Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Flotsam, Timbers and Termites

I hope some of you are not yet bored with all our recent West Caicos trips. Because this is another one. Now, we did break it up a little with the previous post about Grace Bay. But right before that, we had taken the skiff back over again. On the previous trip it was windy and we had taken our little sailing kayak over. We've developed a general game plan regarding boats. On windy days the skiff beats us like rented mules if we go fast, and tosses up and down like a cork if we go slow. But the Hobie is a fun scoot when there's between 10 and 20 knots of wind. Traveling at ten to twelve miles per hour in a skiff can be boring. It's not so boring in a plastic kayak when your posterior is at water level. Really.

On flat calm days with no wind the Hobie becomes more of an exer-cycle than a sailboat, while the skiff skips over flat water like a flat stone. We'd been waiting for a calm day to finish our little mission.

We have been looking for what Dr. Don Keith has called "Maravedi Cove" because of the ancient Maravedi coin found just sitting there on the rocks. Like it had fallen out of a pirate's pocket when he went skinny dipping. I know I've already told you about all that. This story piqued our interest in coves. There are other stories about the French pirate hiding in a cove here and ambushing treasure ships. No kidding. This is an interesting place to us. Practically in our back yard, yet only accessible by boat. Perfect place for a couple of old gringos to explore. Well, one old gringo, with a couple of younger assistants.

The kayak limits us as to what we could reach in a day, and still get back to Providenciales before dark. We think that one of the coves we saw on that trip is probably the one where the coin was found..... BUT those coves near the Molasses Reef development are not all the coves on West Caicos. There were a few we didn't get to on the sailing trip. We needed the skiff. So we loaded up some refreshments and the dog and headed toward the appropriate cloud bank. Who needs GPS?

There was one stop we had to make before we continued on to West Caicos. Just a few minutes out of South Side Marina we noticed Dooley getting agitated. He seemed to indicate that he knew where there was a rock shaped exactly like a fire hydrant on one of the little uninhabited cays on the way. We decided to humor him. We encourage him to let us know these things.

We pulled into the lee of the little beach and Dooley swam ashore to conclude his business. He's pretty finicky about location. He then wanted to swim around for a while. Not uncommon for him.

I was playing with the video, and watching his shadow on the sand bottom below him as he swam. I also wanted to show some of his concerned readers that he does, indeed, swim just fine without a life jacket. We make him wear that mostly because it makes it easier to grab him when he falls overboard. And it would make it easier on him all around if he did fall off the boat while we were doing 30 mph.

Aiming for the proper cloud mass got us to the part of West Caicos that we were most interested in exploring on this trip.

After our last little sailing trip to West Caicos searching for Marevedi Cove, we felt we had found the spot where that old coin was found after sitting there for a few hundred years. BUT we had also seen several coves on the Google Earth satellite image down around the southernmost end of West Caicos. If you look at this image below, you can see some indentations down there at the bottom right corner. The ones on the south eastern shore of the island face that very shallow reef just a loong swim off the island. Not a lot of bathymetry data, is it.

See where the little shipwreck symbol is up there on the beach, right in the middle of the chart? We decided to start there, of course, and work our way south down the beach at least as far as the tip of the island.

In the years we've been here there have been at least two incidents where wooden sloops full of Haitian refugees have hit this reef and come to grief. People and debris from a boat hitting here would naturally head for West Caicos. The wind and current are in that direction. It's the only land in sight. It's the only chance. West Caicos is famous locally for the native shark population. We think these conditions have always existed here, so of course we wanted to look at what this part of the island was like. We wanted to see what shipwrecked people would be forced to try to swim or float to. Not only in 2012, but in 1600. So we went to take a quick look.

We intersected the beach right about at the middle of the top edge of that chart photo. Looked like great beachcombing right from the start.

We went into putt putt mode, with the motor raised six inches straight up on the jackplate and tilted until the skeg was just about the level of the bottom of the boat. We can move around in about a foot and a half of water like that. We can plane in less, but we like to look in the shallows.

It's nice to have a broad band of this water to drive the boat over. When the bottom is rocky or reefy, it becomes nerve wracking trying to determine how shallow something is because of the exceptional water clarity. And it is almost always deeper than it looks. That doesn't stop the heart palpitations when you suddenly see a coral head going below you at 40 mph when it's too late to do anything about it. Smooth sand under a boat is relaxing.

Except to Dooley the Diligent, of course. He doesn't do mellow relaxing very well. He's either asleep, or he's not and he runs full scale from one extreme to the other. Not a contemplative dog. Terriers like action.

