Monday, January 25, 2010

Winter Blues

Saturday dawned a cold, bleak, frozen, dreary day................................... somewhere else. But not here. We woke up to a really nice day, with clear skies and calm winds and clear water.

The temperature has gotten down into the low 70's at night a few times lately. This IS mid winter, you know.

I don't think we have seen it below 70 yet this winter. There's still time.

But Saturday it was in the low 80's. And we decided to take the day off to go outside and just play with the boat. We loaded up, I siphoned some fresh gasoline into the tank and we were off to our local boat ramp. From the time we hook up the boat until it's floating off the trailer is about 20-25 minutes. It takes us about the same amount of time to load it back on the trailer and get home with it. Loading it back can get interesting, especially with a trailer that refuses to stay put:

We didn't really need any excuses to go boating on a day like this but we had a couple objectives in mind rather than just mindlessly zooming around. Since we first launched this boat we have been looping way outside some shoals between where we live and Leeward. We have long intended to make a run inside the shoals on a calm, clear day and map a route that saves us some time and distance. I examined Google Earth for the area, made some measurements and mentally plotted a course that would take us over shallow sand but avoid rocks and shoals and areas thick with coral heads. This was a good day for it. Clear water and the sun high overhead.

La Gringa had her new camera along and was snapping away. She got these images looking over the side of the boat as I drove between the rocky patches. I thought they looked pretty neat:

Can you believe that is around 4-5 ft. deep? The bottom looks a lot closer when it's clear like this.

This photo has an old conch shell or something in it. Gives it some scale. And there are bits of sea grass floating on the water surface. The brightest streaks are sunlight diffracted on the sand bottom.

Now, imagine you are zipping along over this at about thirty mph, keeping the speed as slow as you can go to minimize damage in case you hit something, but still staying fast enough to keep the hull up on plane. The boat needs less water under it when its on plane. The natural reaction to seeing a submerged object immediately in front of you is to pull the throttle back and slow down. You have to learn not to do that. The boat sinks deeper if you do that. You have to go fast and hope you can dodge it or clear it. You learn to play games with S turns to tilt the boat and make the prop shallower. It can keep your attention if you are driving.

Parts of the Caicos Bank have a very high 'pucker factor' when your outboard motor draws almost three feet of water.

This day's effort worked out well. We were able to map out a route that is about 2.5 miles shorter than the way we have been using. Historically we have come in from behind the old freighter wreck, just visible here:

It's a little riskier taking this boat inside and I probably won't do it late in the day looking into the sun when I can't see the water in front of us. If you get off track here you can run into just a few feet of water in places, even hundreds of yards from shore. And there are coral heads.

Once we are past the Conch Farm and into Leeward Going Through, there is plenty of water depth for most of the rest of the trip. So, here we are blasting happily away glad to be in deep and familiar water when I look ahead and see a boat apparently anchored where there is supposed to be a channel day marker. Those are the big steel pilings that were put in by developers. They mark a channel where boats with deeper draft can come in through the reef to the docks at Nikki Beach. Big boats. Proper yachts. I confess that I probably tend to mutter things about people who fish or swim or kayak in the middle of busy channels on perfect Saturdays.

In this case I am sure I mumbled something like "who is this idiot anchored in the channel?" Or something along those general lines. Then we got closer and just as I was recognizing the boat La Gringa says "That's no idiot! That's Preacher in 'Cay Lime' anchored there!"

Sho' nuff:

It seems that someone knocked down at least two of the day mark pilings, somehow. Well, with a boat, I would imagine, but so far we have not heard much in the way of details. Preacher was out here cutting the steel pipe up so it could be brought up and taken out of the channel. He had diving equipment, a compressor, an underwater cutting torch, lift bags...all in the back of "Cay Lime". She was floating about two inches lower than she usually does, I noticed. But that's not a problem for that boat.

