Sunday, October 11, 2009

Checking out Grace Bay

The summer of 2009 is over. The warmer temperatures of September are behind us along with historically the busiest month for hurricanes. Oh we are not 'out of the woods' for this season just yet. Storms come in October, and even November. But with every day between us and September we get a little closer to the finish line for this hurricane season. I would like to be able to relax and stop haunting the weather websites. I can stop looking at satellite images of the West Coast of Africa first thing every morning. "StormPulse" and "Weather Underground" will eventually take a backseat to Fox, CNN, and BBC again. Not yet, mind you, but we're on the downside of the Hurricane Season of 2009. Knock on wood.

We're not really superstitious, but I figured that if we put the boat in the driveway this year, came up with a way to chain it down, and bought an emergency backup generator....well, that all combines to be the best hurricane prevention I can think of. They won't come if they think you are prepared for them, right?. Is that superstitious? Maybe so. But so far it's worked.

And the weather has been pretty good lately.

October is traditionally the second 'rainiest' month of the year here, with November the wettest. These islands are what is termed 'marine tropical desert'. That means that the sun shines 350 days a year with an average temperature of 83°F (28°C). We get about 45-50 inches of rain a year on Providenciales. Much less on Grand Turk.

We get great electrical storms and squalls blowing through from time to time in the autumn and Dooley the Demented hates it. We had to move his 'crate' from the attic back into the bedroom so we have a place to banish him to when the thunder starts and he insists on crawling under our pillows shivering and slobbering. The wimp.

We keep looking for opportunities to continue exploring the coast of Providenciales with our little rubber boat "Low Cay". By now we've pretty much seen all the easy-to-get-to stuff, and have started taking it to other islands. We've been as far in one direction as Pine Cay, and almost to the Amanyara Resort in the other direction. We've done every canal we can find, some of them twice. Some more than twice. Those are good places to go in a small boat when the wind is howling. And it do howl from time to time here. In fact, last weekend it was blowing pretty darned good from the Northeast. So looking at the Google Earth image we figured if we hugged the coast of this island staying in the lee we could still boat out of most of the wind and wave action.

This worked out okay, because for some time we have been thinking of seeing Grace Bay from the ocean. For those who don't know much about this little country, Grace Bay is the tourism center of the Turks and Caicos. It is a nice long stretch of beautiful beach facing outward from the islands. The reef is offshore about a mile, and the water is beautiful. The majority of the multi-room hotels and condos are along this beach. This is the path we took:

We found a little section of beach in Leeward to put the boat in. At this end of Grace Bay the developments have not encroached on the area, yet. We paddled past a private residence called "Coral House". This is the first time we have seen it up close from the water. Now, this is my mental image of what a 'beach cottage' can be:

We were a little saddened to see that the land just next door to the Coral House has been bulldozed flat, with For Sale signs on it. I mean, I can understand someone wanting to sell it for development, but my question is.....why not just leave it in it's natural state until someone buys it and starts building? With the economy the way it is right now, this could easily sit here for years, scraped down to bare rock with no vegetation. I don't understand it. Would have been cheaper for the seller to NOT destroy all the trees and native plants. Oh well. The beach is still nice.

And then the resorts start.

Those two buildings on the right were under construction when we moved here. We thought they were huge monstrosities at the time. Now we realize that they were only medium sized monstrosities.

I am going to just post the photos in the order we took them as we cruised along in our little rubber boat. I don't really have any way of identifying all of these by name. It's easy on the street side of course, with big signs telling you the name of each resort. But I am betting those of you who have stayed here will recognize some of them.

I noticed way later that starting with this photo I had a drop of water on my lens. Sorry about that.

Not all of the resorts are big multi-story buildings. The original business on this beach was Club Med. Before Club Med, there was nothing at all on Grace Bay, and only a few hundred inhabitants for the entire island. I have heard numbers like 600-800 people. So, the entire population of Providenciales would have fit into one of these new buildings...comfortably. Anyhow, Club Med is much, much bigger than it appears from the road in front of it. I was quite surprised. Their property starts about where that dock is in this photo:

And the little restaurant on the sand there is the Flamingo. We have been there a time or two to watch the sunset and listen to music. It's a great little place.

That dock is also where Club Med ties up their diving and excursion boats. Nice:

They have certainly done a better job than most in blending into the island's natural appearance.

I am guessing this is the main center of activity at Club Med. Well, public activity, I mean. We saw tennis and basketball courts nearby, and of course the boats all pulled up on the beach here.

