Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Summer Sunday Sojourn

We were hoping for some really memorable photos for this 250th post in this silly web-log thing. (You did know that's where the word 'blog' came from, right? And so ends the educational portion of our program today...)

Anyhow, up until Sunday all I really had that was new were some local 'boat-in-trouble' type photos, and a bunch of DIY stuff from inside the garage. Not really very exciting. Pretty ho-hum, actually. And I am really leery about wishing too hard for dramatic photos when we are in the beginning of hurricane season. I mean, I'm not all that superstitious... but years of working offshore have also made me cautious in what I wish for. Is that superstitious? It's not the same as never allowing bananas on a boat because they are bad luck. I never understood that one. Hey, years ago it was considered bad luck for a woman to step on a boat. These days it just means that some changes are going to be made. Not necessarily a bad thing. But before I top load this post with too many words, here's a new sunrise photo:

So with the now traditional La Gringa photo of a nice tropical sunrise behind us, I can get around to telling y'all what we did on Sunday. We decided to go on a picnic, and to give our new GoPro Hero HD™ camera another try. Our picnics almost always mean a boat trip. The wind was blowing from the east on Sunday, and the Caicos Bank looked a little too choppy for the relaxed frame of mind we were looking for. We don't mind some wind when we are in the mood for fast, wet sailing, but we were seeking 'mellow' on Sunday. So we decided to duck up into the lee of Water Cay. There are usually plenty of isolated, undisturbed places along the beach to enjoy on Water Cay. That's because the only way to get there is by boat. Or swimming. We haven't tried swimming to a picnic yet but I sure wouldn't rule it out for a future post.

Our entire route Sunday was only a little over ten miles round trip as the seagull flies, so we took the Hobie Tandem Island. Of course one never travels in a straight line for the entire round trip in a sailboat, so we probably covered a lot more ground than ten miles. But this was the route without all the tacks and gybes and such:

I mentioned the GoPro camera. We bought this a couple months ago, thinking it would be ideal for these fixed mount, action videos and photographs that we like to do. We got a whole bag full of accessory mounting doodads for it. And we had already tried to get video from the top of the Hobie mast a few weeks ago. We were disappointed. The waterproof case fogged up inside, and all the video after about 20 minutes was useless. That was bad enough, but we also had to admit that the 20 minutes of video that was usable was pretty much useless, too. Boring.

SO, this time we made some changes. We reset the camera so that instead of taking video, it took a single snapshot every ten seconds until the battery died. The GoPro's plastic housing includes two different back plates. One of these back plates has two holes in it, which allows air to circulate. I was nervous about putting a no-longer-waterproof camera on the top of the mast. We have enough confidence in the boat that we don't anticipate flipping it over, but we also recognize that.... well..... poo happens. And even if we didn't somehow put the top of the mast underwater, we worried bout rain squalls. But in the end we decided that a camera that couldn't live in our world was probably best put out of its misery early, anyhow. So we went for it. First, the open back DID solve the fogging issue. And a photo every ten seconds.... well... that needs some more thought. I just had to sort through over 1200 photos. Ouch. And you can see how many I am actually using out of that 1200. Not many. This whole GoPro thing still needs some re-thinking, I think. But then I thought that before, too.

But here's one of the first ones, not long after stepping the mast and while launching the boat from Sherlock Walkin's marina down at Leeward:

I am sure that the people who designed this camera have some reason for this fish-eye lens effect. But for the life of me, I have yet to figure out what that reason or advantage is. I find it enormously distracting, myself. So, I am going to intersperse the GoPro mast cam photos with some we took with our old standbys, the Olympus Tough 8010 and the Pentax W80. I won't bore you with the 200 or so GoPro images the mast cam took getting out of Leeward Going Through (unless you really want to see them). We were pretty happy to get around the corner of Little Water Cay between the rain squalls.

We scooted up the beach in a relaxed and leisurely manner in the intermittent sunshine and despite the random threats the squalls were making. We've got a new respect for squalls since that last French Cay trip.

We really like sailing along close to the beach at Water Cay. We never know what we might see washed up on the beach. This time we noticed that someone has made at least three stacks of rocks along the shore near the wreck of an old barge. We sailed in close to get a photo.

We were looking for a spot in the shade of one of the little rock cliffs, but this time of year the sun is beating straight down and there isn't much shade at mid-day. We finally found a spot that looked good from the water, and we hopped out of the boat and hauled it up on the beach:

This is the little spot we chose. We figured we had a good chance of finding a soft place to sit and some nice shade under this little Casuarinas tree. We had an added bonus in that the top of the cliff exposed us to the breeze that would have been blocked by the rocks if we'd stayed down on the sand. We were probably trespassing, come to think of it. Whoops. Sorry. We didn't leave a mess, if that counts for anything.

