Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Beachcombing West Caicos

In which our Sidetracked Expatriates Deviate from Plan and
Boat to West Caicos for No Other Reason than To Check Out the Beach.
Dooley the Diverted Keeps His Opinions to Himself

Instead of another sunset, we're going to open this post with one of La Gringa's photos of some of the plant life around here. (I actually just realized I didn't even have a good sunrise photo from this week, so she ran outside with her camera about fifteen minutes ago and snapped this to save me. No kidding.)

This post is the second part of the trip we wrote about in the last post. We took a lot of photos that day, and divided them into two posts instead of one big, slow-loading one. West Caicos doesn't really have anything to do with Turtle Rock anyway.

Speaking of Turtle Rock, I'll start with the last photo from last week. This is the view from where we were anchored. It's not West Caicos. It's actually looking from Turtle Rock over Proggin Bay to the undeveloped shoreline that leads out to West Harbour Bluff and Osprey Rock.

We had never boated along that shoreline and with the weather and water being so calm we thought it the perfect opportunity to go take a look. I mean, why not? We had a boat, fuel, sunshine, calm winds... why the heck not? Before we left Turtle Rock I did snap some photos of the underside of the skiff. I was interested in seeing how much water it was drawing at rest with the outboard all the way down on the jackplate. You can also see where I scuffed the paint off the skeg on the last trip to Three Mary Cays.

With the jackplate in the full up position the motor is raised six inches higher than it is in this photo. Finally we are closing in on a boat setup that lets us go slow through shallow areas. We can 'putt putt' along in about a foot of water now. There are times when we just don't need the admitted excitement of blasting over unfamiliar rocks and reefs totally dependent upon keeping the boat on plane to avoid disaster. It's difficult to explore when you can't slow down. Well, slowing down isn't the real problem. You can always slow down. It's starting up again that causes the grief in real shallow water.

For some reason we didn't take a lot of photos as we went along the rocky cliff face at Proggin Bay. It's pretty much what you would expect. Very few access points to the water, and difficult to climb up from below. We did see some places we would like to come back to, with natural eddies that collected a lot of flotsam. We like flotsam, usually. It's interesting. We'd probably like jetsam too if we could find any.

We were almost out to the end when we saw a huge spotted ray swimming along just under the surface. Unfortunately by the time I got a camera out and booted up the startled ray had disappeared into the deeper water just off the rocks. Can't always get the photo we want. We had the cameras all put away trying to conserve batteries after all the photos we took at Turtle Rock. We saw a number of interesting looking underwater grottos along Proggin Bay, which are jumbles of boulders and result of the rocks splitting off and tumbling into the water. I suspect it's teeming with marine life with all that underwater structure to hide in. A lot of shady spots to investigate. Just snorkeling this entire stretch could be a fair sized project, and a fun one. I get the feeling not many people bother to come over here. It pretty much requires a boat, like so many of the fun places around here. This day would have been perfect for it if we had started earlier and made that part of the plan. But by this point we had already come to the end of whatever feeble plan we had started with. ("Let's go look at Turtle Rock..") and so we continued onwards without any plan at all. Pretty typical of us. And it's not always been the shiniest example of our decision making processes. I'm thinking that perhaps Dooley the Dogmatist shouldn't get a full vote on these things.

This is approaching Osprey Rock. We've posted so many photos of this place that I'm just including it here as a bench mark. Besides, I thought it was a nice photo with the water so calm. This is the windward side of the rock and the water here is rarely this smooth. There are usually waves crashing against the rocks here.

Judging by the pattern on the rocks it was near low tide.

We still had plenty of afternoon ahead of us, an almost full fuel tank, and no reason to stop. This was one of those photogenic days where the water looks just like a big swimming pool all the way to the horizon. We considered riding up along the beach toward the Amanyara Resort and to see if we could find a specific road I was interested in. I was looking at Google Earth and found a place where it appears we might be able to launch a boat and thought it might be fun to find it from the water. But we decided that this was getting a little too far away for a half day trip. We did nip around the corner to see if there was anything interesting at West Harbour:

This area is normally sheltered from the prevailing winds by the high ridge that terminates at Osprey Rock. The names of many of the shoreline features here evolved from long ago mariner descriptions of the places. Coming into these islands from the southwest, this is one of the first naturally sheltered places on the island of Providenciales.

