Saturday, April 3, 2010

"La Famille Express" revisted

Winter has been showing those signs of moving off to where Winter goes when it leaves here. Drifting South, on its ancient yearly mission to climatically re-polarize our friends in New Zealand, Brasil and South Africa. Isn't it fun to think of them pulling their favorite winter clothing out of storage, and stoking their fireplaces while we are kicking our shoes off and getting ready for summer? I have been lucky enough to have travelled extensively in the southern hemisphere and I always got a kick out of kids going surfing over the summer Christmas holiday. Our snowy Northern hemisphere Santa-and-snow Christmas cards just don't seem very appropriate to people who associate Christmas and New Years with sunburns. Just kinda gives one a perspective on how the rest of the planet sees things. At least a little bit. Sometimes.

But here, for now, days are getting longer, and warmer, and every sunrise seems to be full of the potential promise of good stuff yet to come. How's that for an optimistic outlook?

Enough of that, I'll get to the main subject of this little post. And compared to some of the wordy things I've been posting lately this one will be pretty short. I am not sure which way works better... to save up enough new photos over a few weeks for a long post or to put up a short one every week or whenever we have something new. It's only been a little over a week since the last one, so we'll see how this goes.

We've been pretty busy lately. A couple of our sons came down for a spring break visit, and one of them brought a friend along this time. This kind of situation usually generates some outside activities on our part since our visitors are always geared up for some 'fun stuff'. And around here 'fun stuff' usually involves boats and the ocean. At least it does where this family is involved. So, on a nice sunny day we loaded up the visitors, boated over to the boatyard to pick up our new friends Crystal and Mike, and headed out to just enjoy a boating day. We got sidetracked almost immediately with an unplanned detour but it resulted in some photos we thought some of you might enjoy.

Just a little over two miles south of Leeward Going Through, out on the Caicos Bank, sits a rusting hulk of a freighter. On our way from our home up to Pine Cay we pass right next to this local landmark. Which of course means we have seen it literally hundreds of times. We have even been known to duck behind it and let a squall blow by from time to time.

Doesn't look too bad from a distance, does it. I know we have posted photos of this boat from time to time over the past few years. We first got up close to it in 2005 and have also noticed how parts of it seem to be steadily disappearing as people salvage the bits they think they want. As we get closer the sorry state of the wreck becomes more apparent:

The painted name "La Famille Express" is still clearly visible on both the stern and the bow of the little freighter. What is also clearly visible from up close is the welded metal spelling out the original name in the Cyrillic script used in Russia and some other Slavic nations in Northern Europe. We have been told that this boat was originally named the "Fort Shevenko", and that it was originally a Soviet Navy vessel.

With the former Soviet Union's activities and presence in Cuba, just a few miles from us, this would make some sense. I did try some internet searches for both names of the boat. But I really was not very successful in getting any additional information on it, other than other people's vacation photos. I did read that it got run aground here at its present position during Hurricane Frances. Frances made a direct hit on the Turks and Caicos Islands as a category 4 hurricane on September 1, 2004. So this boat has been sitting here falling apart for five and a half years now. It has also managed to hold together, for the most part, through the other two hurricanes that came through here since then.

Our visiting cruisers were interested in a closer look at the wreck, and of course the younger members of the group had wanted a real close look at it, so in my capacity as Captain-for-the-day, and with the blessing of La-Gringa-Suprema-the-Mother-in-charge, we decided to let them go for it. We pulled "Off Cay" up to the section of cargo netting draped over the side and our Colorado rock climbers were up over the side of that thing like a couple of rescued sailors.

Or maybe they thought there was a men's room on there...

We let them take our cameras aboard for some photos, and I confess I had long been curious about what this boat looked like from topside. Our little Contender looks even smaller from up there, doesn't it.

And as the boys climbed up higher on the freighter it because obvious that the cargo hold was flooded with seawater. This is no surprise as the entire hull is almost rusted through completely around the waterline. There are a lot of floating timbers still in the hold:

Here's a better view looking down into the cargo hold from the main deck area:

I confess that I had often wondered what went through the Captain's mind as he tried to make it to Providenciales in this little ship during a Category 4 hurricane. I was sure there must have been a heck of a story to tell, if we could just find out what it was. Because there was absolutely no way a boat this big would ever make it into Leeward from this direction. Our little boat draws just under three feet of water and we barely have enough clearance to get through here. So I had basically assumed that the crew had intentionally grounded the freighter.

We had these heroic stories in mind, how this move into shallow water would have guaranteed the survival of the crew even though it was almost certain death for the vessel. Yes, my over-active imagination had all these heroic scenarios playing over the years... and then today I thought to myself "I'll ask our friend Preacher if he knows any more details about this, as I am sure he would have been here during that storm." And as luck would have it, Preacher was just here this morning. He brought another one of his model sloop project hulls by. (I have been cutting the keels and rudders for him in my little shop.) And his model boats seem to be getting bigger...

That's #1, which I have, and #2, which we just cut the keel for, and now # 3 is taking form and it's even bigger. But I digress.... I'll get back to "La Famille Express"...

