Sunday, January 23, 2011

Southside Marina

I was planning to start this post with a neat photo La Gringa took of the recent full moon. You know ... instead of starting like I usually do, with yet another sunrise photo. I was trying for something different. Or at least thinking that way. But then I kept thinking , which is usually a mistake. Since she took the moon photo just before dawn, the sun was rising,as the moon was setting (we get up REAL early) so was it technically a 'sunrise' photo? Or would it be more accurate to call it a 'moonset' photo? Well, I'm sure you can appreciate the quandary. I got confused.  Some say this is normal, for me.

I solved it by deciding to just start with a real sunrise photo. Again.

And now that this is all sorted out, here's the photo I was talking about. Providenciales just before dawn:

I sometimes think that someone unfamiliar with the Turks and Caicos might come across all the sunny photos on this blog and think that it never rains here. Well it doesn't rain all that much here compared to some places. And the rainfall varies from one side of the country to the other. And the rainfall varies from both sides of the country to the middle of the country. And the rainfall here on Providenciales varies from one end of the island to the other, and from the north side to the south.

I just read a description of the climate here on the Ocean Vibes web site, and they say that "Providenciales, Middle Caicos and North Caicos average less than 50 inches of rainfall annually, while Grand Turk and South Caicos average only 22 inches of rainfall annually. Salt Cay has even less because at the beginning of the Salt Trade, the Salt Rakers cut down all of the trees on the island in an effort to reduce rainfall. "

We get 100% of our water from rain, so we are not too upset if we get a bit from time to time. La Gringa caught a picture of the edge of a squall this week, literally:

I hope you can see that rain in the photo. When it decides to rain here, sometimes it REALLY rains. We get warm air that has come four thousand miles across open ocean, and that has picked up every little molecule of water it can carry. Then it bumps into these islands and has to go up over them. All that stacked up air full of water cools off with the altitude increase. Everybody pretty much knows that the further you get from the earth the colder it gets. That's why mountain tops have snow on them when no place else does. Well, the wet air gets cooled, and suddenly it can't carry all that water any more, and guess what. We get a real frog strangler.
We were laughing at one of the local newspapers a couple years ago. It rained so hard here that the windscreen wipers on the vehicles were totally useless. All of the low spots on the Leeward Highway were flooded, some of them to a couple feet deep. The next newspaper edition had a photo of a car sitting in a lake of water up over the wheels, with the headline that said something like "Hundreds of Gallons of Water Fall on Provo". Hundreds, mind you. Yeah, no kidding.

The Ocean Vibes fact sheet also points out that "Ambergris Cay which is South of South Caicos has a weather pattern of its own due to the majority of its ridges running North to South, versus East to West like most of the Islands, this actually affects the cooling and condensation process and results in quite a bit of rainfall ". This little country has an amazing amount of weather variation for a place only 90 miles across. I guess the main climate factoid to remember about the Turks and Caicos is that it averages 350 sunny days a year.

And on many of these sunny days we like to get out on the ocean. This week was no exception. We've got this new Hobie toy to play with and have really been enjoying it. Weekend before last we decided to sail it offshore a bit. Just to see what it was like out in the ocean. Away from the beach. It was sort of an experimental trip, or shakedown cruise. We wanted to see how well we did navigating our way out to various shoals and reefs we've targeted on our navigation and GPS charts. We've got these great hopes for using this little boat to explore and fish. I have always been a little nervous about pushing the inflatable too hard. It never let us down, but I always wondered how I could handle it if one of the chambers deflated, and we still had miles to go to get home. The idea of trying to sail, pedal, paddle, or swim and tow a limp inflatable for a few miles in the open ocean just somehow never appealed to me all that much.

We launched at our usual spot near the Southside Marina. One of our 'trampoline' straps got unhooked in the process. La Gringa found out first hand how well the amas (outriggers) do to stabilize the boat when she 'scootched' out to fix it. According to Hobie's specs: each ama will float 220 lbs. I don't remember if they mentioned whether that was in fresh water or the ocean.

We kayak the canal for a while, and then right before we make our turn toward open water we see the Southside Marina:

I know I have mentioned Southside several times in the blog, but I never really talk about the marina itself much. We have become good friends with the owner of the marina, Bob Pratt. He lives in that house behind the crane. You can see the foundation of the little restaurant he is in the process of building. And we talk with his manager, Simon, on the radio every morning. Well to be accurate, La Gringa talks to Simon every morning. I just listen, for the most part. And provide technical consultations from time to time. Until someone tells me to shut up.