But we've been here many times. We've shown you photos from up and down this stretch of land, and were not all that keen on doing it over again. The conditions were great for photos, but we really are putting some efforts into finding new views to show you and not just more photos of the same places. So after scratching our collective heads, we remembered that on the charts we've seen of this area there are some shoals marked just off the beach here. We didn't have a chart or GPS with us but thought we'd go see if we could find these shoals. I was fairly sure I could get us close from memory. I spend a lot of time poring over charts . We had never seen Bluff Shoal because normally we avoid shoals on charts. I'm pretty convinced that the major threats to boats do not come from the ocean, but from contact with land. And shoals qualify as land.

Here's how the Bluff Shoal looks on the Wavey Line chart, along with our approximate path to this point in the post:

And by the way, "Wavey Line" is the little company that produces the only paper charts I have been able to find for the Turks and Caicos Islands. I have read that there are some older British Admiralty charts around, someplace, but I have never seen one. And we'd LOVE to have a chart of the area made prior to 1960, so I keep an eye out for one. But in the meantime, Wavey Lines does an excellent job. I have two of their TCI charts, and their Bahamas chart as well. I wrote them about a year ago to see if they had any better charts of the East Caicos area. I am still interested in the old Jacksonville ruins, and getting in and out of that area is pretty tricky looking. Wavey Line was good enough to email me a small section of what map data they actually have on Jacksonville Cut as a .pdf file. Nice folks.

Finding the shoal visually without a chart wasn't that difficult on a day like this. It just looked like more of the seabed around here, only a whole lot shallower. With a depth there at the SW corner of the shoal being 1.8 meters at low tide, I could probably stand on the bottom on a calm day with my bald head just sticking out of the water. Absolutely no threat to our little skiff at all, but I can see why larger boats would want to know about this. Anything drawing over six feet should avoid this spot, of course.

We didn't bother taking many photos, as the bottom was more or less uninteresting to us. We did spot a medium sized nurse shark cruising along, and managed to just barely get it into a video. Unfortunately the camera I grabbed had a big water droplet on the lens, and I didn't realize it. We've read and been told that the nurse sharks are nocturnal. But we keep seeing them in broad daylight, so that simply isn't true.

Not the most exciting shark footage, but 'not very exciting' is okay with us where shark encounters are concerned. It's a little like flying. Who would board a commercial airliner that promised you an exciting flight?

Well, maybe some of us would, I guess.

Did you ever wonder why sharks circle before attacking? One of our readers, "Geauxfishing", explained it to me this way:

Two great white sharks swimming in the ocean spied survivors of a sunken ship. "Follow me son" the father shark said to the son shark and they swam to the mass of people. "First we swim around them a few times with just the tip of our fins showing." And they did. "Well done, son! Now we swim around them a few times with all of our fins showing." And they did. "Now we eat everybody." And they did.

When they were both gorged, the son asked,"Dad, why didn't we just eat them all at first? Why did we swim around and around them?"

His wise father replied, "Because they taste a whole lot better if you empty them out first.!"

Now you know.

And yes, I did change the punchline slightly. We're keeping this particular blog G rated, you know.

So, here we were on the disappointing shoal, with plenty of daylight left. So it made perfect sense to head on over to the next logical spot, West Caicos. That's it under the cloud on the horizon:

Doesn't that water look just perfect for carving up with a boat?
And I think it was at this point that we spotted something reflecting the sun, and shining brightly all the way over on the beach five miles away. It happened sporadically, but there was definitely a flash of light coming from the beach at West Caicos. Well, that was pretty much all the excuse we needed. As if we needed one at all.

So we dunked the Dooley the Daring to cool him off (at his request) and once he was settled in, we headed on over to West Caicos to see what this shiny spot on the beach might be. You just never know around here. It might be something interesting to look at.

You can also see the little camera mount I made for Dooley's life jacket in this photo.

Unfortunately, shortly after this trip his life jacket came apart. The fabric had become weakened due to UV damage, and he currently is without a life jacket or a GoPro mount. So sad to say, there won't be any more Dooley Cam videos until we figure something else out. He says he'll be happy to hold the camera but he keeps forgetting that he doesn't have opposable thumbs and hasn't yet come up with an acceptable workaround for that.

