Friday, March 26, 2010

Playing 'catch-up' again

I have mixed feelings about writing another post right now. It's been recently and repeatedly pointed out to me that it's been several weeks since the last post. Okay, three weeks. Ok, okay... I realize that. But the situation is that once again we don't really have much that's new and exciting going on around here lately. Being in the Northern Hemisphere, we are still digging ourselves out from the last remnants of an unusually cold and bitter winter. I know for a fact that it got down to around 69 degrees F. one night, and it bottomed out at 70 or 71 on at least three other occasions. One doesn't recover from a harsh climate experience like that overnight, you know. We feel lucky to be alive.

So, although I have nothing exciting to report, after digging into our meager supply of new photos, and without further ado.. I can report that La Gringa Suprema's camera came back from the Pentax repair folks fixed as good as new , and she is taking sunrise and (sometimes) sunset photos again!

And she takes a lot of nice photos. She has the patience to work at it while I am more the offhand snapshot type. Sometimes it's difficult to figure out which of her sunrise photos to choose. I can't post all of them. She keeps striving for good, clean, dramatic images of the prettier sunrises for example,

While I tend to drift over toward the photos with other stuff in them. She would, for example, prefer this one out of a series she recently took:

While I (if left to my own devices) would have picked the one single photo with a lens reflection flaw:

Likewise, she would probably not choose one with early morning contrails in it..

and some might think that an exhaust trail like that basically ruins that particular sunrise for good. But I like it. It makes me wonder where that jet originated and how early those people had to leave their homes and hotels to be flying over us at that altitude at 05:30 in the morning. Are they going home to the USA after a vacation in the Lesser Antilles? Is it a military flight? Can they even see this speck of an island from up there? I think maybe I over complicate things sometimes.

We still are not getting a lot of decent sunset photos. I think it's tied to the season. There are either not enough clouds for a pretty one, or the clouds have been building all day and by sunset they obscure everything to the western horizon. But rest assured, La Gringa is keeping an eye on the sunset most days if we are home and she has a camera near. And it's just a matter of time before we have a few more good ones to post for the sunset aficionados out there.

And it's not easy, sitting here huddled against the cold, wearing all her winter clothing...watching and hoping for a decent sunset photo...

And Dooley the Destroyer...well in the last post we showed y'all what he was doing to the nice new squeaky-duck toy that Todd brought him from Texas. He was systematically working on destroying it. We didn't know what to do to stop him from destroying it. It was, after all as he pointed out, HIS squeaky-duck toy. He didn't seem too keen on the idea of a guardianship arrangement. I thought perhaps he needed to understand it was like a fetch toy. He loves to fetch tennis balls. And they seem to survive. For months in some cases. This duck wasn't looking to make a month at that rate. So I tried throwing the duck, and telling him to go get it and yeah, he would go and fetch it. Catch it in the air, actually. And shake it violently and crunch it, producing a 'squawk' noise. And then he would really crunch on it..and pin it down...and treat it harshly.

Finally, of course, the time came when he crunched it....and it didn't squawk. Because the last violent shake had pretty much de-squawked old Daffy for good. And then, suddenly, he totally lost interest in it. Even when I gathered the evidence into a pile and confronted him with it.

And I think it is his breeding. As long as that bird squawked, he figured he had NOT done his job. And as a Terrier, his job is to locate and permanently neutralize animals that he considers useless pests and undesirable varmints. (A shame we can't turn him loose in the US Senate for a few hours. Maybe if he brought a few spare backbones with him...)

I do have a few new boating-related photos to upload, but not many. And I have a lot of DIY and semi-DIY stuff, much more than boating photos. But the happy news is that we do have some boat-related DIY photos, sort of. I'll let you decide.

As many of you know, every Valentine's Day weekend there is a model sailboat regatta over on Middle Caicos. We have been going over for four years now. It is a bit of an ordeal to get over to Bambarra Beach for the day, but well worth it.

Starting last year our friend Preacher started going with us to the regatta. Last year I remarked that the boats seemed to be having some problems travelling in a straight line. Preacher told me it was because nobody knows how to rig the boats these days...while in his youth they perfected the racing of these boats and making them sail right. So I asked what would be involved in us building a couple boats and competing with them in the next regatta. Preacher explained that we would need to find a 'gum-elemi' tree, shape it while it was still green, and that it was a lot of work. I remember telling him we had a whole year to do it and that I had a shop and tools, and he agreed it was a great idea.

Time rolls around, and a year later we find ourselves once again at the Valentine Day Sloop Regatta at Bambarra Beach. And once again I comment on how I think the boats could be improved and Preacher walked right into the trap. I let him explain how they built model sloops back when he was a boy...and then at the appropriate point I interrupted to remind him that the two of us had the same exact conversation, standing in the same spot on the same beach at the same event a year earlier. I really laid it on thick.

Well about a week ago Preacher called and said he was on his way over with something to show us. That in itself was a surprise because Preacher had not driven out here since the last time one of the front wheels fell off his car and headed out into the bush. (This is not that uncommon around here, by the way. Rough roads, oxidation, and minimal inspection requirements let a lot of marginal tie rods slip into the mix.) So I was expecting him to show up in a new vehicle, probably something suited to towing his boat "Cay Lime" around with. And he did have another vehicle, a Jeep Cherokee. But that was only part of what he wanted to show us. Here just a month after the last Middle-Caicos model sloop races, Preacher had secured a length of gum-elemi wood, and had already shaped the hull!

He was bringing it over to my shop to build and rig the rest of the boat. I was very surprised. I mean, the next race is not until February of 2011. But when Preacher gets a burr under his blanket...well you see how he can move when he needs to. ( speaking of Preacher moving...I have a little video I am debating whether to post here or not. I need to think about it for a few minutes...)

So 'yours truly' benefited from some one-on-one instruction from the supposed master of Providenciales Model Sloop design. First I used my table saw to rip a piece of wood which I then shaped with a jig saw...

The pressure treated spruce is heavier than the gum-elemi wood so this becomes the keel. It is also a lot tougher than the light gum-elemi wood. This wood resembles a kind of brittle balsa. It doesn't compress like balsa, nor is it as soft. When it's green and damp it's fairly easy to shape. As it dries it becomes brittle.