I really liked this tree-on-the-rock image, so there will be a number of different photos of it from different angles. Hopefully you'll see at least one image you like.

Dooley the Devious immediately saw the possibilities of our intended picnic spot and he went up to check it out first.

Here's another angle, from up on top of the line of little limestone cliffs. That's Pine Cay and Ft. George Cay off in the distance:

I have also discovered that I can use some image processing software to take out the 'fish eye' distortion of the GoPro camera. It seems to move the distortion to the near field, so if I level the horizon, I warp the boat. Oh well. Here's a photo with the horizon flattened, and with La Gringa setting up our lunch under the neighborhood tree:

The image is skewed because, well, the camera is 18 ft. up a mast, which is on a boat leaning over as it sits on the slope of a steep beach.

The ground under the tree was covered with a thick blanket of soft Casuarinas needles. I know they look like pine needles, and this tree is sometimes known as an Australian Pine, but it's not a pine tree. We were grateful for the shade, the soft blanket, and the breeze. Dooley the Diligent made sure there was nothing hiding in the tree. At least, I think that's what he was doing. I could be wrong. He could have been making a mental bet with himself about how far up that tree he could reach if he drank all our water and stood on a rock and...... well..... never mind. He has been known to entertain some lofty ambitions. I think he tells the local dogs that he's a lawyer from New Jersey. And that's just wrong. He's actually from Pennsylvania.

This worked out to be just about the perfect place for a picnic on this particular summer afternoon.

It's not that easy to describe how peaceful this spot was. Nobody else was on the beach in either direction for as far as the eye could see. It was pretty much like having the entire island to ourselves. We had a good view, shade, and the cool breeze. Maybe one of La Gringa's videos would explain the whole ambiance a little better:

(music is 'Guitar Romance' by Armik)

As I took that photo above the video, I saw something rolling up in the surf down the beach about 50 yards. So I took another shot to get that in the frame, too. I was pretty sure I knew what it was. At least, I hoped I was right about that. The alternative was kinda ugly to think about.

Looking back to the south you can tell that this beach is never crowded. There is another boat anchored off that small point almost a mile away. Not bothering us at all. Now the clouds..well that's a different worry. Remember, we have this new camera at the top of an 18 ft. mast with the back of it exposed to the elements. This is to keep it from fogging up this time. No fogging is good, but filling up with rain water would kind of negate all the positives from the lack of fog. We were really hoping to avoid any rain showers, despite the cooling effect the squalls have on the ambient temperature. Which has been in the high 80's by the way. I think we have seen 90 degree outside air temperature maybe once or twice this summer, so far. It rarely gets above that here. And even when it is 90 degrees outside, the trade winds make it feel much cooler. All you really need to be comfortable is shade.

The boat traffic was pretty sparse for a sunny Sunday. It was Father's Day, and I would have thought there would be more boating going on. The day-charter Atabeyra came by close enough to see what we were up to with our seemingly unattended and funny looking yellow plastic boat beached there in an isolated location:

That old rum runner is an interesting boat, but I like the view better when there's nothing on the horizon except ocean.

I took one more photo behind the visual line of the beach so you could see what is behind the cliffs on Water Cay. Just another uninhabited island. I think that out of the 40+ islands that officially make up the Turks and Caicos Islands, only 8 of them are described as being inhabited.

It was very nice relaxing in the shade but eventually lunch was over and we trooped on back down to the beach. We were keeping our eye on the line of squalls blowing through Leeward off in the distance, and figured out that if we killed a little time we could maybe let the worst of them get by before heading back. Like so many things in life, it's all about timing.

I've been putting some time in on the 'landscaping' at the house. For me that basically means another skirmish in my never ending fight with the weeds, and maybe moving some rocks around to see if they look better here than they did there. Sometimes they do.

Anyhow, right now I need some flat paving type rocks to use as a little walkway. I've been looking in the usual places on Providenciales, but have not been able to find just what I want. Then while I am climbing down to the beach on Water Cay I realized that I was literally surrounded by perfect paving stones. PILES of them:

Boy, wouldn't I love to have that entire pile teleported to the back yard of a certain house about three islands south of here. We may have to come back with the skiff and pick up a half dozen of these loose ones. Maybe from Pine Cay, where we know the property owners. Heck they'll just get ground into sand if we leave them here. In a hundred years or so.

Back down on the beach I decided to go and investigate the object that had been rolling in and out of the surf for the past hour. From closer up it was pretty easy to discern that it was in fact a coconut and did not have the hair or gold ear ring that my imagination had added from a distance.

Just another sea-going coconut on another deserted beach on another perfect day. Nothing special or unusual about that.

This gave me a chance to get yet another image of that tree from another angle. (Hey, I think it's a good visual and I am milking it for all the cool photos I can get.)