Turns out, it was a locally-owned and operated freighter belonging to a Carl Been of Five Cays here on Provo. Preacher says Carl used the boat to haul crap and whatever cargo jobs he could get. It was normally anchored off South Dock where all the other commercial freighters anchor. There is really no other area near here with enough water for a boat this size. And during Hurricane Frances this boat broke free and lost its anchor. The storm washed it all the way from South Dock to where it now sits.

It started at the anchorage, and ended up where it has sat hard aground for the past six years.

There was nobody on board the boat during the storm, so it was driven around a number of little cays, and over the shoals. That's about 12 miles. The original anchor was lost and Preacher is not exactly sure when they put this one out, but at the time the owner had some plans and ideas about how to re float and salvage the boat. Of course, that obviously never happened. And now it never will.

So, that pretty much puts an end to a lot of my speculation... at least all the ideas of heroic captains fighting mountainous seas during howling hurricane winds and driving rain....

Nope. The boat was inadequately anchored and broke loose in a storm. And that's the story.

This is what the view of this end of the island of Providenciales looks like from this direction:

And yeah our intrepid explorers had to do some climbing to get that view:

This is the bow of the boat:

I notice the chain stopper was not tightened, but let's face it.....this boat wasn't going anywhere at that point.

This is looking down at the stern of the boat from up high:

Not a whole lot left there to salvage without bringing a cutting torch aboard.

We didn't want the boys to get down inside the boat on this trip. We wouldn't rule out further exploration at some future date if they were a little better equipped for climbing around lots of rusty iron steps and collapsing walkways. They did look down toward the engine room access:

You can see that the deck plating down near the water line is in pretty bad shape. Certainly not the best footing for tender bare feet.

Some of the control boxes and switches are still on the bridge deck, and still with the original labelling:

And although the vessel is most definitely totally dead, it's not totally lifeless:

So finally we managed to corral our crew back onto our own little freighter and headed out to enjoy the rest of the day.

I haven't told them yet the real story on this boat maybe I will let them wonder for awhile. I know their imaginations were going wild there for a while. It sure looks the part.

Meantime, I am wondering how this boat from the U.S.S.R. even ended up in the Turks and Caicos Islands.... now there must be a story in THAT somehow, at least... did it all start with a renegade Russian Cossack and a shipment of Soviet vodka and Cuban Rum... during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the US blockade??

I really gotta do something about this runaway imagination. One of these days maybe I will.

And we also have heard rumor of a sunken airplane out on the Bank that we have not seen yet..... we'll try to track that one down if we can get Preacher focused on something besides his model sloop project for a few hours one of these fine days.

Still on the subject of presently non-functioning boats, last week when we were over at the boatyard picking up the crew of the "Dancing Dolphin" we took a look at the fishing boat from the Dominican Republic that I wrote about a few weeks back.

This boat was apprehended off of Ambergris Cay, well within the TCI's territorial waters, and illegally fishing. We posted some photos of it sitting outside the entrance to the boatyard waiting for high tide.

Well the story is that it was definitely seized by the TCI government and the catch was sold at public auction. The captain and mate were heavily fined and the crew were deported back to the D.R. This boat, and six or seven smaller fishing pangas, and all their equipment, remains here.

Can you believe there were over 40 fishermen living and working on this little boat? Talk about your basic 'tight-knit crew'.

And while I am sure this boat has its own stories to tell, I am going to limit my imagination to what I read in the papers on this one. Except that now we know where it was fishing five years ago...

(Hmm... did I do the welding on that boat? Or the painting?)

Oh, before I forget, I wanted to mention one more tidbit on the subject of non-functioning boats. People who follow this blog might remember that we had a heck of a time sorting out fuel issues this past summer. This outboard motor is very susceptible to dirty fuel. After a lot of work getting the system cleaned out and working correctly I installed a couple of filter/separators to catch water and debris in the fuel, before it gets to the motor. And I have been buying gasoline at an automotive service station, transporting it to the boat, and siphoning it from jerry cans into Off Cay's tank. I run it through a filtering funnel to make sure I don't introduce water or dirt into the tank.

Well, last week for the first time since last July we decided to buy fuel at the local marina instead of ferrying gas in plastic jugs. I thought that surely by now any fuel issues with the marina gas would have been worked out and they would have had several new batches of gasoline by now. It should be safe. And I am basically lazy. It's a real pain to drive down to a gas station, fill two jugs, drive them back, climb up onto the boat, on the trailer, and siphon fuel through a filter. I was hoping not to have to do that, forever. So I trusted the marina gas.

Yesterday we took "Off Cay" for another excursion (2nd one this week!) and right after launching it we drained off some fuel from the Racor filter. Just to be sure everything was still good. After all, we had bought our last 20 gallons from the marina. It was worth checking.... and I am glad I did. This is what was in those 20 gallons other than gasoline:

The cloudy stuff on top is gasoline with particles, that the filter trapped. The thick stuff on the bottom is something other than gasoline. I suspect water, and dirty water at that. I also checked the second Racor, and lo and behold the fuel in that one was clear as.... well..... as clean gasoline. I am SO glad this gunk didn't get into the Yamaha fuel system on this fuel injected motor. We would have been shut down again, until I got it all cleaned out once more. Five internal fuel pumps. Seven internal fuel filters.