Southside is very much a 'cruisers' marina in that they cater to boaters passing through on their way north or south. This time of year they are very busy, as people headed down to the Caribbean are stopping for fuel, provisions and to just get off the boats and stretch their legs. To look around Providenciales.

Every morning at 07:30 Southside broadcasts a situation, weather and tides update on marine VHF radio. This daily broadcast is called the "Cruisers' Net". La Gringa is involved and sometimes relays messages from the marina to boats trying to find their way in. We've also assisted with people in trouble and can relay messages between boats that are too far apart to hear each other.

Last year I installed a marine VHF at the house and we have been getting very good range with it due to our height above the ocean. We have talked to boats that were about 60 miles away and have heard USCG helicopters talking to boats from over 100 miles away. We heard the Coast Guard talking to Ray the Pirate on Treasure Seeker when he was aground up in the Plana Cays. That is 105 miles from here. So we have a real good ear on all the local boating traffic talk. Probably the best on the island. And since we live in the neighborhood, we have gotten to know the people at Southside.

This is the view looking back at Southside Marina from the far side of it:

It's not a big marina as these things go but it's very popular with a lot of the sailors who pass through the islands. We get to see and meet full time boaters from all over the world here. We see a lot of different boats, as readers of this blog will already know. And we like boats. We see smaller, single-handed monohulls:

And we see a lot of mid-size multihulls. These are usually catamarans with the odd trimaran thrown in from time to time. We were impressed by the particularly well equipped recent visitor Kari Bela. You can see her from the side behind the Stardust above and here is a view from the stern:

That is a well thought out sailboat. Three headsails, heavy duty standing rigging (that's the mast and cables that brace and hold it to the boat) radar, satellite communications, solar and wind power, an escape hatch in the bottom..... that's the kind of boat to take a family around the world. For the kind of people who might dream about things like that. As we are. And as you might be, if you like this blog.
That's not automatically a given,by the way. We know lots of people who love living on small islands who don't get into boats much at all.

We noticed that the hulls on the Kari Bela are somewhat unusual. Most of these modern cruising catamarans have steps leading down to the water at the aft end of the hulls. A lot of people call these "sugar scoops" because of their appearance. You can see them on the Lady Moona in this photo. It's the boat on the other side of Kari Bella:

Now if you look back at the Kari Bela, you can see that the hull design has been modified. They are extended out about a meter from what they would be if they were the standard 'sugar scoop' design. Each one has a very nice, solid, professionally-designed boarding ladder on it. If I had to guess... I'd say these people are divers. I'd almost bet that there's a compressor to fill SCUBA tanks somewhere on that boat.

That extended hull length at the waterline will change some other things about the boat, too. Increased buoyancy and bridgedeck clearance (see how high it's floating?) and probably a slight increase in maximum hull speed.

Southside doesn't just handle 'ragboats' (also known as 'blowboats'). They get their fair share of 'stinkpots', too. And I mean some nice ones. The larger boats tend to go to Turtle Cove marina on the other side of the island. The maximum draft that can get into Southside is about six feet, six inches and that is only at high tide.

This is the M/Y Jade, stopping in for fuel and a break from the sea. They left the next day for the Dominican Republic.

If you look just behind Jade and on the other side of that palm tree, you can barely see the top of a small gazebo type structure. Those lumps are gas grills and chairs. Every Thursday evening the Southside Marina crew organize a potluck barbecue here. People from various boats in the area come, along with some locals. The plan is for cruisers to bring one dish to share with everyone, and something to throw on the grill for themselves. It's been rumored that some participants bring rum. This rumor is hereby confirmed. I am married to one of those participants.

This is the Lily May. She is the live aboard home for Simon and Charlyn, who are the managers and hosts at the marina. They spend their summers on a barge in France, and their winters here at Southside. When they returned from France in December they found out that they had an issue with someone who was living on their boat, Lily May. It was on the way to getting ugly when we got involved. I am not going to say anything more in print because the police arrived and there are legal charges filed and we may be called as witnesses. If that tells you anything.

Sunny days, clear water, pristine reefs, perfect beaches,shipwrecks, vhf radios, sailboats, pirates..... I tell you we got it all, right here in the beautiful Turks and Caicos Islands!!

These power boats round out the current stable at the Southside Marina. I think there are enough stories coming through there for someone to write a book about the place from a crossroads witness perspective.

We've already told you about the Star of the Sea and now hinted at a story about the Lily May. We were at the Southside Cruiser's barbecue (and extended happy hour) two Thursdays back and met Ron and Karyn of the M/Y Equinox. They had been staying in the marina for a couple of months but were now out at anchor when we were taking these photos. "Tied in the marina" = $$. Anchored a mile away, "on the hook", is free. And the Equinox is getting ready to take off on a circumnavigation of the world starting in October. I'll post a little more about these guys in a few minutes.