While we were lollygagging in the shade and investigating shipwrecked coconuts the mast cam was sitting up there snapping away every ten seconds. I liked this one because it caught a small wave just as it picked up the sand along the little underwater step that runs just a few feet off the low tide mark. Notice that the sand gets lifted by the wave, and stirred up, and falls right back into the same spot. It doesn't drift out and cloud up the rest of the water, like some sands that I won't mention by name on other beaches. How considerate is that?

You might also notice that the boat has been moved by the waves since we beached it. Or you might not. The big footprints are mine. The little footprints are La Gringa's. And the sixteen million little paw prints frenetically arranged in sets of four belong to you-know-who.

At this point we decided to go for a swim to cool off. And yes, this gave me yet one more camera angle on my favorite tree of the day. And a good shot my favorite boat, too. That little box up on the top of the mast is the GoPro camera.

By this time it was early afternoon and we knew we needed to start back. Time is always a factor when sailing to a schedule. But the squalls were lining up one after the other some five miles to our south, which was just where we needed to go. Seeing a particularly nasty looking rain storm clobbering our destination, we decided to delay our departure for awhile and explore along the beach a little. Not far from our picnic spot we saw this little collapsed sinkhole. Basically, the roof of one of the many small caves fell in. This left a little limestone bridge with an opening behind it.

This was an opportunity for a different sort of camera angle, so I climbed up on the top of the little cliffs again. That probably doesn't sound like much effort to you, sitting there in your nice air-conditioned computer reading spot with a nice comfy rug under your feet. Well, try climbing around this stuff barefooted a few times and you'll see what I am whining about.

I think I can already tell that I am not going to get any sympathy on this, am I?

Here's the little collapsed sinkhole from the top:

Climbing down into it, I found that it formed a delightfully shady little spot out of the sun. It's cooled by the surrounding limestone. It also made for some nice photos. I must have taken about a dozen of them. This is one of my favorites:

Looks like I needed to trim the ceiling. And move some rocks out of the living room.

We only walked about a hundred yards or so down the beach. We saw a number of these small caves in the limestone.

We also began to notice that Dooley the Devious was paying a whole lot of attention to the small holes in the rocks. More than usual. So La Gringa walked up to one of the smaller ones and looked inside, and discovered that a lot of them are taken up with seasonal nesting Tropic Birds.

We didn't want the dog to disturb the birds so we decided that was enough beach exploration for now. Besides, this beach is too clean for proper beach combing. Remember that photo of the waves picking up the sand that I posted up above? Well, that is essentially turning the sand over, many thousands of times a day. It keeps it really, really clean. But it's not someplace to find interesting stuff washed ashore, unless you like the isolated coconut. Big stuff like fishing nets wash ashore, but the small stuff gets taken back out by the tide. We have other beaches in mind for beach combing small stuff, and we'll show you a couple of the better ones in some future blog posts. But for now, we decided to take our chances with the squalls and head back to Leeward.

The mast cam caught us shoving the boat off the beach into the shallow water:

And a few seconds later, soaked to the armpits, away we go. Bye bye, tree:

The Go-Pro camera was at the right angle to catch a lot of beach photos on the way back. Hundreds of them, in fact. Once I got them all uploaded I started playing around to see if I could improve upon them by applying a thick coat of software. I'll show you an example. I'm interested in what you think about all this.

This is a photo taken by the GoPro as we sailed back, close along the beach. I am sure you can see the fish-eye distortion of not only the horizon, but also of the boat itself. It's not that banana-shaped in reality:

This is that exact same photo after applying a "115% fish eye correction" to it:

I'm not overjoyed about the resolution along the outer edge of the image or the distortion in the near field, where the boat is. The boat is not that wide. Although the dog is.

This is basically our second trip with this camera, and we're happy that we've finally got it working. I'm hoping that with some further experimentation we can improve upon these images. The view of the coral from up above should be really nice, on a clear water day. This was not a particularly clear water day, by the way. I realize it has the Mississippi River beat hands down for clarity, but for here this is a stirred up day. It gets much, much better than this. It's not uncommon for us to be able to see the bottom 80-100 ft. below us. We just need about three days of calm weather and the sun directly overhead. We'll keep an eye out for a good day to show you that. The camera on the mast should be good for that.

This is another day-charter excursion boat with a load of people having a picnic of their own. The boat to the right is the trimaran Minx, of which we have written before. I just realized that the phrase "have written before" is redundant, isn't it. I hate reading my own writing. I can never stop trying to change things. It's never finished, is it. It always needs improvement. Discouraging.

That photo catches two squalls passing through Leeward, with a nice window of clear weather between them. We had to decide whether to try for that, or to sail around wasting time until the next break.

We decided that sailing around wasn't actually wasting time. Far, far from it.