We have a mixed history with West Caicos. The first time we came over here was in our then brand new panga, Cay Lime the first week we had the boat. Well, on that trip we ran out of fuel due to problems with the factory installed fuel gauge. It was SO wrong, and in the wrong direction. As we were to find out, when the fuel gauge read '3/4 ', we were actually on an almost empty tank. I had to swim for it, and physically towed the boat by the bow line for about an hour until I could get it inside the reef in water shallow enough to anchor it. We eventually got a tow into West Caicos harbor. La Gringa found someone who sold us enough fuel to get home. Long story. But that was our first trip to West Caicos.

Our second pass by West Caicos was on the Contender when we made a fishing trip out along the southern edge of the Caicos Bank. We got close enough to get some photos, but never went ashore to look around. So I'm not sure if this one counts as a West Caicos visit. We went out and caught barracuda instead of going ashore there. We didn't want barracuda. But that's what we caught. Nice big feisty ones, if I recall.

Our third trip to West Caicos was in our inflatable kayak. We had fully intended to do some beach combing that time, but our Hobie Mirage Drives started coming apart on us and we basically limped to the beach half crippled. We were very concerned about being able to patch the drives up enough to get home with them, as we had six miles of ocean to cross in a rubber boat. We did go ashore, but only long enough to find some shoestrings to repair the boat with.

So, this is our fourth trip to West Caicos. We were hoping to finally be able to just get out and look around, without having the crisis-du-jour dictating every moment of the experience.

The last time we saw this point of land was in our inflatable kayak on one of those days. This time, thankfully, the boat ran fine, we had plenty of fuel, and there was nothing stopping us. Finally.

The water on the east side of the island is very shallow.

We were homing in on the bright flashes that we saw from time to time on the distant beach. As we got closer to it we could see that there is a large amount of debris washed up on this beach. Wonderful! Just what we've been looking for. You can see some of it in this photo. And I drew an arrow where we were seeing the flash of sunlight. Of course by this time we were determined to go see exactly what caught our attention at sea five miles away.

The water here shallows up to just a few feet deep in many places. There are rock ledges, coral heads, the usual hazards to navigation around here. There are a number of these little underwater sinkhole looking depressions here. I was expecting to see marine life in them, but other than small fish we didn't see anything noteworthy to anyone not interested in marine biology.

Here's a closer look as we went right over the top of one. I was thinking that these would make natural traps for conch crawling across the bottom. But we didn't see any. I'd like to think that conch are smarter than that, but I suspect that this is just not good habitat for them.

We spotted a nice sandy area just off the beach, and perfect for safely anchoring the boat. On a windy day this would not be a good spot as this is normally an area of choppy water in the prevailing trade winds. But so far on this day our luck was holding. We had only the lightest of winds, gently pushing slight swells of water that focused the sunlight into prismatic ripples that wriggled and danced their way across a smooth sandy seafloor. And our mysterious shining goal was just past that point of rock at the beach's edge. We could tell that it was not on the beach itself, but something several feet up on the rocky ledge that lines the entire shore here. That slight elevation above sea level probably explains why we were able to see this flash from so far away.

We dropped the anchor overboard and the crew immediately jumped ship and scrambled ashore for some exploration.

The beach here is littered with wreckage and beachcombing treasures from one end to the other. We saw a lot of planking, and sections of wooden sloop hulls from the many Haitian boats that have been broken up in storms upwind of here. I wish I had known about this when I was looking for netting for the Hobie Tandem Island. There are spots on the beach at West Caicos that are literally strewn with it.

Looking back over the beach back toward Providenciales in the distance. The Sandborne Channel runs between here and Providenciales, and that is the major route for the small container ships and freighters that bring supplies to the island. And just look at all that wonderful beach clutter. This kind of place is better than a lumber yard to me. The wood here has character, and is typically hardwood. I forsee regular trips to this place to search for driftwood and other assorted neat stuff.

Here's a view over the island, showing you the highest points above the sea. It's not what one would call 'mountainous', or 'hilly', or even 'scenic'. I was standing on top of a beach dune, probably ten or twelve feet above the beach when I took this. So the little hills are more than enough to get well above storm surges and waves. The water in the foreground is called "Lake Catherine".

