Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Grace Bay Beach

For our first couple of years here we lived within a short walk of the Grace Bay beach. We spent many a mellow hour there. Snorkeling, swimming, picnicking, reading, beach combing, annoying the dog. Then we built a home far, far away on the other side of the island (maybe 2 miles across) and we got more and more into boating. And now we rarely get back over to what is undoubtedly one of the nicest beaches in the entire hemisphere.

Here's a satellite image of that part of Providenciales, for those unfamiliar with the beach I'm talking about:

Don't worry about that "light on post" notation. That's to show you the area where these photos were taken, in case anyone is curious. There is a light on a post. And it is very near where I marked it on that image, and there is a photo of that post in this post. There. Feel better now? I know I do. It's a pretty good picture of a light on a post, too, by the way. As these things go.

That Google Earth image clearly shows the large white sand beach that lines the island of Providenciales all along that north west shore. You can even see the large offshore sand bars that move along the bottom here. This place has plenty of sand. This beautiful beach is the natural attraction that originally brought the first resort investors to Providenciales. From the stories we hear, there doesn't seem to have been much of anything of note here back in the '60's. There were only a few hundred people living on Providenciales, in several small separated settlements. There were no roads, and no vehicles, and no protected harbors.

A group of investors put an airstrip and the Turtle Cove improvements in and built the Third Turtle Inn back in the latter part of that decade, and there developed a very low-key, barely known, extremely small tourist industry for almost the next twenty years. There is a photo of the ruins of the original Third Turtle Inn in at least one of our earlier posts about Turtle Cove. It wasn't much of a tourist industry. The Third Turtle Inn had a few guest rooms, and that was essentially the extent of the resort industry here until the Club Med was built on Grace Bay in 1984. And that's when things started to grow at a steady and increasing rate.

If you ever do a Google search for resorts in the Turks and Caicos Islands, or ask a travel agent for brochures, you are going to see a lot of listings for resorts on Grace Bay. This is the most popular beach in the country, as far as numbers of visitors. The majority of the tourism industry on Providenciales is centered here, and with good reasons. Grace Bay is one of the nicest beaches you'll ever see. It's covered with smooth sand from one end to the other, except for some rock outcroppings in a few places. The offshore reef protects the beach here, and the indentation of the shallow bay slows the long shore current effects. It's shallow enough for non-swimmers to be comfortable, warm, and with a mostly smooth sand bottom. When the travel magazine writers all do their yearly "Best Beaches" articles, this place scores consistently at the top end of the scale. We kayaked along the entire bay in an earlier post, if you would like to see some photos of the resorts and beaches.

On this particular visit, we parked at the end of a small dirt road and walked along the beach. This erosion control barrier has suffered some damage since the last time we were here. I suspect Hurricane Irene might have been involved with this.

We typically take some of the back road approaches to the northern end of Grace Bay, and don't use the easy access points. And there are plenty of easy access points. The Turks and Caicos Islands has some kind of rule governing beach access. I don't know the details, but have noticed all the designated beach access spots along the commercial areas of Grace Bay.

We tend to visit the north end of the beach because it's away from the center of the resort area, and because we like the rocks. We like watching the boat traffic in and out of Leeward. We know many of them. Not many people walk all the way to this end, so it's a good place to let Dooley run free without having to constantly try to keep him away from other people's picnics. This dog will lick the chocolate right off a startled toddler's lips. There's no actual harm done, but it sure does seem to excite some people. New mothers, especially.

Looking back at that sea wall from this angle it's easy to see where a large section of it rolled, or toppled over. I'm impressed that the wire netting held together.

You might notice a relative flexibility in the positions of the stone wall and the ocean.

The undamaged section of the wall looks pretty square to the level surface of the water, doesn't it? I thought so. There is a photo I took later as we returned in this direction that made it look a little different.

I picked up a section of bamboo root that had washed ashore and jammed it into the netting. No real reason for it. I just thought it looked whimsical or something. Okay, the complete story is that I wanted to pry and wiggle the wire and see what kind of steel it was. Just curiosity. Maybe someone else will wander along and get a smile out of it.