I wanted to continue the narration of our little sail out of the marina by mentioning Stanley or "Burly" as he is more commonly known. He is a local fisherman from North Caicos who lives here on his boat near the marina. Technically, I guess he is tied up in the canal, and not the marina. This is his home and livelihood, the F/V Five Cays:

We've gotten to know Stanley over the past couple of years, talk to him on the radio, wave to him on the street and sometimes pick him up hitchhiking to or from town. He doesn't have a car here. He does have a sloop tied up in a slip further up the canal he tries to sell us from time to time.

This is just a photo of someones hand woven fish trap. People tie them to stakes or bushes along the banks and leave them baited on the bottom of the canal:

Once we clear the tricky little entrance to the marina we put the sail up and relax. And the first thing we see is a yellow trimaran anchored just outside the entrance:

Our intended route of travel had been to sail from the canal to a patch reef out on the Caicos Bank. So far, we had gotten distracted by making a tour of the marina to take those photos. And now we see not only an intriguing trimaran to look at but also the Equinox that I told you about earlier. So we decided to sail over and look at these boats before getting back to our original agenda. Typical. This kind of spur of the moment planning is how we ended up stranded on the mud flats.

We sailed by the Equinox. We had met them at the barbecue and had heard them on the radio the previous day hoping to leave for Puerto Rico but having alternator problems. We had found we had some acquaintances in common, as Ron and Karyn had gotten involved with our friends at Sip Sip restaurant on Harbour Island in the Bahamas.

Even waiting on the hook is not that bad here. The Equinox dinghy is easily capable of taking them to shore quickly if needed. Their plan, as of last week, is to be going through the Panama Canal sometimes around October. That would let them spend next hurricane season down where it's safe, and have an easy run to Panama in the autumn. That would be one plan, anyhow. These things tend to change, in our experience.

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." (John Lennon)

Wouldn't you just love to take a few years and explore the world in a home you can move across entire oceans? Waking up to a constantly changing view through your parlor windows. Sleeping in your own familiar bed every night instead of some bizarre hotel room. Hot showers. Your own kitchen. Everything you need. Hopping off the back of the boat with a spear in hand, or trolling a few lures behind you in the moonlight... yeah, we could get into that. I think if I ever moved onto a boat like that I would have a very difficult time leaving it to move back ashore.

The Equinox is a 58 ft. Hady-Krogen, if you would like to Google that for a fantasy boat. And if you'd like to follow Ron and Karyn on their adventure, just click this to visit their blog about Equinox. That link should take you to one of their posts about the Thursday night cookouts at Southside Marina, by the way.

Now this boat really got our attention. What are the chances of there being two yellow trimarans out here on this particular day? Well, I generously call our little kayak a trimaran. It'll have to suffice, for now. And this, well this is a real one:

And I know you can't read it in this blurry photo, but if you were to ask us to tell you the name of this boat, we'd have to say "We Don't Know". Out of New Iberia, Louisiana.

After satisfying some of our curiousity about the trimaran we got back on track to see how we could do navigating our way around by sail a little further up the coast.

It's nice to be able to scoot over rocky bottom like this without cringing and waiting to see if something makes an unexpected noise.

We navigated by the small group of little islets called "Five Little Cays". This is the view between a couple of them:

And this is the place I am going to bring people if I ever get into an argument about who has the toughest feet. "Climb this. Okay, now stand on the top. Uh.. okay now jump up and down. All right. You win." Cause I ain't getting out of the boat here unless it's to go swimming.

We then did something new for us. We turned and headed directly offshore out to a little patch of reef marked on the GPS:

What's new for us is that the place we wanted to investigate is about three miles from land. The only other time we've taken a kayak out that far here was when we went from Osprey Rock to West Caicos and back. And then we were only three miles from land for a few minutes, right exactly in the middle. This time, it was a destination. We wanted to see what kind of dive platform the Hobie will make.

And a destination was was an excuse to go sailing. Although I have no idea why we would need an excuse. Sailing these waters in a small boat on a sunny day is one of the pure joys of life as we see it. We wish everybody could experience this. We smile a lot on this boat.

This is what it looks like from the surface over a bit of 'patchy reef' three miles out.

We discovered that rolling the trampolines up makes it a lot easier to get in and out of the boat. It also improved visibility into the water from La Gringa's position in the front seat.

