Friday, January 27, 2012

Caves, rock carvings and some DIY lamps

Jacob had seen some photos of the cave over at West Harbour Bluff. He was interested in it so during a weather break he and Dooley the Disastrous and I took the skiff over for a look. I've posted so many photos of the trip in and out of the South Side Marina I'm going to skip all that and pick up the story as we rounded Osprey Rock headed for the cave.

Gazing up at this sizable hunk of limestone we noticed something unusual about the skyline. We slowed down for a look and saw what appears to be a wildlife photographer who was really determined to get some photos of nesting Ospreys. You can see him with an impressive looking lens on a camera and tripod up on the left side of this photo. Its a white colored lens, and I think that's a Canon. The Osprey is sitting in its nest on the rock pinnacle to the right.

We saw his vehicle parked about half of a very difficult mile away. He must have crept out along that tough little trail carrying all that photographic gear to get that close for his images. I have to admire his determination. That's not an easy hike. This guy is serious. I bet he got some great Osprey close ups, too. The bird seemed totally at ease.

We were somewhat surprised, however, at how animated these wildlife photographer guys can get about outboard motors and barking dogs. They squat down lower than the vegetation and use some funny kind of totally silent sign language that involves a lot of facial expressions and pointing. We responded by waving our arms right back at him and shouting Hello!! One would think those guys would get better results if they were sneaky and quiet..... and not so excitable. They seem to cry real easily, too.

Want to know why this goofy looking dog is standing on the bow of the boat and staring at me so intently?

He was waiting for give him permissioin to jump overboard. We anchored the skiff up close to the rocks right at the small cave we wanted to revisit. I told him to 'stay on the boat'. He doesn't like it, but he's getting better at it. Makes a nice hood ornament, doesn't he? Good balance. Nice to see a dog that understands trim.

This is the view as we drove up. It looks like something right out of the old "Gilligan's Island" television series, doesn't it?

The little Pentax camera seemed to be having some issues with light metering settings. I need to look into that. That harsh winter sunlight was washing out the dog. But that's okay. He probably needed washing out. He insisted upon it, actually.

Here's a closer view with Jacob in the photo for scale. You can see the wooden ladder that someone has built here. The cave itself has several 'rooms' to it, but it's not one of those deep cavern type of caves. This is an open, airy kind of place. Plenty of natural light. Homey. It's also very well placed as protection from the prevailing winds and weather, and this is a nice little place to anchor a boat. We've found that most of the old place names around here have some meaning to them. Many of them are very descriptive, in fact. And this place is called West Harbour, despite there being no harbor or marina facilities on the near shore here. There are not any houses or buildings of any kind out on this part of Providenciales. We like it.

I realize those last three photos look amazingly similar.They look a lot like the results of me twitching with a motordrive but that's not it. There is different information in each of them. Honestly. They were at least a minute apart. Uncluttered first photo: no people/no boat/no Dooley the Dolorous. Second photo: Anxious dog wanting to go swimming, play with Jacob, explore the cave for picnic-related fossils, and claim it all for Dooleyville all at the same time. The third photo gives you some scale and shows you the ladder and roof openings in the cave. You'll appreciate how cleverly I planned this and how it flows back into the narrative in a few minutes. Just remember ladder and roof opening.

It's a really nice place to take a break from the sun, and to do a little exploring. A small anchor and a line to a bush on the rock was more than enough to hold the skiff in place close to the cave. Notice the complete absence of Dooley on the boat. One smile from me and he was in the ocean. I guess a nod is as good as a wink to an anxious dog with poor eyesight.

This is essentially the same view from up in the main part of the little cave. It's quite a photogenic spot.

While I was watching the boat and dog, Jacob disappeared up that shaky, hand-made wooden ladder. We've been here several times but I had never climbed up through the top of the cave. We once made a wimpy attempt to find this opening from the trail up top side, but we gave up on it long before we got this far out the peninsula. It's a trail that makes one wish for more serious footwear than we typically wear on the boat. There are several of these openings in the ceiling of the cave. These holes in the roof would make natural chimneys to let smoke out if a lookout or someone sheltering here wanted to have a fire.

I was admiring the trip wire beauty of those huge spider webs glistening in the sun on the left side there and thinking that I probably didn't need to actually climb up myself... I mean Jacob was up there already and he had a camera with him, too. I'd get a report and see the photos. Heck he's a better photographer than I am, even. And I'm old and have bad knees and needed to keep an eye on the boat, and the dog, and well, I'm lazy.

He came back after a few minutes and told me that he had found some old inscriptions up on the hill, carved into the rocks. I said "how old ?" and he told he was seeing dates like 1790 and 1840. I think he finished his report with something like" Well, you gonna make it up here or not, old man?"

Heck yeah, you young whippersnapper. (I always wanted to use that word. Especially after that.) I climbed up through the hole and took a look around from the top of the bluff for the first time.

No that's not sweat. I'd just been in the water, remember. Tying up the boat and browbeating the dog. Browbeating a smart dog is tough work. They make a game out of it. At least this one does. Didn't some philosopher once warn about being careful when you gaze into the eyes of the browbeaten... ? I probably have that wrong.

Jacob had followed an old path to the highest part of the hill that was closest to the top entrance down into the cave. It turned out to be quite an 'old path', indeed. As in hundreds of years old.
Really nice view from up there, though.

