Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mid Winter Mundane

I realize it's only been a few days since the last post. And that was one of our favorite photo ops, the yearly Valentine's Day Regatta on Middle Caicos. But the thing is, that one day produced enough photos to justify putting them up here in their own post. And all the other unrelated photos taken last week didn't really fit in with the Middle Caicos ones so I didn't include them. But I do want to use them, somewhere. And here is the only place I have. I know from past experience that if I let them sit around for a week or two, they'll never get displayed. Not sure why, exactly, but I have this aversion to posting old photos. I like fresh photos. Unless there's a specific reason to reach back and get an old one to compare to a new one, or to make a point...they tend to fade away. Eventually they get taken off the computer and put on a CD and stuck in a drawer somewhere. Essentially gone. And we have thousands of those. So, here's a little potpourri of things that happened last week other than the Middle Caicos trip.

Having said all that, this sunrise photo is about seven hours old as I write this. Taken this morning.

As anyone who reads this blog well knows, we have an excellent view of the boatyard here, and all the boats that come in or go out. This sailboat has been sitting here for two days anchored right outside the boatyard. In the way, actually. Other boats have to go around it. We don't know why they are anchored there, with a nice, safe, comfy marina just a few hundred yards away. We hear them on the VHF radio, asking what time the boatyard closes in heavily accented English. No, no..I don't mean that the boatyard closes in heavily accented English...oh. Wait a minute. Come to think of it, they do. Never mind. I thought the picture worth taking.

I have here a fistful of nice-colored water photos. Or at least we think the water here is a nice color most of the time. Oh, it gets ugly when the sun is obscured by clouds, turns the same gray water turns everywhere under cloudy skies..

We don't really have that many cloudy days here. I read somewhere that we have 350 sunny days a year. I think that's optimistic, of course, but probably not that far off the mark. We've gotten spoiled though. We just expect each day to be clear. It might be windy, but it's usually clear. And when it isn't a nice day we tend to stay in. Whether we want to or not.

And lately we have really been aware that it's winter. Last night, for example, the air temperature plummeted down to 70 deg. F!! We were closing windows, shutting off ceiling fans, and huddling under extra blankets for warmth. Dooley is okay, of course, with that little fur jacket he wears all the time..

For some reason this photo reminds me of a song..
"I hear the train a comin'
It's rollin' 'round the bend..
And I ain't seen the sunshine,
Since, I don't know when..."

But usually, this is closer to the color of the water we get on this side of the island:

What happened was that we decided to take the little rubber kayak for a test run after I repaired one of the Hobie Mirage Drives. Again. If you look back on this blog a couple posts you will be able to figure out what happened to it. We got stranded on exposed mud flats at low tide and ended up trying to drag the kayak back to deep water. Somewhere between the unprintable and the expletives we broke another one of the "turbo fins". This is the third one we have broken in the year we have had 'Low Cay', the rubber kayak. And yes, I know naming the kayak was silly. I have recently been told by some smart alec on a plastic sailboat online forum that he considered it laughable that we actually named a rubber kayak. I don't know, though. I think leaving a boat that has never failed you nameless says a lot more about the soul of the captain than it does about the price of the boat. But that's just me.

So, anyhow, having repaired the Mirage Drive one more time (I am getting good at it) we put the boat in the water and cranked it around for a few hours to make sure everything was still holding together. And we took a few photos along the way.

The repaired flipper seemed to work just fine and we probably pedalled about four or five miles before this little trip was over. Mostly just looking for sea caves and peering up under the rocks to see if we could spot anything interesting that might have drifted ashore. We went by this old wreck once again, and noticed that it's been slowly falling to pieces in the four years since we first photographed it.

That's a ferro-cement hull. This means that the boat was made out of concrete. It was almost intact when we first saw it, but no more. I am sure that Hurricanes Hanna and Ike did a job on it, too.

Just a nice little private beach, no crowds, no parking lot, no hot dog vendors. Just the way we like them.

We see a lot of caves in the limestone ledges surrounding these islands. This one would be mostly underwater at high tide;

It does angle upward from the entrance, though. So I guess there would be a nice air pocket inside there even if the mouth of it was under water. Nice hideout.

