the dust stays on the ground for a while.

At the end of the previous post I know I mentioned some planned festivities in Blue Hills. We got our wires crossed with Preacher. We showed up right after lunch where these things usually take place on the beach, only to find that the sloop races were over and nothing much else was going on. There was a tent awning set up, with a DJ playing extremely loud music with a lot of drum and rap vocals ('rap vocals' is kinda redundant, I realize) and a few people still hanging around. We don't typically spend even two minutes at festivities where sound levels push your eardrums together, so we were outta there. The next day we decided to go back to explore the rest of the inland areas around Frenchman's Creek. A mistake.

But we did take some photos of the day's outing and they are a little different than what we usually post here. I have written many times about some of the roads here, and how very 'basic' they are in many places. We have some photos for you.

The long road from the pavement back to Osprey Rock and the access to Frenchman's Creek is pretty typical of the roads in 'backcountry Provo':

We had noticed this little access area for the tidal waters around Frenchman's Creek on our last couple of trips out to Osprey Rock. Note the use of the term 'tidal' waters. This is important. I should have paid more attention to it.

This is like so many other out-of-the-way "boat ramps" in the TCI. Basically a place where the limestone slopes down to the water and it's possible to back a boat trailer. When we first moved here, I don't think we would have even considered anything that wasn't paved to be a boat ramp. Boat ramps have parking places. Signs. Trash cans. Some have docks to tie up to. Attendants. You know, BOAT RAMPS.

Our perceptions have changed. We now find ourselves backing our vehicles into places where we once would have feared to wade.

Well, except Dooley the Demented. He is not afraid to wade. Anywhere.

You can probably see the silt and muck he managed to stir up within thirty seconds of getting out of the truck. Great. Nothing like sharing a boat with a wet dog that smells like the bottom of a tidal area.

This is what the view from this particular boat ramp looks like. We are looking northwest, across the tidal areas that make up this waterway. At low tide.

If I had paid attention to the area where Dooley the Determined was exploring I would probably have seen signs of what this area is like at high tide. The mangroves are a pretty good indication of where the water would be.

Now, that little hill in the background is of some interest to us. We have learned that these little hills are prime locations for caves.

We were in shorts and boating clothes, which means that we were not about to go tramping around in the bush here. Even though the local flora looks like simple bushes, that is deceiving. These plants are tough, and the branches and roots will tear your clothing and skin if you are not really careful. I have dozens of new scars since coming here, with most of them from my inclination to go climbing around in bushy, rocky areas unprepared. This is long pants and lace up boot country.

We managed to get the kayak inflated and launched without punching any holes in it at the 'boat ramp'. Once we got out into deeper, cleaner water La Gringa announced that she had experienced quite enough of the aroma of Dooley the Dirty and she dunked him overboard like a squirming tea bag a few times to wash him off:

I was in the back fiddling with the camera, and caught part of that on video. Unfortunately, it was near the end of it, about the second or third dunking, and he was clean and resigned by that point.

We were able to kayak a couple hundred yards, and then we found ourselves aground at low tide. We tried heading in every different direction that we could find, and I had a handheld GPS with us so I knew where the channels were supposed to be. But we learned the hard way that this area needs to be boated at high tide, when we would have another foot and a half of water here. Finally, after an hour of frustration, I decided to just pull us back to the deeper water.

One solid step with the new knee..

and then step into a hole on the bad knee..

I was mumbling about sled dogs and harnesses at this point, I am sure. But Dooley claimed he was too short to be much help, and he stayed in the boat. A half hour or so of this and I had enough. We made our way back to the 'ramp' and packed up the boat. We figured this day was a washout kayak-wise, but that we might as well take a look around while we were here with all afternoon to kill. We started picking interesting looking roads and trails and just driving down them to see where they led. This is pretty typical:

and it wound its way round flats and marshes and eventually ended at a beach. When we got there, we could see just how exceptionally low the tide actually was on this day.

High tide would bring the water up close to the vegetation line. No wonder we were gettng stranded in the marshes.

There is another trail that heads for the base of Osprey Rock and we drove that one to the end. It does not go out onto the rock itself. There is a semi-path that you can walk. Although we were not dressed for hiking, we did manage to make it out onto the top of Osprey Rock for a short distance. We had hoped to find the top entrance to that cave and see what it was like to climb down the ladder from above. This is the end of the drivable part of the trail:

With a little altitude it is easy to see the beautiful water here:

And what would a summer day hiking through the bushes unprepared be without at least the threat of some afternoon thundersqualls?

Looking back at it, I am not sure this could really be called a hiking trail. It's walkable, at least. But if you plan to go I would strongly suggest some boots and a walking stick. It's pretty rugged.

After a half hour or so of slowly making our way over rocks and through bushes we would have welcomed a little of that distant rain. When we started back, La Gringa asked me "where's the dog?" We looked around, and finally found him, off taking a dip in the ocean. See that little dark blip in the water?