Do you see what I mean about that photographer lugging all his camera stuff out to the very end to photograph that Osprey nest? This is not smooth hiking.

There are a number of inscriptions up here. From what we've seen over at Sapodilla Hill a few kilometers east , these carvings are by sailors keeping watch for approaching sails. They would sit here and carve on the rocks to pass the hours. There is no doubt this little sheltered anchorage and cave have been in use by sailors for a long, long time.

I got pretty interested in this one. I could tell that it had originally said (probably) "Ship St. Louis, Burnt at Sea, 1842." Wow, twenty years before the US Civil War (or the "War of Northern Aggression" if you're trying to start another fight).

Anyhow in my ongoing efforts to learn what I can about the very, very sketchy history of these islands I did some internet searching and found out that some of the research has been done by the folks over at the Turks and Caicos Islands Museum over on Grand Turk. They refer to this as the"Mystery on the Bluff".

I thought it interesting that the inscription about the St. Louis seems to have possibly been carved over something that was already inscribed into the rock by someone earlier. Does it look that way to you? Older scratches that look man made. The article I referenced in the TCI Museum piece says the oldest date found here is 1791, which is a 51 year lifetime before this 1842 guy sat here. I wonder if perhaps someone else sat here watching the sea horizon in the direction of Gt. Inagua, that didn't know about the date. Maybe someone who had no written words to scratch, who came here with the Arawaks. This cave is a natural place to be living in, and it would have been found by the earliest explorers that saw Osprey Rock and came to investigate. There were Tainos and Arawaks in these islands before Columbus. There are birds and iguanas and conch, lobster, and fish to eat. There are palm nuts and other native plants that are useful to a bush doctor. Aloe Vera, for example. Looking at a photo of Providenciales, I can see brackish surface water four miles away, and there are other small ponds on Provo, and some water lenses.

The view from within the cave covers a good part of the major approach from the Bahamas;

And of course if you climb up through the top of the cave to the bluff you have almost 360 degrees of elevated vision. It's a real good spot.

We might never find out who specifically carved these words 170 years ago. But we do know what view he had out to the west, to the natural path for sailing ships called the Sandborne Channel. Any boats heading back to Spain from Central America would most likely be in this direction. It is also the best way to approach Providenciales in rough conditions. A set of white sails on a tall mast would be visible from probably 20 miles away on a clear day from this height. With one of those old boats maybe making about four or five knots at best, that would give someone here five or six hours notice of an approaching ship. I wonder if there was some way for the lookout here to pass the information on to the next good sentry spot over on Sapodilla?

Nice little spot to anchor a longboat. Or a fiberglass skiff, come to think of it.

About this time we noticed a family approaching the cave in a large powerboat. Not being in the mood for getting between Dooley the Determined and a boatload of someone else's kids ("But I wanna pet the nice doggie!!!") we decided to pack up and head out for some more exploring. Don't get me wrong, Dooley gets along with kids just fine if they don't get too grabby. But he doesn't see children as playmates the same way he wistfully looks at cats. I think he sees human children as a good potential source of salvageable food products such as smeared chocolate fingers or cookie crumb crevices. He'll take that nose of his and frisk down a toddler faster than a Bugis Street Beanie Boy could find a drunken sailor's wallet. I'm going to leave you to do the research on that one yourself.

Dooley was getting tired of having to stand guard duty in the cave, anyhow.

Can you see the natural firepit I was referring to earlier? A sentry could comfortably sit there with a cooking fire and be invisible to an approaching boat from the northwest.

I can't believe that little ingrate was complaining that I didn't carry him up to the top with me, like I am going to lug a squirming wet dog along under my arm while I am climbing rickety ladders in a pair of wet Crocs. nah. He can just wait and look at the photos on the blog like everyone else.

This water is about a meter deep there where the starfish is sprinting across that rock at a blistering speed not immediately discernable to the untrained human eye. That's pretty clear sea water by any standards.. Unlike some of my metaphors.

We left West Harbour and worked our way slowly along the rocks on our way along the coast back toward South Side Marina. It was a beautiful mid-January winter day here. We were in no particular hurry to be anywhere else. yet. That usually doesn't happen until right before sunset when we realize we're miles from where we should be. We had gobs of daylight left at this point. I was looking for shipwrecks, old timbers, watertight briefcases full of cash and diamonds, UFO's full of secret technology.... you know, anything interesting that might have washed up. We did find several places where wooden beams and timbers have collected in the storms but from a distance it looked to me more like construction wood than the ship-grade hardwoods in which I am interested. We also checked out all the little caves we saw on the way by. I know you've seen these little sea-caves in many of the photos I've posted over the years. Most of them are difficult to get to, but I can show you one example of a shallow one here. It was difficult to see the inside of it from out on the water in the boat. The bright sunlight made the shaded little cave dark by comparison. We had to get close to really see any detail.

We took the skiff closer and once we were under the overhanging rock it was easy to see that it's just a shallow sea cave washed out by the waves and erosion. Jacob was taking a movie as I backed the boat out.

It appeared that the cave might circle around to the right a little, but we didn't get close enough for a good view. La Gringa and I will have to go back and check it out. There is a pile of timber near here I want to shop through, anyhow. Good excuse for a trip back.

We just basically choogled on down the coast line, looking for anything of interest and enjoying the day. Here we spotted something interesting that was drifting up against the rocks. It appeared to be some kind of water toy sort of thing. It was partially inflated, with some hard foam visible at times. You can just see it there on the right in that pool of sea foam.