Since we were just kayaking around for the fun of it, we went offshore a little ways to check out this little cay:

At this point we headed back to shore but I thought maybe the warm clear water images might be of some slight interest to someone looking out the window at a frozen lake or something. One last image of the other end of the little cay:

And by this time the wind was picking up as the sun was headed down.

La Gringa and I have gotten 'sailboat fever' since we went through the certification courses in the Virgin Islands in December. Hours have been spent perusing the internet, talking with boat owners, looking at what's out there. We pretty much know what kind of a boat we want for these waters. I won't go into all the reasons here, but we have been looking at used Gemini catamarans online. The most likely scenario would be for us to find a boat in Florida and sail it down through the Bahamas. We figure the trip should take us about two weeks or so. THAT should be some good photos for the blog. It would be better if we could find a boat for sale already in the Bahamas, or even southeast of here in the D.R., Puerto Rico, or the Virgin Islands. Easier sailing coming this way. Of course the ideal would be to find a boat already here, but we have pretty much given up on that idea. We did see one older model of the Gemini at the boatyard here. This is NOT the model we are looking at but is two or three models earlier.

And as you can see, this one needs quite a bit of work. But this should give you non-sailors an idea of the boat we think is about the right size for the 2.1 of us.

The model we want to find has an inboard diesel instead of an outboard, and the stern is totally different. But you get the idea.

While we were messing around the boatyard looking at boats we spotted a nice trimaran sitting at the dock next to a pile of tools. I just cannot resist a pile of tools next to a boat, so we went over to take a look and talk to the owner. Then I realized that this is an example of one of the boats we considered for ourselves, a Corsair F 28.

These boats are great sailors, faster than a surprise attack of Montezuma's Revenge, and they will fold up onto a trailer. But after looking at them carefully, they are just not as 'livable' as the Gemini, which is more like an RV with a sail. So we have decided to buy the camper van instead of the sports car. If we can find one we can afford, that is. We need room for diving gear, a compressor and an underwater metal detector. For example.

On the way back from the boatyard we ran across a strange sight for us, a mailbox!!

I know a mailbox won't seem odd at all to most of our readers. But this is the first one we have seen in five years. And the reason is simple: There is no mail delivery in the Turks and Caicos Islands. No house numbers. In most cases, no street names, or street addresses. There are no postal delivery vans, no mail carriers. We have been hearing that this is all changing and we have seen some streets in this neighborhood with names. But to actually see a real mailbox! Here! Wow. Almost makes me want to mail him something just to see what happens.

We met some nice new people here last week, too. I mentioned the Coffins we met on the dock at Leeward but we met some other people, too. Todd lives near Houston and somehow he ran across this blog on the internet. I guess I never did ask him exactly how, but that doesn't matter. He did. He wrote us some time ago that he and his fiancee were hoping to come down in February to get married here. Well, we hear that kind of thing a lot, so as usual we said "Great, give us a call when you get here." Between you and me it hardly ever happens. But this time it did. I got some emails from Todd about two weeks ago and he kindly asked if there was anything he could bring down for us from the US. At first we couldn't think of anything but then he mentioned that they are dog lovers with three of their own, and would be happy to drop by the pet shop an pick up anything Dooley the Disadvantaged might be missing. It suddenly occurred to me that Dooley has been without a doggie life jacket since his was lost on "Cay Lime" during Hurricane Hanna. I told Todd and he was good enough to not only pick up a better life jacket than Dooley had before, but also a new Harley Davidson collar and some squeaky play toys and rawhide chewies.

I bet he can't wait to jump overboard at some incredibly inopportune moment, now that he knows we have a new handle on him. This kinda makes up for all the Christmas gifts he didn't get this year. Thanks Todd!

By the time poor Todd and crew were ready to fly down, the list of goodies had expanded to include two pair of padded biking shorts and a mortar and pestle to grind up mint to make Mojitos....and this is all from the list of stuff we just cannot buy here. And that is a very big list indeed.

We used the excuse of having visitors from the US to squeeze in another lunch at the Conch Shack. This time we took Dooley along and of course he used the opportunity to tell our guests the most outlandish stories a Jack Russell ever came up with. I think this one was about why it was good luck for a JRT to sit on your lap in a Land Rover...

