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.


Ryan said...

Amazing Photos!

jschieff said...

AS ever, glorious photos of mesmerising water.

The last photo shows part of your lovely terrace. Do you use it constantly? Given the fine weather do you eat most meals outside and spend time lazing about reading on the terrace?

What if any surprises have you discovered about how you actually use the spaces in and outside your house versus how you thought you would use the rooms and outdoor areas?

Brad said...

Hi Gringo, it is 3:00am and I am pulling an all nighter here at work in the PNW , bored to death but like always I find your blog site a great place to relax. Good luck with the hitch.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Gringos!!!

Brian said...

As always thanks for adding some warmth at least to my inbox!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments. We typically don't take meals on the patio (terrace) but it's probably because suitable outside furniture has not been a priority, yet. It's also pretty windy.

It's a great place to watch stars and meteorites at night, and boats during the day.

The hitch is totally NOT fitting the Land Rover! Either I am trying to bolt it up wrong or there have been some changes. i will get to the bottom of it, though. Might have to fabricate some metal parts to tie the hitch to the frame. That's the stuff that doesn't fit.

Christine said...

Great photos as always!! Helps to think of my happy place while California has been gray, wet and cold for the last 20 days!!

Anonymous said...

winter? surely you jest!

been stuck in grace bay since the 8th. first week was suspect, that indeed was winterish. since then, wow, you couldn't ask for more.

curious this aft at noon exactly (thursday 28th), were you guys zooming along insde the reef near shore in grace bay to a flotilla parked off the beaches? 3 people on board? look distinctly like your contessa?

satbeachbill said...

I had the same problem with my trailer- floating. I took two 4" pieces of PVC pipe, filled them with concrete and tywrapped them to the underside of my bunks (to the rear) and it keeps the trailer down in the water.

Unknown said...

Enjoyable read as always Gringo. LaGringa is mastering that new camera pretty quick. Ya'll take care.