Preacher sketched out a rudder and I cut that out of another piece of wood.

That pretty much ate up the rest of that morning. A couple days later Preacher came back to start on the standing rigging. Starting to look like a sloop:

Another few hours to finish the rigging, build a weatherboard (or lee board) and Preacher took the boat home to finish the fine points and cut the sails. And within about a week and a half after starting she was ready for some sea trials.

And does it sail? Oh yeah.

I am pretty sure this boat, with the paint still fresh, would have out-sailed any of the boats we have seen competing in the Middle Caicos regatta. We have a few little 'secret weapons' and tricks from Preacher's experience to incorporate but basically I think that the previous champions in the Forbes family on North and Middle Caicos better enjoy their last year as reigning champions of the Valentine's Day Regatta. There's a new kid in town.

(there. think that will pull Danny Forbes out of retirement?)

Okay, on the video, I decided to post it. This is Preacher trying to keep up with this boat to change the heading. This is how these boats are sailed, with the captain following along behind to tweak the tiller as needed. Well, in this case, the boat accelerated so fast that Preacher was in danger of letting it get beyond him. Even he didn't allow for the speed he had told me about in his 50 year old design. If he had not caught the boat in his one-last-chance lunge... it would have been headed for French Cay and I am not sure what we could have done to stop it.

I can hardly wait til next Valentine's Day. We're gonna be a contender..

Now that was a DIY that is boating-related, after a fashion. And as far as real boating goes we basically have not done any. I met up with Robert Van Kampen of Nantucket at the hardware store recently. Robert comes down to Provo about this time most years and reads this blog to keep up with some of the going's-on around the island. Robert says we have been lazy! Not enough boating and not enough fishing. Well, dang. I am going to have to see what we can do about that, Robert. But as I told him, La Gringa and I are really starting to move away from power boats in our hearts. We KNOW we were born to be sailors. And our luck fishing has been abysmal the last several times we were out. And at $ 4.50 a gallon for fuel, it's fairly expensive to run a boat all day. So our boating tends to be of the rubber kayak variety. Including this past week. We like being able to just throw the boat in the back of a Land Rover and be where we want to launch in a few minutes. Like here, at Heaving-Down-Rock:

This rock, at the Caicos Bank end of Leeward-Going-Through , should be a national landmark or historic site for Providenciales. People have been landing boats here for hundreds of years. Before the modern marinas and canals were cut into the island this was one of the few places where you could even get a boat close to the land without having to worry about the waves smashing you against the shore. The very first vehicle (a jeep) was landed here in 1966.

Preacher was a teenager himself back then and remembers it well. Back in 1966 the population of Providenciales was estimated at around 400 people. This was also about the time that the people here saw their first outboard motor. Boy, has this place changed.

Dooley the Disinterested doesn't care about the history of the place, though. He has his own priorities..

This time of year we try to stay as far to the edge of the channel as we can squeeze. There are a lot of boats using Leeward-Going-Through during this busy part of the season. Fortunately, we can fit into very shallow water. Unlike the boats that left their rudder marks on the suddenly shallow bottom.

In this photo of the local day-charter boat "Atabeyra", please look at the little white lines on the distant horizon ahead of the schooner.

Those are ocean swells breaking on the reef outside the protected waters of Leeward. I mention this because after we left the deceptively calm waters in this photo we found ourselves in a good honest 3-5 ft. swell outside between the island and the reef. With our sail up, and a combination of the sometimes breaking swells and the wake of large power boats, things got real busy for us for the next hour while we made our way up to Pine Cay. Bottom line, I didn't take many photos. I was too busy with the rudder control in one hand, the main sheet in the other, and both feet pushing pedals. We did notice an unusual amount of seaweed floating on the ocean on this trip. More than we have ever seen here before.

Still photos never seem to capture the perspective of waves coming at you in a small boat. It always looks calm in the pictures. There were a few exciting moments on this trip, like when we looked to seaward and spotted a good 5-6 footer starting to break about thirty feet from us. We barely had time to turn the kayak down and let the wave pass under us from astern. It was exciting.

Finally, a stretch of calm water and a good run to Pine Cay:

It was also exciting when we 'surfed' the boat onto the beach. Neither of us was of a mind to be the designated photographer, with things getting real busy. In fact it wasn't until later that we wished we had a video of that landing. But that's the way it goes... we only pull the camera out when things are calm and we think of it. And of course we had Dooley the Debauched grabbing the calm periods for his catnaps. (Don't tell him I said he 'cat'napped. He doesn't think cats should even be allowed to nap.)

When we saw the weed patches we realized that we should have been fishing offshore around some of the larger ones. Rainbow Dolphin love to congregate under floating mats of cover. But alas, we didn't have what we needed for offshore trolling on this day.

We spent several hours visiting on Pine Cay and then boated back to Provo. The wind and the waves had died down considerably by the time we headed back. And of course since the sea was calmer it was easier to remember to take some photos. But they just don't convey the movement of the boat and the water, although video looks a little better.

This is riding over a smaller, 2 ft. wave on the way back to Leeward:

Even though the ocean was a lot more mellow on the way home we still had to deal with the wakes of large boats zooming by us. I think people tend to swerve out of their path toward us just to check out the funny looking kayak with a sail. When we get a large wake coming at us we either turn into it, or if we have enough room sometimes we turn away from it and ride it in toward the shore a little. This is what it looks like when we turn into a wake:

So, if you will, imagine a wake like that on top of a 3-5 foot swell from the same direction and you might get an idea for what our trip over was like earlier in the day.

Next time we'll try to remember to pull the camera out of the waterproof bag and take some more dramatic photos during the fun parts. I promise.

We tried boating without Dooley one afternoon. We didn't have much time and just wanted a quick little workout in the kayak. We realized we had never been in the boat without the dog and wanted to try it out. So we did a quick trip up the local canal. It was very strange not to have him there. We had nobody to yell at except each other and the neighborhood dogs didn't know what to make of this boat coming up their canal... without Dooley. They didn't even work up the energy or enthusiasm to run down to the water without Dooley shooting his mouth off about their heritage and immediate family members.