And people actually wonder why we are moving to sail...

And kayaks. We really like our sail and people-powered kayak. We only have fuel issues when we forget to bring lunch. We did take the little Hobie (which we informally call "Low Cay") up the Long Bay canal to look around a couple weeks ago. We didn't see much that we haven't seen before except that this time we were there on a falling tide. When the tide runs out the canal empties much quicker than the salina behind it. So all along the canal there are these miniature waterfalls as the sea water continues to drain slowly into the dropping sea level of the canal.

And it seems that anytime flowing water gets restricted like this, something shows up to do some fishing:

And we have our own little 'something' who is only too happy to jump into the water
and scare the fish away...Dooley the Diverter:

Now for some minor DIY stuff:

As reported last week, I bought a DC welding machine and have been trying to teach myself to arc weld. I have managed to stick together all the loose metal scraps I could find in my garage. I even hacksawed some perfectly good metal bits apart just to have pieces to weld. Well, I've finally gotten to the point where I think I am just about ready to tackle the Land Rover exhaust pipe. But first I wanted to try a small project of some kind, just to see if I could make it all work. But what to practice on...hmmm

Last week while our young guests were here we put them to work jackhammering rock in the driveway.

And No of course it's not all shipwreck adventure and drinking beer! The little story here behind that photo is that these two had been out late the night before cruising the bar scene on Grace Bay. I still don't know how they made it home, but they did. They were not driving, that's all I know about that. And the next morning, I just knew they would be all refreshed and rested after a late night of sampling various libations from the rum family. You know, those deceptively sweet tasting things with little paper umbrellas stuck through bits of embalmed fruit and cute names like "Bahama Mama" and "Goombay Smash".... The usual pyrites of the Caribbean. Being the thoughtful stepdad and host that I am, I thought I might liven things up by coming up with a new way of welcoming the day. So I went out soon as the jackhammer rental store opened....and I rented the biggest jackhammer I could find. I got it started up bright and early. Man them suckers are noisy, aren't they? Sure enough, after about half an hour of me running this bad boy full bore, they stumbled out and took over...heh heh heh... Still here to help..

To haul some of the loose dirt away we borrowed a wheelbarrow from our friends down the road, M&M. The front piece of their wheelbarrow, the metal strip that holds these two wooden pieces together....

...was bent into a contorted shape. I warned the guys to keep an eye on it, as it was bent like a pretzel. This little metal piece acts like a fulcrum when you tip the wheelbarrow forward to dump the contents out. After we were finished with it I thought I would be a good 'tool-borrower' ( if there IS such a thing) and return it in better condition than it was in when I borrowed it. So I removed the metal piece and hammered it back into it's intended original condition. I wish I had thought to take a photo of it when it was bent, but at the time I only intended to hammer it straight, repair the wheelbarrow, and return it. This is what it looked like hammered straight again:

And it was at this point that I thought..."Oh HO! I bet I could improve upon this piece of metal strapping!" Well, actually what I thought was more along the lines of " I bet I could use a welder on this little project". And so I did.

I still have quite a bit of curved metal pieces that were the frame of our expensive HD satellite dish right up until Hurricane Hanna made landfall. So I hacksawed one of those off to fit..

And after adding yet another hammer to my collection... I welded this to the flimsy metal strap. And after grinding down the ugly part of the looked like this:

And although it's never going to be exhibited in the Welder's Museum or Hall of Fame.... I judged it suitable for the underside of a wheelbarrow. Especially after a few coats of paint.

I just put another coat of paint on it, and then reassembled M&M's now-improved wheelbarrow. I have to believe that beefing up this part is an improvement. Of course what I really needed was an excuse and opportunity to try my hand at an actual welding project. Hey, it's a start. I wonder if they will notice any difference in it..

As an aside, I showed my welding practice piece to Preacher when he stopped by this morning. He laughed, and told me that back when the first arc welding machine came to Provo ( some time after they brought electricity to Provo) all the first welds on the entire island looked like that until people had time to practice. I bet a whole lot of loose scrap metal got cleaned up in those days. I know it's getting hard to find a loose piece of steel in my garage. My 'practice piece' just keeps getting bigger. Starting in the middle, (which is where I started) my earliest welding efforts are to the left.

And after I totally ruined a lot of perfectly good, collectable, scrap steel pieces that I had been saving for years in some cases, the stuff to the right side shows some slight improvement. I started practicing on thinner metal, as my next project was to weld two places on the Land Rover exhaust system. I found out that buy using thinner welding rods ( 3/32" 6013 for you experts out there) and less amperage, it worked okay. Still not pretty, but I can't break it with a hammer. And you KNOW how I am about my hammers...

Okay, that's it for this week's installment. Except I wanted to mention that this blog is now linked to a nice online travel service called Trip Advisor. Check it out next time you are planning a vacation!

We have a link to them there on the right side of this blog along with the other links we think you guys might be interested in.

And thank goodness La Gringa is finally getting some good sunsets to photograph again!