After the Club Med complex the newer resorts start again:

And they continue all the way along Grace Bay:

We decided to swing out away from the beach to get around their swimming area markers. Those are the white buoys in the photo:

This is a very safe beach to swim from, with not much boat traffic and protected by the reef offshore. It has a nice sandy bottom, which means not a lot in the way of marine animals to bother sensitive toes. Still, we were interested to see that even on a nice day like this the beach was almost totally empty. Part of it is the economy, with hotel bookings way down. And part of it is the season. Not that many people come here this time of year. Many places close down until late November.

This is the largest single resort complex on Grace Bay, the Seven Stars. It is my understanding that the property was bought from the original developers by a group of property owners. I am not sure if it is still operating as a public resort or if it has gone private:

We continued to cruise along, and our plan to hug the coastline here to stay out of the wind was working well. There were six to eight foot waves just offshore from us but as long as we stayed in the shelter of the island we were fine.

We turned around at a point of land that was putting us out into the wind a bit more than we liked. We knew we had an hour's peddling to get back to where we launched the boat. On the way back we swung by a spot we had seen when we first started this trip. It looks like something was once constructed here against this little bluff. There are some small concrete block walls still standing:

It's not a hotel location, so we assume it was the beginning of a private residence. Possibly another victim of the double whammy of Hurricanes Hanna and Ike last year?

Thirty or forty yards off the beach we could see three or four dark structures on the bottom, in about 8-10 ft. of water. We didn't have any snorkel gear with us, but I stuck the little camera over the side of the boat and snapped some photos as we went by them. I was hoping that the photos would let me figure out what these are:

I can't view the little LCD on the camera in direct sunlight so I had no real way of knowing how the photos came out until later. Here's another one, different object:

I still don't know what they are. They are about six to ten feet long, and stick up off the bottom around three feet. I guess we will have to go back with faceplate and snorkel at some point and take a closer look. But that will have to be another day and a special trip. We don't spend much time in the Grace Bay area.

We tend to like the views on our side of the island better.

We don't just use the kayak to explore. Our vehicles are pretty well suited to be able to handle a lot of bad roads. And in the past week we have been doing a little of that. We took off yesterday to look for a good spot to launch the boat in one of the most remote areas of this island out near the western end, miles past the nearest pavement. We followed this little "road" as far as we could, for example. Then 'guess who' had to get out and walk through this stuff barefooted to make sure there were no surprises under the muck.

'Cause I can tell you right now, there is NO way La Gringa is going to voluntarily wade through this kind of stuff barefooted. She did feel safe enough to drive through it, though.

"See? I told you it was easy.."

Unfortunately not far after this we ran into water and mud so deep that even I wasn't going to wade it feeling for the bottom among all the little critters and slimy things that slither between toes. So, "guess who" got to get out and direct traffic backing up until we could find a place wide enough to turn around?

Yeah, you guessed it. The barefooted guy with the camera and several unidentified species crawling over his feet.

Eventually, though, we managed to work our way to the coast. (That's one of the things you can pretty much count on, when your on an island.) And we were glad to see this bit of blue through the trees at the end of the trail:

I know plenty of people who come someplace like this on vacation want the nice smooth beaches, the spas, masseuses, restaurants, pools, and bars of the posh resorts. And that's fine. That's what Grace Bay is all about and it's a really nice place for that kind of thing. But this is more our style:

Not a soul to be seen as far as we could see in that direction, or in the other direction either:

We had planned to put "Low Cay" in the water and explore some interesting features I spotted on Google Earth, but the ocean was a bit uneasy yesterday. And this rocky coastline was just not the kind of place to launch this boat. It is filled with places like this, where the waves swoop around circular holes in the shoreline and polish rocks into piles:

We'll just have to re-group, re-plan, and approach this from another direction. Gives us another goal in our little quest to explore the entire coastline of Providenciales by kayak eventually. We're getting there.

And in the meantime, La Gringa is getting pretty good at doing three point turn-arounds in some pretty 'iffy' places.

Man, I really need to get a spare tire for this truck. So far, I have not been able to find a wheel on the island that fits.

Back at the house the DIY stuff continues. In fact the rest of this post is pretty much about DIY stuff, so if you only tune in for the pretty pictures of the tropics...that part of the program is over for now.

I know that I have mentioned my ongoing war with corrosion several times here. It continues. One of the earliest issues we faced when we moved to this hillside facing the ocean and trade winds was what happens when some well meaning but metallurgically clueless company puts brass grommets on aluminum screen. The electrolysis between the different metals in the presence of salt steals material from the weaker material. In our case, it's the aluminum screen wire. Within three months (3 months!!) of moving into our then-new home, we noticed that the screen wire was getting completely eaten away around the brass grommets. The grommets are there to line the hole where the window cranks go through the screen. I wandered around the house last week looking for a remaining example of the process in progress, and could only find this little-used window in our pump room.