That's Dooley the Deserter taking a leisurely swim. He was rolling over in the shallows and quite enjoying himself, apparently. I know it's hard to see on this blow-up, but that's his foot sticking up in the air.

And I really DO need to figure out how I am going to import a spare wheel for this vehicle if we are going to continue to do this..

We spent most of the rest of that Sunday exploring the area just looking for new roads to drive down. Or to drive up, as the case may be.

We got onto a newer "road' that goes out onto a peninsula surrounded by acres and acres of dry, desolate flats.

It's really strange looking from ground level, just flat, hot, flats with nothing growing on for miles:

At several places off in the distance we could catch glimpses of extremely white, glistening areas. We were not sure whether they were sand deposits, or salt. It was difficult to get to them. We tried several times but would get a hundred yards out onto the flats and suddenly start breaking through into the muck. Walking, of course. Not driving. Eventually we found an area of white that looked like it was reachable. I headed out barefooted for this patch:

This is easily two hundred yards out onto the flats. I had to turn back halfway and go get my shoes. It was just too uncomfortably hot to walk on. And my feet are not exactly tender.

When I got up close of course I could see that the white, reflective areas were just deposits of accumulated sea salt:

These areas have a layer of salt and minerals that vary from a thin coating to about a half an inch thick.

Not very exciting, but at least now we know firsthand what these flats are like in the mid day sun. Hot. Dry. Alien.

Back near the truck we suddenly caught a whiff of some really nice odor. It was vaguely familiar, and I know it is a commercial scent I have smelled at some time in my life in something like incense, candles, or fragrance. We zigzagged back and forth working our way upwind (who says we can't learn something from dogs?) until we pinpointed the source of it. It's this bush with these flowers on it, growing right at the very edge of that seemingly inhospitable stretch of barren moonscape.

It smelled so good we stuck a handful in the ashtray of the Land Rover to offset the Eau de Doolance, the wet dog.

We followed several of these roads until they came to a dead end. It was a part of Providenciales that the brochures seem not to mention.

Maybe they don't want the rental cars ending up out here, a long way from the nearest tow truck. It does help to have the right vehicle for this, and maybe explains part of why we drive what we do. Speaking of driving, La Gringa is getting the hang of this rough road stuff. She did all the driving, while I "relaxed" and looked for things to take photos of. It was kinda like this:

And that would be with good reason. La Gringa was driving when she suddenly stopped and asked if I saw a hole in the road. It took a minute for me to spot what she was concerned about. I mean, the road looks okay to me, right?

But see that area right in the middle, past the bushes in front of us?

Yep, it's a hole. And as far as potholes go, I would give this one at least a B+ for depth, and an A for concealment. I thought Dooley would be interested in going down into it to check it out (it is that deep) but he said "Spelunker" doesn't start with a 'D'...hard to argue with that.

Hitting this at 30 mph could actually ruin a big part of your day, I suspect:

We continued to explore, but drove a little more carefully after finding that.

By the time we headed back toward town the tide was starting to come in, and flooding part of the plain.

So, we didn't get to do much boating on that Sunday. We did manage to turn it into an exploration day, anyhow, and saw a part of the island we had not seen before. And then it was Monday, and time to turn back to something productive.

I am now working on building the second piece of La Gringa's new office shelves. I found out that after removing the center seat of the Defender 110 to install that cubby, I can now stack 8 foot lumber inside the vehicle.

This might not seem like a big deal to you, but it's a major thing to us. Getting lumber home with the little D-90 has been a problem in the past. Part of the reason it presently does not have a canvas top on it, in fact.

While working on greasy vehicles and troublesome boats is a bit of an ongoing chore, working with wood is a genuine pleasure for me. It's simple, clean. I can understand how the Shakers appreciated it, as well as woodworkers everywhere. Rip the planks down to the right width:

drill them for dowells and edge glue them up to make wider pieces:

Clamp them, shape them..

It's pretty relaxing as a hobby. And it allows me to cheaply build some sturdy, basic furniture that will definitely survive this climate. The stuff you buy these days, well, let's just say pressboard and veneers have absolutely NO place in a climate like this. Neither do metal fasteners, so I tend not to use nails or screws whenever I can avoid it.

In addition to the furniture building, of course I have been heavily involved in trying to figure out what's wrong with our high tech outboard motor for the past several weeks. Last week was even more intense than the week before. Now I am down to the point of removing the fuel rails and injectors from the motor. Two of the injectors are stuck in the head and I have not been able to remove them....yet. The ones I took out are fairly clean looking:

And we have been driving the boat around spraying atomized gasoline into the air intakes to try to figure out where the problem is. Boy, you could have fun with a cigarette lighter and one of these portable flame throwers, I bet:

But last week we decided that this had just gone too far. If you notice those photos, all this work on the motor is with it on the back of the boat, on the ocean. The logistics of working like this were really annoying and with an hour's round trip drive to even get to the boat. I had to reassemble everything at the end of a troubleshooting session because I could not leave the boat sitting in the slip with the motor in pieces. But worst of all was probably that I kept dropping the odd tool or part over the side and having to dive down and retrieve it. I am down into the motor now to the point where these are some expensive parts I am unbolting. So, we decided to do something about this whole situation. After a frustrating Thursday working on the boat, I made a couple calls to a local excavation contractor, and Friday afternoon Mr. DelRoy Williams came out to discuss our project.