There is a dramatic change from the broken up island rock to the smooth sand here. This is called Donna Cut. At one time it was a separation between Water Cay and Little Water Cay. Hurricane Donna hit here in 1960 and changed the topography of these islands for a long time to come. All this sand from the Caicos Bank was washed through, and filled up the space between the two islands.

This is the turn around the southern end of Little Water Cay. A lot of people have been referring to this as "Iguana Cay", which makes some sense. It's absolutely loaded with iguanas. Dooley has been kicked off this island by park officials, by the way. He only wanted to play chase. He wasn't actually planning to eat those lizards. They were bigger than he was, anyhow. That's all I am going to say about that incident.

What a difference the angle of the sun makes with this camera. The photos looking forward toward the clouds all make the water look gray and uninviting. But looking back behind us, it's totally different. This is what the mast-cam sees looking back with the sail in the picture:

And the image looking forward with one of our other cameras just catches the edge of the squall we are ducking behind. That area in the middle where you cannot see the shore is being obscured by the rain. You may also notice there is no dog on the side of the boat nearest the thunder clouds. This is always the case.

The rest of this trip was pretty uneventful. We had a good run up through Leeward and even ran into our buddy Preacher at the marina. We got caught up with the local news. We had spent a week in the USA since the last time we saw Preacher a couple weeks ago. He is caught up in the political situation going on right now between the Turks and Caicos Government and the British. Most of the people here are following all this closely, and there are some strongly held opinions on how this country should be run. You can find out about all that if you do an internet search for either of the local newspapers. I try to keep the politics out of the blog.

We were in a hurry and real busy tacking our way up Leeward-Going-Through, so we didn't get a lot more photos of that trip.

This is the last of the over 1200 images that the GoPro recorded before the battery died. We were within sight of the marina. It's back behind that boat coming toward us from the left. So at an image every ten seconds, we got over four hours of battery life. One of the changes I want to make before the next GoPro experiment is to change the interval to one photo every thirty seconds.

Now we want to try something different. You've seen the still photos, and read the sequence of events for our picnic trip. La Gringa Suprema has put all the 1200+ still images into a 3 minute video. It's not really video I guess. More like the old early movie frames. You can follow along, sort of, and see how this whole four hour period went from the perspective of the GoPro camera. You can tell where we tacked the boat in and out to move into the wind, especially as we worked our way back into Leeward. We also tacked a few times to get closer to the beach on the way out. If you want to stop the video to look at a particular image, you can do that with the 'pause' button. Just like up town.

(music is 'Ketto' by Bonobo)

That's all I have from that trip. I had accumulated a few other photos since our last post, but nothing much to get excited about. I have scads of DIY stuff, of course, but don't want to overwhelm people with that. I know some of you have shown some interest in the little hoist I built inside the garage, so I'll show you how that's working out. I just did my first test project with it.

You may recall I wanted to be able to lift about 300 lbs or so straight up from the floor, with a boat winch. I want it primarily to be able to 'stack' both boats inside the garage during hurricanes. I haven't built the little frame I need to attach to the kayak trailer to lift it, but in the meantime I found another good use for the hoist. I lifted the outboard off the skiff with it.

I've been wanting to experiment with the jack plate setup on the skiff. I've had problems trimming it down the way I like it, and am semi-convinced that the weight of the motor has been levering the stern down and the bow up. The boat came with a six inch spacer between the transom and the jackplate. I wanted to see how it ran if I took that out. It looked like this, originally:

That puts the weight of the motor about a foot behind the transom. This is only an 18 ft. boat, and fairly light. That motor weighs 350 lbs, and it has a few more pounds added with steering, cabling, oil, etc. Plus the jackplate and extension. It would be well over 400 lbs total. That has to put some torque on the transom, and wants to lift the bow out of the water.

Here's my new home-made hoist lifting the Suzuki off the boat. It worked like a charm. The rope is a safety line. Just in case.

And this is the motor while being reattached to the boat without the six inch spacer. I also moved the jackplate up about an inch and a half.

The whole job took less than a leisurely hour. The hoist worked perfectly, and I now have no qualms about hanging the 300 lb kayak and trailer from it while moving the skiff underneath the kayak. Now we just need to take the skiff out and see how this change affected the performance and especially the trim. And if I desperately needed some more bow-down trim-for safety reasons you understand-well....I know just where a pile of nice flat ballast rocks is sitting on a deserted beach not too far from here...

The hoist is a success. I used some suggestions you guys made, and attached the free end of the cable up to the bolt holding the upper pulley. I can see this being useful for a number of things. It would hold the weight of a Land Rover motor, for example. Not that I ever hope to have to remove one, but one never knows, does one? Stranger things have happened.