You can also see three submerged rocks that come very near the surface that are between me and that interesting object. Three rocks and a worried looking dog, to be precise.

Normally, if it were La Gringa and I on the skiff one of us would mind the boat and the other one would swim over to check this thing out. But today I was running with a green crew unfamiliar with running this boat, and we decided to just leave this one alone. And move on. That was probably only an inflatable beach toy.

Not too far away we passed the entrance to Silly Creek and Chalk Sound. Chalk Sound is that beautiful iridescent turquoise water we have shown you a few times here. Silly Creek is an area adjacent to Chalk Sound. It was actually named after a guy named Silly. I'm not kidding. And I'm not trying to look Silly, either.

Just inside the entrance to the sound we spotted the remains of yet another Haitian sloop. broken up on the rocks. It's not like they are rare here.

I had seen photos of this house on Emerald Cay in the news recently, but had not been this close to it before this trip. I knew it was being advertised for $48,000,000. but I bet you could probably get it for forty million on a cash sale..... I wonder if that includes furnishings...

Nobody at Emerald Cay invited us ashore for a drink so we continued on down the coastline. Or up the coastline, I guess. We were headed generally in a north east direction. Is that up or down coast? I know it sure wasn't down east. This place has very little in common with down east, except for the up and down platform motion. (Down East is a local term some people in Maine use to refer to the old sailing directions on getting there: downwind and to the east)

As we approached the Taylor and Sapodilla Bay area we spotted what looked like an unusual shaped cave in the rocks. We motored over to take a closer look.

We were surprised to see this nice solid stairway someone has cut through the stone so that they can easily get to the water from the land above the rocks. What a great idea. I love this kind of stuff.

Well that was pretty much it for that day. We zipped on back past a few foreign fishing vessels anchored off of South Dock. At least I think they were fishing vessels, although I am not totally sure about it. I think I am safe in saying that I have very seldom seen that much lawn furniture stacked on a fishing boat before. I can't immediately recall ever seeing that many refrigerators on the deck of a boat before, either. Or mattresses. And I KNOW I've never before seen a small pickup truck with a cap on it sticking over the side of a fishing boat.

Were we just re-colonized and nobody noticed? Oh well. Perhaps the other boat in the background is a fishing boat. It doesn't have any gear on it at all. I have to wonder what's going on here. Why is all the stuff piled on the boat that is not designed to carry all the stuff, when the boat that IS designed to carry all the stuff is empty.... I think I will just forget about it. I'm sure someone somewhere knows what they are doing.

Jacob was about to head back north to his home on Cape Cod in a few days, and this looked to be our last chance for some father/son boating time so I let him drive the skiff around for a while.

He picked it up pretty quickly, of course. And watching him at the wheel I realized that this boat would fit me just fine if I was a normal sized person. But I am just barely tall enough that I have to stoop to stand up and drive most of the time. In the previous post there is a photo of me with a piece of plastic I picked up over on West Caicos. I have hopes of using that to raise this little console about an inch or two. That should help when I'm driving it standing up. And that's really the only way to drive it. Makes it fun, too.

That's the end of the sunny, tropical, adventuresome, scenic boat photograph portion of this blog post. Now I go to the true essence of living in the tropics full time.... DIY in the Land of Makedoo.

Anyone who has read much of this blog knows that Hurricane Hanna wiped out most of our outside light fixtures in '08. What Hanna didn't destroy outright, she loosened up enough so that Hurricane Ike finished most of them off with ease a week later. We had other priorities after those two storms and didn't immediately replace the fixtures. I think we have a total of 21 of them, in two different styles. Uh, since it's now been over three years, perhaps the phrase 'didn't immediately replace the fixtures' is close to qualifying as an understatement. Well, there are some reasons for this situation. First, though, here's a view of what the original light fixtures looked like:

This is one of the two remaining fixtures that still has all the major parts. You can probably tell from the photo that it's falling apart, too. And they started falling apart less than six months after they were installed. These fixtures were advertised and sold as outside light fixtures, suitable for a wet environment. But they were absolutely no match for the environment on this hillside facing into the trade winds. They are made out of painted aluminum. I'm sure they would last 20 years or more at a lakeside cabin in Kansas. But as we've learned, we're not in Kansas any more, en todo. I am going to shut up right now on that whole situation. It's over with. I need to start thinking seriously about replacing these. MOST of them look like something somewhere between that slightly damaged fixture in the above photo, and this more substantially damaged one right next to it.

Some of the 'sconce' style lights are gone entirely. I need to address this. It's been on my "to do" list for three years now. I think it slipped to page three at one point.

And we've looked at plenty of replacement light fixtures over the past three years. There are plenty to choose from, with similar specifications to these. "Bronze finish" it said. Ha. What we need are solid brass or bronze, or possibly cast metal fixtures that are hard coated with something that can handle this environment. Here is where we get into the problem. Fixtures slightly better than these but still not suitable for long term use in this environment would cost us an average of around $ 200. each, or more, for 21 fixtures. Fixtures that would actually have a good chance of surviving here would cost more than $ 300. each. Let me show you the numbers for something in the middle range.

$ 250. per fixture, times 21 fixtures = $ 5,250. But that's not the end of it. To ship that many fixtures down from the USA would probably cost us another $ 500 in transportation costs and shipping and clearance fees. And we would have to pay the 46% import duty presently crippling us here. That changes things a little. $ 250 per fixture x 21 fixtures x 1.46 ( customs duty) plus $ 500 in fees comes to around $ 8,200. Gulp. Does that give you an idea why we've been really dragging our feet for three years without replacing these yet?