We almost never open this window, we don't use this room. It's where the water pump and filter for the house are located so this crank has probably been used twice in a year and a half. Once to crank the louvers down for the hurricanes, and then once again a week later to open it back a crack for ventilation. But you can see that the screen has been completely corroded away around the brass grommet. And this is a protected one. Imagine the ones that get used daily.

The problem with this is up in the main house where the corrosion has left holes like this in all 26 of our doors and windows that have aluminum screens.

These things each have two cranks for louvers in them. That means 52 holes big enough for a squadron of mosquitos to fly through on a strafing run without even having to break formation. We don't have a lot of mosquitos here, generally. The wind keeps them away. But when we do have those rare calm mornings and evenings we would dearly like to be the ones who determine upon which side of the screens the bugs will be located. If we leave it up to them, they show no restraint at all.

Replacing the screens doesn't fix the problem. Well, it does for about 90 days or so but putting new aluminum screen and new brass grommets in, basically, approaches Einstein's definition of insanity. I even have a nice supply of grommets, barely used. In my early enthusiasm, I even bought spares!

These would be okay for putting tie-down holes in canvas or plastic tarps...but keep them away from aluminum screens in a high salt environment. Trust me on this. It's a temporary solution. Which is not really a 'solution' per se, is it. I have even been told by a friend on Pine Cay that brass grommets in plastic screens have not solved the problem. I suspect that's more an issue of fatigue than corrosion, but I digress.

After fighting and re-fighting this particular battle for over a year now, I think I may have found a solution. I had come up with plans to cut round washers out of thin plastic and sandwiching those between the brass grommets and the screen to electrically isolate the two materials. And I still think that would work, although it would be a lot of hassle to cut 104 plastic washers. But in the search for pre-cut plastic washers online (forget finding them here. That falls under the heading of "Ha ha ha ha ha ha!!" accompanied by maniacal laughter) I discovered.....Plastic Grommets!! Yes! I won't go into what I had to go through to import half a gross of them here, but I did it. About two weeks ago I received six packets of these things:

They're cheap. Twelve grommets for about ten bucks. It cost me more to UPS them here than they cost to buy. I chose these because they are small (3/8" diameter hole) and because they came in metallic colors. I found some other plastic grommets, but they were bigger, triangular, and bright blue. Naaah... Putting these in is fairly easy, although time consuming. This is where the post really bogs down into the minutiae of this DIY stuff. 'Cause of course I am going to explain it. I need blog photos.

First step is to strip the old screen out. You pull the rubber spline out from around it, and the screen comes out easily.

Can you tell there's absolutely nothing wrong with that six month old screen except for those two $#@*&#! holes from corrosion?

Then you stretch and mount the new screen by using one of these spline replacing tools. There are a number of things that can go wrong at this point. Those of you who have replaced screens will already know about them. Those of you who have yet to replace your own screens will learn them as you go. (The rest of you won't give a rosy red rat's patoot one way or another) You can use a screwdriver to do this instead of a screen spline tool. This will accelerate your education as to the list of little things that can go wrong. It doesn't show in these photos, but I found it a good idea to cut a couple pieces of wood to put across the frame to keep the long sides from getting pulled inward when pushing the splines back into the grooves. It keeps the frame rectangular. This is a good thing later when you try to put it back into the window or door. Concave or hour-glass shaped screens just don't quite get it when it comes to keeping bugs out.

Then you trim the excess screen off:

Yes, this is another place where things can go very wrong if you let your mind wander. Or even if your mind lets you wander. And starting over at this point....well...just pay attention. And be careful . But do this for about fifteen minutes and....

and you have a new screen. Without crank holes, as of yet. But we will get to that. I also found out that it's a good idea to clean up the cranks a little while you have them apart. the corrosion caused by the brass and salt extends even into the crank shafts themselves. They get bound up in the mechanisms, and make it very hard to get them out without destroying the screens. Best to clean them up when you can. I had to scrape aluminum oxide off the shafts. I used a chisel.

The shafts also have these little spring-loaded ball bearing things that are supposed to snap into the mechanisms. It's the same system that socket wrenches use. I found about half of the shafts were frozen up, as well. I used Vise Grip pliers (Mole Grips for you UK folks) to compress these things so that I could dribble oil down inside them onto the springs.

This freed up all of the stuck ones without too much trouble.

