Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunset Sail on "Arielle"

It was a late afternoon at the Grace Bay resort center of Providenciales. A quiet mid winter day, with clear blue skies and benign little waves lapping at the white sand beach. A lot of the Type A amateur first-day-tanners took their second degree burns off in search of their third rum and fourth aloe vera application of the afternoon. Lots of the lazy Larrys and laid-back Lauras left later. Literature lovers are allowed to lecture me on lascivious alliteration. This is starting to sound like some Monty Python 'Halt who goes there?' password routine from an old Pacific war movie spoof.

There are still a few relaxed souls enjoying the day. Almost time to gather up the microwave resistant coconut oils and head back to the rooms. Stop at the little shower to spray the sand off your feet, and then leave a wet trail to the room with those giveaway squishy sounding flip-flops.

I bet you've been there. It's time to start getting ready for the evening plans. There are several choices in restaurants to consider. It's a quiet time of day, perfect for a short snooze in the lengthening shadows, or to just finish that next chapter of Dean Koontz or maybe James Lee Burke. There's a nice, shady poolside beach bar to the right, and a quick smile to any waiter in sight will get you quickly reloaded with the solvent of your choice.

And oh, can you see that boat approaching between the palm trees?

Yes, while everyone else on the beach and around the bar was relaxing and socializing I was out scanning the horizons for a catamaran. This might be a curse of mine, but it's not what you probably think. Well, maybe it is. The title of the post gave it away, didn't it. I HAD to use that title, though. It rhymes, more or less. If you pronounce one of the words with an East Texas accent. You might have to squint a little, too. I tried other words to rhyme with sail. I kept coming up with things like hail, jail, rail, tail... not quite right. I did take French 101, and I know Arielle doesn't rhyme with snail.Well, now that the cat is out of the bag, so to speak.... here, this photo is a little better.

We were lucky enough to have been invited on a sunset cruise on board one of Sail Provo's catamarans. This is one of Jay Stubbs' day charter cats, coming to pick us all up and take us out for a boat ride. Was I excited? Sailing on a big catamaran that I have never been on before? For free? Yes, I confess, I was only slightly less excited than Dooley gets about abandoned Cheetos. It definitely was one of the high points of the latter half of this one afternoon in mid winter. Living here does have its moments.

The Arielle motored along surveying the beach looking for the right slope to let them put the bows on the sand and still keep the rudders and props in deep water. The beaches here change continuously, with the long shore currents moving sand from one end of the island toward the other. We've had a stormy winter so far. What was a good landing spot last week might not be the same today.

The Captain quickly found a spot he liked and our little crowd started down the beach to meet the boat. This was a private corporate charter, so almost everyone in the crowd knew most of the others.

The Captain set the bows gently on the beach, and the crew lowered a boarding ladder through the trampolines. What a great way to board a boat. I gotta try this tourist stuff more often. My kid wants me to go para-sailing. That should be some great blog photos.

The Captain skillfully kept the big boat delicately balanced, carefully using the throttles to keep the boat just lightly touching the shore.

After the everyone was on board the Captain reversed the engines and with the lift from the next wave gently picking the bows up, he skillfully backed the big catamaran away from the beach. We could tell that he's probably done this kind of thing before. Probably more than once.

Like thousands of both bare and booted feet through the centuries before us: we left nary a trace of our passing over that feathery edge between land and the sea. The light marks of Arielle's keels were gone from Grace Bay before we were even out of sight of the nearest Banana Daiquiri leaving only the the eternally washed sand to draw a constantly changing and sometimes violent border between us and our prehistoric relatives beneath the waves. You know, all those toothy water breathing carnivorous things without feet that live under there. Interesting things. Like the Squid, as one example.

We were watching some squid out on the reef a few years ago. There are some photos in another post.They remind me of clever little jet engines with eyeballs and fingers. Have you ever just drifted quietly and watched a school of curious tropical squid? They change colors. They come close and study you. There is an unsettling feeling when gazing into their eyes. I don't know if it's a thoughtful examination on their part, or just two predators taking each other's measure. Each of us would eat the other alive and raw if circumstances allowed, and we both know it. They gaze back. Sometimes I get the feeling I am involved in a momentary truce of some kind. A Lloyd Bridges version of a Mexican standoff. It's worth learning to snorkel just for that experience alone. It's very interesting to see a pint sized predator trying to decide just where you fit in the overall scheme of the food chain. It's not like on land, I like the way Hunter S. Thompson put it:

"It was the Law of the Sea, they said. Civilization ends at the waterline. Beyond that, we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top."