This works out okay, because he's definitely another set of eyes on board. And he's particularly interested in fish, of any size, shape, or temperament. He likes to bite barracudas and talk with dolphins. So he really gets alert when he spots a fish.

...and in this case he had spotted what we think were a couple of small sharks basking in the sandy shallows. Took a few seconds to shift the camera from still shot to video, because I knew a still shot would just show another blur in the water. We needed motion..

I'm not 100% sure what kind of fish they were. They were about the size of a decent barracuda but they swam more like sharks, I think. Barracuda don't put so much body motion into it. They're more short tail flip. Quick acceleration. Sharks kinda sashay along with a more sinuous motion. At least, in my observation. Did you know what us east Texans call a 'sashay' is actually from the verb (or noun) chassé, which is a gliding dance step? Blame it on the Two Step.

We continued on down the beach to the south to where that wreck is marked on the chart. You can see what that refers to off in the middle distance here:

This was such a nice day, I thought we'd try to give you an idea of what it's like to just be slowly motoring along, looking at the beach. Looking for anything interesting. Does this help visualize what's shown on the chart?

We dropped our anchor right next to the wreck and gave the crew shore leave. Except for a few birds distantly wondering about our lunch plans, it felt like we had the whole island to ourselves. Nice view of our 'home cloud', too.

The wreck itself appears to be an old grounded freighter or barge. It's pretty hard to tell without doing some digging. Whatever it was, it was big enough to have a truck on board.

I just now noticed the large fish in the water out past the wreck. I wonder if it followed us.

The entire beach in both directions looks like some version of this:

It's a huge mass of debris stretching for miles. Seaweed cushions and displays everything from enough bamboo to build a substantial shelter to big hunks of timber and entire tree trunks from some river on some continent. Somewhere.

This could have come from a lot of places. Honduras. Mexico. Bahamas. Africa. Guyana. I wish I knew more about tropical wood. The Haitians use a lot of these 'knees' in building their sloops. Maybe this was a reject. Or an escapee, that ended up its days on a distant, deserted beach instead of as a structural element in a sloop full of desperate people. A hull designed to last only long enough to sail 130 miles into the trade winds. They would both sure have some sea stories to tell, though.

And of course there's plastic. And metal objects. And shiny things and dead things, and this is just the stuff you can see on top of the piles. Some is easier to get to than others. This fishing net float is now on my desk.

There is a lot of interesting "stuff" here. This is the stretch of sand that Preacher refers to as "Flea Market Beach". The prevailing winds and currents sweep in from the open Atlantic to the east, and the Caribbean immediately to the south. Things that float pile up. Every tide makes some changes. Storms make major deposits and completely rearrange all the display.

I always tend to start trying to think like Robinson Crusoe when I find myself on a beach like this. We saw enough bamboo alone to build a three bedroom home and detached garage/workshop. I was actually looking at this potential barbeque grill ...

When I noticed the size of the knot under the gas valve.

Easily distracted at my age, I totally relegated the BBQ pit to my faulty short term memory and followed the new and exciting Big Rope. Sometimes I feel like a crow who just spied a handful of shiny broken bits of discarded Christmas decorations.

Of course once Dooley the Detective figured out that I was interested in taking photos of the rope he had to come confiscate it. Or guard it. Or whatever it is that makes him want to be right in the middle of whatever I am looking at. Is there a psychology term for that? I've always thought of it, mentally, as more or less some 'obnoxious dog syndrome' But hey, I'm a total layman in these things.

Anyhow, while he was deciding what to do with HIS new rope, I thought that at least he could provide some photographic perspective.

He left when I told him it was his new leash. Something about going for a swim to wash the sand out of his hair. And eyes. And nose. And ears. This dog really gets into beach combing.

We saw a lot of driftwood type things of course. This is really the kind of thing I am interested in. I see something like this, for example, and start thinking about standing it upright, bringing out the wood with tung oil, and bolting it through the bottom of a piece of limestone and calling it.... something. Not sure what. A piece of driftwood on a rock. Now I feel silly, having told you that but hey I still think it would look cool on a patio or something. There is a lot of texture here. The grain would look pretty cool with the wet look tung oil would give it. It's a good idea to get a coating of some kind on wood here. More on this later. Trust me.

We walked down maybe two hundred meters of beach, and saw enough stuff to keep someone busy picking through debris and flotsam and jetsam and junk for years. There is a lot of just trash, of course. Mostly trash.

When one of us saw something deemed interesting from that individual's perspective we would stop and do some digging.

Or poking or grabbing and yanking. These are all highly developed techniques, of course. Next time, we need to bring a.) sensible shoes or boots and gloves, b.) something to dig with. Perhaps a few basic demolition tools.