Turning to the right for another photo, I could see the empty buildings of the Molasses Reef development off in the distance. This Ritz-Carleton resort was stopped when the Lehman Brothers financing went the way of all Lehman Brothers financing almost three years ago. We have not been back to that area since our first trip to the harbor there for fuel. We understand that there is no activity there, and hasn't been for several years. There are only a few security guards who spend their days watching over empty buildings sitting in the tropical sun. It must be a peaceful job. West Caicos is very quiet these days.

That has not always been the case here. At one time this island was being used to grow sisal and there are still old railway foundations and an ancient steam engine and building ruins. Those are located at the spot called "Yankee Town". I put an arrow to where the ruins would be if this Google Earth image were correct. It's not correct.

I am almost positive the ruins are north of where Yankee Town is marked on that image. We'll go find out on one of our upcoming trips. When the winds pick up from the east again it will make more sense for us to go explore the other side, and checking out the former Yankee Town will be high on the list. We also want to find the little Maravedi cove in the rocks where the ancient Spanish coin was found some years ago, and there is one other spot we have in mind to explore. It's a strange building further south from where we stopped on this trip. I've heard that it dates from the heyday of the drug smuggling business here back in the 70s', but haven't confirmed that yet. We'll just have to wait until we find out more about it.

Recently we've read rumors of plans to re-start the Molasses Reef project with fresh financing. Well, they certainly shouldn't have any problems portraying the "faded, weather-beaten seaside resort" ambiance if that's what they are looking for. Unfortunately, I don't think that was the original idea.

Here's a view to the south down the beach. We were not equipped for walking much on a rocky beach like this so we only wandered a hundred meters or so in either direction. Just enough to get an idea what kinds of goodies are washed up here.

Oh and there are some goodies. I was finding all kinds of weathered timbers jammed among the rocks and half buried in the sand. I was most interested in looking for hardwood pieces I could use for something I might want to build for the house.

This rocky section is NOT a good barefoot beach, although there are nice sandy stretches not too far in either direction. But the rocks tend to hold on to the stuff that high tides and storms carry in, and that's what we are looking at this trip.

I know all these beach photos look pretty much alike with a cursory glance. But I posted them anyway to show you some of the stuff washed up here. By now you know I am an inveterate beach comber. I would happily spend every day walking the beach looking for treasures big and small.

Just in the hour or so that we spent looking around we saw pieces of several different shipwrecks. I've already posted a photo that showed you a section of wooden hull. In the photo below you should be able to make out an oval shaped cylinder full of flotation foam washed up near the seaweed (and a nice hunk of wood, I now notice..)

Well, upon closer examination we determined that this is a piece of a multihull sailboat. There are several chunks of it scattered along this section of beach, but it is well and truly broken up. I couldn't find enough information to determine any more about it. But golly wouldn't I love to know the story behind it.

I'm hoping that whoever was on the broken up multihull in the background didn't also kick the bucket in the foreground.

Speaking of hulls, I almost forgot to post a photo of the skiff at anchor. Nice sandy spot, and if it got away for some reason (not likely) it would just drift ashore. This is about how far we wandered from where we first hit the beach. You can tell it's not very far. And there are miles of beach here with no competition for salvage. I'm getting greedy-thinking now, aren't I?

That's another hunk of that ill-fated catamaran's hull there in the lower left corner of that photo by the way.

And I just realized that I was about to end the trip to West Caicos report and hadn't told you about the shining object we spotted from way over on Bluff Shoal. After all that, it was just this piece of aluminum shielding on some rigid insulation foam. This is the kind of thing we might expect to see as sound and heat insulation in the engine compartment of something like, oh, say a fiberglass catamaran, as one potential example....

Our trip back to the boat ramp was blessedly uneventful. Just more smooth water, clear skies, and a perfectly functioning boat. Or it was perfectly functioning until I got it on the trailer and pressed the motor tilt button. I had forgotten that after eliminating the jackplate spacer I need to be careful tilting the motor when the jackplate is full down. I snapped both hydraulic steering fittings off the motor. And there are none to be found here. Believe me, I tried. Fortunately a friend found us a couple in Michigan, and the steering is already repaired as I write this.