When you live on a small island, I think you inherently feel the extent to which the sea has you totally outnumbered and surrounded. People do get what is called 'Island Fever' in many cases. It becomes almost a low-grade panic after awhile. A mild anxiety, that most people can cure by taking American Airlines to Miami and renting a car for a few days. I know that in my own case, two hours in a mainland shopping mall pretty much cures the island fever. I can't wait to get back. Surprisingly, getting on a boat seems to be a big help, too. I think maybe the whole island fever thing might be tied to the freedom of traveling unrestricted. To get beyond encroaching boundaries. Isn't it ironic that the same wanderlust that drives people to exotic islands in the first place sometimes prevents them from settling down happily once they finally get there? “Life is a journey, not a destination.” ― Ralph W. Emerson

This is a view of the beach in front of the Ocean Club East.

Most of the Grace Bay resorts are very similar, in general. We've never seen a crowd of any serious proportions on any of them. This is nothing like the big high-rise beach resorts many people are accustomed to. That resort on the left is one of the taller resorts here, at seven stories.

Arielle swung out and away from the shore, and because timing is everything with sunset cruises, we headed upwind under power while the sun dropped lower and lower toward the horizon behind us. The Captain wanted to be sailing back before sunset.

I was so busy snapping photos that I hadn't thought to look at the crew. We have gotten to know a lot of the folks working in the boat and charter business here. I had taken a quick glance and had seen that it was not Ryan. Ryan was running the catamaran Phoenix, back when there was a catamaran here called Phoenix. Oh, it's still here. It's actually risen from the ashes yet again. But I don't think it's named Phoenix anymore. We haven't gotten close to the newest reincarnation to read the name of it yet, but we have seen her, still sailing the waters of the Turks and Caicos Islands. I took a recent long range photo of her sailing, and posted it here. The old Phoenix is in the seventh image in this post.

We have given him barracuda. Ryan, I mean. He eats every bit of it. Once we gave him a live one. He liked that even better. He must have done a day charter and got the night off. He wasn't here. Too bad. I wanted to talk with him about some fiberglass ideas for the skiff. He's good at that, too.

Anyhow, when I finally looked around to see who was sailing Arielle.. La Gringa was already talking to the Captain, 'Rock' Stubbs. He is another of the notorious Stubbs brothers, the brother of Jay. And of Preacher. And Hammer. We'd only been on this boat for about ten minutes and were already feeling relaxed and right at home. But these TCI Islanders can do that to you, anyhow, when they choose to. The trick seems to be to just keep loosening up until everyone is smiling, and then see how long you can hold that.

Here we are passing The Coral House, with the entrance to Leeward-Going-Through coming up around that point. This is the top end of Grace Bay Beach. The boat is in the shade of clouds to the west. A really great sunset always seems to have a few clouds involved.

Notice at this point there is nobody riding on the trampolines.

Notice also at this point that the crew is making one of what would be many rum punch runs. The procedure was simple enough: Sit on catamaran, gaze at beautiful tropical scenery in living 3D as you pass right through the middle of it, and hold out a cup to be magically refilled with cold high octane fruit juice. Absolutely no extra exertion required. Life could be worse.

And now you might notice that people are moving from under the hard top out onto the deck, and even as far as the edge of the trampolines.

That photo above shows you a little of what the inside, sheltered area of Arielle is like. There is plenty of seating inside, so that people can easily get out of the sun or take shelter from passing squalls. There is additional seating and bathrooms below in the hulls. A very comfortable boat for day charters. Not too many people were under cover on this day. The weather was extremely pleasant. Most of these people had driven through snow to get to an airport three days before.
They still look a little dazed, but that seems to be normal for people from the northeastern part of the USA this time of year.

I was roaming around looking for things to snap photos of. This is a close up of a drain scupper in Arielle's bridge deck. It's looking straight down between the hulls at the water rushing below us, and rocks on the bottom about five meters down. I think I might use it for a background for my desk top.