Now I am at the last part of this post that involves boats in any way. Last week we received an email from some cruisers who are passing through here on their way South. They had decided to stop at the boatyard here to get some repairs done to the keel of their catamaran. Crystal and Mike found this blog online and dropped us a note inviting us to stop by and meet them and see their boat. Of course since we are salivating for our own little cruising sailboat we lept at the chance. Well, perhaps 'lept' is too strong a word. We are too old for leaping. It might be more accurate to say we 'moseyed' over to the boatyard and found them.

Here is the "Dancing Dolphin" on the blocks while the boatyard is doing some fiberglass work on the hull.

"Dancing Dolphin" is a 35 ft. Victory catamaran. This is a different boat than the one we are interested in but it also has a lot in common. It is only slightly longer than a Gemini, and has a totally different hull design. The Victory draws a little over 3 ft. of water and has fixed keels. There are some advantages to this design. Gemini's draw half that much but we will have to constantly deal with pivoting centerboards while sailing. In our case, living where we are living and considering where we want to cruise, we are willing to put up with the extra hardware hassles to be able to get over shallows and to anchor close in to the lee of small islands. Sometimes that is the only place to get out of the wind in remote areas without harbours or marinas and boats with deeper drafts are not able to get close enough to a really, really small island's wind footprint to utilize the shelter. There is sometimes only a small cone of calm water behind a small rock or island. We want to be able to duck into those places when we need shelter.

"Dancing Dolphin" also has the same drive leg that our chosen boat would use so of course I was very interested to talk to Mike and Crystal about how they liked the single diesel setup. Many small catamarans this size have either a diesel in each hull, an outboard on each transom, or in some cases a single outboard instead of a diesel and swivelling drive leg. We had a lot to talk about.

That's Mike up in the cockpit, and you can see the drive leg in this photo as well:

One of the things we have found out about boatyards is that they typically take many times longer to finish a job than they tell you they will take to finish a job. As of this writing, Crystal, Mike and the Dancing Dolphin are entering their third week here waiting for what they were assured was a five-day job. So we hope to be able to enjoy their company for a few more visits before they sail off into the sunrise heading for some newer adventures.

And this whole visit really whets our appetite for a small sailboat of our own. And we are happy to report that we expect to be buying a brand new, sumptious, colossal, luxurious sailing yacht any day now. Just as soon as we can find a yacht dealer that accepts Zimbabwe Dollars as payment...

yes, it's real. Near worthless, but real. Gets your attention for a second there though, doesn't it?

Hey! Maybe we can use it to scam the widow of a former Nigerian government minister on the internet!!

Warning: DIY about to start.

Okay that's about all I have for this post about boating. Everything from here on is about a couple little DIY things going on. This notice is to serve as a warning to those who are not interested in the nuts and bolts of living in a place like this. You can go back to your own more productive life now. The pretty tropical water photos are finished in this particular post. More to come later in the week, hopefully.

One of the aspects of living in a fairly remote island location that we never really considered was the simple matter of warranty repairs. Back in the USA, for example, if one were to plunk down their cash for a new gadget or doodad they typically get some kind of warranty as part of the deal. In most cases if you have a problem with a new purchase, you return it to the store for a refund or replacement. In some cases you have to mail the misbehaving device back to the manufacturer to be fixed and returned. Some companies, such as Dell Computer, will even dispatch a local repairman to your home to fix one of their products. Well, this whole warranty thing changes when you move to a place like the Turks and Caicos.

Since we purchase a lot of our supplies and equipment via the internet, when it goes bad things get complicated. In most cases sending an item back to where we purchased it just doesn't work. Internet catalog companies don't seem to typically have repair facilities. They refer us to the manufacturer. In the case of a malfunctioning Pentax camera, we had to send it to the Pentax repair facility in Nevada. Or was it New Mexico? Someplace far away from here, that is what I remember. And it gets more complicated in that we quite often cannot just order something from a company in the USA and have them send it to us here. Many, many companies in the US are unable to figure out how to ship things internationally. Or for some reason they have a policy that they only ship to other US states. Try filling out one of those online "Add to my Cart" forms without a US state to put into the "checkout" boxes in the billing/shipping section. And even the companies that do ship internationally frequently do not have "Turks and Caicos Islands" on the pre-approved list. "Turkey"? yep, they will ship to Turkey. Or "Turkministan". Oh yeah, I could order a laptop and have it shipped to Turkministan (wherever that is) but in most cases not to the Turks and Caicos. So we have to do a little thing where we have it shipped to someone in the US who then ships it to us. This works fine, as long as there are no repair or return issues. Then it gets complicated. And expensive. Just sending something small from here to Pennsylvania will cost us around $ 60 each way. And it still has to get from Pennsylvania to the repair depot and back. So a camera like the Pentax will take three weeks or so to get repaired and returned to us, and it will cost us well over $ 150 in shipping costs before it's all over. And the shipping and return customs paperwork? It's a real pain. I'm sure you can imagine where.

Now, Dell Computer is a good company. We have found their customer service to be first rate. But we have this shipping foreign thing going on. So when La Gringa's new, ruggedized laptop started misbehaving I had to get online with Dell's customer service people and come up with a solution. Her mouse cursor developed a mind of it's own, and started deciding what to highlight, what to delete, and it was maniacally double clicking like a bad set of false teeth. This would never do.

Dell's first response was to just send it back. Well, we didn't want to do that. We knew the problem had something to do with the pointing device (the touch-pad) and Dell agreed. Their second choice was to send a repair technician to fix the computer. "Well, that's great!" I replied...."tell him to pack plenty of sunscreen and his flip flops.. and we'll try to have him back in a week..."

By the time we sorted that out, obviously the Dell Technician was NOT going to get a round trip flight to the tropics out of this. So we finally agreed on the solution that they would send the parts and I would install them on the computer. Sounds simple, doesn't it?

Dell sent us an entire 'palm rest' assembly, that includes the touch-pad circuit board, fingerprint reader, and some other stuff. This is basically the entire top surface of the computer that is not keyboard. And some instructions on how to replace it. Well, I have replaced three or four laptop keyboards by now, and fixed a couple of misbehaving LCD screens, and even the odd cooling fan. But this was a new one.