Terriers weren't bred to be water dogs. They're designed to rapidly and aggressively escort undesirable agricultural nuisances to an early end, providing assistance as required. Bred to exterminate foxes and rats, these are tunneling and digging dogs. And ours loves to tunnel and dig, but more than that this terrier loves to swim. I think he must have been a Labrador Retriever or Portuguese Water Dog in a previous life. This is not a complaint. We really appreciate a dog that not only enjoys a salty splash of the ocean in the face..... but seeks it out at every opportunity.

When he first arrived here he would follow us into the ocean, but only because he had to. These days he doesn't wait for us to go in first. Or at all.

I swear he's grinning as he chugs his way back up through the outgoing rip. That's chest high, to a short legged Jack Russell. It's one of those kinds of receding waves that tickles the bottom of your feet as it sucks the sand right out from under wherever you stand. Maybe that's why he seems to like it. Maybe he's remembering what a trip to the fire hydrant was like in northern New Jersey with a foot of fresh snow on the ground. A foot of snow becomes a personal factor when your legs are only six inches long. It makes me shiver just to think of the logistics of it, even today. This may not be the dog's life that whoever coined the phrase had in mind. But it's not bad.

Dooley will happily trot along in the edge of the water with us, ahead of us, behind us, up and down both sides of us all day long. The minute we show any interest in anything whatsoever he takes it upon himself to inspect it. Thoroughly and closely. This busted up section of the fiberglass liner from some deceased power boat, for example.

Here I am thinking of how the first new owner of this boat must have felt standing on this deck afloat for the very first time.... and all Dooley sees is a possible hideout for undesirables. Maybe he was a police dog in his earlier life. Or a hit man.

Trying to get a photograph of a piece of beach wreckage without getting Dooley in the photo reminds me of spear fishing, a little. The trick is to not head directly toward the target, but to angle by it obliquely, like you are on your way to someplace else. The head is kept straight, eyes directed forward and it's a mistake to face or look directly at the target. This signals intention, and alerts the attentive. One has to use their peripheral vision to time and set up the shot, right at the most effective moment. I obviously didn't do it in that photo above. He's fast, I tell you.

In Dooley's case, the moment he determines what it is that I'm interested in he'll beat me to it ten times out of ten. I think he likes to position himself for when I finally get there with my opposable thumbs. I might turn something over and expose something else fun to chase. A lizard, or even better a rat... and I just this moment started asking myself exactly when did this dog train me to flush game for him....??

Maybe this is the plastic boat's version of a fitting end. At rest on a peaceful dune, overlooking the ocean it once proudly rode.... there's gotta be a good graveyard epitaph for something like this.

Of course I could also get with the other point of view, which is that it's a man made eyesore. Trash. Garbage. Cluttering up a perfect beach. Funny how something can have so many different perspectives from which to view it.

This is the part of the beach that interests me the most. There are exposed rock outcroppings right in the tidal zone here, and I like to watch the interaction between the waves, the sand, and the current.

It's pretty difficult to get a good dynamic photo of the waves. They never seem to do well with still photography, unless of course they are gigantic things towering overhead. I think it's much easier to visualize waves when you can see the rhythm and motion. Some of you have asked for the actual sound. You can hear some of it, with the wind effects, here, on a calm summer day:

I know I've admitted in an earlier post that I still like to play in the sand at the beach. I never got over that. I won't let La Gringa post any photos of me doing it, no way. BUT I do admit to it. I get fascinated by the movement, and by the natural forces that shape our world in such small increments that they are rarely even noticed. Nobody notices if a little wave carries fifty grains of sand three inches to the west, but multiply that by all the waves in tens of thousands of years.... and by golly you begin to have some noticeable effects.

The outer edges of these rocks form a ledge several feet in height. You already know how clear the water is here, so you can see that the water in this photo is murky looking. That's simply because of the sand being picked up by the waves as they break over the rocks.

It's a slow process, but it goes on endlessly. I get mesmerized by watching. I realize I probably have an inordinate interest in marine geology by normal standards. I can't help it. I grew up in the oil patch. But for those of you who enjoy observing these mechanical aspects of our universe, this is just a short clip, with a close up of the sand being moved around on top of the rock by the waves.

I know those little grains of sand don't look like much, but looking around at the rocks here it's not hard to see what the constant wearing and motion of all that fine sand is doing to the rocks. It's as if the island is very very gently being sanded smooth over the years.

Here's a video of the wave action speeded up by 500%. Can't you just imagine this going on for twenty thousand years? No wonder big hunks of these islands fall off into the sea from time to time. The soft limestone based bedrock gets undercut by a sand blaster in very slow motion.

I mentioned early in this post that there was a photo of a light on a post in here. This is the photo I was referring to:

That is the light that I marked on the satellite image at the beginning of this installment. I am starting to really like that photo for some reason. I think it's the way the sand is being picked up by the receding wave delayed by the rock. I think I'm going to use that for desktop wallpaper.

My ongoing fascination with the sand and beach erosion became the theme for this afternoon, obviously. We were noticing how the wet sand changes color from the dry sand. It's not just a darker shade, it's a different color. Whether or not you'll be able to see this will depend a lot upon your monitor setup, but the swirls of sand in the bottoms of these depressions is still damp from the wave that just splashed them in there. The wetness disappears in seconds.

And this whole stretch of beach is the wet sand color, as the waves are still washing up over it every few minutes. I was trying to get the interesting patterns in the untrodden sand, when a couple of things interrupted me. The first was that I was looking at this photo (below) which was taken with the camera parallel to the beach we were standing on. You can see that the ocean surface is way out of level, showing you how much tilt there was to the camera.

Something about this looks a little wrong to me, and I'm not sure what's causing it. Something about the perspective. If you look at the undamaged wall, it looks perpendicular to the sand, doesn't it?

I cropped that little bit of the photo that shows the wall and the water, and I rotated the image so that the water surface is horizontal, as it should be. But there is still something strange about the wall. I can't figure it out. Something to do with the perspective, I suppose.

Oh, the other thing that happened while I was trying to get some good smooth sand photos was 'you-know-who' traipsing up, and back, through the scene before I could get another angle on it. Oh well.

That was pretty much it for our brief trip down to Grace Bay. I know some people who read this blog have vacations planned and will be staying at some of the Grace Bay resorts on Providenciales. If you feel like taking a walk up to the end of the beach, there's a light on a pole up there. Some old Gringo seems to be obsessed with it.

We actually could have hung around the beach a while longer, but there was a squall developing not too far offshore, and just to the north and east of us. This angle shows it starting to rain on the reef just about a mile out from the beach.

And this is a view a little to the east of the previous one to illustrate how the squall is getting heavier as it gets close to the island. I think it has to do with the updrafts but I am not going to bore you with all that meteorological stuff. Lets just say it was a good time to climb back in the truck and head home.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Looking for Maravedi

In Which Two Point One Five Expats Sail Their
Plastic Boat Around in Splendid Weather.
A Quick Visual Survey of Some of The Far Side of West Caicos.
Some Fabled Coves are Located. A Small Dog Is Lightly Punctured.

La Gringa managed to spot a couple of early rising conch fishermen headed into the morning sun.

We seem to be spending a lot of time over at West Caicos this summer. There are some perfectly good reasons for that. The island is essentially uninhabited. It's miles of peaceful, quiet beach. We have the whole thing to ourselves, or it feels that way. We have very rarely seen anyone else on the beach there. And this big deserted beach, to a pack rat like me, is the equivalent of a shoe store to Imelda Marcos. It's high tide line is rich in a variety of interesting objects. There are things on this beach that have drifted across the Atlantic Ocean, and up from the Caribbean, and over from the Gulf of Mexico. When we once mentioned to our friend Preacher where we had been exploring, he referred to it as "Flea Market Beach". Good name. I like it better than "Trash Beach".

West Caicos is also fairly close to us. At it's nearest point to Providenciales it's only about six miles across open water to get there. Now, for us to get to that nearest point on Providenciales is a mini-expedition in itself, as we've shown you a number of times. Now that we have the little skiff, when the winds and seas are right we can launch it from the canal near the Southside Marina and it's an easy 15 mile trip over.

We need a light or westerly wind for a comfortable round trip by skiff. When we have our normal easterly trade wind situation, it's a bit bumpy coming back in a small power boat but the same winds that make the skiff ride uncomfortable make for great kayak sailing. And that's what this post is about.

Launching the boat from the, uh.... let's call it "unimproved" boat ramp over near Osprey Rock. I found it only moderately strenuous and relatively simple to just unhitch the boat and trailer and roll it down to the water by hand. I didn't have to back the trailer around that bush to the right, and I like to avoid getting the truck wheels near the ocean. Besides it's an easy push when it's downhill.

I've been thinking about getting some wider tires for this trailer. This is a far shot from the paved freeways of the USA. I think golf cart tires are too squared off but I'm sure there are some balloon tires for 8 x 3.75" wheels some place.

We put the GoPro Hero camera up on the top of the Hobie Tandem Island mast again. This time I had the open back cover on the case for it, and we used it in time lapse mode. This let us get through about two hours of images without fogging up. It's all in a video at the end of the post. I have pulled a few images out to use as still shots, too. While the photo quality is not as good, the view from the top of the 18 ft. mast adds some perspective.

I am not even going to show you yet more photos of Osprey Rock. Anyone who reads us on a regular basis knows all about it. The sail over was great, with wind and waves cooperating for once. When I remember our only previous sail to West Caicos in the inflatable kayak two years ago, there is no comparison to this boat.

You can see from the video that it wasn't exactly smooth water, although it was moving in our favor. La Gringa spliced a second video onto this that shows the change in the water as we approach the island. You can also see Dooley exercising his nose as we suddenly sail into the collection of scents blowing from the island. Getting downwind of a new place is like opening a travel brochure to him. Complete with a menu.

We didn't hit the beach on the trip over. I had a specific destination in mind and wanted to be sure we got at least that far before we had to turn around to start home. We knew that we would have a slower trip into the wind and waves to get back home.

The spot I was looking for is a place I have wanted to see since first reading about the Maravedi coin some years ago on a visit to the Turks and Caicos. In a nutshell, over 20 years ago a diver was relaxing in a small pool next to a cove on the far side of West Caicos when he picked up a bit of metal that was in the bottom of the little pool. It turned out to be a coin that might well have been sitting there on that rock for hundreds of years. Imagine some pirate relaxing by that pool, maybe taking this opportunity to wash some clothes in a fresh rain water pool, and go for a swim... and losing a small coin. Or imagine a confrontation at a secluded rendezvous, and somehow money getting spilled in the process. I mean, it's not very likely that a tourist, conch fisherman, or diver left a coin from the early 16th century here. Of course my imagination runs wild with it, as some imaginations are fain to do.

If you'd like to read part of that story, one version is at the Turks and Caicos Museum site.

On the way over we pretty much steered for the easily seen structures of the former Ritz-Carleton Molasses Reef Resort. They're good as a landmark. (And I want you to notice I spared you the 'clouds over the islands' dissertation this time around.)

It's difficult to see much of the condition of the condo section from this far out. I would imagine that someone, somewhere is paying to keep some security and basic maintenance going on over here. Until such time as the future of this big money development becomes clear.

I found a brochure online, to give you an idea of what this was intended to be. It's a Molasses Reef resort newsletter from just six years ago.

We could see that the buildings are standing, and the roofs appear to still be sound.

We know that there is a boat bringing some workers over every morning from Southside Marina these days, so perhaps there is some good news for the people who initially invested in this project. The last financing was secured through Lehman Brothers Holdings, if that tells you anything. But it looks to me like someone could pretty much pick up where they left off on the construction, after cleaning this place up. Of course there should be some damage somewhere. Three hurricanes have been through here since then. And these were probably the closest structures to the middle of Hurricane Irene when it came by in August.

We continued on up the little channel alongside the island to the site of the marina that was built for the resort. It's nice to see that the buoys are still in place after the storms. Here we pass one red buoy to the right and you can see the next one off in the distance ahead:

We scooted on up to the series of coves right past the entrance to the marina. It's not hard to see that these are likely spots for the Maravedi Cove story.

I haven't been able to find out much more about the Maravedi, beyond what Dr. Don Keith wrote in the article I linked to earlier. We know Don, and I'll ask him about it at the next opportunity. But I am pretty sure it was one of these coves, and that it's been checked out pretty thoroughly since it was realized that Mike Spillar found a coin here. It seems to me that the Turks and Caicos Islands have rarely had a shortage of either pirates or treasure hunters.

There are some fun looking caves to explore with snorkeling equipment.

This is one of the coves with a slight cave or overhang at the far end of it.

We followed the coastline in and out of several of the coves. I didn't take a huge number of still photos because I was assuming that the mast mounted GoPro camera was getting a lot of it from a better height.

One has to have faith in a GoPro type camera, left alone eighteen feet in the air all day. There's really not a good way to make sure it's working until it can be hooked up to a display. I pulled one of the still images off of the GoPro to show you what this part of the shore looks like 'from the air'. Well, maybe a 'seagull's eye view' would be more accurate.

I'm sure that somewhere in all these two hundred and fifty plus posts in this blog I have mentioned coral heads. What, a dozen times? And I am sure I have mentioned that we've learned to watch the brightly colored ones the most. Here's an example of a shallow coral head with bright colors on it. These colors are from organisms that like the sunlight and do best within a few feet of the water surface. The brightly colored coral heads are the one's that will really get ya.

Another place to mentally file under 'spots I would love to come back to and spend hours exploring but probably never will':

We were sailing closer to the beach on the way back. We knew we would be picking up the chop on our nose when we cleared the end of the island so we maximized the time spent cruising in the calm water up close to the beach.

As we came back by the resort much closer than before we did spot some signs of storm damage:

This is the view from the mouth of the marina looking into it. No boats to be seen. We did not see any people, either, but would assume that there are some security guards as a minimum.

That could be a peaceful job for a while, couldn't it. Boat to work in the morning, or at dusk. Spend a shift alone on a deserted island, with nothing around but sea birds, iguanas, and marine life.

I don't know the layout of the resort but would assume this is the main entrance to the clubhouse or condo central section. It looked to me to be open to the weather. That's not always a good thing around here. This climate looks easy and benign the way hydrocloric acid looks like clear water.

This photo didn't come out very well because it was hurried and the boat was moving and then I am officially out of lousy photo excuses. I meant to show you a big flock of birds. They were following a school of bait fish.

What I failed to capture there was that the bait fish must have been following the edge of the shadow on the water from the cloud overhead. I say this because the birds were staying over the quickly moving fish, and their white wings were flashing in and out of the sunlight and shadow of the cloud. It was visually eye catching. Unfortunately, it wasn't photographically eye catching. Oh well. It's a picture of some birds. If we had been in a power boat and set up for fishing, we would have been all over that.

We all wanted to stretch our legs a bit before heading back across to Providenciales. We knew it could take us up to two hours. We had already been sitting in the Hobie for over two hours at this point. This was a mid-trip rest stop, more or less. I had seen some things washed up on the beach and Dooley was in search of a fire hydrant or the functional equivalent. His standards had been dropping by the minute and I wanted to let him off the boat before he started looking at the mast with evil intentions.

If any of you are Tom Hanks fans, you might appreciate the laughs we got when I found an inflated ball on the beach. One of these by the same manufacturer became the character "Wilson" in the movie "Castaway".

There. That's more like it.

Please notice Dooley the Delinquent scurrying around the vegetation in some of these photos. You might also notice we tend to stay on the sand. There's a reason for this. I'll get to that in a minute.

Of course this beach, like just about any beach on earth now, has it's share of plastic water bottles and yes, shoes. Always, there are shoes.