There hasn't been much going on around the house lately. We just went through several weeks of extremely unsettled weather. This is not unusual for this time of year. As the summer sun heats the ocean, the rising moist air builds into some really dog-shattering thunderstorms. We had that big low pressure thing going on for a week south of Haiti, and that affected us. We feel bad for the people who just happened to schedule their one week vacation during one of the few rainy weeks of the year, but it happens. Maybe we could convince the local hotels they need to issue 'sunshine rainchecks' or something. Give people a break on the hotel rates for future visits when this visit got rained on. Or even a discount for rainy days. They could afford it, and it would make good marketing tools. Advertise a reduced rate for any day with more than 50% cloud cover. It wouldn't cost them much at all over the course of a year. (Susan, Val, and Sonya... are you guys listening?)

I'd try to get you some video footage of Dooley during a storm, but he shakes and vibrates so much that all the photos come out blurred. He's either terrified or he's a vampire, near as I can figure. Maybe I should try to get a photo of him in a mirror to be sure. I do know the little sucker is terrified of thunder. Like you wouldn't believe. We're going to try wrapping him in an Ace bandage the next time. This is after reading an ad for a compressing vest to aid doggie anxiety. I saw it in the airlines gadget catalog on our trip to Pittsburgh last week.

One day about two weeks ago we kept hearing a boat calling for a tow from the other side of West Caicos. We were interested in this, because as sailors, we often wonder why other sailors drop their anchor and radio for (expensive) help when they have engine trouble. We might be naive, but we sort of think that if it were us, we'd just hoist a sail or two and head on in. Broken motor and all . Isn't that the very purpose of having all those big sticks and canvas and ropes and stuff on the boat in the first place? To move it without a motor?

We never did find out the reason this boat wouldn't sail to Providenciales from West Caicos. We've made that trip in an inflatable kayak. We do know they spent the night out past West Caicos, offering to pay someone to come get them, and that the local Marine Police finally went out and towed them in the next morning. The boat looks all right to me, but as La Gringa pointed out.... it might be that they lost their electronics and were nervous about sailing among all these thousands of coral heads in unfamiliar water with no lights. That makes sense. I suppose.

But if so, that points out one of the dangers of relying too heavily on electronics surrounded by salt water. Japanese wrist watches with built in compasses aside, of course. Maybe I better shut up at this point.

Dooley the Disinterested was paying more attention to the pack of feral dogs barking it up in the salina than he was paying to this disabled boat.

It's not just the big complicated boats that break down, either. Since we have a ring side view of the major boat repair facility in the country, we get to see a lot of these kinds of things. Having a fair bit of experience with broken motorboats, we had some sympathy for this next guy. He had the top cover off of his outboard for a long time one afternoon, as he drifted slowly by in the longshore current:

This is a pretty typical design for the small local 'conch' boats. They rarely have radios on these boats. Most of them don't even have compasses. Not even on their wristwatches. Imagine that.

(Hey, do you guys know how to determine which way is south using a standard analog wristwatch? If you want to know, write us and I'll tell you. It can be useful.)

There's just something universal about the motions of a man yanking the starter rope on an outboard motor, isn't there? One glimpse, and some of us know exactly what he's going through.

He eventually did get it started, and limped off to the south with one hand on the tiller and the other on the choke. Just in time, too:

It's not much fun being inside one of these squalls in a small boat when things are going wrong. Heck, it's not much fun even when they're going right, come to think of it.

And for those of you who wrote to me after our last French Cay trip, I have purchased a compass for our own small boat. I don't want to be caught offshore again with no visibility trying to navigate with just a wristwatch compass. That's the kind of thing that's good for a nice "whew!" when it's over. Once.

But what I wanted to say is that if you have some ideas for blog post photos that you would like to see, please let us know and if it seems reasonable we would be happy to give it a try. Same thing goes for the videos. La Gringa is really getting into editing and putting sound tracks to the videos. As one last example in this post, yesterday I set up the GoPro outside to see what a 30 second time lapse of an approaching squall line would look like. La Gringa turned it into a movie and added some music. I thought it was pretty cool the way the clouds are going in two different directions at the end. Fun stuff to play with.

(music is 'Above the Clouds' by Little People)

Are you guys enjoying the videos? We realize that they might take a while to load for someone with slow internet connections. We're looking for ways to make this all more entertaining.

And of course if anyone has any ideas how we can make any money at it, we're all ears!

Well, to be accurate, Dooley is the only one who is largely ears, unless it's in a thunderstorm. Then he's mostly wide eyeballs and shivering fur that flinches at the slightest horrendous earth shattering crashing noise. The little wimp. I don't understand how he can face down five dogs that each outweigh him by fifty pounds, and yet turn totally useless at a flash of light a mile away.

I think I have just about run out of fresh photos for this week. La Gringa Suprema contines to keep her eye out for decent sunset photos. She got this one over the Juba Salina recently:

We've got plenty of ideas for some future posts. We still want to show you the 'trash beach' beach combing experience. Lots of fun stuff there. And we have yet to explore the Jacksonville ruins over by East Caicos, and Joe Grant Cay. Joe Grant has been in the local news again lately. Seems the government has recovered that island from development plans. Yee haaa! Way to go, TCIG!