I did grab a couple pieces of salvageable mahogany, there on the seaweed. I thought I would take those home and see if something came to mind.

And of course, plastic shoes. I don't know what the half-life of these things is. They are everywhere. Along with empty plastic water bottles. I know, I know.... same old rant.

When the sun hits a treasure and it glints just right, I go right back from badger to crow mode. Shiny metal! Must have it! Well, 316 stainless steel isn't quite the same as gold. Until you really, really need a piece of good reliable hardware. These stainless bolts weren't the cause of this little disaster. They held firm.

But I wouldn't bet against gold being involved as well.

It's when lead comes into the story that things start going downhill fast. Heavy metals are problematic. Especially at high velocities.

We were pressed for time, as we wanted to see the rest of this shoreline before we had to skedaddle back to Providenciales before dark. No lights on the skiff but that's not the issue. The issue is running into things in the dark. I'd do it on a full moon and calm night, though. Might be a lot of fun, come to think of it.

As luck would have it, we spotted a fairly freshly gutted sloop up on the beach well above the high tide mark. I'd be willing to bet that this was a parting gift from Hurricane Irene. We really had spent more time than we planned playing in the garbage, so we just had to mark this as a destination, and excuse, for our next trip over. We'll plan to get some close up and inside photos of how a Haitian sloop is put together. Future post in the making. But for now we just kept motoring. Sadly, these leaky escape pods are not all that uncommon here. Nobody knows how many never make it across the deep ocean between here and Hispaniola. They don't file float plans or fill in visa applications.

This is the point where the beach stops and the rocks begin. You can see that fairly well on the chart up above. On the chart, it looks like this is open water allowing what's called Lake Catherine on the maps to be open to the ocean. It doesn't really look like that these days. What it does look like is an excellent spot for a boat ramp, when the wind is right.

And there are several mysterious and interesting looking structures just through the trees in that photo. There is also a pile of rusting machinery. Heavy machinery. We have asked around about the origin and history of these five armed, arched, space-age (circa 1970-ish) looking buildings. We've heard some stories, but don't yet know the correct set. We've heard both sides of the drug war were involved, that Trujillo from the Dominican Republic tried to buy the island, that this was just a construction camp for the people who built the landing strip. We don't know, yet. This is a long way from the new Molasses Reef development on the other end of the island. But it might warrant some exploration on a future trip, too. Maybe on the same trip when we come back to check out the construction of that sloop. If we keep it to two objectives and keep Dooley and I from digging on the beach, we have a chance of fitting it all into one day.

I realized about here that maybe a Google Earth image would be a good idea. This is better than the chart to show you some things, but both the chart and this image are years old. This shows you the reef, the beach, the rocks, the "ramp" where that photo above it was taken.

Oh, and the little coves that caught my attention. These might have been the nearest sheltered spots to take a boat and keep it off the beach if the winds were right. That wouldn't be often, but who knows. We thought it worth a look. Or maybe to be precise, it was good enough excuse to go look.

We put a lookout on the bow as we nudged up into that area I marked "cove" on the satellite image.

I didn't get the impression that this was a likely spot to choose to go ashore. Just too steep, and the beach isn't that far away. I wondered if Dooley might see some reason to pull a boat close to the rocks here.

We were keeping an eye on the time and weather, as usual. We still had time to head down to what is almost certainly the southwestern most point of land in the entire nation. Sounds grandiose, doesn't it? This is like the equivalent of Land's End in England. South East West Caicos. Wonder if Oliver North was ever here...

The stretch of beach heading up to the left (west side) in that photo is supposedly the site of a fossil reef. Lots of fossilized, stone sea life. I bet you know what I am going to say next, right? yep. Future Blog Post!! hey it isn't always easy to come up with something new here. And remain wholesome, cheerful, sane, and un-incarcerated. Oh, and I left out educational and with redeeming qualities. Fossils will be more fun than "how sand is made" or "clouds 101". Not as much fun as the care and feeding of planetary gears, though.

Another of the nice things we like about running over to West Caicos is that on the way back the sun is not in our eyes. When we head up to the east as we often do, it's very difficult to see coming back late in the day into the blinding sun. Coming this way, of course, it's behind us and no problem at all. It even makes for some decent photos sometimes.

This was a peaceful trip back, just the way we like it. I mean, exciting trips have their place in life, for sure, but there is exciting and then there is exciting, you know? We've learned to be the kind of people who really hope not to have interesting flights. Peaceful is good.

We thought you might like to see that scene in motion:

It really wasn't as late as the light in this photo would appear. The sun was behind a thick cloud and the auto exposure on the camera did this. I liked it, anyhow.