We looked at all the options when we first ordered "Cay Lime" from Andros. The maximum recommended motor was 150 Horsepower, and that's what we bought for it. It was one of the quicker boats around with that 150 on it. I wonder what the builder would say if I showed him what Preacher decided was a good choice for an outboard? It really moves, now, especially since it is also about 500 lbs lighter than it was when we owned it. And of course Preacher can drive it at 50 if he has just about anything deeper than a wet lawn to work with. We've lost hats riding with him, already, over shallow sand bars. You can't stop to get them in ankle deep water. The boat can't slow down or it's aground.

You can't see much here, but the white blobs are lift bags. They are like underwater parachutes. You attach them to heavy things, blow them full of air, and they float it off the bottom so you can tow it away. Preacher was taking a break from diving when we stopped to talk.

We hung around for awhile, getting caught up on the latest news from Preacher's perspective. Dooley the Deserter would have jumped ship and paddled over to see Preacher and Cay Lime if we had let him.

We realized that the annual Valentines Day Regatta is coming up in just two weeks over on Middle Caicos. We made plans for that.

This is not an uncommon way for us to bump into people we know here. Many of our friends here are also boat people and most of them are probably out on the water on a nice day like this in mid winter.

Eventually we realized that we were one of the idiots drifting around inside the channel when we noticed unfamiliar boats having to dodge us..

Of course the locals will zip out of this marked channel in a heartbeat, just like the little powerboat in that photo. But then, the locals were boating here a long time before someone hammered these steel spikes into the reef.

After mapping out a new shorter path to Leeward, our next objective ( or excuse) for the day's excursion was to go check out the new canals at Sandy Point on North Caicos.
We had been in and out of the North Caicos Yacht Club marina several times last year when we came over by water taxi. But we had not yet brought our boat over so we could explore the rest of the canals. And we decided today was the day.

To get there, we travel right by the Parrot Cay resort. We thought about stopping by to see if Keith Richards or Bruce Willis were at home and maybe bored on the island..

But it's a little rude to just show up without calling ahead and besides, we had canals to look at.. so we scooted over to the always interesting entrance to the little cut between Parrot Cay and North Caicos. There is a heck of a sand bar that defines the edge of the channel:

A fathom under the keel, but knee deep at the stakes. You can see the slight swell breaking over the really shallow parts:

A guy could really embarrass himself by running a few feet wide on this turn. I guess the good news is that you could walk ashore for help from here. The other side is a similar sand bar but unmarked. One side marked is good enough. If you remember which side it is, in the dark.

Some of the local guys keep their boats here as they have done traditionally for many years. They use a version of the Mediterranean mooring style common in that part of the world and the Aegean, a line ashore and an anchor holding you out.

Looking across the tip of Parrot Cay just across the very narrow Sandy Point channel:

You can see that unmarked sandbars and shoals are a fact of life here. Along with the reefs, rocks and coral heads. Two miles from here it's a thousand feet deep. A half a mile more, three thousand. Just beyond the white rollers breaking on the distant reef in the photo above. And getting from here to there is not as straightforward as it might seem.

We were at our destination. We motored into the canals at the North Caicos Yacht Club development.

We noticed that one of the infamous Boat-Eating Casuarinas trees is devouring an old wooden sloop right there in broad daylight:

The canals have been very nicely done. There are steel and concrete bulkheads for every building lot. The canals here are wider than most in the country, and from I saw a nice six feet of depth for the most part.

We wouldn't be interested in being on the other side of a bridge too low to get a mast through but we decided to take a look anyway.

Now, is that a cool canal building lot or not?

What a fantastic place for a boat landing and a house up above any potential flooding issues and high enough to catch the breeze and give a good view. A perfect spot. The low altitude of these types of building lots is one of the things that makes us nervous about them as primary residences.