Man, that dog does love an audience.

When we dropped Todd and crew back at their condo we took the opportunity to see what the 'penthouse suite with water view' looks like. And sure enough, you can see the swells breaking on the reef from the patio:

People often ask us to recommend places to stay here and we are absolutely no good at it. This is probably because we have never stayed in a hotel room on Provo. Not once. All we have are the opinions of others who have visited. This is one of the reasons we took a look here when the opportunity presented itself. And the suite was fabulous. I didn't take a lot of inside photos, although I am sure Todd probably did. I did snap some outside images, like looking down at the pools.

And when I zoomed in on the Defender 110...looking totally out of place in the parking lot five floors below us..I spotted one of my next DIY projects coming up.

Yep, it's starting to look like spray painting aluminum is in my future. At least it doesn't rust. This doesn't worry me much, since I now have the compressor and a small touch up spray gun and even an airbrush. I will ask our friend Brenton at the paint store to mix us up the right automotive paint formula and will tackle this after I knock a few other things off the list.

And with that, I can segue into the DIY portion of our program today. Hey, don't complain, I have left the DIY stuff completely out of the last two posts.

I have been doing some painting, as always. Painting the same metal repeatedly has become a part of my life that I never anticipated when we moved to the tropics. The Land Rovers don't have a conventional rear bumper. They have this elaborate steel box section they call a cross member. It's full of holes and fittings for various options, and is welded to the chassis. And of course it rusts just as fast as it can manage. I have found that if I try to encapsulate the steel in enough paint to keep it from rusting it's a waste of time and effort. It doesn't work. I started out by cleaning rust down to bare metal, putting two coats of primer on, and then at least two top coats of rust resistant paint. No more. I have found that if the metal was ever exposed to the air here it will rust. And corrosion blisters don't care how much paint they push up. It's a little like grass growing through sidewalk cracks. If it's there sooner or later it will make its way through. And flying stone chips on the roads don't care if it's one coat of paint or four. They still chip it through and the rust starts before the ricochet rock even stops rolling . So now I am going to just try keeping up with battling rust as it develops. With what I have to work with here I am trying the following starting with this project.

First, I am cleaning the rust off using the pneumatic needle scaler to this level:

Then I am applying a solution of phosphoric acid to it, which turns the rust into another compound entirely, penetrates the crevices and cracks, and actually doesn't look too bad by itself:

(I say it doesn't look too bad, but I am comparing it to how this looked before I started. Which I do not have a photo of. I was too filthy to want to touch the camera at that point in the process.)

I use a pressure washer to knock loose paint and rust off things I can unbolt, like the folding rear step. And this thing has not been folded in years, until I took it apart to paint it.

I picked up an inexpensive little touchup spray gun for the compressor, which is working out nicely.

And after getting it all cleaned up, two coats of Rustoleum paint on it, and reassembled, I am hoping to get six months to a year out of it before I have to do it again.

And the reassembled, painted, greased, and re-riveted rear step folds again, and the newly painted bumper is already covered with corrosive dust without even leaving the yard yet!!

And I bet y'all are tired of looking at rusty bumper photos by now, huh? too. But there doesn't seem to be any way around it. Looking at the good side, I have learned how to use a spray gun. And since it looks like I am going to have to paint the aluminum Land Rover bodies too, this is a good thing to know.

Speaking of corrosion, I just found another example. La Gringa was going through some of the stuff we brought down with us, looking to throw unused junk away, and she found my old laptop computer case/briefcase that I carried for years back in a previous life. This case has been many, many thousands of miles with me, flying to jobs on boats all over the world. It held up fine. When we moved into the house here two years ago I put it inside a closed closet. It has never been exposed to the outside elements, or salt water since it came here. It's been inside. This is an anodized aluminum adjustment buckle on the strap, inside a closet for two years.

This aluminum is not even in contact with any dissimilar metals. This is what we have to deal with here, the temporary nature of anything metallic. You wouldn't believe what an uncoated printed circuit board with power on it can get up to. I'll get some photos for another time. It's ugly. The Land Rovers are on their third radios. In five years.