We did pick up a very few pieces of driftwood type stuff on this trip. The shadows were getting long by the time we finally got the boat home, but I did remember to snap a quick photo of three pieces of wood we brought back with us. A weathered but solid hull plank about 6 feet long, a 4x4 that I think is mahogany, and a little piece of definite mahogany that would make a nice sign. Or something. I'll figure it out as we go. It's nice to find a source of something other than the pressure treated framing lumber that the local lumber yards stock. Usually.

At first I was at a loss about what to do with the old ship plank. Then La Gringa asked me if perhaps I might be able to come up with way to organize the increasing collection of hats we tend to throw on a chair or table when we come into the house. So I thought this might be just the thing.

We liked the weatherbeaten character of the wood, so I decided not to rip this up at all.

I made a dozen pegs out of a nice gray weathered stick I had picked up somewhere. And no, I don't understand this compulsion I seem to have about picking up interesting sticks. But I do recognize it and am keeping an eye on it to see if it develops into anything we should worry about. I clamped the pegs in a vise and chucked up a plug cutter in the little drill press:

Ended up with both thumbs and a dozen of these:

Trimmed the overhanging part off with one of those cool little Japanese style hand saws, and now you can see where I am going with these:

I drilled a dozen holes in the plank, more or less at random, and glued the tightly fitted pegs in.

I bolted it up above one of the doorways, and now when we come into the room it's pretty simple to just grab our hats and hang them up on a peg as we go through. Simple solution, n'est ce pas?

I sliced up the 4x4 mahogany piece we brought back. It was too cracked and worm eaten to make anyting structural, so it's going to become part of a tortilla squisher (tortilladora, for you purists, or a tortilla press for the not-so-pure). And of course I am chomping at the bit to get back over to West Caicos with some decent shoes and gloves and see if I can't bring back some more raw materials. That beach is a gold mine, if you consider old shipwrecked timbers to be of any value. I've got some ideas for some outside furniture made from shipwreck parts, for example.

Next week we have a totally different post planned for a change. No photos of either boat. No sailing. No skiff. This is going to be about driving some back "roads" on Providenciales as we explore a part of the island we've never seen before. There are some beach photos of course. Life here is all about beach.

So, please tune in again next week, when we show you some of what the island looks like away from the local version of civilization. And until then..


Aggie91 said...

Sweet hat rack! I bet the outdoor furniture is gonna look great!

Anonymous said...

Wow. West Caicos does look like a mini Do It Center lumber supply. Amy and Scott here - we met at The Do It Center on Provo in July - we are building the house on Middle.

Photophix said...

Thanks again for letting us in on what most of us can only dream.


Anonymous said...

you're welcome, Armando. But don't just dream...life is short!

Hello Amy and Scott. We were talking about West Caicos with Preacher, Hammer, and Dwayne on Sunday and they told us they refer to West Caicos as 'flea market beach'.

I thought we saw much more interesting beach stuff over at Whidbey, but more lumber on West.

I just finished the tortilla press and it works great! If I could put a photo here I would.

Anonymous said...

hey dad
love the hat rack, does dooley need a new life jacket i found one thats neon green that looks like it's better constructed what size is he? another great post

Jon said...

Great post! Thanks.

Hey, can you post a picture of that tortilla press next go-round?


Anonymous said...

Why not just add a picture of the tortilla press to the original posting??? At the end or where you discuss about going to make it, simply state EDIT: and here it is or whatever caption.

Anonymous said...

Do you guys wash or shower Dooley after every water excursion? Where does he sleep? Basket, kennel, your bed? Quick fresh water rinse/spray or proper shampoo bath after being in the sea? Or does it not even matter to dogs?

PaleMoonDove said...

Awww...Get Dooley's jacket fixed...love the Dooley camming!!!
Smiles..Doll (&Capt'n too)

Ashworth said...

As usual, another great piece. The last time I was on West Caicos has to be 7 or 8 years ago and was told that a cruise ship company bought the island and there would be no more trips to dive West Caicos. By your post I take it that never happened and West Caicos is still the scrub brush island it use to be.

We are looking to come back to Provo late next spring. Hope to say hello.