My camera housing had fogged lens issues during the underwater shots I took after this, and they came out so bad I decided not to even try to post them here. They did not do this water justice. I deleted them.

I was checking our little folding anchor while La Gringa was rinsing her face plate out:

This is normally where the trampolines are stretched, and where Dooley the Delinquent snoozes. Or huddles in terror, as the case may warrant. You can see how it opens things up with the boat.

You can also probably see that my lens was beginning to fog up.

We snorkeled around for a while. It helped us to 'ground truth' in person what we had seen on a GPS chart, and on Google Earth. Now when we see similar things on a satellite image, we will have a real good idea what's under water there. In this case, we plan to come back with fishing lines and see if we can catch some of the mutton snapper we spotted.

Eventually we had to start back, knowing we had at least an hour's sail to get to the marina. You remember, just a couple paragraphs ago I explained that we rolled up the trampolines where Dooley the Drowsy usually snoozes? Well. With them rolled up he had to sleep somewhere else. And that was the spot directly behind me, between me and the rudder. Out of sight, out of mind, until we heard this noise that sounded amazingly like about seventeen pounds of Dooley the Detached falling overboard. And it was.

La Gringa turned the boat around while I grabbed a camera, but of course the lens was wet. I did manage to get this photo of the fuzzy faced little trouble maker doing his best impromptu impersonation of Johnny Weismuller outrunning a crocodile.

If you ever want to see how incredibly fast a dog can wake up from a dead sleep, try letting him fall overboard from a boat he thinks is going to leave him behind. It's a good thing dogs don't tend to take hysterical laughter personally.

There's an actual wake behind him:

(and Todd, thanks again for bringing the life vest down! You can see why the little stinker needs one.)

The rest of that trip was relatively uneventual. We now see that we should be able to use this boat for conch diving and fishing trips. This is very good news for us. I need to come up with some way to keep messy conch and dead fish out of the boat, and we can refine our anchor handling a bit. But it's looking good. The Hobie TI has rod holders molded into the back, right behind the rear seat. But after this 'dry run' out to a fishing spot and back we are thinking that a hand line might make more sense for what we want to do. Have you ever heard of a "Cuban YoYo"? I'll try to get that into the next post.

Back to the rest of our life, we continue to muddle through the typical day-to-day stuff involved in living here. We do take a lot of photos that never make it to this blog. This is a familiar scene to us and yet the first time I have taken a photo of the Defender 90 outside the new Fed Ex location in town.

Come to think of it, the two Land Rovers are a big part of why we spend so much time at FedEx that they are on a first name basis with La Gringa. Keeping these trucks running continues to be one of my main DIY drains here. I refer to it as a 'drain' because working on rusty motor vehicles is only fun for me if I do it every now and then. These things tend to jump up and break suddenly, and take over an immediate priority. We depend on them for a lot. That's why we have two with identical drivetrains. I know I can always keep at least one of them running.

Last week, I was returning from the yearly vehicle inspection/registration (!) when the brake pedal went all the way to the floor. Yep, no brakes. Does that happen to you often? Well, this is the third time it has happened to us here. First the Ford Expedition, then the Defender 90 and now the other Land Rover. What happens is that the hydraulic brake lines on the rear axle get splashed a lot. They are made of steel and the water here is made of nitric and hydrochloric and surphuric acids and bubbling sodium hydroxide and.... and....

No, it's not. That's from a nightmare of mine. The water is just salty and it eats steel just as surely as Dooley devours Doritos, only slower. So it eats holes in the brake lines. And we get to practice driving without brakes. It's not that bad with a standard transmission.

At the top of this photo you can see the rear brake lines from a 2005 model Land Rover. Only five years old. I notice I don't even have all the pieces:

The straight tubing at the bottom and the funny looking tool, are what I am going to use to bend myself a new set of brakelines. Are we having fun, yet?

And it never ends. The OEM taillight bracket rotted and fell off and went away. I looked into ordering one from England (don't get me started..) and decided to just take this opportunity to concentrate on form following function. I put this plastic, sealed one on in place of the original:

If and when it breaks, I can get another one for $20 locally. Or I might decide to fork over the equivalent of a few weeks income for one that says Land Rover on it.

You might also notice that stainless steel bolts are beginning to find their way into my repairs.

Not all of my DIY stuff is dirty greasy salty, yet. Sometimes I actually get to be creative and experiment with something totally new. I do a lot of this when we can't find what we need locally. Which is a lot of the time. In this case, the new trailer for the kayak did not have a good way to support and secure the front of the boat on this bumpy road. I am somewhat limited in available aluminum hardware stock, but simple strips and angles are available. So I am experimenting with trying to find something simple that works here:

I already know I should have extended the two angle pieces another foot or so to give me something to snug the bow up to. Oh well. That's why it's a prototype. But did you ever notice how often temporary fixes evolve into long term solutions?