I would really, really, really have to like a light fixture a whole lot in order to spend eight thousand dollars and change to be looking at a bunch of them. And the truth of the matter is that we haven't seen any we like much at all. Plastic is too, well, temporary and ugly. Cast bronze or brass is plenty tough enough, but still ugly and expensive. There are a few stainless steel fixtures around, but the ones we've seen would not fit in here very well at all. We don't want the patio to look like a wharf on the Hudson. (No offense.)

Recently while reading up on another project entirely (3D printers!) I saw instructions on how to cut the bottom out of a wine bottle. I was sitting here gazing at a broken 17th century bottom of a wine bottle we found on a wreck here, and suddenly I had an idea.

I made up a wine bottle cutting thingamajig from some scraps and a glass cutter:

I raided the neighbor's post-holiday garbage bins for all the empty wine bottles that I could find (no names but you KNOW who you are) and practiced until I could get a half decent cut in the glass. Then I bought some sockets and started rewiring one of the standard 3" posts that these lights were attached to. The posts are still in good shape, fortunately. We are still experimenting with various light sources, but the wiring is all 110 volt ac and for now it's easiest to just stay with that. There are plenty of low wattage lights to choose from these days. I can burn five of these using less energy than one of the 60 watt bulbs we used in the past.

My first working prototype was just a simple wine bottle with the bottom cut out. I cut four rings from a piece of mahogany ship wreckage we found on the beach, and I stacked and glued those together as a way of mounting the bottle to the post. It wasn't very elegant, but it worked. I was just trying to simplify as much as possible at this point. I had hopes of designing up some kind of bamboo lampshade that would attach to that bottle neck. But at this point, I just wanted to put something together to see if it even looked like this approach might work. Will it work okay? Can I make it strong enough to survive hurricane winds and tight enough to keep the blowing dust and salt out of it? Would wood work as a material? Would the glass handle whatever heat the bulb put out or do I need to think of more ventilation? I dunno. Well, actually I do know, now. But I didn't know diddly when I started breaking wine bottles. But you gotta start somewhere, and breaking a wine bottle to solve a problem has worked from time to time throughout history. Just not so much for illumination. Excepting Molotov cocktails, of course. Those are great for illumination. Just not very good for reading or entertaining.

So this is the Mark 1 McGeezer outside light fixture prototype. Pay no attention to the bamboo poles, those are part of a totally different project involving tomatos.

And did it work? Well dress me funny and call me Skippy but heck yeah it worked. I turned it on and let it burn all night. We even had some rain squalls blow through later in the evening. I even arranged to have it Dooley inspected:

I decided we didn't want the whole bottle neck look. It was the simplest thing to build for sure, but with a couple dozen of these sitting all over the walls the house would always look like a fraternity house on a Sunday morning during football season.

I also figured out that I would go through a lot of wood building these. I can't count on finding a steady supply of suitable driftwood. But I have lots of plywood lying around. So I cut some rings out of plywood and glued them together to make a base. That came out like this:

I was planning to prime and paint that with some highly reflective paint. I was thinking Rustoleum aluminum, in fact. Or white. Something to keep the UV rays from the wood. I like the stability of the plywood. All those grains glued across each other helps me with expansion and cracking issues, but I do have to keep it somewhat encapsulated from the elements here. This is also pressure treated to discourage termites. We like to discourage termites. In fact we'd like to discourage the cute little buggers right past their limits of survivability.

When I asked La Gringa Suprema Primera what color she thought I should paint this, she told me she liked the look of the wood. So for now, I am going to test these out in this natural look. I'll get some kind of good exterior grade sealer and preservative for it. I am sure there's something made for wooden decks and porches that's locally stocked on the island.

One other thing that lept out at us when we tested the prototype light at night was that we need to shield the side facing the patio. In the short term I thought I would make up some various shield designs and test them. As luck would have it, I quickly found a local, cheap, and plentiful source of precisely manufactured aluminium cylinders of just the right diameter and thickness. What a find, these things are everywhere! Usually not too far from a wine bottle, come to think of it.

I cut a few different louver shapes into the sides of the Coke can, to see which type did the best job directing the most light downward on one side while keeping it out of our eyes. After three cans full of holes I discovered that just punching crescent shaped holes in the can with a curved wood carving knife did the best job. At least with what I have on hand. I keep reminding myself to keep it as simple as possible. I have to manufacture a bunch of these things. I'm looking for tough, cheap, simple, and easily replaced. The electro-architectural equivalent of a rock.

And believe me, I also thought about boring out rocks for this application. I haven't ruled that out yet, either. It's just too complicated for me to do with what I have on hand. I need to be able to bore a 3" diameter hole about 5" into the rock. That would take me a lot of time to do by hand. I might do just one to see what's involved, though. We have plenty of rock. It seems to hold up well during hurricanes. It gets wet. It dries out with no ill effects. It doesn't move much in 140 mph winds. And remarkably, some rocks seem to carry on like this for centuries. I like the idea of building with elemental, natural stuff that will last for centuries. But for now, we are prototyping in wood. And every lamp utilized one discarded wine bottle, one empty Coke can, and some scrap plywood. That's gotta be a good thing, right?

