Monday, November 29, 2010

"Treasure Seeker"

I hope you can tolerate a brief departure from our usual photos of the TCI. This time of year after hurricane season the cruiser and passing-through boat traffic down here picks up enormously. And for some reason we seem to keep getting involved in it. I thought I would stick a little post in here to give you a better idea of the type of things we get mixed up in. You know, when not out kayaking and taking photos of La Gringa's braids and Dooley the Demented swimming in circles.

Some of you might remember this photo from the previous blog post, back when I didn't know anything at all about this mysterious silhouette being towed into the Caicos Marina and Boatyard. I had an idea that the name of the boat was the "Treasure" something or other but that's pretty much all we knew at that time. I just posted the photo under the generally vague category of 'strange ships that pass by our home and that we don't know diddly about'. Or something like that. We do get a few of those as you well know.

Now of course we know a whole lot more about it. (Of course you knew that, didn't you? Because otherwise I wouldn't be bringing it up again.)

Let me tell you this story and what has developed so far. Because there is likely more to come.

It all started for us one day when we heard the characteristically noisy transmission from a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter coming in through our marine VHF radio at the house. The USCG air crew was calling a boat named (we know now) the "Treasure Seeker". Our first thought was that they were interested in some boat engaged in some activity or other that would be the kind of activity this kind of boat might engage in that would interest the Coast Guard. Does that make sense? Good, because I don't want to re-write it.

We then heard a second call from the helicopter asking the "Treasure Seeker" for its present location. Then we realized that the USCG was actively looking for the boat and not looking at the boat. I mean, if they were hovering overhead they wouldn't need to ask the boat where it was located.

(The Treasure Seeker tied up alongside at the Caicos Marina and Boatyard:)

We couldn't hear the responses from the boat, but that's not unusual. Our VHF antenna is between 70 and 75 ft. above sea level and we commonly get 40-50 mile range to other radios with high antennas. Such as helicopters in flight. The boat's antenna would have been below the horizon to us.

The next time we heard the name "Treasure Seeker" was again on the radio a day or so later. This time the boat was under tow near Providenciales. Of course we remembered the name, and were happy to hear it was close by and that no helicopters were involved. A few hours later, that boat being towed by the tug "L'il Lew" came by and I snapped the photo. And later, posted it on this blog.

La Gringa was out that afternoon taking sunset pictures and she liked the way the setting sun was shining off the glazing of the boats in the marina. We still didn't know the story of this boat, but figured they had engine trouble or something like that. Here's another one of La Gringa's telephoto pix of the scene just as the sun was setting:

The next day the story started getting more interesting. Someone who reads this blog had seen photos of this boat on yet another blog and he wrote us a comment on our previous post with a link to that blog with the photos and some of the story. Now we knew the boat was headed all the way down to the US Virgin Islands, and that it is going to become a pirate-themed excursion boat. We still didn't know much about the USCG helicopters involvement or why the boat was under tow. But the plot was definitely thickening.

La Gringa posted a comment on John Samford's blog, with a link to this blog and the photo of the now identified Treasure Seeker. We kinda figured that would be the end of that. We did discuss driving over to the Boatyard to take a look. And probably wouldn't have, except....

We then received an email from Betsy in Florida. She knew all about this boat because her husband Ray is the Captain and owner. Betsy told us in her email that John Samford had forwarded the link that he had been sent by La Gringa after we had received the comment from "D" with the link to John Samford's blog that talked about the Treasure Seeker. (Whew. Can I do 'run-on sentence' or what?)

Betsy told us that Ray had set the EPIRB off on the boat and the Coast Guard had called her. She gave them the coordinates she had from Ray's EPIRB beacon. An "EPIRB" (as explanation for those who don't have to worry about getting lost at sea) is an "Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon" in general, and a "SPOT" personal beacon in this particular case. Betsy also gave us Ray's phone number and told us he had been having an interesting trip so far. Being rescued from harrowing experiences by the Coast Guard and all. We can easily imagine what being stranded at the Boatyard is like, since we adopted some cruisers who were stuck over there for a month last season. We decided to check this out.

Betsy put us in contact with Ray, and we drove over to the Boatyard to meet him and to see his boat. And to find out what was going on, of course.

I think I got that all written down in correct order. So far. Now this all happened over the course of about a week. We did the Conch Festival thing on Saturday and did not get Betsy's first email until we were home that night. We were down to meet Ray on Sunday morning.

You will have read some details of the Treasure Seeker's past life as an automobile ferry in the Great Lakes of the USA in that link I posted above. Well, this is what she looks like right now:

Ray has changed the ferry into a steel pirate ship complete with masts, crow's nests, ratlines, bowsprit, figurehead and all sorts of pirate goodies.