Okay that's going to be it for this post. We have some more boating trips planned (of course!) and we are going to try diving for conch and fishing from it. And the Middle Caicos model sloop regatta, the Valentines Day extravaganza on Bambarra, is coming up and this year Preacher is serious about it.

We haven't managed to snag any great sunsets this week. Oh, there have been a few, but not when we were standing still with a camera. So in the meantime, I will offer another sunrise instead.

Here's looking forward to a bright new day:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Happy New Year!

We managed to survive another New Year's with no major trauma. Our kids have all gone back to their lives up in the Snowy States of America and the 2.1 Gringos are back to suffering through yet another brutal winter in the Turks and Caicos Islands. La Gringa is still keeping her eye out for nice sunrises and sunsets and there were some decent ones this week. This one is a sunrise:

Winter here is a lot like winter for most holiday destinations. It means cooler temperatures, steadier trade winds, rougher seas, less rain and more people. Lots more people. I guess this could be viewed as somewhat of a mixed blessing for the full time residents here who are not involved in the hospitality industry. But for the country in general it's a good thing. The season starts ticking around Thanksgiving, and then really gets started after New Years. Or about right now. The smell of cocoa butter wafts though the cafes and along the beaches. The hotels, resorts, condos, restaurants, scooter rentals and t-shirt shops are all up and running. The fishing, diving and sailing charters are staying very busy. It feels like we are seeing a definite increase in the number of vacationers here lately.

The local group who watches over these things is predicting a good year for those who worry about these things. We don't spend much time in the resort restaurants or on the resort beaches, so that aspect of "the season" probably doesn't affect us so much on a daily basis but we can tell that all the seasonal visitors are definitely livening the place up. Good. This place needed to lively up itself. It's been a couple of tough seasons here lately. But lately we've see a lot of sunburned people on bicycles. And a lot of smiling faces in the bars watching the Weather Channel from back home and laughing.

A couple of our sons were down on the beach last week waiting for us to sail the new boat over from Heaving Down Rock. One of them got a few decent photos of a section of Provo that we don't visit much. I thought I'd put some of his beach pix up for those who appreciate a nice beach.

This is the northeastern edge of Providenciales, all the way past the end of Grace Bay. That's the entrance to Leeward-Going-Through and Little Water Cay across that channel, on the right.

(photo by Jacob)
This image is from a point on the rocks at Leeward, looking back to the west toward the main part of the island of Providenciales. You can see some of the Grace Bay resorts off in the distance:

(another photo by Jacob)This photo is from the same general area, where our 'kids' were waiting for us to sail around with our kayak. I wish I had known about the little cove there behind that rock groin. Would have been a good place to beach the boat. But I couldn't see it from the ocean side.

(yep. Jacob's camera, again.)
We sailed along the beach that day looking for a good spot to come ashore but the ocean was just too lumpy for me to willingly scratch up our new boat. It reminds me of what having a new automobile was like. I would so dread that first scratch or ding in the paint knowing full well that it was going to happen. And that the sooner it happened, the sooner I could stop worrying about it. I'm kinda like that right now with the new Hobie. We're still learning the boat and hadn't yet beached it in surging waves when this photo was taken:

(this one also taken by Jacob)

That's Dooley the Deadweight, La Gringa Suprema and me on that little boat. If you see that little yellow kayak and sail around here, there's a real good chance it's us. As far as I know, we have the first one of these boats in the country.

We had a fairly quiet New Years. We heard later that there was a big "Maskanoo" down at Grace Bay. We didn't think about it beforehand or we might have given that a try. The way I understand it, a 'Maskanoo' is a Junkanoo with the people wearing masks and costumes. If you don't already know what a Junkanoo is, then I'm probably confusing you and should change subjects about now. I don't have any 'Maskanoo' photos to show you, anyhow. Since we weren't even there. Just imagine a bunch of crazy people banging on drums and playing instruments and marching and jumping down the street. And there you have it.

Now even though we didn't physically drive down to the resort area for the New Years celebrations, that's not to say we didn't get to observe some of it. This island is only a couple miles wide in most places. And from our patio we have a pretty good view of the airspace over the resorts even if we can't see the resorts themselves.