I thought of a bunch of captions for this photo of Dooley, but in the end just decided to show you what he is doing about thirty seconds after insisting to be allowed ashore. Yep, he sits here and keeps one eye on me and the boat, and the other eye on La Gringa backing a Land Rover and boat trailer down to the 'ramp'. He is officially on guard duty here:

Now, before I go into the next part of this post, I wanted to show you those two pieces of mahogany I picked up on the beach. Been soaked for eons in salt water. Should be pretty pickled, right? I thought so, too. And then over the past month my education in these matters got a little upgrade.

Here's what happened. We took a vacation. We went to the USA for three weeks, and did a camping trip from Dallas to northern Colorado. Had a heck of a good time. We took scads of photos but I'm not sure why. They have no place on a tropical blog. None of you guys want to look at photos of snow. Yes, snow, in October. We were all quite surprised, and that leads into another story in itself. But enough about that. Of all those photos I'll just put one quick one up to let you know how very very much contrast we experienced. And to be sure there's no misunderstanding, NO this is not in the Turks and Caicos Islands, British West Indies.

Okay to be fair here, I should say that this next section is ugly. It's not exactly DIY, but it leads into a DIY. For those other handyman wanna-be's out there, you might check the photos here because I got into a DIY that I am pretty proud of. It might be something you can use.

For everyone not interested in DIY, I hope you enjoyed the tropical island stuff. This next bit is also tropical island stuff, too. It's some of that which goes along with living here.

First off, remember the mahogany? I stuck that next to a pile of miscellaneous junk piling up in the corner of my garage. An area where I put pieces of wood, pipe, pvc, that I think I might need in the ongoing performance of life here. It's a mess, and I fully intended to re-organize this whole area. I left the mahogany leaning there, and we took off to the USA.

Three weeks later I opened up the garage to find all these termite tunnels everywhere. Across the floor, up the wall, around and under. I started tearing into it before I remembered to grab a camera, so the photographic record of all this isn't that good. This is that 2x3" timber:

All those trails on the floor were to the part of this that contacted the concrete. And they spread out from there in several other directions.

This is where they came off the top of the mahogany and over into some of my other wood supplies. To call them 'little buggers' at this point... well... let's just pretend that was the worst I said about them. I do confess to some evil thoughts, though. Who am I kidding.
I went on a killing rampage.

They crossed the floor, went up the back of my workbench, even set up camp on pieces of wood I had trimmed off the corners of La Gringa's Tortilla Mashing T'ingum!!

I discovered some things. They will cross anything, but won't eat treated wood or through paint or stain. Just raw, untreated stuff. In this case they went for the light wood I used inside the tortilla making whatchamacallit. I think it might be poplar. Some smooth white wood. They ignored the red oak, and seemed to prefer mahogany over casuarinas.

This is a one inch diameter "hardwood dowel", whatever wood that is. Beech, or birch perhaps? They had just started on it when we got home. Sheesh.

I'm going to shorten this up a little and get to the point here. I pulled everything out of that corner of the workshop and started to clean it up and reorganize it. I took the workbench and scrap rack I built outside and decided to paint them white, so I could see any future sneaky termite tunnels easier. It's something I've been wanting to do, anyhow.

I had some white exterior deck paint left over from the construction of the house. And stashed up under my workbench, a nice airless paint sprayer that was totally unused. Still in the original box. La Gringa had bought this about ten or twelve years ago for a planned project long ago and far away. It never even got opened. I was the first person to touch this paint sprayer since the day it was purchased. It got brought down here with our household stuff in 2005. It has been tucked away for six years here, completely out of the elements. You must wonder why I am setting this up like this. You'll see in a second.

I unpacked my new old paint sprayer, read the destruction manual even though I know real men don't read manuals. I filled it with paint, ran the power cord and started painting the underside of the workbench. First thing I noticed was that this thing made a LOT of noise. I didn't remember them being that noisy. The second thing I noticed was the sudden and total lack of noise. Yep, it stopped dead after about twenty seconds. I got exactly this far along:

I had to believe that this was something simple. A clogged thingamabob. A de-convoluted whatchamacallit. I mean, this was untouched, inside a plastic hard case, which was inside a cardboard outer package, which was tucked under a workbench, inside a garage. I kinda figured the whole issue of warranty wouldn't come into it, and opened it up.

The first thing I noticed was that what I suspect must have once been something like thick red rubber O-ring shock mounts had turned to a dry paste. "Aha! (thinks I) That explains the excruciating buzzing noise.

I then worked my way through the circuits in a very general manner and discovered that the electricity wasn't getting past the trigger switch. I wired past that, and discovered that while power was getting to the speed control board, nothing was coming out of that to run the electromagnet that drives the piston that pumps the paint that Jack built. Whoops, sorry, wrong fable.