This is what the McGeezer Mark II outside light fixture is looking like, at the moment:

The changes I am going to make to this one are to use an aluminum disc ( cut from our old sat tv dish pieces) to mount the lamp socket. This also allows me to attach the ground ( earth) wire to the socket correctly, and I can shorten the whole fixture by another inch or so. Making it shorter will increase it's ability to withstand wind.

There is also an aluminum can inside the wine bottle. The darkness of the glass makes it difficult to see it during the day, so that works out to our advantage. I don't know if you guys are familiar with 3D printers, but we've got a Printrbot on order. I'm sure I can design up something in the way of an internal shade for these, and print it in plastic. I already started playing around with this idea in Sketchup. This is some of my 'doodling':

As many plastic ideas as I have for the 3-D printer in a place like this, if I can use discarded Coke cans it sure fits in well with the overall goals here. This is a very environmentally responsible light fixture I am building here, ya know. So far, I've been able to use salvaged parts for everything but the light bulb socket. And I might be able to salvage some of the existing ones from the old fixtures. I could really use a wood lathe for something like this. It would open up the options quite a bit. But I don't have a lathe, and have never seen one for sale here. So I'm sticking with things I can manufacture from parts I can scrounge. "Scarcity. It's not just a design constraint, it's environmentally responsible!".

Maybe a better quote would be "Necessity is the mother of all invention". yeah, I think I like that one better.

And the best part of this is the cost. Remember that $8200 number? I have yet to design up the sconce version of these wine bottle lamps, but I am guessing our total costs for replacing the damaged lamps with these will be less than $ 200 total. The cost will be mostly in lamp sockets and protective wood preservative or paint. I am finding friends and family more than willing to help with the supply of empty wine bottles. I still have to figure out a way to use this same general design attached to a wall, but I have some ideas on that.

Well that pretty much ends this post. It's a thick one, with all those tropical photos and a marathon DIY going on. I tend to get carried away when I feel like I am actually being creative. And I think having to create working, hurricane resistant light fixtures from the neighbor's garbage has to meet some of the criteria for being creative. Or am I getting 'creative' mixed up with 'hobo'?? Possible.

I do have a nice sunset again this time. At least I think it's a nice one. It's one of a series of photos Jacob took before he left for the snowy north:

Saturday, January 21, 2012


We have a few more photos taken near the end of December that I wanted to show you before they get lost in the new year shuffle. "New Year Shuffle". I like that. Sounds like a rhythm and blues song. I wrote that we were planning to go back to West Caicos and take some closer photos of a wrecked Haitian sloop we saw on the beach there. Well, we did exactly that. It's not hard to keep promises when they're something you really wanted to do in the first place.

La Gringa has been keeping an eye out for spectacular sunrises. We haven't had any really stupendous, jaw-dropping technicolor extravaganzas in the past week or so. At least none while we were awake, and there have been some late nights during the holidays. We'll have to settle for an average one.

The ocean was a little bit choppy over at West Caicos. The boys got bounced around pretty well in the skiff both going and coming. The bow of a boat is seldom a smooth ride. We pulled up near the beach and I hopped over the side to set the anchor. We use a lightweight aluminum anchor, and they don't always set immediately if the boat is moving along in the wind and current. The light anchor slides along on the sand. The wind was trying to take the boat toward the island. I wanted to be sure that the anchor stuck and stayed right where I put it. An easy way to do that is to just jam the flukes in the sand with one's feet and then give the chain a good steady pull to set it.

Dooley the Determined gets exasperated when I hop overboard without him. He seems to be under the impression that this new life jacket includes some naval rank. He insists on supervising everything that goes on concerning the boat and thinks that his anchoring advice is something I really need to hear. I usually humor him. It's easier than trying to point out his total lack of credibility when it comes to boating. If he thinks I'm ignoring him, he'll just bark out nonsensical nautical instructions and useless advice and make a nuisance of himself...

To the point where it's just easiest to invite him to jump in and get the inspection over with.

Jacob was watching Dooley and I arguing about anchor position and how much line to put out (Dooley wanted the recommended 7:1 ratio, as I recall), when we heard him call out that there was a large sting ray swimming toward us. The photos were a bit blurry for a few seconds due to all the excitement (not Dooley and I, of course, we don't get excited about rays and barracuda any more) but I will post the best one that he got:

The ray might have settled down and posed for a steadier photo but Dooley the Delinquent thought it was a grand idea and the greatest fun to chase it around the boat. Some days, I don't know what the heck that dog is thinking. I do know we can add big stingrays to the list of things he's not afraid of. This one had to be three times the size of the dog.

Of course he couldn't catch the stingray without his swim fins so after a few moments he got bored and headed for the beach while the ray swam away in front of the boat;

We anchored right next to the wrecked sloop we spotted a few weeks earlier. And it's still there, at rest in the sand. Just where it's likely to be until the next hurricane blows though. We hope that's a long time, indeed. Hurricanes are just so...... disruptive.

Looking back through posts from the Januarys and Februarys of years gone by, I can see that the winter daylight here has a distinctly different quality than the summer light. It takes some of the 'bright' off the photos unless we take them around mid day when the sun is high overhead. This was not exactly at midday, so the photos are not our best work, but we did what we could. Promises to keep, and all that.

I thought this boat had some really nice lines for a total wreck. I wonder how many boats this one builder has made, and whether he would take his own family out for a week in one of them.