We knew it was midnight on New Year's Eve when Dooley the Distraught dove under the furniture shaking and slobbering. I don't know how he managed to panic before the noise of the first explosion reached us. I suspect he heard the sound of the fuse being lit two miles away. But with a massive ka-freakin' boom and a dozen pop pop poppity pop BOOMs.... the fireworks displays were starting.

Dooly the Destroyed was doing his best imitation of a faded oil stain on the floor under the sofa, in the corner under the bed. I think he totally missed the whole "new year celebration" concept as he suffered through his own imaginary personal apocalypse, shivering in the dark and praying to whatever hairy little god he probably believes actually saved him. So much drama in such a small dog.

I don't think these nervous little terrier types do all that well around explosives. Think of Don Knotts on a bomb squad.

Our cameras are not really the best choices for distant photos in the dark, but we did managed to get one that partially shows what we were seeing. There were four different resorts lighting up aerial fireworks displays on the beach in this one photo.

We could count at least eight different displays going on at the same time. And we didn't even have to leave the house to watch them. I doubt there were enough explosives on the island to get the dog out from under the sofa, in any case.

We set one of the little point-and-shoot cameras on a tripod and managed to get some video of the fireworks reflecting off the water in the salina near us.

We've managed to get the new Hobie TI into the water a few times this week. We are delighted at how easy it is to move around with the trailer. We can completely detach the trailer from the truck and use it to move the boat down to the water in places not easy to drive to. We don't have many boat ramps here. In fact, I bet you wouldn't even think that this was a boat ramp if you didn't know better:

The wind was pretty light the first couple times we took the Hobie out. We were skating along about four or five knots thinking 'this is nice and relaxing'. Then things picked up considerably the next four times we had the sail up. These boats are fun when the wind blows!!

We use the beach 'ramp' in the photo up above when we launch at Leeward. We pay a lot of attention to weather these days, and if we have strong wind or waves with an easterly component this is a good way to stay in the lee of the island. That's one of the convenient things about living on an island I guess. If you're a sailor. You can just about always find a spot protected from the wind and seas.

When the weather is more conducive to relaxed boating we like to launch at the little canal down the road a couple miles from our house. This is a nice little protected 'ramp' on the canal. It's a good protected place to put a small boat in the water no matter what the wind is doing. We do have to share the canal with some bigger boats from time to time:

On one recent sail we ventured downwind as far as the Five Cays area of Provo. We spotted the old sunken barge that we tied up to once about a year ago. It's slowly breaking up and falling apart into the ocean. Kinda like me, come to think of it.

(I'm not going to specifically mention what it's covered in, for fear of pushing the comparison to myself a little too close for comfort)

My son Jacob spotted this beached fishing trawler off in the distance and we approached it close enough to get this photo.

But we had been sailing downwind and still had to turn around and beat our way back to the marina and canal and had to put off further investigation until some later date when we have more time. We'll put this on our list of things to go check out. We've also just heard that there were two Haitian sloops run aground out on West Caicos this week with something like 120 or so people 'rescued' and sent back to Haiti. Ouch.

But that does give us a couple more fresh shipwrecks out on West Caicos to try to go investigate as soon as the weather cooperates.

It was nice to have family down for the holidays. One nice aspect of having visitors from off-island is that we get to see what this place looks like through someone else's eyes. I know we have gotten so acclimated and accustomed to life here that we ignore a lot of things that once impressed us. We see so many different automobiles and trucks from different countries, for example, that we rarely pay attention to something that might be an unusual sight to someone else. One of our sons was enthused about this delivery van at the airport. This is an every day sight to us.

And it took a comment from someone else for me to realize that this is the first time he's ever seen a van this small in his life.

Or sailing through Leeward and seeing a boat that, for us, would be pretty much a common experience. And then realizing that people in Colorado probably don't see many of these in their lifetimes. Wow, just think. A motor boat big enough to live on!!!

And then of course this time of year we are into the boating/cruising season and we see some motor boat designs that even impress our jaded eyes. I bet you could probably spend an entire weekend on this little boat without feeling crowded:

We were intrigued by the central garage of the M/Y "Sea Owl". They carry at least three small watercraft that we are aware of. We spotted a center console power boat, the inflatable RIB, and about a 16 ft. sailboat. All stored inside their 'big' boat:

We don't know who owns that ship but they gave us a friendly wave and seemed to be nice people. With a real nice boat. We saw them again later that same day, some miles away.

That Sunday we had decided to make our first Hobie TI trip with an actual destination in mind. Rather than just aimlessly sailing. Which we found that we really like to do. Our sailing instructor from last year, Tim, told us that " you get into a power boat to go some place else. But when you get into a sailboat, you're already there."