Ray gave us a tour of the boat. And of course, over lunch at the Conch Shack, we got the rest of the story, so far.

Captain Ray on the bridge of the Treasure Seeker:

I'll condense this into what I think I know, in general, because we've just heard the story once. Not nearly enough to have it memorized yet. But the boat was anchored for the night off of the Plana Cays when this particular bit of the adventure started to go awry. The Plana Cays are a couple of small, uninhabited islands between Acklins Island and Mayaguana in the Bahamas.

Over lunch, Capt. Ray told us of his harrowing experiences while at anchor near the Plana Cays, in the Bahamas. I think I understand all the sequence of events that led up to him being rescued and then towed in here, but I tell ya, it's kinda complicated. I don't want to print something and then find out I've gotten it wrong, so I am just going to keep it brief at this point. Besides, I know that while some of us love the details of these boat stories, a lot of the folks who read this are not that into it. So here's the "Cliff Notes" version, abbreviated, truncated, and then shortened:

They were anchored, the wind picked up, they heard and felt a bang, lost the rudder, and the anchor, got pushed aground on the Plana Cays, and activated the EPIRB. ( I just replaced three paragraphs with that comma linked run-on sentence.)

EPIRBS send distress signals up to satellites that send them back to the Coast Guard, in marine situations. They can look up the details of which boat has a particular EPIRB, along with contact information. The USCG called Betsy, who gave them the latest SPOT coordinates for the boat and away they went. The helicopter was parked on Mayaguana, and their airborne radio calls to the Treasure Seeker bring us back to where we first got involved in this movie.

The helicopter lowered a basket to the Treasure Seeker, winched the crew aboard and brought them to Providenciales. That makes sense, as this is the closest place with tow boats and a shipyard for many miles. Once on Provo Ray was able to find a local tug boat and back they went to the Plana Cays to rescue his unmanned boat. I bet he was pretty nervous about that, salvage laws being what they are, and all. The Plana Cays are about 107 miles from here. The tug boat was able to tow Treasure Seeker off the sand and brought it to just offshore Providenciales where it was tied to a barge until Ray could arrange for the smaller, shallower draft "L'il Lew" to bring him to the Boatyard. And the end of that little saga is the first photo on this post.

Welcome to the Turks and Caicos Islands Ray!!! Having a good trip, so far?

These two photos are the main deck of the Treasure Seeker. The former ferry layout gives the boat a lot of room for passengers. It's Ray's intention to run the boat on day trip excursions out of St. Thomas.

The forward part of the main deck is now a bar stretching the full beam of the boat. The bar shutters are down in this photo but will be open when he is finally in business.

The entire theme of the boat is pirate-oriented, even down to the furniture:

Ray told us how many bottles of cold beer his coolers will handle but I don't remember the exact number at the moment. I do know it's a lot. Thousands.

The boat is still 'buttoned up' for the most part so we have not seen it with everything opened up yet. What is available to be seen is still pretty much lashed down. Wouldn't want heavy round things loose on deck at sea.

Some of the ratline rigging:

The amidships crow's nest is functional with an open hatch for someone more nimble than I am who likes climbing high on hemp lines:

I guess this photo could be titled something like "old salts discussing ratline splicing", and that would be as good as the entire truth. (Which is that some boys will look for any excuse to play with boats their whole lives through.)

I suppose the term a 'life of adventure at sea' has a nice ring to it, at times. Well, the Treasure Seeker has sure started out with a new chapter in that book.

The wheelhouse of the Treasure Seeker :

Looking toward the forward seating area and the dock at the Caicos Marina and Boatyard:

I notice Ray has installed plenty of safety cables to keep little pirates on board. (Or bigger pirates on their hands and knees)

I didn't realize how bad the top of the Land Rover was getting until I saw it from the bridge of a pirate ship:

This is the forward mast and crow's nest:

After lunch at the Conch Shack and stopping for some provisions, we finished our tour. I managed to catch Dooley the Disturbed at the very exact moment when he decided that climbing ladders was not in his job description:

Of course then the little beggar whines pitifully at the bottom of the stairs until someone climbs back down to carry him up.

Capt.Ray relaxing on the main 'party deck' of the Treasure Seeker. And yes, the grill is now 'Dooley authorized'.

