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:


Natalie said...

When you tie up your trailer to the chains will you deflate your tires?

Anonymous said...

That is THE most beautiful sunset picture yet! WOW! I'm glad you guys have dodged the storms so far. Looks like lots is getting done around the Gringo house. Very cool ancient conch shell. Wonder how long it took to become one with the rock? The water looks flat in the mornings. It has been like that down island as well. Jean and Mike have been as far South as Guadeloupe and their photos have looked very much the same.
You guys take care,

Steve said...

Great idea with the tie downs. Are they going to rust in time? How much time will you get out of them do you think? Living in Lake Hopatcong we only have gassy, weedy, oily water to deal with. No corrosive salt to speak of.

Tom said...

You know, the last time you and I saw each other in 1988 or 89, you were pretty thin on the top. Now it's all gone, and danged if you haven't gotten uglier too. It is nice to see you are doing well and surviving your penchant for DYI's! Will see Gunnar next week in London. Any words of wisdom you want me to share with him?

Tom Allensworth

Unknown said...

Mcgyver Grino,

I am impressed with the way you keep coming up with ideas to solve problems. I like the receiver hitch idea on the front bumper. I have one of those on my hummer.


Marc "trinaussie" deV said...


When we have a hurricane and the boat is on the trailer I just tie it to the trailer and put all bungs in and block the scuppers.

If the hurricane is forecast to produce a lot of rain then I just let the boat fill naturally to produce holding down weight, but if I am worried the wind will come before much rain I put about 500 to 1000 gals in her from the hosepipe.

I like your tie downs though. We dodged Bill with just some 50knot wind and some rough sea. Fingers crossed for the rest of the season!


Unknown said...

Your very last photo here, with the plants in the foreground, is my favorite!

Expat 21