During Hurricane Hanna, we experienced about a four foot storm surge where we live on Providenciales. And Hanna was not a particularly hateful storm, as hurricanes go. They are all serious, of course, but Hanna was about 105 mph when it went through here. And I look at these and wonder what it would be like with, say, a six foot storm surge and two foot of wind blown chop on top of it....making the ocean about 8 ft. higher than it is right now... It's one thing if your vacation home gets some water and wave damage while you are away for hurricane season. It's another thing entirely if you are inside the house at the time.

There is one house already under construction, and as far as we know there are only about a half dozen unsold lots in the whole subdivision.

It sure would be nice to walk out the patio door with a fishing pole in your hand, step right onto your boat and fire that puppy up.

At this point on our outing, the Yamaha started running a little rough. "Ah Oh" we thinks. "We've seen this before.." In checking things out La Gringa discovered we were just about out of two stroke oil. Not low enough to set off any alarms, yet, but we are still about 24 miles from the boat trailer at this point. We decided to stop at Pine Cay on the way back and see if we could scrounge some two-stroke outboard oil from our friends there.

Another look at a conch boat. There are a lot of these here, with identical hulls all made on a common mold someone made from a boat a long time ago.

(And that is the hull of the sloop the tree is eating, visible behind the sign.)

This is a view from seaward of the Dellis Cay resort. This half a billion dollar development has been stopped for many months now. I'm sure I'm not the only one who wonders what will happen to the partially finished structures if a serious hurricane comes through here before they are finished.

I think Ike would have taken the tops of those off, for starters. Add ten foot waves...

They are completely open to the elements, and a strong wind could really get up to no good from this direction over the open ocean.

Here we are heading into Pine Cay cut between Pine Cay on the right and Ft. George Cay on the left. They don't show well in this photo, but this area is another cut that is rife with shifting sandbars. The longshore current here is toward Providenciales, and the sand is migrating slowly in that direction. There is always somewhat of a channel here, somewhere, but the location changes constantly. It keeps you on your toes.

This is the little Pine Cay marina. There is a small fuel dock here and they usually have two stroke oil. We were able to pick up a gallon.

I hung with the boat while La Gringa and Dooley the Desperate-to-get-ashore went to find someone who get us some oil. It's usually pretty peaceful here, since this marina is a private one. I snapped another photo of the shore here - one of Dooley's favorite swimming spots.

And you can tell by the lengthening shadows that the afternoon is passing on. We still have a few miles to go from here. The tide is running out at the moment. Even if I didn't already know that I could tell by the direction the fish under the floating docks at the marina are swimming:

Another shot of the Dellis Cay project as it looks from Pine Cay marina:

After that we basically hoofed it home as fast as our three hundred horses could get us. We wanted to have the boat on the trailer and be headed for the house before bug-thirty came around. The Yamaha was running ragged at first, getting rough above 4,000 RPM. We cruise just fine at 3700 so we continued on our way but La Gringa drove while I opened the bilge and checked the fuel filters. Yep, another half a cup of water and dirt in the separation tank. Not too long after I emptied that out things got better. By the time we were on the Caicos Bank we were humming along at 4600 RPM with no trouble whatsoever.

As always, I do have some DIY stuff going on. The latest addition to the never ending list is a tow hitch setup we bought off of a wrecked Land Rover. I took it apart to get the rust off it and paint it.

Oh, sure, it looks all nice and clean sitting there like that. It didn't start that way. It was covered in rust and grease and all put together with frozen bolts. While getting it apart I was absolutly too filthy to want to touch my camera with my hands, and so I only have the 'after' photos. I will be priming and painting it next. Some of the bolts did NOT want to be removed.

Once again I really appeciated the capabilities we gained by installing a compressor setup in the shop. I used three air tools working on this tow hitch, and they made the job a whole lot easier than it would have been for me a year ago. In addition to an impact wrench and an air chisel to get frozen bolts out, a needle gun makes short work of knocking loose rust, paint, and scale off the metal parts:

Each one of those hard steel rods are hitting the surface of that metal at about 4,000 times a minute. Its like a swarm of rabid little paint chippers on steroids. It works well on irregular shapes and inside angles, too. Sure beats hours with a wire brush. But it's messy.