This photo has nothing to do with all of this, just thought some of you might be interested in what the spotlight on the Treasure Seeker looks like from about 900 yards away:

So, the way things are at the moment is that Ray is waiting to hear what his next steps will be. His insurance company has to decide whether it is more cost effective to have the rudder repaired here on Providenciales or to tow the Treasure Seeker to a bigger shipyard in Puerto Rico or elsewhere. Of course Puerto Rico is part of the USA and that makes a lot of things simpler logistically. One of the complications in replacing the rudder here is that the boat needs to be out of the water to do it and finding cranes capable of that on this little island might be problematic. There are a number of factors to be considered, but of course in the end it will all come down to costs. We know Capt. Ray would prefer the boat to be towed to a larger facility. Waiting here a month for repairs would make any pirate worth his salt a bit itchy to get on with it. A tow to Puerto Rico would mean that the Treasure Seeker was not alone on the trip and it would get it much much closer to its future new home on St. Thomas.

Well, they're halfway there with some serious ocean still to go. I suspect that there will be lots more to this story over the weeks to come.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Joy just pointed out to me that it's been a month since the last post. Wow. I guess it crept up on us. Life just got mundane and busy. We had to make yet another trip up to the USA We were gone for another week and things stack up here when this happens. Something as simple as driving the truck through mud puddles on the way to the airport and then letting it sit unmoving for a week can cause problems. Things freeze up. Thin rusty spots get thinner. Electrons run unrestrained back and forth between different metals. And you should see what the weeds here can do with an uninterrupted week. This was our sixth trip to the US since July. It's kinda caught up with us. But first, to break up this initial rush of type with a average sunrise on a calm winter day:

We continue to do the same sort of things for the most part. You guys have seen dozens of photos (hundreds?) of the back of La Gringa's head and t-shirt... so I hesitate to even mention more of the kayak trips. But there have been more.

For example, last week we took Dooley the De-hydranted for a quick trip. As always he got nervous looking at the clouds ahead of us:

And as is common this kind of year, there were squalls behind us as well:

So we decided not to push our luck and get too far from shelter. We took advantage of the clear skies between squalls and moved in to the beach. Dooley the Determined had that look he gets when he's thinking of things like fire hydrants, telephone poles, fence posts. He gets real serious about it:

And finally, with just a little bit of encouragement, he will abandon ship and head directly for the nearest tree:

Other than the odd kayak trip it's been pretty quiet. We did get a late season scare a couple weeks ago with Hurricane Tomas. The initial predictions were a little scary:

And eventually Tomas went directly over the top of East Caicos. Well, it was way weaker than expected and East Caicos is uninhabited. So basically it did little or no damage at all.

This was a very active hurricane season as most people who follow these things know. We were lucky here. We also know that this luck can't hold out forever.

While on the subject of weather, we do get some exciting special effects from time to time. Usually when a strong front moves through. A couple weeks ago I walked out onto the patio just in time to see a huge waterspout just over the Long Bay area, a half mile from us. By the time I ran inside and grabbed a camera it had moved over land and once the spout is cut off from the water source, it drys up pretty quickly and collapses. La Gringa managed to snap this one before it collapsed entirely:

When I first spotted it, maybe a minute earlier, it was still offshore and stretched from those clouds all the way down to the surface of the sea. There was a big cloud of spray around where it was picking up the water.

Since I knew La Gringa was taking still photos, I tried to get a mini-movie. But alas, most of the exciting part was already over.

We know it's just a matter of time before one of these comes right to us. Hope we have a camera ready.

And we have had a fair bit of good weather, too. As we move from the summer/hurricane season into the winter/tourist season we are seeing more and more strange boats coming through.

This one (below) caught our attention just last week. We first heard the Captain calling on the VHF radio, coordinating a tow with the tug. The name of the boat is "Treasure Hunter" or "Treasure Seeker", something like that. I forget.

We are not sure what kind of boat it is, but our best guess is that it's some kind of cocktail barge or floating restaurant. Something similar to the "Willie T's" down in the BVI's, perhaps. We'll find out.

And on the subject of boats.... (notice how I smoothly moved this post from my laziness and excuses into kayaking, weather, and now boats? Are you diverted yet?)

Preacher gave us a call last week to see if we wanted to go hang out on North Caicos for the day on Saturday. We did.

He rolled his boat "Cay Lime" down the ramp at the Leeward Marina:

And we took off across the flats keeping an eye on the weather as usual. That, and the fact that we were doing about 40 mph in maybe 10" of water.

I did play with the movie function a little, to give you an idea of what this looks like:

And of course we took Dooley the Dreamer along. He knows this boat really well and I suspect he prefers it among all of the boats he gets to ride on. He fell right asleep, never even noticing that Preacher has been using the bilge hatch cover as a cutting board for chopping bait and cleaning fish.