So, for those who might be interested in doing some of their own laptop repair, here is a little primer on what this particular DIY repair-in-the-field-by-a-totally-unqualified-dummy involved.

After removing batteries, external devices, and grounding the system board, you flip the laptop over and remove 21 (!) screws to start removing the bottom cover.

A dozen "gosh darns" later, this is what it looks like.

And I started thinking "hmm.. this is going to be a little more involved that just replacing another keyboard.." Then I got to remove the display. Then I got to remove the keyboard. I was removing stuff like an unsupervised Republican editing one of Obama's health care bills. Now at this point I had already exceeded my previous record for how far I ventured into a laptop computer. But this one calls for further exploration and the language even started changing. It had been simple English phrases up til now. Stuff like "remove the 16 M2.5x8mm screws attaching..." and "While still applying pressure to the left, use a plastic scribe to pry up the left corner of the LED cover". Use a plastic scribe? Do you know how hard it is to find even a decent amateur journalist in a place like this?

But now the language changed to something Dell must assume people who do things like this must speak. They mistook me for somebody competent! But I had to slog on. I now had to carefully disconnect such things as the LVDS connector, the WPAN cable, the WLAN cable, and of course that pesky WWAN cable. Hey... I don't have a clue what these are, other than the internal vital organs of La Gringa's very expensive and vital new computer. And we are talking about these little bitty delicate connectors in the hands of a real klutz... I didn't have a lot of hope from this point onward.

Then it got worse. I found myself rolling up wiring harnesses and pulling them completely out through hinge connectors. And yes, I DID have to use the tweezers from a Swiss Army knife..

By this point I was starting to wonder what I had gotten myself into here. When I removed a couple more assemblies and the handle fell off I thought "NOW I've really messed it up.." but no, the handle does fall off at this point. I just wish Dell had warned me in the first place that this was going to happen. NOT "Lift the Palm Rest from the Computer". (GASP! Oh Jesus it's falling apart! Turn the page, quick!) and then finding on the next page "Note: The handle will fall off when the palm rest is removed." They could have warned me. I was nervous enough at this point that some soothing assurance that I would not screw up the handle assembly would have been appreciated. I don't know diddly about WWAN cables, but screwed up handle assemblies.... now THAT I can comprehend.

I think they tend to forget that I am not one of their factory trained and highly competent Dell technicians who is accustomed to removing zillions of tiny screws and having major subassemblies fall into his lap as an everyday occurance. Oh well. Onward.

Mopping the nervous sweat from my (considerable) brow I was starting to feel like a bomb technician with the shakes.. but since I was in this far I pretty much had to continue. Like the pig compared to the chicken in the old ham and eggs joke, I was committed.

And I admit that at this point I was already mentally composing some strategy for my likely explanation to Dell. I figured they were going to have some questions about a box of loose and somehow familiar parts showing up at their door in a battered cardboard box covered with colorful tropical postage stamps and multiple postmarks.. but I continued. Just in case it all started to make sense at some point. I mean, I would hate to have sent it all off admitting defeat only to find I was one more connector shy of finishing what I started.

And you are never going to guess what happened at this point. Never. So I will tell you. I discovered the problem with the computer. And it was not the touch-pad sensors and electronics. Nope. I got all the way into the very middle of this $ 4,000 laptop while disconnecting subassemblies, and when I gave a very, very slight tug at a little ribbon connector it almost fell away from the circuit board. This stuff is so small compared to the tie-rods and outboard motor parts I am used to dealing with that it's hard to get a decent photo of it. But it looks like this:

How small, you might ask? Well, see that screw hole to the left? that's for a M2.5 mm screw. Which is so small a mosquito would have trouble crawling into that hole. I can't even see these screws without reading glasses. And see that little plastic thingum sitting on the flat spot? That is supposed to be a little latch that flips down and holds the ribbon cable into the connector, and the little pin that should secure it as a pivot point is gone. Long gone. Broken off and unrepairable. Shoot.

The cable in question is not the multicolored one on the left by the way. It is the dark one that goes straight down from that white connector and makes a 90 degree turn to the left, with the camera flash glare on it. It doesn't show up well in this photo. All of this hassle because of a connector latch that costs next to nothing. I do have to question Dell's choice of connectors for a 'ruggedized' laptop. (This thing has not been in a war zone. The only abuse it has ever suffered was verbal.)

Well, this left me in a bit of a quandry. I am sure Dell would be glad to know the problem was not this obviously very expensive palm rest assembly with touch-pad. Nope. Nothing wrong with the touch pad. But I also knew they were NOT going to send me a new motherboard (that complicated big circuit board you can see two photos back) to replace this one with. So I was faced with giving up and sending the whole mess back to them after all, even after waiting almost three weeks to get these parts down here and get their permission to repair it myself, under warranty.

All I could think of was to fall back on a tried and true repair strategy that many of you will appreciate.

Yep. I used duct tape.

That seemingly massive repair is actually a little piece of the stickiest duct tape in the garage, about a quarter inch square. (The multi-colored ribbon cable goes into the white connector on the right. It's not the problem. Not that anyone cares, come to think of it.)

Did y'all know the thin black duct tape works a lot better than the thicker gray duct tape when it comes to home computer repairs? It does. It's more flexible and sticker. Try it out next time you are in a hardware store. The gray duct tape is more for....well....taping ducts. Use the black stuff for your computer repairs. It's more expensive. That outta tell you something right there.

I pressed the new ribbon cable into the busted connector, fitted the broken hold-down clamp in place, glared at it in admonishment one last time, and taped it all down. Then I put the whole thing back together, back-tracking through sixteen typed pages of instructions. I got it all reassembled some hours later using the new touch pad even though it didn't need it. I figured that it might hurt Dell's feelings if I never used the expensive new parts they sent me.

And bottom line? It's now two weeks later. This computer has not missed a beat since I reassembled it. So now what do I do about Dell and the warranty? All I know is that right now that computer is working fine, and the only unplanned double clicking I hear from that side of the room has to do with ice cubes.

Duct tape. Nature's answer to busted anything.