Don't stop now.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Some nice sunset photos

I've started to feel a bit remorseful about laying that last blog post on you. The one with all the rain and the wind and the squalls. I know some people look at this blog specifically to see nice tropical scenery. We know this because they write us emails and tell us so. Especially in the winter. And I know that they probably aren't even vaguely interested in watching Mother Nature power wash an exterior terrier. I contritely figure we owe you a sunset. And I think we've got a good one here.

One evening last week we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at the Tiki Hut. The Tiki's certainly not the most upscale place to eat around here, not even close. We're talking about an island where wearing a shirt and shoes to dinner is considered formal and is by no means mandatory. We eat there because the food is decent, the service is usually good and the ambiance is what we like. We like looking at the ocean and we like watching boats. The Tiki is great for all that.

It's an open-air dining kind of place, as are many of the local establishments. They don't really need to be seating people indoors when the yearly temperature range only varies +/-10 degrees from 80F. Providenciales is a comfy place weather-wise. Usually. There are some exceptions of course. I think that must be covered in the fine print somewhere.

It's warm, anyhow. No matter what else might be going on with the weather.

We had a nice meal and eventually finished up our shrimp, the quesadillas, and my cracked conch. I always order conch if it's a option. I know for a fact that conch is local and fresh . We usually eat at the bar when it's just the two of us, so service is pretty quick. We finally noticed it was getting dark and left the restaurant. We headed over toward the Land Rover and couldn't help but notice that the sunset was beginning to show some potential. Clear sky at the horizon, scattered clouds.... some nice smooth reflective water..we've come to recognize the ingredients of a good sunset. And in this case they looked just about exactly like this:

You can just see the parts all coming together, can't you? Sun, clouds, clear horizon, smooth shiny water.... all headed for the same spot in the universe at the same time. I know everyone wants to see the elusive green flash but sometimes we just have to settle for a gentle collision of tropical illusions.

We were in no particular hurry to be anywhere specific and we never need much of an excuse to look at boats of any kind. We'll even look at ugly boats. If there is such a thing. We decided to take an after-dinner stroll around the marina. It's probably healthy, and anyhow we really wanted to see what the Great Spirit had planned for this particular palette. I had the little Pentax W80 'point and pray' camera in my pocket, as usual. Not the best lens for low light scenes but with this much sky but I had hopes.

Turning and looking to the east we could see the setting sun reflecting from something across Turtle Cove. The trade wind had just taken that sundown breather thing it does sometimes before it notices itself, and the water got smooth and glossy. For just a few minutes before the wind picked up again everything was reflected with a warm golden glow. The cove was literally a mirror.

I guess if one were hanging upside down for some reason, it would look like this:

No, I don't know why one would hang upside down at the Tiki Hut. Unless one was batty,of course. But I bet it's been done. I was just looking for an excuse to use that inverted photo. That's about as artistic as I get.

There are a lot of empty slips in all of the local marinas this time of year. This is not not unusual. After all, we are now officially in the first week of the 2011 Hurricane Season. Most of the power and sail cruisers have gone way north, or way south for storm safety this time of the year. I think the safest places to be in a boat during hurricane season is actually south of here. Panama, Trinidad, these places seldom get hurricanes. The cyclones almost all curve northward before getting that far west. And we all know there's no place truly safe up the US east coast.

The inclement weather that we've been experiencing lately is all part of a large mass of bad tempered atmosphere that has been lurking just a few hundred miles south of us. It's gearing up to clobber poor Haiti with heavy rain, again. This is still pretty early stuff for storm season. We usually don't start worrying too much until around August.

Ah, but tonight...this was a pretty sweet place for a couple of photo junkies and sunset affectionados to be strolling.

Sunsets and sunrises don't last long in the tropics. The surface of the planet is spinning along at a pretty good clip near the equator. Being on the belly band of the Earth, we have a lot more distance to cover than places in higher latitudes. This means that a sunset can be all finished here in a matter of a few minutes. Standing near the fuel dock at the marina, and looking out to the southwest and toward the entrance to Turtle Cove:

We walked along the dock admiring the visiting boats and admiring the celestial display. This is also called a quay in some places. Which is pronounced the same as cay. Which, of course, is pronounced exactly like key. I just now decided I'm gonna use the word dock, the noun. Dock is pretty straightforward, and is also a descriptive verb. Good enough. Simple clarity. I have also decided to try to break a long habit of using the terms 'port' and 'starboard' when I am on a power boat. It's going to be difficult after 40 years of talking like that professionally. But I've had to realize something in the recreational boating world. When telling someone which side of the boat to immediately throw something critical toward, and having but one brief chance to avoid a sticky situation.... it's not good for them to have to stop to mentally translate what's frantically being screamed . Left and right works amazingly well when time is short and clarity is of utmost importance. I think the old terms will always have a place in sailing lingo. "Right tack" just doesn't work very well.