As if we don't have enough maintenance and corrosion fighting DIYs going on around here, I also want to do some small improvements to the property itself. Some of those we will hire out, but I also might try my hand at a couple as well. For example our primary driveway is a little rough and unfinished. It was basically hacked into the limestone hilltop by a bulldozer. And I have been looking at renting a jackhammer and squaring it up a bit. The x marks here are where I would have to cut into the rock to clean this up.

I would also like to take the surface of it down several inches and level it. And I have some ideas about what to do with the stone I would be cutting out.

Well, it's getting dark, and someone just crawled up on an ottoman next to me here at the laptop and is letting me know dinnertime is near...

So I better close this out and start thinking about dinner. I have one of La Gringa's increasingly excellent sunset photos to finish this one up with. This is an un-retouched (cropped only) sunset over some new construction in our neighborhood:

Well, I think it's excellent. But of course I am pretty biased where she's concerned.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A winter break

We've now made it through our fifth yearly Valentine's Day weekend in the TCI. For those who follow our little mini-adventures here, this means another model sloop regatta on Middle Caicos. That was yesterday, and we're recuperating today. Good thing it's a cloudy Sunday and I don't feel too guilty being lazy.

First, here's our now traditional sunrise photo, which was taken a couple days ago:

And I didn't take a photo yesterday morning, the day of the regatta. The sky was clear for starters, which makes for a really nice day but doesn't do much for the atmospheric drama.

Also, we hadda get out of here pretty early. We loaded up Dooley the Disgruntled and headed down to Leeward-Going-Through. Our friend Preacher decided to take his boat "Cay Lime" over to North Caicos and we were invited for the ride.

A morning run with Preacher over the flats will wake you up faster than a double espresso straight up. We had a small group of seven on a 22 ft. boat doing around 50mph in about 12 inches of water. Oh, and Dooley. Make that 7.1 people.

Now that photo's a little bit misleading. And that's because it's a still photo. There are several degrees of motion going on there that just don't show up in a still shot. But look, if you will for a moment, at the hands and stances. Notice, please, that every hand you see is holding on to something. And these are not what would be termed 'lightly held' grips. Even the hand visible just under Preacher's elbow is full of fiberglass and I guarantee you his other hand is holding on as well. We wuz mooooovin'!

And you can see what a fantastic day was shaping up. Not bad for mid-February.

Near as I can estimate by observation we were travelling at a continuous Hail Mary above the seabottom and around 600 heatbeats per second and we did make it through about 12 miles of Preacher's boat handling without even blinking. Come to think of it, we still didn't blink for some time after we got off the boat, . All of us were glad to be on North Caicos and it seemed everyone worked up an appetite on the way. Riding with Preacher at the helm burns calories. We stopped at the new cafe at the marina there at Sandy Point for breakfast.

and yes, on these occasions Heineken is considered a breakfast food. Something like a Hydraulic McMuffin.

We stopped at a little roadside area at the beginning of the causeway from North to Middle Caicos. We usually get out here to stretch our legs and let Dooley commune with nature. We were riding in JR's pickup truck once again and La Gringa got behind the driver's seat at this point to give JR a break. I picked up a half of a coconut husk and stuck a piece of driftwood down into it. It floated quite nicely:

When Preacher saw it he yelled at me to grab it and we would enter it in the model sailboat races. He figured it would be worth at least an honorable mention. But the wind grabbed it before I could and the last time I saw it that coconut husk was headed roughly East, even without a sail. I think sailors call that 'under bare poles'..

There goes my chance to establish a new racing class I guess.

When we got to Bambarra Beach there was already a nice crowd gathered with more arriving all the time. People were setting out blankets, opening coolers, and fine tweaking their boats.

Dooley the Devious likes the opening-of-the-cooler celebration the most. (In his hairy little kingdom,these are only slightly less holy than the-grating-of-the-cheese or the dropping-of-the-chili-dog ceremonies. There were more contestants this year and three classes of boats. I think they called them Class C, B, and A. For the rest of us, let's say small, medium, and large. I don't know the details of the classes, I think it is boat length. This is a class A boat, for example, one of the large ones:

We spread our blanket out in a nice shady spot under a Casuarinas tree, where the breeze hit us directly and we had a clear view of the beach. The beach was very clean, for the most part. We did notice the carapace of a Caribbean Spiny Lobster nearby.