I also took the set screws out of the handles and coated those with anti-seize compound so that they are easy to take out. The little allen head screws are steel. The handles are aluminum. Need I say more about that? Finally, I put a piece of shrink tubing over the shaft where it would contact the screen. These haven't had my greasy fingerprints cleaned off of them yet, but you get the idea:

I also took the crank mechanisms apart and repacked them with grease but didn't get any photos of that. Mainly because my hands were covered in grease.

Now, to be logical, with the plastic grommets I really shouldn't need the shrink tubing to isolate the aluminum shaft. But this is what I had planned to do if I went with Plan A using the brass grommets again and isolating them from the aluminum. I hope these are superfluous but it's a good opportunity to find out if they work out in case I have to go back to the brass again someday for some reason. "What reason?" you might ask? Well, availablilty of plastic grommets, for one thing. I had a hard time finding and procuring these. I can get brass ones anywhere. And these are plastic after all. There is no guarantee that they will survive this environment, yet. They could well get brittle and shatter in a few months. Or weeks. Or 'in days' is not inconceivable. Thank goodness we have made it past the 'in milliseconds' part already, but I am keeping an eye on them. I don't trust plastic here unless it's UV proof. (Which as near as I can tell doesn't really exist.)

Next step is to put the screens up where they want to go, and I used a screwdriver to punch holes where the cranks fit.

Take the screens back off and then trim the holes so that the new plastic grommets fit. I found out that a toenail clipper works pretty well for this. Don't ask.

I also used a few drops of Super-Glue to hold the two grommet halves although they do snap together fairly easily. And when it's all assembled it looks like this:

Sure looks a lot better than the first photo in this little DIY exercise, don't ya think? And while it might not keep all the bugs out, it will surely slow down the taller ones with short attention spans.

Oh, and of course in additon to all this stuff I keep working on the Yamaha outboard trying to get our boat to work again. This week I received a box of new filters, o-rings, spark plugs and diagnostic software from our friends at Shipyard Island Marina in Wisconsin. This software lets me check all kinds of parameters in this complicated motor in my seemingly never-ending quest to figure out why it doesn't run worth a darn. Using this software requires me to start and run the motor. I got it all set up this week, and used our industrial strength trash bin as a test tank. I was just barely able to fit this big outboard motor into it and fill it with water. But I did it. I had to put a hydraulic jack under the back of the boat trailer to raise the motor up enough to fit it in the trash bin. I had to cut blocks to put under the wheels, and the jack. Wow, took about ten seconds to write that. About two hours to do it.

The motor is running in this photo. The white wire is the connection between the Yamaha's Electronic Control Module and my laptop. And my laptop was sitting on the tailgate of the D-90

in the garage..

And yes, that's a washing machine in the back of the Land Rover, and no I don't want to talk about it. Still too painful.

This was going great, I was getting all kinds of test data and engine parameters from the Diagnostic software..

There's pages of this stuff. And I was learning my way through it quite nicely, with the motor idling along behind me in its nice tank of fresh water...

When suddenly things started making loud funny noises. The exhaust of the outboard was suddenly uncovered where it had been underwater before. I also noticed a fair bit of water seemed to be splashing all over the keyboard, on the back of my neck, etc. This was not part of the plan.

After closing up the computer, spryly clambering aboard the boat in a hasty fashion and turning the motor off, I was able to determine what happened. My makeshift test tank water had warmed up to 138 degrees F circulating through the motor. I would never have known about this 138 degrees F thing, you see, without my Yamaha Diagnostic Software. Well, as I am sure many of you know, when plastic warms up it gets soft. And in this case, the sides of the trash bin softened up enough that the water pressure distorted it. The solid fiberglass handle that the garbage truck uses to lift these bins came completely out of its mounting. Most of the excitement had settled down by the time I got the motor turned off and remembered to grab the camera. But this is what the final bit of that whole little episode looked like:

And when that water was about two feet deeper and the motor was running, it was splashing much better than that. oh yeah. The prop turns slowly even when the motor is in neutral. It turns a bit faster when it's suddenly only partly in the water. This all adds to the excitement.

So, after quietly figuring out how to get the trash bin back together and smuggled up the hill without La Gringa realizing I trashed it, I realized that I have to put the boat in the water to do this right. And that is basically where we are at the moment. Waiting on a calm enough day to trust my laptop to the open sea. oh boy.

Going from project to project with hardly any break or even the semblance of a sense of control can get frustrating at times. I have read somewhere that the difference between an ordeal and an adventure is all in your attitude about it. So I find myself looking around where we live, at these beautiful waters, and these great people, and these acceptable sunsets...and I just tell myself 'tomorrow is another day'.


Travis said...

Great post as always! I may have missed this, but why can't you use the waterhose/muffs on the foot? Rather than the trash can or launching it.