Oh, in that photo above we were of course drooling over the sailing vessels that were in the Cove on Tuesday. The very next boat at the dock was a surprise to us. The Sara Jane had just come in about an hour before. This is a Gemini 105Mc. This is the very model boat La Gringa and I were planning to buy last year, before the government here raised the import duty from 10 to 40%. Ouch. And now we are hearing rumors it's going to go to 44%. Well, we gave up on the sailboat idea while this golden-goose massacre mentality is in effect. No, thank you. We will most definitely NOT be giving the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands 44% of the value of a cruising sailboat. They shot themselves in the foot with that one. We would have whined about 10% but we would have paid it.

We are still very much interested in these shallow draft catamarans-built-for two. We spoke for awhile with the boat owner. He says the boat is slower than he would like. Well, that's probably predicable. What sailor would NOT want his boat to be faster? But in this case,we noticed that he was sailing with his family, including two teenage girls. We have some experience with the level of support logistics and materiel that two teenagers would require for an extended cruise. That would mean the boat is fairly heavily loaded and Gemini's are not known for speed in the first place. They wouldn't be our first choice for long blue water voyages with two teenagers. But for two old gringos and an obnoxious little dog gunk holing around the TCI and Bahamas, we still think the Gemini is a good choice. Being able to duck up close in the protected lee of an island overcomes a lot of speed deficiencies, in many cases. I am thinking the ability to duck might trump the ability to sprint. Nobody outruns squalls in small sailboats, anyhow. I'd rather be comfortably hiding out someplace protected than nervously trying to out run or out maneuver severe weather.

That's all academic, of course, as long as this import duty is in place. I suspect there's been a drastic reduction in the number of pleasure boats imported here in the past year. But for the cruising sailboats just passing through on their way to someplace else, this is still a very friendly little country to be in. I'm going to post one photo with the stern of the Gemini in it, and then I'm going to shut up about sailboats. For a while. Look at that sunset.

Speaking of sailing vessels, this is a particularly nice one. (That didn't take long, did it.) We've heard the crew talking with Bob Pratt (Southside Marina) on the radio in the mornings. Bob is a big fan of motor sailors, and this one is 70 foot ketch that has come up from Brazil on its way north. If I'm not mistaken, this is a home built boat. Wow. I am pretty sure something like this doesn't come in a big cardboard box as a kit.

There were still a few motor yachts in the marina, too. These guys don't have all that far to go to get home. It was nice to watch the fading sun turn the stainless steel to gold before it all faded to starlight gray.

As mentioned, sunsets don't last long here. Before we could get all the way around for the rest of the boats we started to lose the light. But we did what we could before the little red warning LED started complaining.

And this is going to have to be the final shot in this series. Also my personal favorite for a Tuesday in June between squalls. So far.

This next part of the post is a sort of footnote to the earlier French Cay sequel post. Maybe it's an anecdote? But anyhow, a few days after that happened we ran into our friend Preacher down at Leeward. He told us a little story that's related to the previous post. I wanted to pass it on while it's still fresh news.

A few days after we navigated our way back to Provo using a wristwatch compass, we wanted to make a little boat trip out to Pine Cay and back.

One of the outcomes of the previous trip in the squall line was that we discovered that it becomes difficult to stay inside this skiff while it's being driven over the tops of waves at planing speeds. That blurred photo of Dooley wasn't a joke. We realized that there were not enough places to hold on to on the boat, basically. So I installed some hand hold grab rails and this was enough of an excuse to take the boat out...

even though it was on a day when we didn't particularly need grab rails. I put two rails on the little deck area where the seat is located, and a small one on the console. That one makes a huge difference for a passenger standing up. I'm not done yet. I'm mentally picturing a sort of roll-bar hoop coming up from the deck, high enough for there to be some mounting tabs for a plexiglass windscreen. Attached to the deck and console, I was thinking maybe a tube frame that would have legs and a padded seat in front of the console.

But for now, we have new handles!!

(yes, compass is next on the list)

We needed to pick up something that was left on Pine Cay. This was our other justification for the trip, like it takes much for us to go boating. Easiest way for us was for me to anchor off the beach, and La Gringa and Dooley the DingDong swam ashore and ran our errand on the cay.

But back to the story. When we returned from our little cruise, La Gringa backed the boat trailer down the ramp and I goosed the skiff up onto the trailer and we were about to head away home when we heard a bump and a shout. Our buddy Preacher had just come back from a fishing trip in his brother's skiff.

I was tightening the straps on the boat trailer, so La Gringa grabbed the camera and went down to get caught up with Preacher. We hadn't seen him since his birthday party back in May.