By the way, 'TI' stands for 'Tandem Island' which is Hobie slang for 'Tandem Adventure Island'. And the term 'Adventure Island' (Hobie slang; 'AI') is actually a version of their popular kayak called the Mirage, which was the first to use their patented Mirage Drive pedal propulsion system. So it was originally the Mirage Adventure Island. Which got shortened to 'Adventure Island' until it got lengthened. The boat itself got lengthened, I mean. Not the name. The name of the lengthened boat got shorter. So if you are following this, the new shortened name of the lengthened version of the shortened name of the original boat is called the Tandem Island. For short.

It gets a little complicated, so I am just going with convention and calling the boat a TI. Unless we come up with a name for it.

Anyhow, our trip Sunday was an easy one. We left Heaving-Down-Rock in Leeward, zig-zagged our way into the wind up alongside the beach past Little Water Cay and Water Cay. Looking at the GPS data, I can approximate where we went. It was just under 15 miles total.

We had relied upon a forecast for lessening winds and seas throughout the afternoon when we set out on this trip. And the weather forecasts here are usually pretty accurate. Usually. That means not always. This was one of those times that was 'not always'. The wind increased throughout the afternoon, to the great joy of the waves. And to the consternation of a certain Dooley the Distraught, fledgling kayak dog.

We managed to get the sail, centerboard, rudder and two mirage drives up and protected right before we coasted onto the sand near the end of the airstrip runway on Pine Cay. We hauled our new boat up to a high point on the beach (scuff marks and scratches and gouges, Oh MY!) and put the anchor out. Since the tide was falling we knew the boat was secure for a few hours.

We dripped our way up the beach, over the dunes and through the palm trees... the poolside bar at the Meridian Club.

As you can tell by the photos, we had missed the lunch time "crowd" and basically had the outside area to ourselves.

Ah, the water doesn't look nearly as lumpy from up here at the pool. Just a few 'small' white flecks, here and there. (That's about a six or seven foot break out on the reef in the far distance on the left.)

If you can peer into the shadows here, you might spot a certain La Gringa enjoying a few minutes high and dry. Well, 'dry' except for one of Floyd's rum punches.

And here's the view from the poolside bar:

Well, two drinks into it and management stopped by to say 'Happy New Year'. And to tell us that Dooley the Delinquent was not allowed to be at the poolside bar unrestrained. Looking around at the crowd, and seeing that we were obviously taking up table space that might be better utilized, and to stem the tide of rising complaints from the many other patrons... and not wanting to be responsible for an unleashed Dooley the Destroyer.... we elected to start our sail back.

(I'd probably tell you that we've been thrown out of better places than this, but I'd be wrong.)

Remember the M/Y (Motor Yacht) "Sea Owl" that we photographed earlier in Leeward? That's the same boat out near the reef in this photo. After watching us go sailing by, we think they decided to go 'drop the hook' off Pine Cay and do some sailing themselves. It must have looked like we were having fun. The very white fleck in this photo out near the "Sea Owl" is their own sailboat, retrieved from the inside of the ship.

We were thinking about both boats starting the day at Leeward and a couple hours later both were here off Pine Cay. Taking a number of factors into consideration, we suspect it cost more for the "Sea Owl" to make that little trip than our new boat is worth.

We had sailed our inflatable boat up to Pine Cay several times over the past two years but we had never made it all the way to the Meridian Club. We had always picked calm conditions. Well, for the most part. We always just seemed to run out of time. But in the TI, we made the outbound trip into the wind in about two hours. We had to tack back and forth a lot, working our way into the wind. And we had to go further offshore than normal to get outside breaking surf.

After taking a break at the Club, we sailed back in one hour. I had our small GPS receiver with us, and the maximum speed it registered on this trip was 8.1 kts. That's 9.3 miles per hour. Or 15 kilometers per hour. And I got to tell you, scooting along under sail at 8 kts. with your hip pockets at sea level and the spray blurring your sunglasses and soaking you to the skin is what some people would call fun. Us, for example.

But not everyone.

Dooly the Drenched quickly learned that if he moved to the windward trampoline, he got a drier ride. But it also put him on the 'high side' of the boat, and on the side that we were taking the waves from. And when these three factors combine in one instant, the dog gets a nice little vertical ride out there. Waves are difficult to capture in still photos, but maybe you can just make out the little swell we are about to rise over, coming right behind the dog:

We were going about six knots forward, so when we slide up over the wave coming from the right, Dooley the Disconcerted suddenly finds his tightly tucked tail about four feet in the air.