Okay, that whole explanation got kind of longer than I anticipated. But still shorter than the four hours this particular repair took.

On another front, I have decided that our second automotive muffler repair justified buying, and learning to use, a DC arc welder. I have wanted to learn to weld for some time, and the first project I complete down here (re-attaching a tail pipe) will pay for the welder.

I bought the only one in stock at the local Do-It Center and yes, it was made in the People's Republic of China. I won't go any further into that, now. I have said way too much about P.R.C. quality control in the past. Let's just say that I am giving them another chance since they are so much bigger than I am anyway.

The operation manual, in English, for this arc-welder is an absolute collectors item. I am learning English words that I never knew existed. Unfortunately, I am not learning much about arc welding from their manual. I am going to keep it for chuckles, anyhow. Maybe if things get a little slower in the blog post department I will quote some passages from Chairman How.

So, I am learning welding totally on my own and it's pretty interesting. I started sticking together odd bits of steel I found laying around the shop, trying different things until I can get to the point where my welds look okay and hold with some strength.

Here are my first couple dozen practice arc welds:

There are nine seperate pieces of steel involved in that monstrosity. And the welds are getting slightly better with practice. Not prettier, but they don't break apart. I judge this good enough for mufflers that cannot be seen from the street by anyone not lying on their back under the vehicle. And those are not the kind of pedestrian observations I expect to be soliciting. I will keep at welding practice until I can produce something that I will not be ashamed of. I am obviously not there, yet.

It was painful to even show you this photo. But at least I am trying.

Oh, and I learned something else about arc welding, and this is a valuable lesson I hope to pass on to any other DIY practicioners who want to learn to weld:

You will need to wear shoes while welding. Gloves are a given, since the steel gets hot, but who would have thought you would run into complications welding while barefoot? This process puts a lot of white hot, molten sparks all over the place and they start small fires on nearby wooden benches, cardboard boxes, in the fur of small, suddenly yipping dogs, and on the tops and bottoms of unprotected feet. In fact I think some of the erratic welds I was producing on my first few attempts might have been due to my inability to keep my hand steady while my feet were on fire.

So learn from my mistakes, future welders! Cover the holes in your welding boots!

I have found that duct tape works. I suspect the gray duct tape would work even better.

Okay, okay.. this post got a little out of hand. This is what happens when I let a lot of dull photos accumulate for too long. We have several of our offspring down this week, and Mike and Crystal are still here with their catamaran and we were out on the Contender yesterday taking photos. So within a few days I hope to have another post that is more appropriate, not as wordy, and hopefully, more interesting.

In the meantime, here's another one of La Gringa's sunrise photos to close this one out. And remember, every silver lining has a dark cloud somewhere in it's heart...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Marching right along..

We've made it through what we hope is the worst of the winter. For the third time this season we just saw the nighttime temperatures here plummet down to 70 deg. F. And it wasn't as though it just dipped into that deep freeze for a moment and then headed back up like a diver grabbing a conch... oh no! It stayed at 70 for several hours. We looked at each other, huddled here miserable and complaining about the bitter cold and actually considered whether one of us should get up and shut a window or something. Finally La Gringa gave in and put a pair of socks on. We've even cut ourselves back to three ice cubes per drink as a way of preserving our core temperatures. Then just as we were wondering whether we needed to seriously start thinking about uprooting our lives once again and moving further south to Panama..the sun came up...

And things got back to abnormal.

We haven't been doing much of note lately. Again. Getting bored with our general theme of not rocking the boat, we took our little rubber boat out a few times in the past couple of weeks and rocked it. We got a few decent photos of clear water etc. and thought we would post them here. It's become somewhat of a habit.

We're still not using the Contender as much as we did when we kept it in the water. There's nothing mechanically wrong with it at the moment to prevent us from using it. I think I've finally fixed everything on it that needed fixing. Totally functional now. I fixed the salt water wash down, the broken latches and hinges, the trim tabs, the bait well, and the outboard. Installed two fuel filters. The lights still don't all work, but we don't go out at night in it around here. So there's no reason not to use it other than time and expense. It's ready to go. We just need enough of an excuse to hook it up and head out. It's a lot of boat for just the 2.1 of us. I think I will stick another sunrise photo in here while I am rambling on about boats. If I don't use this it will become obsolete just a couple sunrises from now. And then I will never use it.

There. Kinda breaks the text up up a bit, don't you think? (Otherwise this would start looking like a book instead of a bunch of photos with captions. And it's meant to be a bunch of photos with captions.)

So, as I was trying to explain, rather than go through the whole procedure of gassing up the motor boat and launching and retrieving it just to get out on the water, we find that it's a lot easier, faster, and cheaper to just throw the kayak in the back of one of the Land Rovers and take that for a ride. It takes us a half hour to forty five minutes to get the Contender in the water from the house. It takes about 15 minutes for the kayak. It's better on the environment, of course, since it doesn't burn any fuel (other than pizza and bagels), and it's a lot easier on the pocketbook. Gasoline here is running about $4.30 USD per US gallon. And the kayak really lends itself to just making a quick trip for a couple hours of exercise, without any planning. Admittedly there have been a couple times lately when some pre-planning would have been a good idea. Shooting from the hip and winging it is fine as long as you don't wing yourself in the process. We haven't tried the Hobie for fishing yet and I doubt we will. They make kayaks for fishing. They are hard plastic. NOT inflatables.

The thought of two fishing poles, a cooler, hooks, a gaff, knives, and Dooley all in an inflatable boat.... whoa. It sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. The fish all have teeth here, too. And some of them can get real resentful at being hooked and hauled on board. I can just see La Gringa, Dooley, me and a 40 lb. Wahoo all in that little boat. We'd be covered in blood and duct tape band-aids by the time we swam ashore towing a shredded plastic bag of Hobie. Probably lose the fish, too. And I am not saying the fish would necessarily be the one to bite the hole in the boat. Dooley the Deranged is perfectly capable of puncturing a mouthful of boat in the process of lunging for a bite of barracuda.

Here's one more sunrise photo. Then I will quit with those. I was leafing through the ones we have taken in the last few days, and wanted to post this one before it too becomes obsolete. We have been getting a lot of decent sunrises lately, but not that many good sunsets. This time of year the clouds often seem to build up during the day and by dusk they are too thick for a good sunset.