New Jersey
Lil Provo (sailboat)

Laura said...

I LOVE anything made out of found objects....I would be in heaven on the beach finding stuff! :) LOVE the hat rack.

Anonymous said...

I've been on a 'making stuff with wood' kick again this week. After the hat rack and tortilla press, we bolted that big hunk of wood LaGringa found to the wall and I've also been making wooden curtain rod holders because the metal ones rusted and ruined the drapes.

Dooley has his own little bed, it's a soft flannel pillow thing filled with cedar shavings. Sometimes he sleeps on that, sometimes on a rug, His choice.
He does get a shower after a day on the ocean, or a bath and shampoo sometimes too. With some kind of special shampoo La Gringa bought. He's always the first one into the ocean, by the way. Matter of pride with him, I think.

Anonymous said...

In the latest forecast it looks like TS Irene will go west of you in the next couple of days. Good Luck

Anonymous said...

Thanks. We've been watching this one. Forecast is for heavy wind and seas no matter what. We are under a Tropical Storm watch now.
When they go up the other side of Hispaniola it usually protects us from the worst of it. Feel bad for those poor people in Haiti, though. They just can't seem to get a break.

We won't be out boating on Tuesday, if we get to choose.

Joe C said...

Awesome post. Best blog on the web. Ive been salivating since THT days. Keep it up. I brag about your writing to family and friends.

snooz said...

Batten down, good luck.

Anonymous said...

Hang on! Here she comes!


Anonymous said...

I LOVE the hat rack!! Terrific job and lucky find!


Anonymous said...

We spent a big part of yesterday afternoon battening down the hatches. Hurricane Irene has strengthened and appears to be now heading right toward us. We are hoping it stays off fifty or sixty miles to the south, which should keep our wind speeds below 100 mph.

We have two boats on trailers and a Land Rover in the two stall garage right now. That's pretty cozy. The Contender is on it's trailer inside the fence at the boatyard, so that should be in good shape. Except Storm surge is still a question. We haven't seen any surge predictions, but if we get a 'tide' of three feet or more we'll be stranded out here. It shouldn't last long, as islands don't hold the water and flooding like the mainland does. We expect to lose power and internet at some point. We hope we're prepared for several isolated days after the storm. Got gasoline, cameras, and Kindles.

Anonymous said...

Good luck!

Any chance of bolting the GoPro to something outside and setting time lapse to caputre the thing has it comes and gos? Would make for some might interesting footage.

d_pattee said...

Post up when you are safe and are able, my prayers are with you. We should get a direct hit here in NC by a Cat 3 or 4 Sat/Sun. At 4 to 8 feet above sea level, we need to make the decision to stay or leave by Thursday. In the mean time, the prep continues.

BTW, another great post! DaveDownEast.

Anonymous said...

Good idea. I could stick a 1/4-20 bolt through a small plank, and use two C-clamps to hold it to the edges of the little patio cap wall.

Very much a camera mount on the fly.

Anonymous said...

Be Safe! Our thoughts are with you. Looks like we may be battening down things in Falmouth this weekend as well.

jeeperman said...

Be safe and don't take foolish risks. Do you have a transponder on the Contender so you can find it afterwards?
Just kidding, I hope.

Anonymous said...

I made two mounts for the Go-Pro. Having a problem deciding where to put it. One choice is on the corner facing the boatyard and the ocean. The usual view for our sunrises. I just clamped it out there and the wind almost blew me over. Checked and it was a gust to 55 knots.
the other view is looking across the neighbor's houses, with ocean in the background and some palm trees to watch for wind indicators.

That position is much more protected. I'm worried the constant rain will render video from the facing position almost useless. I think I'll leave it there for an hour or two and then see if I can get out there safely and move it to the more protected position in the lee of the house.

It's starting to get a little bit hairy around here.
Strange feeling knowing there is almost no evacuation option any more.

Anonymous said...

also tether the camera to something else independant "just in case"

Slacker said...

Know that hairy feeling very well. I was one of the crazy one that rode out Katrina in Mississippi five years ago. God speed and hang on.

PangaMan said...


Y'all stay safe, everyone here at PangaForum.com is thinking about y'all.

And take some awesome video for us!

Wayne said...

stay safe, hunker down and hang on