And I wonder what he could do if we bought him the wood and tools he wanted, and told him to take his time and build us the best sailing sloop that he could make, something he would be proud of. Wouldn't that be an interesting thing to do.

If you follow this blog you know that we talk about these Haitian sloops often. It might seem like I am making a big deal out of a couple of boats that made it here. But it's way more than just a few boats. These boats are coming over almost weekly and we have no idea how many never make it. It's mid January as I am writing this, and there have been three of these sloops intercepted here in the past few weeks. You can read more about the specifics of those by clicking here. These are boats that we know about. The island beaches are littered with pieces of the ones that broke up at sea. We could easily find the remains of a dozen of these empty dreams within five miles of here.

I have to wonder about what would drive people to pack themselves on a boat like this, and risk their very lives just for the chance to come here and work for $4 an hour. These boats are amazing, though, in their simplicity and utility. I see something basic, and raw, in the unfinished wood worked by hand with simple tools, to one purpose.

One trip. One way. One thing they all seem to have in common is bright paintwork. And they all seem to have a name painted either on the bow or the transom.

To an excited young Haitian refugee with a handful of belongings, getting ready to board for a dangerous and frightening trip packed tight in a small terrified mob of strangers, perhaps the cheerful bright paint is reassuring. I mean, it IS a brand new boat, built by a man with a local reputation as a boat builder. (Of course he has a reputation, his boats all depart full of hopes and dreams, and none of them return.) There hasn't been enough time for anything to go wrong with them yet. They've even been freshly blessed by the local priest. And probably by the local Mambo and Houngans as well. If it was me going on that boat, I think I might even see if I couldn't get a couple of good bokors down to see me off, too. I've developed a mild interest in Haitian Vodou since we've moved to the islands. Of course we're surrounded by people who grew up with this religion, and I find it fascinating. It's developed some kind of a negative reputation in parts of the USA and that's just totally wrong. The "voodoo" religion has unfairly been associated with what are basically bush doctors who know how to extract poisons from native plants. The Wikipedia write up is a good basic read on Haitian Vodou if you're interested.

Blessed or not, the boats don't start falling apart until later, long after the familiar palm trees and lights of home have dwindled from view. And it's dark at sea on the nights that these boats sail. We have seen absolutely no sign of wiring or batteries or anything to lead us to believe they have much in the way of lights. And flashlights are expensive luxuries. They wouldn't want lights, though, would they. They don't want these boats to be spotted from sea, or from the air. Needless to say, they also don't carry safety flares or radar reflectors. Life jackets. Medical supplies. Water. Food. Radios. None of that.

I wonder how much weight a hundred souls can carry in hopes and dreams. That's even thinner than the boat in which they gamble their very lives.

The paint is thin. One coat, rough wood, with no primer, and no future. It's sure a long way from the $100/gallon specially formulated marine hull paint that we pleasure boaters use. But then, we're not usually all that desperate to get out of town.

The rags you see in the photo are the caulking that is meant to keep the ocean from gushing in between the planks and filling the boat with water. These bits of thin strips of worn out bedsheets and ragged t-shirts are pounded into place, jammed in to prevent leaks, with nothing else to hold them. I am not much of an authority on wooden boats, but my imagination tells me that when the boat is launched the wood swells up and jams these planks tight against each other with the caulking rags pressed between the boards. Once the boat is aground, like it is here on this beach, the wood dries out again, and shrinks. And the cracks expand, and the thin caulking rags fall out onto the sand. Their fight against the sea is over. They belong to the sun and nesting birds now. I think that's a fitting retirement for a t-shirt. What a tale it could tell, though.

And after the months of construction, and the build up and excitement of loading up the boat and leaving in the dark, and the long trip tacking back and forth into the wind.... a lot of the boats end up like this, if they're lucky. This is actually the best they can hope for.

Something was once tied to the bow of this boat with a combination of rope and rags. I followed that 'line' to the end, wondering what these sailors would throw out for an anchor, but there was nothing there. Just a loose knot of rags tangled in the beach bushes.

This makes me think that perhaps the end of that line was another bundle of rags and sticks to be used as a sea anchor, or drogue. That would hold the boat into the wind, and slow it from drifting downwind toward the island. Or back toward Haiti, for that matter. But this drogue idea is just speculation on my part. Amateur forensic beachcombing. A new hobby. And this is a great place for it.

Looking down through the small cabin top into the hull, you can get a very good idea of the construction.

It's very basic, but does follow some good boat building practices in design. It's a good design. Well proven. It's just so loosely built that it's amazing that they will load 75 to 100+ people on a boat this size and set sail with no life jackets, radio, flares, motor, bilge pump, first aid supplies, blankets, food, water, bathrooms, or alternate plan if they get into trouble. We are amazed at how many of them cannot swim. This must be a terrifying trip for non-swimmers.

There's another definition of either courage or desperation in here, or someplace very near to here..

Here's a Haitian sloop photo taken by a USCH helicopter crew, that I shamelessly lifted from the local newspaper just three weeks ago:

I'll gladly give them credit if they'll put the name of this blog in their newspaper complaint, ha ha.

The quality of the photo is bad, but I believe you get the idea. This is one of these boats. Not only is every square inch of the deck covered in humanity, that tight space below in the hull is full of people, too. These boats use people and sandbags as ballast. It's pretty scary. So..if you were a non-swimmer, afraid of the dark, and claustrophobic.....where on this boat would you want to be standing for several days and nights? If you get seasick the others are going to move you to the edge of the crowd, next to the very dark-scary-ocean-full-of-sharks-and-horrible-things that terrifies you.