We were still motoring upwind at this point. Rock said the plan was to hoist the sails, cut the engines, and turn downwind back toward Providenciales and into the setting sun. Sounds like a good plan to me.

If you read much of this blog, you'll likely recognize the coast of Water Cay. You may also notice that passengers are now starting to relax on the trampolines. This reminded me of how good these big cats are for introducing nervous non-sailors to the experience of traveling over the endless ocean by wind alone. Multihulls are relatively stable in the roll axis. They don't tip back and forth like single hulled boats. You don't live life on the slant in one of these. If you haven't been sailing before because you are too nervous about 'tippy' sail boats, try a catamaran first. Then move on to try monohulls if you want. You'll be okay with it by then. It's a logical progression, and just about the opposite of how it usually happens.

Do these people look nervous to you? heck no, I would venture to say. And that's with the Captain sitting right in the middle of them. He's pretty relaxed, too. That's good. Uptight people with a 'Captain' in front of their names always make me nervous, no matter which organization I'm dealing with.

You may notice that they are now starting to find the trampoline, with all of that clear blue water rushing by just underneath.

As we got close to our turnaround point just off the Pine Cay beach we spotted another familiar local boat headed our way. We see this boat out quite often sailing the waters of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

It isn't hard for us to spot the distinctive shape of the James Wharram designed catamaran Beluga.

These boats are well known in sailing circles. Or maybe I should say sailing great circles. They are somewhat on the austere side compared to some of the modern designs. Does it make sense if I describe the interiors of these as Spartan cozy? They're good, rugged boats. I think the hulls are attached to the cross beams so that they can move independently. It's a little like a catamaran with a suspension system. We've been itching to get a ride on one. We know of at least two of these cruising the local waters.

We often catch sight of Beluga's sails on the horizons on both sides of the islands. It's a comfortable boat for small groups, and she sails more than any other boat that we have ever observed in the Turks and Caicos. Friendly people, too. Our dogs harass each other verbally long distance if we get close enough when we're sailing our Hobie.

As we passed like ships in the bight, the crew of Arielle hoisted the main and unfurled the jib, and with a turn of the wheel we performed a couple of final tacks, and then turned onto a downwind run back toward Providenciales.

Captain Stubbs shut the engines down, and that wonderful feeling of traveling with the wind became a new part of some life experiences. Sailboats make noises that you won't hear anywhere else. To the experienced sailor who knows his boat, the wind passing around and between the sails and rigging and the hulls slicing through the waves carry on conversations in an ancient language. It's a soothing music with the rhythms of the sea setting the tempo. There's a sense of dynamic harmony when everything is trimmed just right.

You've probably gotten the impression that we like sailboats.

This was turning out to be a very relaxing way to watch a sunset. People were loosening up nicely, scattered all over the boat by this point.

Snacks were passed around by the crew as we waited to watch the sun's latest disappearing act. What a great evening for a sail. I'm not accustomed to someone else taking all the responsibility for missing all the bumpy spots.

You know, I think even a relatively average tropical sunset must look better from the deck of a boat.

The trip continued to get interesting after sunset, but of course it was too dark to take photos. The Arielle landed at the lighted docks in Leeward Channel where we found a nice bus waiting to take us all to the Coyoba restaurant, where we had dinner reservations. This was first class service all the way. Thanks, Jay and Rock Stubbs, and the crews of Sail Provo. There is a link to their web site on the right side column of this blog, by the way. If you're ever in Provo, and looking for something nice to do, call them up. They might have something going on.

Now instead of my usual DIY stuff that bores some people to tears I thought I would just throw in a few miscellaneous photos that caught my eye this week while organizing all my photos. The last time I cleared out my hard drive, I archived 10,000 photos. And now I am up to almost 9,000 more. It's amazing how many we take that no one else ever sees. Usually because they don't have anything to do with the rest of the photos in a post.

Remember my whining about the unusually shoddy construction of the wrecked Haitian sloop that we photographed recently? Well, Captain Bob Nichols, of the schooner "Star of the Sea"wrote me confirming my impressions that they could build better boats. He sent me a couple of photos he took on a recent mission to the orphanage in Haiti that he supports with his mission.