I had to throw a little DIY in here, of course. Just so it doesn't seem like life is all blue water and sunny days. I hope this version of "Winter Blues" is of some entertainment. We have more boat trips coming up shortly, and the diving gear is now ready to go. I still need to pick up a decent underwater camera, but everything else is ready for some underwater exploring again. And we have a trip to Middle Caicos planned with Preacher early in February. It's Valentine's Day Regatta time again.

I don't have a fresh sunset photo from the past few days to post here, but this is what it looks like to the South out over the Caicos Bank when the sun is setting in the West. This was the calm end of one of our nicer January winter days. A day filled mostly with blue.

Our favorite kind.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Happy New Year, Y'all.

As a few respondents have graciously pointed out recently, it's been a month since the last post. You know, the big one about our week learning to sail in the Virgin Islands. Well, since then we haven't been doing much of anything I thought would be 'blogworthy', if that's even a word. If it isn't, I'm sure it's just a matter of time.

Like a lot of people this time of year we just got caught up in the holidays and went with the flow for the most part. La Gringa and I just looked at each other yesterday morning and realized that yesterday was the first morning in three and a half weeks we had woken up to no house guests. It was eerily silent, with a sudden roaring emptiness where we had gotten accustomed to the sound of familiar voices, and laughter. Now it's just the wind and the ocean, and once again just the two of us and the dog.... watching the dawn.

We had four of our five sons come down to visit us from North America this Christmas. It got busy at times. They are gone now back to their lives in Florida, Colorado and Massachusetts.... for now. We hope they took some good memories of another Christmas in the TCI back with them.

These two photos by Jacob.

It's winter here, just like it is in the rest of the northern hemisphere. So our weather has not been the greatest lately. We have had more cloudy days than clear ones so far this winter. Or maybe it just seems that way. Are cloudy days twice as long as sunny ones? They have not ALL been gloomy, though. We have managed to take the boat out four times in the past couple weeks and it was sunny and nice on two of those trips.

One of the first things we did was make a conch gathering trip. With six mouths to feed, a fresh batch of conch chili seemed like a good idea. We had great weather for the conch diving trip. These days we are still keeping the boat on the trailer at the house and launching in one of the canals. This is one of the houses along the canal, one of our favorites. We are partial to this style of architecture, and of course having your own dock on a canal is just about the ideal setup as far as we are concerned:

We also noticed a new construction going in next to the dive center here.

After a few twists and turns, we come out of the canal just seaward of the South Side Marina and into the open water, after another hard right turn between those two buoys you can just see ahead. And if one were to make a mistake and go blasting straight out to the open water, one would very quickly find oneself hard aground. You have to make the hard right...

Then motor along carefully keeping two more red buoys to port before getting out into open water. And 'open water' is a bit ambiguous. Yes, it's open in that you have freedom of movement. Except for the next several miles you are in one of the areas here that is labelled on the charts as 'unsurveyed'. I think it says something like, 'Caution: Numerous Coral Heads' or something like that. And there are plenty. Fairly easy to spot and dodge when the skies are clear and the sun is overhead:

I was hoping that this angle would have shown my payload a little better, I made it back to the boat with six conch at one time.

It gets a little bit stressful swimming 80-100 yards with both arms loaded with conch. Hard to keep the snorkel above water. I'm not sure I could do it with seven. Now, back in my younger days...

Eventually we gathered enough for a good meatier-than-usual batch of La Gringa's conch chili:

oh boy, the fun part's over.. now I get to clean 'em..

The wind was picking up a bit, so we took the boat over to the lee of a small cay and dropped the anchor. I am getting better at cleaning conch, slowly, but it still takes me a lot longer than it does the natives. There was plenty of time, for example, for Jacob and Dooley the Determined to swim over and explore the little cay..