These are some pretty tough people. Or pretty desperate. I don't believe I have met very many chubby Haitians, come to think of it. And we know a few.

The people below decks stand or sit on these boards nailed across the ribs to stand on. I wonder if the captains give them rags and a hammer of some kind and tell them to jam the caulking into any place that starts leaking?

Notice how none of the boards are straight. They all appear to have been hewn out with axes, and the custom cuts made with a variety of hand saws. Power circular saws leave swirls. The sawmill marks are obvious on the long planks and beams.

The deck planking was the only consistently sawed wood I noticed on the entire boat.

The frames are posts made from trees cut off and used while still green. They shrink and pull away from the rest of the planking as they age and dry out. Of course for some of my own amateur woodworking ideas, this now-stable wood would work out quite nicely. When I think of what one could do with a lathe and a thickness planer and a custom furniture shop with an essentially free and endless supply of this wood, my imagination gets loose and does a couple of laps around my head before I can get it to heel again.

Wouldn't it be a real hoot to start such a shop, and train a few Haitian refugees to make quality furniture from the wreckage of the sloops that brought them here?

We already know they can build boats. They don't have much of a reputation for forestry, though. Despite their widespread saturation of the landscaping business here in the Turks and Caicos and elsewhere. (Take a Google Earth look to compare the land fifty miles each side of the Haiti/Dominican Republic border sometimes. Deforestation of Haiti is one of their biggest environmental headaches)

This is one of the critical junctures in the boat's framing, where the bottom meets the vertical sides. This area is subject to a lot of stress and flexing.

On properly built Caicos sloops the local craftsmen here use one piece bent 'knees' of hardwood specifically chosen and trimmed to match the boat lines. These refugee sloops use big nails. Home made iron nails. In the ocean. Could there be a worse fastener for a boat? Glycerin suppositories would beat it, I suppose. I guess if they only have to make it for 150 miles, they really don't come into play long enough for rust to ever become an issue.

I notice they don't bother tarring, painting, or otherwise treating any of the hull in any way at all other than the false promise of bright paint. It's quite a contrast to the conversations we get involved in with some of the cruisers , boaters, and sailors we know. We talk about mat, chopped fiberglass, barrier coats, delamination, blisters, crazing, bottom paint, protective wax, and gel coats.

What a different world some of us live in.

I have become somewhat of a stainless steel snob, myself. I now worry about the differences between using 304 or 305 stainless in exposed applications where the 316 is too soft and ductile. And how does it all compare to that new 200 series stuff with low nickel, that the Chinese have been producing....

And then I see an outboard motor mount held together with two pieces of steel rebar, that have been threaded for the last inch or so to accept a steel washer and nut. This was never expected to last, either.

And frankly, it doesn't look like it was ever used much. Cranking down on the mounting screws on an outboard motor typically leaves some round indentations in the wood where it was clamped. I don't see any sign of that here. Do they, perhaps, use an outboard to get away from Haiti before they hoist the sail? But then what happens to it? Do they maybe include a motor mount 'just in case' they come across an available outboard during their journey?

I love walking the beach over here, of course. We never seem to have time to do enough of it. There's a couple hours, and then we have to leave to make it back to Provo before dark. One of these days we're going to pack a lunch, get an early start, and spend all day here. We might walk a hundredth of this beach, and see a thousandth of the interesting stuff strewn and buried from one end to the other. On this day, I did manage to pick up a piece of usable Starboard plastic, although I was really looking for some more mahogany or teak. But I can use the plastic, too. I have just the application in mind. raising that console on the skiff by an inch or so.

Buoys, water jugs, plastic garbage, ropes, planks, all being ignored by Jacob and Trevor as they try to sneak up on some Ospreys who have a nest on the craggy rocks there in the background.

I guess I am more interested in the stuff on the beach as a McGeezer, than I am about getting a close up view of an Osprey. I think that once you've been really, really close to a few big, smelly birds, some of the curiosity is satisfied.

The rest of us more or less backed away so that the Ospreys would quit circling and land back on the nest. Jacob stayed close by and remained still so as not to disturb them. They didn't seem overly concerned, just being prudent. I think they were paying more attention to the dog than they were to us.

He did manage to get a few closer photos before giving up and leaving the birds alone.

They settled back down pretty quickly as soon as we moved a few yards away. There were no little ones in the nest, and these didn't seem particularly upset. Just cautious. I don't think they see humans as enemies. At least we don't get that impression. Ospreys and the little American Kestrels are often nesting near where we live.

Every now and then one would leave the nest and come swooping over to see what we were up to, even when we were nowhere near them any more. I thought I detected a curiosity. Perhaps about the dog. This is late December, the beginning of our winter. I was surprised to see birds nesting, but then I'm certainly not up to speed on their habits. Maybe they are repairing nests and getting ready for spring already. I have no idea how long it takes a couple of Ospreys to refurbish and clean a nest. I should read up on it, so I know what I'm talking about. Although ignorance has never stopped me before..... come to think of it. I am going to start paying more attention to the birds. Someone was asking me about them just this week and I was again forced to display my naked ignorance. How embarrassing.

The beach is not all just man made garbage, by the way. It's also covered with shells. Not too many people come here, and so the shells tend to stack up. They also get washed into piles by storms.

La Gringa managed to get a much warmer image with the sunlight during a break in the clouds,

These photos were all taken in December you know. Don't let the swimming or wet bathing suit photos fool you. We look for our warmest t-shirts without holes in them this time of year when these winter winds are howling.

And the sheer volume of various types of wood is amazing. There are some big beams here and there. I have to wonder who is building wooden ships of this scale these days? These iron bands have got to weigh a fair bit. How old are these? And where's the good stuff that fell through the bottom?

Right before we left to head back to Providenciales, Jacob spotted the rainbow. I was amazed, after all this time we finally realized that the end of the rainbow was right there on that old wrecked barge!! We could be rich!

We loaded up the boat, pulled the anchor and headed over to claim our pot of gold. But when we got there, all we found were some suspicious looking pelicans who were wondering what the boatload of Gringos was so excited about. It's not like this wreck is a particularly new or scenic one, after all...

We've recently been hearing the story of the Star of Bethlehem, and the three wise men traveling across the desert. Well, we got a tropical rainbow and two pelicans of dubious intelligence. I guess it'll have to do. Goes well with the Christmas stump mentality, I suppose. It's a new life in a different world from what we grew up with in North America. Santa Claus Christmas cards still look somewhat out of place here, after years in New England. Kris Kringle would feel right at home in the New England winter. He'd fry here.

As we got around the bend in the beach, we were in calmer water and the sun patterns on the sea bottom were worth a photo or two. Actually we probably took a dozen photos like this.

The experience was the epitome of a perfect little cruise in a small skiff. Clear smooth water, a soft sand bottom...

This little video will give you an idea what it's like when you're moving:

We made it back to Providenciales without incident, and once again I will spare you the details of the trip. The boys got beat up pretty good in the bow of the skiff, riding in the chop. I really do need to find some kind of seating setup for when we have passengers on the boat. I am tempted to make one from wood. I think I would like the weight forward in the boat even without the extra passengers.

I am not going to hit you with a bunch of photos of rusty automotive parts in this post. It's ironic to remember how much I once enjoyed automotive mechanical work. I really did. I would happily spend a Saturday morning adjusting this, or tweaking that. Sometimes just buffing out a small spot on a paint job. Cleaning and polishing up the wheels. Adjusting timing, replacing some gaskets, packing wheel bearings. That kind of thing. Oh man, those times have changed. I am getting to the point where I absolutely loathe working on cars. It's amazing how they can be constantly dirty, greasy, and rusty all at the same time. Especially when they've been sitting still. It's a losing battle trying to even keep them clean here.

Now I look forward to DIY projects where I actually get to BUILD something new. To be creative. To work with clean, unblemished, new materials. So, since I got the brakes done last week I have had the opportunity to play with some of the ideas I've had recently. I am going to save my better latest idea for the next post, as it's photo intensive and this one is already long enough to annoy those readers with slow internet connections.

One of the photos I didn't use in the post about the new brakes was this one:

Yeah, yeah, it was a new brake caliper, but I had placed it on a little makeshift bench next to another project. The pieces of bamboo, mahogany wreckage, and rope are part of an idea I wanted to try out.

But first, here's the other piece of that project. It's a rock that son Jacob located, with some holes cut into it. We still needed to deepen and clean up the holes at this point, but can you guess what it's going to be when I get it all together?

Here's the story on why I did this. We are getting tired of replacing our floor lamps every one to two years. The lamps we can find locally are expensive. Oh, they don't start out expensive. In fact they actually start out pretty cheap. But then they get shipped from Asia to the west coast of the USA, and then trucked across the country to Florida, where they get loaded on boats and shipped here, and all those transportation costs and the new 46% import tax here make them quite pricey by the time we get them. We typically pay top dollar for the lowest quality a small bulk buyer can find.

And the lamps are all made out of steel, and they all rust. Grrrrrrrrr. I bet you already know where I'm going with this.

Yep, I decided to see if I could make a floor lamp out of cheap local materials that will not rust. In fact, that was my entire specification for this floor lamp: "Cheap Local Materials That Will Not Rust". This is my first attempt, and I recognize that I have miles to go to get something attractive, but for a first stab at a tropical floor lamp that is environmentally responsible, what do you think?:

That's two lengths of bamboo, set deep into a rock and held with flexible silicon to keep the bamboo from splintering and wearing against the limestone. The bamboo is lashed together with hemp rope. The little shelf is a piece of mahogany we found on West Caicos that I managed to wrest away from Attilla the Termite's minions as they were leaving. The only metal in the whole new lamp is the part that holds the light bulb and shade. And when those brass plated things rust up in a year or two, I can replace them in five minutes for about $10. The lampshade is a refugee snatched from the wreckage of an earlier lamp as it passed through our home on its journey back to elemental iron.

I might have slightly overshot my goal of a kinda tropical looking warm color idea. It fits in, though, and is kind of whimsical. A nautical cartoon of a floor lamp.

I'm going to use three pieces of bamboo for the next one, and design it to fit closer to a wall. It's not something you'll ever see in an art gallery, but by golly, this little sucker ain't going to rust. Doesn't mind wind or a little rain water, either.

So that pretty much brings us up to date and past the end of 2011. We've been pretty active so far in 2012, and there are more photos to be cropped and uploaded. I'll end this post with one of Jacob's photos of a sunset earlier this week.