I picked it up to get a better shot of it. Of course Dooley the Diligent immediately came over to see if this thing was still kicking or not:

That photo should give it some scale. This Caribbean Spiny Lobster had a body about the size of a Jack Russell Terrierist's head. But not nearly as hard.

Eventually, the races started. The Class C, or smallest boats, went first. The long awaited start of this once-a-year race was a thrilling event....

...for the contestants, I'm sure.

The excitement built as the race progressed and the speed of these boats had to be experienced to be understood... words just fail me at this point. It was something akin to exhilarating..... distantly akin admittedly, but in the same general family of emotions.

Some contestants calculated, some threatened..

Some followed the old sailor's safety adage..."one hand for you, one hand for the boat". In this case, it was a brand new hat on one hand, and a wet boat on the other.

These classes are purely based on the size of the boats and not the age of the contestants. Anyone can enter. In this class for example, there was at least a couple years difference in age between this kid who took first place...

And the justifiably proud young sailor who grabbed Second:

After a while, the Class B boats raced and they had to go a bit further offshore.

Another of the Class A boats, almost as tall as its owner:

Nice job on the sail graphics.

The Class A boats got blown further down the beach before making landfall, due to their larger sails and increased windage.

The sailors are allowed to adjust their sails and rudders during the race but they are not allowed to 'push' the boat forward. Too much. I noticed that the boats just don't seem to sail as well as I thought they would even though some of the builders are well-established and experienced local sailors with big boats here. For example, in this photo we have a well-respected local doctor, one of the island's computer experts, one of the best aluminum and stainless steel fabrication men in the country, and probably the best cabinetmaker.

Full scale sailors, every one of them, and yet these little boats seem too skittish by half. There's room here for some more competition.

I talked to Preacher about it, and he says he remembers building boats when he was a kid that sailed straight and true once things were in balance. I am trying to get him to teach me how to make such a boat. I would like to come back next year and compete for all this fame and glory. But then, Preacher and I had the exact same conversation a year ago. Maybe next year? I'll try nagging him before the day of the race this time. I shoulda brought the coconut.

Most of the boats are built to a general plan. They are sloop rigged for the most part with a leeboard/weatherboard. This was one exception, with some meticulous attention to the rigging:

By mid afternoon the races are over and the lengthening shadows fall across a field of drying sloops and the few people still playing in the ever present ocean that surrounds and infuses all our lives in a small island nation. When you live in a place like this, the ocean just always is.

The white lines on the horizons of these photos are the offshore swells breaking on the reef that protects this part of the island. It was pretty gnarly out there. Those swells are about 8 ft. today.

Most of the people here had distances to travel to get home, just like we did. Middle Caicos has a full time population of around 300 people. That probably doubles this one day of the year. I think it's pretty exciting for a lot of people. But we had miles to go in the truck, and then another boat ride back to Providenciales. We loaded the celebrants into the vehicle, and headed out.

I was in the back seat, and when we stopped for refreshments along the way I thought Dooley the Decommissioned was intently observing some bug or lizard on the floor. TOO intently. He doesn't usually hold still for that long.

But when I took a closer look at the little booger I realized that wasn't the case at all. He was snoring.

I got that shot off before the flash woke him up, but for a while there, I guess it was just a case of dog gone. He did have a very busy day.

We stopped at a small bar/restaurant on North Caicos, and I thought the sign was interesting on this little outside food stand behind the store:

I don't know what language, exactly, that is over the English words. It's could be Creole, I suppose, for the Haitians. Many of them don't speak English, but they don't have many Haitians on these thinly populated islands. There just isn't enough paying work to support many immigrants. If there is work to be done, the people living here do it themselves. They don't hire labor much. It could well be Tagalog, which is what I think the Filipinos speak, and there were a few of them staying here when the Dellis Cay development was going full speed. But there were also some Yugoslavians here. So I don't know what it is, but now at least I know that "Pa MANdE'M Kredi!" means not to ask for credit. I still don't know how to say 'thank you' in that language.