And we did this for most of an hour sailing downwind back to Leeward. And two of us were having fun at it. It's hard to tell with Dooley. He acts like he's only doing this under duress. And then the next time we ask him if he wants to go sailing he bowls us over getting to the truck. Every time.

Here we were taking on another swell, and noticing a building squall line off in the direction we were sailing.

Obviously we made it back okay. We ARE sailors, after all!! And we're starting to feel comfortable with the new boat. The ability to reef the sail in stronger winds is really going to give us a wider range of sailing conditions. We were pretty much limited to a 10 kt. maximum wind in the inflatable. Not in this boat. We've already had it out in gusts to 25. It's a wet ride. Should be some good photos from time to time. And a lot of exploring coming up.

I have noticed that all of the photos so far tend to be the same three scenes. Either the back of La Gringa's head or Dooley the Disillusioned dancing deliously or dangling dangerously on the trampoline. Or some combination of the two. I'll try to find some better camera angles so that you get more of the TCI scenery and less of the new TI and crew with every picture.

Other than guests and the new boat life has pretty much crept along as it does here. One of the high points of the holiday season was seeing the road grader out leveling this "street" we live on.

I know I have posted photos of bad portions of this road before, so won't dwell on how bad it gets. But about three times a year the loose dirt is graded into the scenic canyons that pass for potholes here and we actually have smooth riding for about a month. Or less, if it rains. It's raining today.

From what we've seen in the six years since we bought property here, people who live on this road seem to get about two to three years use out of their cars and trucks. Then the vehicles have developed so many problems and are running up so much in maintenance costs and down time, that it makes sense to trade them in on a new one. We've managed to keep both Land Rovers running into their sixth year in the islands, but these are simple, rugged vehicles. Easy to work on. I hate to think what it would have cost us if we had to pay garage or dealer rates and parts cost for the repairs and maintenance on a more complex vehicle. The power windows and seats seem to go first...

DIY used to feel like something that was required from time to time here. For expediency sake. Or to save a few bucks. But at some vague point in the past few years it seems to have become more of a constant activity than I ever envisioned. I don't think a single day goes by that something does not need repairs. It's to the point now where I don't even bother taking photos, for the most part. There are so many DIY projects going on, it's no longer 'blog worthy'. It's nothing new.

For example, week before last I wanted to grill a dozen cheeseburgers. I started loading the briquets into the old Weber, and they fell further than they are supposed to. Right through the grate, in fact. I found out that my last temporary repair of the burnt-out grate, using wire coat-hangers, had gone the way of all temporary repairs. It was in the past tense. We scooted down to the only store on the island that carries parts for Weber grills. They didn't have any grates. We were pricing new grills. Ouch. I decided to see if we couldn't somehow come up with another temporary repair.

One of our sons was out for a walk, saw the crumpled remains of a realtor's crumpled, metal "For Sale" sign, and brought some of the pieces home to see if we could use them to fix the grill. Yeah, they needed straightening and cleaning up a bit..

But here's the first piece clamped across the charcoal grate:

and a little while later we had enough realtor's sign remnants cut and welded to the old grate to make it useful again.

Now don't misunderstand me. I am not crowing about what a genius I am to have tack welded some scrap iron to a grill. Badly welded, at that. This is not about that at all.

I just don't remember doing this kind of thing almost every day of the week, for several hours a day, every day, before we moved here to this "full time vacation".. This is a very definite aspect of island living that you just don't think of when you are watching the Corona beer commercials on cable tv. If I had not been able to repair this, we would have been looking at either buying a similar version of this entire, perfectly functioning gas and charcoal grill locally for around $600 or ordering a replacement part shipped via Fed Ex and paying a 40% import duty on it along with Fed Ex charges. Figure two to three days waiting and about $150 final cost for a $15 part. We just wanted to grill a dozen cheeseburgers.

And we did. It just required us to look for a different solution than we would have ever previously considered. Island living will broaden some of your horizons. I think it's a good thing. I probably would have ignorantly gone the rest of my life without the hilarious experience of reading the manual for a Chinese welding machine, for example. And what kind of a life would that have been for a diehard McGyver fan???

I mentioned to La Gringa Suprema that we hadn't really had many good sunset photos to post lately. Or to be more accurate, the easy ones all have the same view of some distant neighbor's houses. She managed to get out to a different vantage point a few nights ago and got a lot of decent shots of the sunset. I couldn't decide which one to post. I liked this one because of all the elements in it:

Or zoomed in a little with more light breaking through:

And I liked this one, with just the palm in focus:

And finally I just decided to use all of the above, and then end this post with nothing but the ocean, and the sunset.

Sometimes, simple is best.