Saturday morning at 08:00 a bulldozer showed up at the house. He started cutting a new path from the road to the ten foot wide overhead garage door:

Dump trucks started showing up with fill, and the dozer kept working all day Saturday. By late afternoon, we had a brand new driveway well on the way!

Then Monday morning, two days ago as I write this and three days after contacting DelRoy, a grader, a water truck and a big roller showed up to finish it:

After a year and a half of an unobstructed view out my workshop/garage door it was a little disconcerting and yet exciting to see some serious machinery at work here.

The languages were Creole, Spanish, and English. So I resorted to an engineering basic that has worked for a long time....drawings with smiley faces:

By Monday afternoon, the driveway was finished and ready to use. And I have to say here how totally impressed we were with Mr. DelRoy Williams and his crew from E&V Equipment Ltd. They did better work than we expected, in less time, and came in 10% UNDER budget!! If anyone reading this is ever looking for this type of work in the TCI, we highly recommend these guys. This experience has been a rarity in our building trials and tribulations. If we ever build another house we already have a mental list of the contractors we would use next time around, and E&V are definitely on it.

Monday afternoon we decided to make a 'dry run' with the boat trailer to make sure I could back it uphill around those curves and corners. We managed to find our trailer in the marina's yard and get it out just a few minutes before they closed for the day. We got about a hundred yards down the road with it, and something wasn't right. Too much clanking and clunking going on. Then I remembered that the last time we used this vehicle to pull a boat trailer it was Cay Lime. That trailer uses a 2" hitch ball. This trailer uses a 2 5/16" ball. Big difference. Fortunately I had the right hitch still in the Land Rover. Unfortunately, all I had for usable tools was an adjustable wrench and a pair of channel lock pliers. And the hitch was rusted up, of course. After straining and stressing and getting frustrated for about a half an hour, I finally had to either leave the trailer where it was and go home for tools (one hour round trip, remember?) or come up with a fix. Well, we had a section of line in the truck we use for a dog leash, and I discovered that if you wrap it really really tight on the pliers, you end up with a home-made vise grip. And it worked! It kept the ball from turning while I hammered at the frozen nut.

After that, backing the trailer uphill was almost easy. Looks like the drawing, sort of..

Then, yesterday, it was time to bring the boat home for the first time since it's been in the TCI. I drove the boat around while La Gringa drove the D-90 with the trailer, and we met at a local 'boat ramp' that we liked. And yeah, we paid attention to the tide this time. We're learning.

Dooley elected to stay onboard..

And I hopped ashore and backed the trailer down into the cut in the limestone. La Gringa had managed to get it turned around and lined up perfectly, but she was nervous about backing it into the ocean. It's a big trailer, and a small ramp. That's a pretty tight fit:

And I know it's difficult to see in this photo, but none of the six tires in this photo are touching the bottom. The trailer floats! Dangedest thing. There is a good six inches or more of water under every one of those. I should have put the camera underwater for this one.

This ramp worked out very well, since it is protected from the wind and current. We didn't even have to use the motor to put the boat on. This is the first time we have put the boat on the trailer. Went like clockwork.

The last bit was to drive the two miles to the house, and the new driveway. Backing a 35 foot boat and trailer combo up hill, around two 90 degree turns, while steering with my right hand and peering back over my left shoulder (both totally opposite of how I learned to back boats) was a minor excitement, to say the least. I had to disable the surge brakes on the trailer. But by late afternoon, we had done it.

We now can fix everything on the boat, work on the motor, pressure wash and paint the hull, without having to drive all the way to the boatyard. We are going to try keeping it at home for a while, as opposed to in a slip at the boatyard. Especially during hurricane season. One less thing for me to worry about, and of course we save the expense of the monthly slip fees and that miserable trip to and from the boatyard.

We were pretty amazed at how fast this developed. I got fed up with working on the boat in the water on Thursday, and by Tuesday it was parked by my workshop having been backed up a driveway that didn't exist three days earlier. Wonderful.

That pretty much catches the blog up-to-date since the boat ramp photos were taken yesterday afternoon.

Oh, and I can finish with a sunset this time. We have been trying to get a photo of a good one. Dooley the Determined was keeping his eye on this one til the last moment, waiting for something spectacular. Or maybe just waiting to howl at the moon:

(truth is, he was looking for a lizard to harass)

This one wasn't much better, but the reflection in the salina had some possibilities, or so I thought at the time: