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.


Golfdock said...

Thanks for the mini vacation from my day!

Style by M.O.M. said...

It looks absolutely fabolous!

It does look a lot like Shoal bay east in Anguilla, with the crystal clear water and white sand.

I love it!

Thanks for sharing, it means a lot to us in Sweden, where we have about 32-40F at the moment and all the trees have turned yellow.


brooksa said...

You just made the third hour of a conference call sitting in a windowless office . . . bearable. Thanks!

NatGeoWannaBe said...

Spent our honeymoon at Club Med there (way back in October 2005). GREAT beach for a stroll.

Anonymous said...

Aaaaahhhhh, thank you Gringo. This morning stroll along the tide-swept beach was a wonderful way to begin another rainy autumn day in the Ohio River valley.

I reckon my perspective was a little off: I was thinking that the cross-hatch pattern in the sand was what looked wrong, and didn't even notice the part of the wall that was lying down for its nap!

Anonymous said...

The wire baskets are called gabions – also known as pet rock prisons. Had they been installed correctly, they may still be intact. We design them with a batter (sloped backwards) and terraced for better stability.

Love the blog and this stretch of Grace Bay.

Anonymous said...

The picture of the catamaran, I believe used to be my old friend Phoenix of Sail Provo. A friend who owned SP, and her for many years confirmed it. Glad to see she is still on the water. She has survived two hurricane hits and several rebuilds. He named her Phoenix because she arose out of the ashes of a hurricane. She has a very interesting story. Been coming to the island for years and walked GBB many times. Enjoy your blog.

Anonymous said...

Hey Gringos....
Pretty beach....Dooley looks happy as always.
Interesting seeing those 'wire baskets'. They're called 'Gabions'..& the engineering logic behind them is instead of using one rock that weights 3 tons (which is tough to come by & handle) Use a bunch of little rocks that collectively weigh 3 tons..it's still a mass that's 3 tons..I've used them alot for creek preservation & slope retention. In my experiance w. them the wire has always been galvanized. (Stainless would be pricy I guess)
Will be interesting to see how long they last there.
Good stuff as always...thanks.

sonya said...

This is a desktop vacation with a tour guide. Thank you.

Caitlyn said...

Lovely lovely lovely. This blog is good for the soul.

p.s.: turns out the key to getting TCI governmental officials to approve your immigration paperwork is to give up entirely on the idea, return all your luggage to the store and buy your kid a snowsuit. Just did that and the good news arrived the next business day.

Now I can read your blog again without it hurting my heart!!! lol

joe s said...

Thanks, as always, for well written, great pics/vids.
best, islandsinwinter

Anonymous said...

That's a tough one, Nick. I guess you need to define what parts of the whole island experience are important to you, and then start looking at places that maximize that. What do you like? Nightlife? Shopping? Entertainment? Solitude? Fishing? Diving? Also keep in mind that most of the islands are fairly small, and it's tough to fit all that on one rock and not be commercial. But some people like commercial. I hear the Caymans are commercial. I know the Virgin Islands are. And the flavor of the islands is greatly influenced by the history of who settled them. The USVI is largely US these days. The BVI is Brit. Some of the islands were settled by French, by Dutch, by English, and by Spanish. All of these things make some difference. You could go to the most popular destination and have a bad experience and hate it, or go to the poorest and least promoted island and have a great time and make new friends. Which one would you then claim is the best?

It's really an individual experience, or can be. I suspect that the best thing to take with you on the trip is a good attitude.

And yes, that is the old Phoenix in the background. We know the story, as Jay is a good friend of ours, too. He's one of reacher's "little" brothers, after all.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I belive the last time I saw Pheonix was at the shipyard on blocks after it was found off the coast of the Bahamas. Great to see its sailing again. Another great post. Keep them coming. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

yeah, she was at the Boatyard for quite a while, getting holes patched and rudder repaired etc. Then the new owners moved her to South Side Marina once she was back in the water. They completely rebuilt everything from the deck up. We see her sailing around, but I don't know if they renamed her or not. Will take a look next chance we get.