I will spare you the conch cleaning photos. Hey, it's the food chain. Seldom pretty, in the traditional sense.

And speaking of Dooley the Delighted, he absolutely loves having a house full of company. No matter where he goes, there's a friendly lap to sit on. Can you tell how he feels about that?

That photo was taken on the way to pick out our (now) traditional 'Christmas Stump'. We can buy official Christmas trees here. They come down from Canada or someplace similar via Miami, and eventually about a week or so before the big day there is a container full of them sitting out in front of the grocery store. Nice, well-wrapped evergreens. For our fifth Christmas here, we once again decided to just go pick up our own type of Christmas ornament. This year, it was too windy for a comfortable boat trip so we did the stump hunt from a Land Rover. I guess this year it was a 'stump safari'. We headed for one of the more remote areas of Provo where we expected to find a suitable hunk of dead wood.

Of course, being a tradition, there are certain ceremonial aspects to this. Dooley the Demented absolutely HAS to swim on a stump expedition. Come to think of it, he swims on any expedition. And of course as the elder here I had to gaze solemnly out to sea like I knew what I was doing. Or that I could spot a Christmas Stump from here. And chant the ancient call to the spirit of the Christmas Stump...

And lo and behold, shortly thereafter the stepsons found a likely candidate and gave it a good dunking to wash the dirt off..

Hauled it ashore..

"Yes, this one will do nicely..."

What? NOT a Christmas stump, you say? Ah, it needs some adjustments. Basically, you just cut off everything that prevents it from standing upright.

See there? Of course it's a Christmas Stump! Maybe you do have to kind of squint your eyes just right to see it...

Okay, okay...we're going to have to get it home to make this transformation happen.

And after locating the lights and stuff in the attic, and with liberal applications of various lubricants to the crew in the interest of maintaining morale, We have it:

A pile of gifts helped a lot. Distracted attention from the stump.

We managed to get out on the boat several more times during the holidays. We had one more good day, with clear skies and calm water, and decided to try our luck at trolling some lures outside the reef. First we have to motor over about six miles of the Caicos Bank:

Headed into Leeward-Going-Through on the way to the reef:

Whatever you do, do NOT reduce power and come off plane, no matter what..

Three hundred horsepower on a 25 ft. boat has a fair bit of 'yee ha!' factor built in.

How's this for a nice holiday landscape? Almost looks like snow, doesn't it?

Well, close enough.

There's just something good about messing around in small boats on a nice day. Will eventually bring a grin to your face if you let it. Scooting up the outside of Water Cay:

Trolling along with some lines this is my idea of the way to spend a winter afternoon..

As mentioned earlier, we have had a lot of cloudy days lately. We needed to make a run out to Pine Cay on one of those days to do some repairs. Even though the sky was already overcast by the time we started, we decided to go ahead and do it. Here is the view of the start of the channel out of South Side Marina. It's a better photo than the previous one, and you can see that if you do not go between those two buoys you are going to hurt your boat.

Some of the crew pay more attention to the weather than others. The effect of several years of experience with tropical squalls makes those interested in thunder pay special attention to the horizon:

As the day started to get gnarly, the crew was looking for someplace dry out of the rain. The bow is dry. It also moves up and down a lot going through chop and will toss you into the air under certain conditions. It's hard to see in the photo, but the bottom of the kid was only barely touching the top of the life jacket.

We had a good weather window while on Pine Cay, with the worst of the rain holding off for another hour or so. Now, this photo doesn't really fit in with the rest of the day, but there was something about this scenario that left questions in my mind. There is a long tire skid in the sand from the left right up to the rock.

Every picture tells a story, doesn't it.

By the time we had to start heading back the weather out over the deep water was getting pretty snotty. This is the view from Pine Cay:

And at this point we pretty much knew it was going to be a long wet ride home, about 21 miles to go:

We made it just before nightfall, and not a moment too soon.

Making it home before dark never seemed to be much of an issue when we lived in North America. But when you are boating around here, home is a good place to be after dark. What trouble can you get into at home?