So in a nutshell the size of a medium coconut, this is what I found:

We weren't too happy about getting about 20 seconds use from a 'new' Wagner sprayer, but hey what can ya do. We went to the local store that sells these kinds of things. Thinking to just buy a new one. Well.... no, come to find out, that wasn't an option. Nothing like that in stock. Not for less than about $ 150 anyhow. Hey I haven't needed one for six years. I don't want a new one.

Now it became a challenge. And this is the part I wanted to show you. Finally. I took the little problems on one at a time. First, the shock mounts. I noticed that there were little pegs molded into the sprayer case, that held the vibrating pump assembly in suspension between these shock mounts. I found a stainless 1/4-20 bolt was just about the same general size as the peg. A little smaller, which I figured was a good thing.

I filled the cup for the former shock mount with a high temperature black RTV silicone. I coated the bolt with silicon grease and sank it into the RTV filled shock mount cup:

Did you know RTV stands for "Room Temperature Vulcanization"? It means that it sets up and turns to silicone rubber in ambient conditions. I've been using this stuff for thirty years and never bothered to look it up. I just thought RTV must be French for 'makes your eyes water' or something.

I let the silicone set up and then just easily unscrewed the bolt. It left a greasy threaded hole in the now vulcanized silicone, which just fit tightly on the mounting peg. While that was setting up I clipped the leads off the useless control board. This thing just gave me five different pump speeds. I figure these things always end up getting run at full blast anyhow, in the end, so I just wired it up permanently on the full power position. I didn't plan to use this for any fine detail work. I have an airbrush for that, but have come to terms with the fact that I'm not the kind of artist that needs a fine brush of any kind. In fact, people that know me normally take paint brushes away from me if they see me in possession of one. As a painter, I'm a decent mechanic.

I flipped the motor over and poured another shock mount on the other side. After that cured and I soldered or crimped or shrink tubed all the places that needed any of that done, I put it back together. I wired a toggle switch to where the trigger used to be, and here we have it. Something that was headed for the dump a couple hours earlier is now Island-ized.

I now use my thumb to flip it on and off, until I can find some kind of push button switch to replace this with.

And does it work?

Heck yeah. The bench is done and the bottom shelves and the little pipe/scrap rack are next.

And that's the end of the DIY section! Hurrah! I know some of you will appreciate that one. And I was just so... so inordinately pleased with myself on the shock mounts that I just had to tell SOME body. I showed Dooley and he yawned. La Gringa expects this kind of behavior from me and isn't that easy to impress anymore..... so I told you.

Why is this relevant to living in the tropics? Well, this started when I was opening the door to the garage to start trying to figure out why the clutch on the Land Rover didn't work after sitting for three weeks. Opening the door revealed the termite damage. Fixing the termite damage included painting the workbench. Painting the workbench needed fixing the paint sprayer. No place to buy parts for that here, and well, you know the rest.

I had to fix the Land Rover before I could drive it to the store to look for another paint sprayer. I replaced the clutch master cylinder and slave. I am sparing you that one. Out of a number of unplanned projects dropped on me after our absence, I thought this DIY was the best.

And there has been more, but this post is way, way too long. I thought about breaking it up into smaller posts. Termites tell me smaller posts are easier to digest. But finally I decided to cram as much of it as I could into one post and get caught up.

I will post one other little DIY that is working surprisingly well. I took a piece of the steel rail that used to be part of the electric garage door openers that never worked. I ground a hook on it, and epoxied it into a piece of dowel that is glued into a piece of bamboo. You wouldn't believe how good this little sucker is for digging weeds from between our concrete patio pavers. I no longer have to bend over to yank each weed by hand. This sped it up by a factor of four.

And to our reader who told us about their friend's new house on Juba Salina, is this the one?

We love that design. I have been looking at several versions of that one, in fact. If we ever built another house here, it would incorporate a lot of what we have learned building ours. And it would be a lot like a bigger version of this with some modifications.

Well, that's about it for this post. I hope we are essentially caught up. We don't have any plans to leave again for the winter, so should be here to watch the cruising sailboats come and go. And meantime, I've discovered that with proper fine tuning I can cut limestone with a pressure washer!!

La Gringa took one look at me and instead of wanting to hear what I had discovered about pressure washers and limestone, she insisted on me testing the outside shower. Personally. Immediately. In the middle of the afternoon. Go figure.

Oh yes, we have lots of posts planned going forward.

And by the time the next post rolls around, the sunset will be in the ocean again. Right where it looks best in the winter.