Anonymous said...

From Sir Reel:

I know a lot of the folks who follow your posts look forward to the great pictures of the sky and water but unless there's fish'n involved I find my self scroll'n on down to the good DIY stuff. Great looking job on the screen repair. I know it would not have produced as much meat for a post but I kept wondering why you wouldn't consider using the 3" X 3" screen patches? Even if you were concerned about having them in the same location, you could have reversed the screen and reinstalled. Being a lazy natured fellow, I'd have probably tried a fix without the removal or the screen.

As to the motor, I admittedly am not an outboard mechanic, but I seem to recall that there is a fitting on the engine block where a hose fitting can be installed. I don't know if there is also a place where a return flow fitting could be connected but it would seem that you could come up with a "closed loop" arrangement for cooling water to flow. You would need some sort of reservoir and circulating pump..(I kept thinking about how to incorporate the live well or bilge pump but nothing comes to mind immediately) but there would be no jacking and the temp issue might not be a problem?? just a thought... probably not practical..perhaps a wooden barrel?? Decorative rain barrel :>)
Still it was good stuff and do you have any idea how many of your projects end up filling up the minds of us who are supposed to be otherwise engaged in meaningfull activity... THANK YOU.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Grace Bay pics.

Coral House used to sit on this wonderful eroded beach and the pagoda or trellis, or whatever you call it, sat up on this retaining wall with big man made "rocks" to help with the erosion. It could get quite tricky trying to cross that area at high tide, and the rocks in front were a favorite with a huge barracuda and some friends.

That is now gone, and the house has sandy beach.

There was also an amazing "neon" sandbar that extended from the house way out on the water - and all kinds of neat rock formations and tide pools teaming with life.

It was one of my absolute favorite walks.

The change started with one of my favorite huge pines on Provo, which could be seen from google earth, slowly dying piece by piece while The Tuscany was being developed.

That tree is now gone (sad), and the eroded beach blasted and redeveloped, I guess, to look more like the rest of Grace Bay and to make it more attractive for development I suppose.

Such is life, however. I'm just glad I got to experience the "before" as well. Had you seen it previously? I seem to recall an article about the house and one of the developers and his family living there.

And I've never understood the scraping the land thing - Beautiful by Nature, right?

La Gringa said...

Gringo and I know exactly the Casuarinas pine you refer to. It had a small dory upside on the bluff underneath it. When we first moved to Provo we stayed at the golf course and this was during the time that the Tuscanny was under construction. We used to take Dooley down that way almost everyday for a swim and some fetch with a tennis ball. We sat under that pine many, many times.

And we are also familiar with the way the terrain used to be along that stretch by the Coral House. What we saw on our kayak trip was a big surprise!!!

Anonymous said...

I have some of the screen patches, and they would work in some places. But the wind would peel them off in others. And you would still see the oblong corroded holes through them. I think this looks better. Time will tell if it works.

As for muffs on the outboard, I got some and they just don't work as advertised. Water squirts all around the edges, and never fills the motor. Plus my yamaha guru up in Wisconsin tells me the motor doesn't run the same without the backpressure on the exhaust that being underwater gives it.

I am keeping my eye out for a suitable oil drum or similar to make a better tank out of.

Anonymous said...

Those pictures are gorgeous! I'm insanely jealous!

Anonymous said...

Glad you got to see it before. I have a series of pictures of that tree in various states, including near death, with various states of construction in the background. I call it "Progress"

Kristin said...

The construction and the height of the buildings is such a turn off for what is supposed to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean.

This post made me think of my parents - they are busier with the house in retirement than when they worked. They have a log home - you have corrision, they have creatures that try to eat the house.

Another great post.

Panga Man said...


Love the pics as always. Ive been following your post for quite awhile (since they were on THT). Im getting ready to move to St. Lucia so it helps seeing some foreign island life! And it also helps to come to grips and what ive got to look forward to, Good and Bad!!

Also Just to let you know I have my Angler Panga for sale If you want another one!!! You can check it out under the classifieds at I already have someone who can ship it down there if you want it!

Panga Man

Anonymous said...

Sorry there hasn't been an update. Most of the photos I have in the last two weeks are sunrises and sunsets, and building La Gringa a desk.

I fixed the boat, and also dismantled and repaired the transmission brake on a Land Rover, but I know everyone is tired of that stuff.

We were out diving for conch yesterday. I will get some sea photos this week, hopefully.

Anonymous said...

Sir Reel Writes:
Some of us would be very interested in what the "fix" turned out to be for the Yamaha. Even the DIY subjects are different and flavored with the life style you and La Gringa enjoy....put em on us!