In fact, there are a couple of his surgical instruments right there in the photo;

This time we tied up at the old Bellefield Landing on North Caicos. This protected dock is a short distance away from where we usually tie up. It's the first time we have been into this little marina and it's a bit tricky to get into at all:

We found out that this landing is the old, original boat ramp for the area from back before the new Bellefield Landing and Sandy Point marinas were built.

It has an almost new wooden dock and is apparently little used, even on a nice Saturday:

Dooley the Delighted immediately spotted his friend J.R. , or "Froggy" as he is known on North Caicos. Froggy was waiting for us with his van this time. This meant I didn't get to ride in the back of a pickup truck on this trip. But I wasn't complaining. The weather was rainy off and on all day.

Another view of the dock, this from the shore side. You can see how it's tucked in among inlets and mangrove swamps. I suspect it's a good place to be tied up when the wind is howling from any direction.

We spotted an old Quonset hut sitting in an overgrown thicket of trees. Preacher and Froggy told us that it was the old clearing house for the sponge industry in years gone by.

I wanted to check it out a little better, and get some photos of the inside of it, but I only got about halfway to the door before I found myself attached to a native plant. And I don't mean just lightly held, I mean stuck! And bleeding from several places on my ankles.

As I was trying to figure out the best way out of this mess and into the next one, our local tour guides decided to inform me that this particular plant is called "Cats Claw". And Froggy offered the helpful information that I should back away and not try to get through it going in the same direction, or it would rip me and make me bleed. Now, that would have been some good information to have had about two minutes earlier.

Anyhow, it doesn't look that dangerous, does it?:

So when I got home, I looked this stuff up on the internet. I found out the claws are actually little bitty curved things down at the bases of the branches. They were not visually apparent. But man, once you walk into them, you are hooked but good. And will bleed if you don't stop immediately. I also found out there are all sorts of medicinal uses for Cat's Claw.

Good thing, I suppose. I mean, if it's going to rip you open it's kinda nice that it's good for you when it does that. Like a mugger who leaves you with Band-Aids and aspirin.

Obviously, it does absolutely nothing for logic or mental acuity. Because I continued to move a few more feet in the direction of the hut... before Froggy shared the next bit of local intelligence with me..... the hut is full of wasps. He said this in a rising tone of voice that got my attention. It was something like "watch out for the WASPS!!!"

Not nearly as casual as the Cat's Claw conversation.

The word 'wasps' brought me to a halt. I have had some experience with this local wasp tribe. I find myself among them on a regular basis at our house especially when I am out fighting weeds to the death. They (the wasps, not the weeds) generally adopt a live-and-let-live approach unless you break one of their little rules. If you don't swing at them they remain calm. Inquisitive, but non-aggressive. You just have to get accustomed to having wasps flying circles around your head from time to time. If you actually lose your cool and smash or crush one of them, within a very short time there will be three or four more buzzing around you doing the wasp version of a murder investigation. It's best to have put some distance between yourself and the scene of the crime at this point. And of course there is one cardinal rule transgression that they cannot forgive under any circumstances. If you seriously threaten their nest in any way (other than verbal) they attack. The wasp stings I have had here, two years ago, were the most painful I have ever had. And I still have a scar from one of them. Of course I retaliated, and a fierce little turf war ensued. Nobody ever really wins these things, do they.

So, the local wasps and I have somewhat of an uneasy truce going on. I don't thump their nest, and they don't sting me. (I don't swat any of them in front of witnesses, and I carry insecticides to the garage in a plain brown paper bag, too.)

So, respecting the potential seriousness of Froggy's warning, this is as close as I got:

Seems pretty benign in that photo, but at the time it seemed that this little hut had suddenly changed from a tropical curiosity into the opening chapter of a Stephen King novel.

By this time we were ready to head on out to look around the little settlement of Kew for a change. Dooley the Drenched waited until the last moment to jump in the ocean. He wanted to make sure we all got the full benefit of a dose of wet dog immediately after the Cat's Claw experience. Bless his furry little heart.

Okay, this is a chance to test your imagination. Any ideas what this is?:

(I'll post the answer at the end)

Froggy drove us to the little settlement of Kew on North Caicos. This part of the island is known for the number of small farms and vegetable gardens it supports. We turned in to a small parking lot behind the beautiful Grace Temple church:

And entered a path taking us into the fields of a local farm. Preacher led us in:

It has a sort of jungle feeling compared to the rest of these islands. Here Froggy and Preacher are looking for the proprietor. The structures are part of the irrigation system.

Finally we found the owner, the Rev. Courtney Misick....

In addition to the church and the farm, Reverend Misick is very involved with national politics here. He is on the Turks and Caicos Human Rights Committee, as well as serving on the Governor's Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Processing sub-committee.