Refreshed by his nap, Dooley the Dehydrated took on some provisions:

(remember that blue plastic cup, okay? That's really why I'm showing you this photo)

On the boat ride back Preacher was up to his usual shenanigans, which are just about impossible to catch with a hand held camera from inside the boat. That is because one is hanging on during the more interesting maneuvers and not letting go to hold a camera up.

But again, I ask you to notice the grips, and the shirts billowing despite no apparent windy conditions. This is due to boat speed. The nervous grin kinda gives it away too, I think.

I did at least try to get some video footage. I could only do this when we were running flat and level for a while. I didn't dare try it when Preacher was maneuvering over sand bars and around coral heads. And the quality isn't very good because this little camera isn't happy with low light and fast motion. And everything on this boat was in motion. But you can get an idea what the tamer parts of the trip were like. And pay no attention to La Gringa showing Hammer where we got stuck on the flats last week.

The quality of the video is bad, so I want to explain that in the section where the camera is pointing at the water beside the boat those dark objects flashing by are rocks and things on the bottom. The water is gin clear, and maybe 12" deep. Preacher "S-turns" and tilts and side slides the boat when he goes over shallower places. On a previous trip La Gringa's favorite baseball cap blew off while we were sliding sideways over a sand bar, and we could not go back to get it. The water was too shallow to stop the boat. I could write a whole post on watching that man handle a small boat. He's an artist. If Andros Boatworks could see drive one of their boats they would hire him to film commercials for them.

By the way, Hammer told us some great stories about various things on this trip. For example, he has a story about the exact spot on the flats where we got stuck last week in the kayak. Of course the locals know these flats like they know their mother's touch. They have been boating on them all their lives. Hammer was telling us about a time back in the '70s when a young singer/songwriter named Jimmy Buffet got stranded by the same tide in the same spot . Hammer says he had a guitar with him, and he ended up sitting there playing and waiting until the tide came back in and raised him up so he could move on. Which it does on a regular basis on the Caicos Banks,and even from time to time in the careers of young singers and songwriters. When we got back to Leeward La Gringa decided another successful flats run with Preacher called for something to settle the nerves..

When we got back to Leeward a nice woman walked up and asked if this was Dooley coming off the boat. And of course, since it obviously was Dooley the Devious, we met the Coffin family from Nantucket. Sheila recognized our dog from this blog! They were waiting for a water taxi to take them over to North Caicos for their annual vacation in the TCI. We had corresponded with them a few times over the years. Nice people and we would have liked to talk to them more but they were heading in one direction, and we were headed in the other after a long day.

This has only happened a few times, so it's always a totally unexpected surprise to us when someone walks up to us and asks if we are the Gringos or if this is Dooley. I think it's only happened like a half a dozen times in two years, but it's always the strangest feeling for the first few minutes. Naturally, people who read the blog know a lot about us in terms of the kinds of things we like to do. We do try to keep this more about the TCI and the tropical life than about us as individuals but some of it has to come through from time to time. What we ask people to understand, though, is while they feel that they know us pretty well,we have never seen their photos and know nothing about them or their lives. But we really do enjoy meeting people after the shock wears off. Honest.

Back to the story, I didn't say it was an unhappy day, just that it was a long one... and by all reports a good one.

(think we should tell him about whose blue plastic cup he's using? Aw heck, let's not. It's sterilized, anyway. There's no Coke in that one.)

So, anyhow, that was pretty much how our Saturday, February the 13th went. We see all the snow hitting the USA when we watch the news at night and we hope some tropical photos are a little change of scenery for those that like this kind of stuff. We'll try to keep it up. I have a bunch more photos taken this week... a kayak trip and some other nice people we met through this blog who came down to Provo for a vacation. I intended to put it all here but then this one post would be more like a short story instead of a blog post. And that's something different.

I didn't get any snazzy sunsets this week. It just seems we were usually busy when that time of day came around. Besides, after seeing what La Gringa and her camera get out of the sunsets here, the ones I take are pitiful by comparison.

So, I'll just use another sunrise, instead. It's a new decade, it's still a new year, and tomorrow is a whole new day.

And we hope you enjoy it.