This little camera I now have allows me to take time lapse video series. I have been experimenting with it, and think I have it down. I just need a good scenic solar series and will post it when I get something worth sharing.

I wish we had some good fishing photos to post, too, but we've gotten totally skunked the last several times we have been out fishing. Not sure why, still using the same techniques, tackle, and fishing in areas where we usually hook up with something toothy and delicious. Oh well,enough of that whining. I know you guys up there shovelling snow are just dripping with concern that we haven't caught any fish lately. Yeah, right.

About this time last week we decided to take a cruise up through the Discovery Bay canals again. We had not been there in a while and we are on the lookout for possible places we could keep a small sailboat tied up. And the canals are protected from the winter wind, when we feel like kayaking without getting splashed by chop. We can almost predict one aspect of this trip.... the dogs. When we get to the first major bend in the canal there is a house with a dog who really, really wants to catch the kayak and, we think, have a word with the mouthy little Jack Russell on board. This guy hops in the water and seriously tries to catch us. He doesn't bark much. Mutters and growls. Makes vague threats. Glares. But he's no Bark Spitz and he doesn't have a chance of catching the kayak.

We try to be quiet and coast through this guy's territory, but he's pretty vigilant and once he sounds the alarm we have NO chance of sneaking by the next two pooches. They are different though. These two seem like happy dogs, friendly. I get the impression that they would like to climb on board for the ride. They end up in the water, too, but only make a half hearted attempt to actually catch us. They remind me more of a comedy routine.

"I thought YOU were going to catch the boat!" "No no, it was YOU who said 'Lets catch the boat'.." "Hey...!! too late. Maybe next time..."

Dooley the Defiant, of course, stands there and tells them all repeatedly what he would do to them if he wasn't being restrained by the authorities....

We didn't have much luck finding any place obvious where we might find room to rent for a boat. There are several slips being cut into the canal sides right now. People do that around here, quite often. In fact, when they start one of these projects it looks a lot like this:

This one started just this week. They will dig out a nice place for a boat, and then when it's ready they will dig out the last bit and open it up to the canal. We should be able to keep a little photo journal of how this one is progressing. Hey, maybe they will rent us a slip.

This was really our only canal exploring trip lately and we didn't take many photos of it. Same old stuff we've posted here several times before. And it was a gray, non-photogenic day. We saw a few sights that haven't changed much since the last time we took photos of them. We keep waiting to see some progress on this trimaran, for example. It's been here at least a year and a half now. Still has the same holes in it:

I am still way down on the learning curve about sailboat design, but to me that deep keel seems almost counterproductive on a trimaran. Reminds me more of a monohull with training wheels. Aren't trimarans supposed to be shallow draft and fast, with the amas (the outboard hulls) providing the stabilization instead of a deep keel? As I admit, I am still learning.

And this boat has been here for at least five years that we know of.

The hull actually looks to be in pretty good shape and I don't see obvious signs of massive damage. But this is a hard sailing area for boats with full keels. There might be holes on the side facing the dirt. That would make sense, help it drain rainwater etc. It would also be the side that got damaged if a storm was the reason this boat ended up here. And 'ended up' seems to be the operative phrase.

Getting back out of the canals we run the same canine gauntlet we ran on the way in. The dogs bark, jump in the water and swim like they think they have a chance of catching us. They don't. Dooley the Delinquent eggs it all on, of course. I swear he likes insulting the other dogs into a mindless frenzy. Eventually they just can't stand his mouth anymore and they jump into the canal and try to catch him. The thing is, Dooley is a really good swimmer and could probably outswim any of these guys. He has the ability. I am not sure he has the tactical sense to pull it off, though. He'd have to swim in a straight line. And keep his mouth shut. But then if he could keep his mouth shut we wouldn't be trying to outrun every dog in the neighborhood in the first place.

Leaving the drenched doggies behind we are tempted to take an apparent high tide shortcut across Flamingo Lake. Looks like a nice little channel running out through there, doesn't it?

Well, I think we have finally learned. Whatever it is that makes you think you can make it across these kinds of flats without getting stuck....well....that's just one of them there " troptical delusions."

I jokingly asked La Gringa if she wanted to give these flats a try in the kayak, see if we could pedal hard and maybe make it across before the falling tide caught us and left us stranded for hours flailing around hopelessly in mucky soft sand with buried critters exploring our toes...

Uh.. rather than repeat what she said, verbatim, I'll just relay that the shortest version of her fairly-short-to-begin-with answer was

And I'm going to change the subject now.

We did another trip out into Leeward on a nicer weather day to test some new main sheet blocks I lashed onto the kayak. We've found the sail to be almost unmanageable at any wind speeds much over about 8-10 knots. And a knot is equal to a nautical mile per hour, or in other words a knot is 115% of a mph. So 10 knots= 11.5 mph. (See how well we're learning all those sailing terms?)

The wind was blowing too hard for us to sail the kayak on that day. It has what is referred to as a 'weather helm'. This means that when a gust of wind hits the boat it tries really hard to turn and point into the wind. This has to do with how the two sets of Mirage Drive flippers are positioned, and we are still learning how to best use those. But above ten knots of wind we can pretty much forget using the sail on this little boat.

Dooley the Desperate insisted that he really needed to make a pit stop at the nearest tree. This is the kind of request one should heed on a small boat. Especially when one is the nearest thing to the shape of a fire hydrant in sight and the dog is starting to look at you like you could pass for tree bark. So we pulled over to the lee of some mangroves on the western point of Donna Cay to let the dog out. I am posting this photo because some people have been asking us how the inflatable does around sharp rocks, shells, and barnacles. This isn't the greatest picture of what's under the water, but it's all a jumble of broken up conch shells and the mangroves have small barnacles all over them.

This boat is tough. Hobie uses a fairly robust material for their inflatables. This is not the same stuff as the inexpensive vinyl boats you can get at discount stores. We bounce this baby off barnacle encrusted stuff all the time. Every time we take it out, just about.