We got a little bit of a walking tour of the farm. Rev. Misick grows a combination of ornamental and landscaping plants..

as well as sugar cane:


and tall trees full of papayas:

There is a fresh water pond on the property (rare here) and the rubber boots should have prepared us for what was next..

...which was the perfect example of a pig sty. Complete with all the textures, odors and sounds that make pig stys what they are. It started raining harder and we needed to head back to the banana forest for some cover. But before we left La Gringa did snap a photo of someone's future ham sandwich:

Down by the small lake there are several flocks of ducks:

and before we left we chewed up some sweet sugar cane....

The afternoon was starting to stretch out and the wind was picking up as Froggy drove us by Horse Stable Beach. The place was deserted and the few photos we took were all taken from within the public shelter there. Out on the beach the wind had picked up to the point where stinging grains of wind blown sand made it too uncomfortable to explore. And the clouds were getting thicker and slowing down only enough to make a nervous wreck out of the dog.

So knowing we had a few miles to boat before being back on our home island, we loaded back up in Froggy's van and headed back to Bellefield Landing.

Oh, did you figure out what was in that photo I showed you earlier? Here's a huge hint:

Froggy did it.

When we got back to the landing, the tide was so low that we had about eight inches of water under us leaving the mangroves. Preacher did his usual thing, tilting the motor up and doing huge S-curves to keep the hull rolled over to a side. This gains a couple of inches clearance by raising the outboard slightly. Preacher is a master at it. It probably would have been hair-raising.... if I had any hair.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a day.

I know I mentioned the unusually high number of DIY jobs I have been taking on lately. I won't bore you with all of the little ones. But maybe those of you involved with auto mechanics will appreciate how stuck this universal joint was on one of the trucks. It was totally frozen up in one axis. My task (after taking a couple of hours to get the prop shaft out of the vehicle) was to get that ugly rusty thing on the left out and that nice new shiny thing on the right installed.

I tapped on it. I squirted oil on it. I heated it with a butane torch. I put a socket up against it and wailed on it with a three pound sledge hammer. Repeatedly. I threatened it, and made rude comments about it's ancestry. It would not budge.

So I put a cutting wheel on an electric grinder, and finally managed to actually cut the thing into two pieces while it was still in the driveshaft (Sorry, old bean, I meant 'propshaft') yoke. Finally I was able to drive it out with a hammer.

And while I was concentrating on cutting through this near solid hunk of steel without breaking the high speed wheel or damaging the drive shaft.... I smelled smoke. Well, there were a lot of sparks flying from the grinder. Then I felt heat. And then I looked down and realized I had set my clothes on fire. Right through a t-shirt, and starting on my shorts:

I may have reacted slowly to being on fire, but I quickly made up for that with enthusiasm. I started by dropping the grinder and slapping on my own ribs with two greasy hands, while hopping around the garage and shrieking. Overkill, perhaps? By the time the fire was out, Dooley the Disconcerted had dramatically demonstrated his determination to duck, divert, dodge and distance himself from it all. He skedaddled on me, but to be fair I probably looked fairly frightening to a small animal that has recurring nightmares about thunderstorms from years ago.

Well, that's pretty much some of what's been going on around here. Things are looking up, photo-wise. The annual Conch Festival is this coming weekend, and we usually get a few pix from that. We have a new, improved kayak headed this way and should be able to extend our range a bit on some of the explorations we have wanted to make. We still plan to snorkel and photograph the Coral Gardens dive spot for people who like the idea of viewing the reefs but don't want to charter a dive boat. And this is the busy part of the year visitor-wise. We have no plans to leave the TCI in the next few months, so I am hoping we can generate some blog posts on a regular, and more frequent basis.

We also continue to add experiences among the local merchants, and I am thinking there must be some good material showcasing local businesses that might be of some interest. We actually do interact with local professional quite often. I think perhaps we forget that what has become common and everyday for us might still be of some interest to someone else. For example, I recently had to have some slack taken out of a sports coat I hadn't worn in over five years. We didn't think it newsworthy at the time to document the whole experienc. But in retrospect, it WAS an experience. To give you an idea, this is what you see approaching the tailor shop:

Looks just like the tailor shops in your neighborhood, right? Well, I was in and out of there in five minutes, got my jacket back later the same afternoon, and they did a good job at a fair price. Would I use them again? heck yeah.

( I have no information about the electric stove out front. 'Cooking the books'? Creating hot new fashions? )

And I just realized we don't have any real recent sunset photos, so I am hoping I can sneak in another one of La Gringa's sunrises instead.