In case anyone cares, this is the view of what I was doing. So I didn't hear all of the first part of this conversation.

Basically, Preacher had been out fishing in a borrowed boat. He had six conch, a Nassau Grouper, a Mutton Snapper, and a crab. The Mutton Snapper is under the anchor..

See? I told you it was under there. Next time, no questioning. Okay?

Oh, and the crab. I got down withing hearing distance just in time to hear Preacher say he was getting too old to catch crabs. Well, we were at his birthday party so I knew what he meant by that remark. But I was so internally tickled about him admitting to being "too old to catch crabs" that I didn't think to ask him why he had a problem catching a one-legged one. I probably misinterpreted the situation. Been known to happen.

Anyhow the whole point of this addendum (yeah! that's the word!) is that we asked him if he'd gone to the South Caicos Regatta on that previous Saturday. He had not. He then started describing various stories of people caught in the storm on Saturday. He told us that the weather was so bad, one boatload of people headed from Leeward to South Caicos got completely disoriented. The captain was something like two thirds of the way to South Caicos when that squall line (the same one we showed you in the last post) blew through this little nation like... like... heck I can't use that metaphor in a family rated blog....... well... it blew through like Wiley Coyote with some ACME Explosives tight up behind him. (How's that?) Preacher says the pilot of this boat "used his dead reckoning" and then demonstrated how he locked his hands on the wheel and held it totally steady, in an attempt to keep on his course to South Caicos until the storm passed. I gather he didn't have a compass or GPS either. A GPS would be very rare on a local boat, but most of these guys have compasses.

But look who's talking here. I should shut up about local boat instrumentation at this point.

As you might recall, we wrote that this squall line went on forever. It was thick. It was blowing. It was raining horizontally. The leading edge of the squall was a rolling electrical storm with lightning bolts hitting the surface of the water followed by booming thunder. Closely followed. That mile or so it took us to break out of the leading edge and get up ahead of the front was kinda tight knuckled on my part. Dooley was beside himself, of course, and that explains why it was like dealing with two of them. We couldn't see anything but dark, wet, blowing gray in every direction but down. That was dark, wet, and gray but at least it was staying below us. (This is a big part of successful boating, by the way. This whole concept of keeping the water below you.)

As we were finally breaking through the leading edge of the squall we were seeing and hearing the electrical storm and lightning bolts were hitting the water all along the front. Once we broke out into some visibility, we decided not to hang around just to see where the next lightning bolt was going to ground. I made a command decision to sacrifice passenger comfort in the interest of rapid progress in our travels over the waves. This is the part of the trip when photography became difficult due to platform motion. This is also the part of the whole trip with the highest pucker factor.

We were moving in the right direction, and we were in it for something around 10 miles. This is based upon us being in it within two miles of leaving French Cay, and coming out of it about four miles off of Provo. Those are just visual estimates, but probably within a mile. Well, the next detail that Preacher related of the South Caicos excursion is that when the storm passed and the visibility finally returned, the captain of that boat was looking at the stranded freighter just south of Leeward.

He started in Leeward. Got 2/3 the way to South Caicos, and came out of the storm within sight of the wrecked freighter, La Familia.

This what I can show you with just that information alone:

I would love to see a GPS plotted track of where he went. I bet he would be amazed, too.

I think his strategy of just holding the course would work in a small squall situation, when the visibility was only closed out for five or ten minutes. This is pretty common here with scattered squalls.

But this big bad booming booger of a squall line lasted a long time. It was miles thick. We were in it for something like an hour, unable to see even fifty yards. Many times, not even fifty feet. And we were going in roughly the same general direction. We never got turned around. With an hour to work on the boat, the wind would have shoved his bow to the side and turned him without him knowing to correct for it.

When we told Preacher we had come back from French Cay in that storm, in this skiff.... he was somewhat amazed. I told him we didn't have a compass or GPS. He was even more amazed. He doesn't use GPS himself, but he knows that I depend upon it heavily. And I gather the other party was in a much larger boat. Twin outboards. That makes sense. He had to have been moving pretty quick to get that far during that storm. I suspect he made some circles on the way. And never knew it. It would be easy to do in a small boat in a storm like that. Looking at that Google Earth image above, I'm glad we didn't let that happen to us. We would have been somewhere between West Caicos and Great Inagua, Bahamas. In an open skiff with no supplies and no radio. Plenty of gas, though. We would have been okay when the visibility returned. We think.

I didn't tell Preacher we drove from French Cay to Southside Marina in that storm using a plastic wristwatch to navigate. I wasn't sure if that might not make him question the rest of the story. And maybe I would rather let him think we did it with pure nautical instinct.

Our 250th blog post coming up next! I can't believe we ever let it get this far out of hand. Maybe we should seek therapy.