In fact, the bottom here was so covered with broken conch shells that Dooley the Drained was hesitant to walk through it to get back to the boat. 'Hesitant' is being kind to the little crybaby. He stood there whining like one of should walk through this stuff barefoot to retrieve him..

We were NOT about to wade through this stuff barefooted, so drawing on our limited grasp of canine psychology we told the dog "adios, we are leaving now, going over to CAT cay.." and we pedalled out a few feet from shore. That did it. He took a leap into deeper water and quickly caught up with us.

(ugly ocean isn't it? Perhaps you can see why we never tire of playing in it.)

And as usual, one of us hauls him aboard.

On the way back to Heaving Down Rock we were pedalling into several knots of tidal current and into a ten knot wind at the same time. I took a little video to illustrate just how efficient these Mirage Drives are. With the two of us leisurely pushing the pedals, with no strain whatsoever, the boat easily handles going into the wind and current:

(click the little "play" arrow for the video)

We even had some extra wind drag on the boat because I did a lousy job of furling the sail. But you can see by clicking on that video link that we were easily making about four knots. We could have kicked it up a bit, even. That's not full speed. And the beauty of these drives is that you can do it for hour after hour while your hands are free to do things like take photos, open beer cans, and fish dogs out of the water. After a year of beating this little boat, we are hard-core Hobie fans and would buy another one of their products in a heartbeat.

Running out of daylight, again:

We made it back to Leeward before dark, though. Just barely.

We don't really mind boating in the dark, and have done it on numerous occasions over the years here. We have taken several power boats to Pine Cay and back in the dark. And in storms a couple of times. Just a couple weeks ago we came back from Pine Cay in the dark in this kayak, too. But this little boat has no lights on it and several of the larger boats that use Leeward after dark put up a very substantial wake. We know they can't see us, and that they don't expect two idiots to be out in the channel in a kayak at night. And we are not fast enough to get out of their way.

All in all, there really isn't much boat traffic in the Turks and Caicos Islands after sunset. Very few of the channels are marked, and most people rely upon being able to see the bottom to get from point to point without hitting rocks, reefs, or coral heads. Or running aground on the flats. The clear water makes it easy to 'read' the bottom but we need the sunlight to do it. It even becomes difficult on cloudy days or when the low morning or late afternoon sun is blinding you.

One group that does regularly go out at night here is the Marine Police. They run at least one or two boats on patrol every night. They are constantly on the lookout for illegal Haitian immigrants coming in by sloop, and for Dominican Republic and Haitian poachers who come into the TCI's waters to fish. From where we live we get a very good view of their coming and going from their boatyard base.

Last Wednesday we noticed two of the Marine Patrol's boats escorting a larger boat in toward the docks. This is a boat we had not seen in these waters before. We noticed that they were coming in at a particularly low tide and sure enough they ran the boat aground outside the entrance to the marina. La Gringa's new camera was just able to catch a few images before the light completely faded. She had the camera on a tripod on the patio.

In this photo the fishing boat was aground and the Police were using their inflatable patrol boat to transfer people from the larger boat over to their smaller patrol boat.

In this one you might just barely be able to see the Police boat has a number of people on the deck, has a line to the stern of the fishing boat and is attempting to help pull it backwards off the sand. There is sand stirred up in the water and you can just make out the prop wash from the bigger boat, in reverse, trying to back out to deeper water while the Police inflatable boat "Hurricane" stands by.

They didn't get the boat floated that night and left it on the anchor there until high tide the next morning. We watched as they went out and towed the boat into the marina and tied it up at the dock. When we picked up the next edition of one of the local newspapers, we found out what had happened.

The larger boat was full of poachers from the Dominican Republic. The Marine Patrol police seized that boat, a number of smaller boats, and arrested 45 fishermen.

If you want to read more about it, the story is here: Illegal Poachers.

What the newspaper doesn't go into are the penalties for poaching here. The Marine Police guys are pretty reasonable people. We have talked to them a lot over the years. We have kept two of our boats in slips right next to them. They have been known to cut people some slack for not having their registration up to date, or not having the required number of life jackets on board. They might let you off with a warning if you have a few more fish that would seem legal or reasonable. Nice guys. Like other law enforcement here they tend to enforce the spirit of the law more than the letter. But if you get caught poaching on a scale like this, it's almost guaranteed they will hit you with the max penalty. They will almost certanily confiscate, and keep this boat, and the support boats. The owners will not get them back. And the owner will also get hit with at least a $ 50,000. fine in addition to losing an expensive boat. And the Captain and officers of the boat will also face charges. I'll let you know what happens later, but this is our prediction based upon what we have seen happen in similar situations before.

The last boat like this that was caught and confiscated about a year ago is still sitting on blocks at the boatyard. It belongs to the TCI now. Not that anyone seems likely to do anything with it.

Maybe we should have contacted the newspaper and offered them La Gringa's photos. They are better than the ones they published.

Okay, one more kayak story and then I will be about finished with this post. As anyone who reads this stuff probably knows we use Google Earth satellite images quite a bit to explore these islands and other places online. It's a real valuable tool to us, as so much of the ocean here is totally unsurveyed and uncharted. From time to time I will spot something on an image from space, and start wondering what it is. The "X-Files Island" posts a year or so back started out that way.

Well, this time I was looking at the small cays west of here and saw this long structure out in what the charts label as "Bermudian Harbour" off of the Five Cays section of Providenciales. I labelled it with a "?" on this image:

I don't know why they call this Bermudian Harbour, but suspect it's because anything that draws more water than a Bermuda sloop might have some problems in the shallows here. Or maybe it means you can walk across parts of it wearing Bermuda shorts....

Anyhow, this thing intrigued me and we decided it was enough of an excuse to go get a couple hours exercise kicking the rubber boat. A close up of the feature that we are trying to figure out:

In appearance it's consistent with deeper water, or a trench, but as you can see it's not connected to any other channel or trench that would make any sense. And using Google Earth's ruler function, this thing measures out to be almost 400 ft. long. We thought it would be easy to find, just to see for ourselves what it is. Other than an excuse for a boat trip, of course.

It took us almost an hour to kayak over and by the time we got up close to where we expected to see this thing it was near low tide. The water was crystal clear, and this is looking toward where this thing should be:

I don't see it. Neither did any of the crew.