We had stopped at what looks like a small cove on the charts and satellite images of West Caicos. This is the same place we stopped on our only other sailing trip when I had to find some shoe laces to repair the Mirage Drives. This was the maximum extent of our earlier trip.

I was looking at the beach between this rocky little outcropping (above) and where the rock ledge came back to the water's edge just past where the boat is anchored here:

I have an idea that this area might, at some time, have been a good sized cove. I pulled some of the still photos from the GoPro to give you an idea of what I am thinking. I drew a dotted line of where the little limestone ledge comes down to the sand.

This is from the top of the mast of the sailboat in the photo up above. You can tell that there is a different, more permanent type of vegetation above the rock line. And the ledge extends all the way around in a curve to that rocky outcropping in another of the above photos.

Here's a closer shot from the mast-cam taken as we were sailing in, before we anchored:

Anyhow, that's neither here nor there, but makes me wonder about how the moving sands around here affect the accuracy of some of the charts, and even Google Earth images that are online. I mention it, because the actual shape of this spot where we anchored looks nothing like that satellite image from 2004.

And I had mentioned Dooley and his cavorting around the vegetation. Well, now I can tell you the price he paid. After about thirty seconds of chasing lizards through the edge of the plant life, we had a whimpering, limping, Dooley the Debilitated doing his best to look like a pitiful dog in need. So I got to sit down with him and pick aproximately twenty 'sand spurs' out of him. He gets the easy ones out of his feet by himself, but runs into problems with the ones under his armpits or anywhere else he can't reach. La Gringa grabbed the camera just as I was finishing up, dropping the nature's caltrops I extracted into the current going away from us.

Now that I think about it, this is the exact same spot I was sitting in to drill holes in the Mirage Drives to limp home on two years ago. The camera was in time to catch one of the last ones.

Thank goodness his sticker-proof vest caught that one.

The sail back was about what we expected. Much longer trip on a close reach. The wind was okay and the chop wasn't too bad. Just enough to keep a certain grass burr magnet from his afternoon nap:

Getting back is easy, and fun if you like sailing. Hauling the boat back up the 'boat ramp' is a little tougher than letting it roll down to launch it. We rolled the trailer down into the water, over the rocks, by hand, got the boat onto it, and then pulled it up the beach as far as we could. I backed the Defender up to the hookkup and away we went. Sounds simple doesn't it.

At least one of us was more than ready for a restful ride in the cool shade.

And I've saved the best for last. This is another of La Gringa's time lapse video compilations of all the still shots from the GoPro camera. This catches most of the trip, from the initial launch all the way to the coves and back to the last point of land before we left West Caicos on the way back. The camera ran out of battery at that point. But what we have is pretty good, in its way. It's a much better view than we got from the water. She sped things up a lot when we were sailing over the big stretch of open water, but I think it gets interesting to watch the bottom conditions change as we tack back and forth up the side of the island. Let us know what you think. This seems to be a good use for the GoPro.

By the way, any time you want to stop that video and look at a specific frame, you should be able to do it with the normal pause control.

And that's going to be it for this post. Our interest in West Caicos continues. There is a fair bit of history there, and a lot of it is still relatively undisturbed. There is a hundred year old abandoned steam engine I want to see. So far I figure we have explored maybe ten percent of the beach. And there has to be a 'fresh shipment' of flotsam since the hurricane.

I've also been reading that West Caicos has some unusual geology for the area, and that the south west side has an exposed fossil reef. To us that's all worth investigating. The hurricane season is also the time of year when we get these calm seas for days at a time. It's the best time of year to anchor off a lee shore like "Flea Market Beach". In a few months it will be continuously rough water there.

I think I want to make a few more 'shopping trips' with the family wagon (skiff) while the weather is good.

In the meantime, I think this is one of the most interesting sunset photos La Gringa Suprema has taken lately:

and the sun is creeping further to the south every day again. Won't be long until cruiser season is upon us. "Oh great" I hear you saying... "More boats. Somebody stop him."