So other than keeping visitors entertained we haven't had time for much else. Oh, after particularly heavy rains we take shovels and cut channels so some of the huge puddles of salty water can drain off and not splash all up underneath the vehicles:

I am paying a lot more attention to fuel quality these days after getting the outboard running right. This is what I drained out of the boats fuel filter after running about 8 gallons of fuel from one of the local marinas through it.

The top layer is filthy gasoline with clouds of suspended particles in it. The lower layer is water and debris too big to go through a 10 micron filter.

That's a lot of crud for 8 gallons of fuel. We also just read in the newspaper that the local water taxi from Providenciales to North Caicos had both engines quit after getting bad fuel from the same place, just a couple days before I got this.

It's a little bit of a pain dealing with filters all the time, but it's become part of the boat checklist now. Every time I add fuel I drain the two Racor filter/separators.

Other than this there have only been a few little DIY projects going on. I am replacing the radios in the two Land Rovers. I know this will be the third one in each vehicle at least, since the two I just threw away were not the originals. THIS time I am putting in two cheapo AM/FM/CDs made for boats. With coated electronics to withstand the marine environment I am hoping they will last a few years on the mean streets of Provo. One of the problems with the ones I took out was that they bounced up and down a lot in their mountings. All the standard nut and bolt type hardware supplied with the radios is just not up to the vibration we put them through. So I thought I would try something different, and cut a piece out of one of the swimmers's "noodles'. It's basically a dense foam plastic tube. I used silicon RTV and glued it into position so that the weight of the radio will be resting on the plastic.

You can just see it in there:

No metal to rust or fatigue, no nuts or bolts to loosen, nothing to rattle. And it's dirt cheap. Oh, and I still have the rest of the noodle for other projects.

I also have been refurbishing our diving hookah. We have not used it in over two years. With my son's help I managed to get it all cleaned up and running. Then when we hooked up the regulators to test the entire system, we found out that the purge covers were completely falling apart.

Taking them out of the regulators was way too easy.

They literally crumbled into pieces in my hands. So, I contacted Brownie's in Florida, who make this hookah. Within four days they had the parts I needed to fix it Fed Exed down to me, no charge for the parts. I want to say, here, that I realize I get pretty harsh on companies who I have unhappy dealings with from time to time. And to be fair I try to mention those companies who are great to work with, too, when it happens. And this is at least the third or fourth time I have contacted Brownies for support on their diving compressors, and they have been one of the best companies I have ever dealt with as far as customer service goes.

Some others? Dell Computers. D.A.P. Enterprises (Land Rover parts), Nautical Ventures in Dania Beach, FL (Hobie kayaks), Andros Boatworks in Sarasota. Shipyard Island Marina (Yamaha parts and support) and I am sure there are a few more if I thought about it for a minute.

But back to Brownies for a second...we bought this hookah diving setup from them six years ago. I don't even know what the original warranty was, but it wasn't six years. And yet they took care of three new regulator parts as though the warranty covered them. I think that's pretty good.

Of course we have some plans for the hookah, with several diving trips coming up. That should make for some decent blog photos.

I just realized that I don't have a fresh sunset photo to end this post with. We seem to have a good selection of sunrises, however, so how about another strange sunrise photo from La Gringa and her new camera?

Post script:
After I posted all this, with very little DIY stuff to worry about, it changed. Within 24 hours...La Gringa shredded an inner tube beyond repair, and her derailleur froze solid. While I was taking that apart we noticed that the irrigation system has stopped working. The dishwashing detergent has gelled in the dish washer again and I have to dismantle that. Last night the power went out for the entire street, and they had still not fixed it this morning so I was up at dawn running cords from the generator to the fridge and re-wiring the water pump to 110 VAC so we have running water....

Its like all the DIY gremlins declared a holiday truce , and as soon as the last guest left for North America they collectively sneezed all over me!