We moved around and back and forth looking for it, and although we saw scattered dark rocks and objects like in the photo below, we couldn't find anything as dense as what shows up in the image. That land on the left is Cooper Jack Point:

We spent about another hour pedalling around looking for this. We never did get as close to shore as we wanted, it was just too shallow and as some of you know, certain members of the crew are real gun-shy where shallow water is concerned. And while the request was for all hands to keep their eyes peeled.... I realized later that those of the crew who consider themselves exempt because they don't have 'hands' also have another definition of 'peeled'..

So, bottom line, we finally gave up and decided to come back on another day with higher tide and our handheld GPS and solve this one, if we can. I also noted that the Google Earth images for this little country are six years old in some cases and what might have been there in the images from 2003 and 2004 might well be covered over or filled in or gone by 2010.

At this point we had been pedalling for a couple hours and decided to put the sail up to get back to the ramp. We've found out through experimentation that putting the mast up in a loaded kayak while free floating broadside in the wind and waves is not conducive to peace and harmony. It can get way too exciting in a hurry. We need to either pull into the lee of an island, or rock, or mangroves - then get the mast and sail all just right and then go out into the wind with it.

Well, on this day we were no where near a convenient spot out of the wind to put the mast up. We thought about pedalling over to that little island labelled Middle Cay on the chart, but it was not in the direction we wanted to go. Then we spotted, off in the distance, what we knew was an old rusty shipwreck sticking up out of the water.

This is what it looks like on Google Earth's image from some years ago.

And this is what it looked like from about a mile away with Middle Cay in the background:

I was using the max zoom on this new little pocket digital Pentax W80 I got to replace the second failed Olympus Stylus. The zoom works great on the Pentax and never worked on either Olympus. But the Olympus cameras took much clearer photos when they DID work. Sheesh. (Does ANYBODY make a water proof pocket digital that doesn't leak and has a zoom that works and takes clear photos all at the same time?)

Anyhow we figured we could just throw a line on part of the wreck and while we wouldn't really be sheltered from the wind at least it would align us with it. And that's good enough to stabilize the boat to the point where we can crawl around it enough to get the mast up, the three shrouds attached, the sail unfurled and the mainsheet run from the tack back through the outhaul and back up through the block....

Man them sailing terms are coming fast and furious now, ain't they?

Dooley the Delinquent was keeping an eye on the birds roosting on the old landing craft wreck as we pulled up in a little bit of chop coming from the port side..

And back on the subject of sailing terms...after 40 years in an ocean-related career I have finally come to the conclusion that the terms 'port' and 'starboard' are actually archaic and confusing. They serve absolutely no purpose that I can see. Despite my well-deserved reputation as a retro-grouch, I think the terms 'left' and 'right' make a lot more sense to most people and result in fewer miscommunications and from now on I am going to try to use the terms that work best. Whether they sound nautical or knot...

Okay, back to the adventure-du-jour... we pulled up into the lee of the wreckage and La Gringa expertly lassooed a piece of it (is lasso a Tex-Mex nautical term?) and we got the sail up without enriching Dooley's vocabulary or falling overboard. This let us relax on the pedals and make a leisurely sail back to the South Side Marina.

You might notice Dooley is not in that photo, as he usually is. That's because with me not pedalling he is able to fit into what would normally be a harzardous space for him.

Oh, that is Cooper Jack Rock in the distance. I also labelled that on the first Google Earth image up above here in the post. We plan to figure out a way to climb up on that one of these days when we have more time and remember to bring proper shoes or booties. La Gringa thinks it looks like a Guinea Pig from this angle:

I think it looks more like a fat bullfrog looking off in the direction of Haiti. Not sure what Dooley thinks it looks like. Probably a cat with it's ears laid back. That's how the cats he sees usually pose.

I think he might have figured out a way to nap while appearing to be alert while he's supposed to be on watch:

Actually the wind was strong enough heading into the marina to hold his ears up facing into it. Hard to see that in still photos.

Well, that pretty much sums up our little water travels over the past week. We've only had those three days when the weather was calm enough to get out on the small boat, and not enough reason to take the larger boat out when the weather is rougher.

Back at the house I continue to slowly work my way through a "to-do" list that is approaching the size of the Old Testament. Some of it is almost that old, as well. For example, I am finally starting to take a look at what we can do about the 22 light fixtures that Hurricanes Hanna and Ike ruined for us.

This is sorta what their original configuration looked like, in that this one at least still has all the pieces to it:

(see that weather on the horizon, by the way? That's what a lot of our days have looked like here during late February and early March.)

And what most of the light fixtures now look like is this:

I took that one apart to see what I would need to do to replace it, and found out that the bases for these post lights are cast aluminum. While that would definitely not be my first, second, or even third choice, knowing what we now know about aluminum here, they are at least still solid and I think I can reuse the bases if I can find a good weatherproof post light.

I'm not used to the light fixture serving as the electrical box, but hey, I'm no electrican, either. It's gotta be wired to a 'wet external' rated electrical code, right?

I have been looking at some plastic dock lights that would fit on these posts, and they seem to be robust and wind and waterproof. And on the lower end of the cost scale. Unfortunately, as La Gringa points out, they look exactly like what they are....which is, plastic:

So I suspect I will keep looking until we find a post light that looks okay, will survive hurricane winds and salt and driving rain and dust, that we can afford in quantities. Any suggestions welcomed on this one. Maybe try to paint the plastic? If I could find a design in brass or bronze it might work. I did find powder coated aluminum ones. But this place eats powder coated aluminum like it was sugar coated M&M's.

Or maybe I should say that the environment at our house eats aluminum like Dooley the Demented eats new squeeky toys recently brought to him by nice people named Todd from Houston..

"If you want the duck back alive, you send a St. Bernard. If you only need the duck back unmarked, you send a retriever. But if what you need is a hit on the duck, questions asked...."

Okay, that's enough for this one. And we will end it, as usual, with one of La Gringa's sunset photos:

And in a few weeks the sun will not only be warming this place up a bit, but will also be setting further off to the south, away from that never-ending construction site. We can hardly wait for summer.