You other boat people out there reading this can look at how the frames are done on these sloops, as compared to the one we saw wrecked. These are definitely better built.

Bob says one of the Haitian boat builders told him he could make him a boat like this for $ 500 US Dollars. Think about that one, for a minute.

These guys match the wood to the shape they need. I have to wonder what they could if someone gave them $ 1,000. for a sailing masterpiece?

It also points out another factor in the constant stream of Haitian refugees risking their lives in expendable versions of this design to escape their native land. We commonly see reports of 75 people on a sloop rounded up, rescued, detained, fed, and deported. We have heard from several sources that they just wait until they can scrape up another $ 1,000. and try again. So, the boat costs $ 500, and the fares equal $ 75,000. for a one way trip. Some boats have more people than that on them. I don't think this business is going to go away, despite the risks.

I took this photo in the grocery store parking lot because it reminded me of a story we heard here about a year or so ago.

We were admiring an impressive new tow truck at the time. I think he had delivered something to the house. The truck had one set of these massive air horns on the roof, and a bare spot where another set had obviously been installed at one time. I asked the owner about the horns. I had been thinking about adding a set of louder horns to the Land Rover. A lot of the drivers here who grew up someplace to the south are very fond of using their automobile horns as a form of communication. They typically tap out bleats and beeps with tinny sounding little typical small car horns. I have long thought it might be fun to hide a real honker of a horn under the bonnet for just those moments when I feel the desire to reply to a horn I consider rude. You know the feeling I am talking about. I am interested in a horn that will knock loose paint and the duct tape off the offending automobile. I asked Tony what kind of reaction he got when he felt the need to chastise one of these horn honkers in retaliation. I could just see one of them blasted loose with a proper set of air horns. Tony smiled at some memories of what I suspect might have happened when "that dude's hawn go bleat bleat!". He told us that the police had received complaints. The horns were judged too loud. They told him he had to lower the volume, so he decided to just remove one set of the air horns. Clever move. He complied with the request to lower the volume, yet still maintained an offensive capability.

I didn't think to ask him what he did with the set of air horns he was ordered to remove. I suspect we now know where those went. Now he's packing horn even in his off duty hours. And I'll bet this Jeep can kick start an inattentive pedestrian from forty meters.

This is a photo of the small hillside from in front of the entrance to the Caicos Marina and Boatyard. Rocks are stacked in vertical columns about the height of people. When I first saw these from a distance it appeared as though a silent tribe of unmoving spectators was watching us sail. I thought they looked stoned. We sailed over for a look, and I was right.

This is a photo from when we were out searching for our "Christmas Stump". It's a view of the Five Little Cays area from a different perspective than we usually see. One of our nearest and favorite sailing areas for the Hobie Tandem Island.

And I am posting this Go-Pro image we took from the mast of the Hobie when we sailed up the far side of West Caicos in search of the Marevedi Cove. I want to go back with more time and some snorkeling gear. One look at this place and you just know there have been boats pulling in here for shelter from the winds over the centuries.

This next photo is another reminder of something we want to do. We were sitting around a few days ago when we heard this roar of infernal combustion engines leaving the boatyard. It was late in the day, but I managed to get this photo of a new boat in town. And now I want to drive over to the boatyard and see if we can't find out what the story is here.

It looked like it has seats for at least a dozen people on it. Now that's my idea of a water taxi with some snap. We saw it return to the boatyard, so we're due a trip over there to check things out. If any of our blog readers have boats stored there and want us to take some photos of them for you, just drop me an email and we'll do it.

I promised no DIY this post, and so there won't be any.... BUT I did get a lot of questions and comments about the Gringos Wooden Eco-Responsible Storm Light fixtures I've been building to replace the hurricane damaged ones that came with the house. I've now built six of them, and fiddled with the design until I was happy with it. I am now in the process of making a bunch more of them. Here's a night photo of the first half dozen:

La Gringa tells me she likes them. The thick, heavily tinted wine bottles and low wattage bulbs actually produce a nice glow. I've played with some variations on the aluminium cans I used for the internal shades. I've found out that the cans perform several important functions in the design.

Here's a drawing of what the final pieces looked like, almost.

I decided to leave the hole in the top piece, for ventilation. These bulbs don't get very hot, but they do produce heat and there is a solar thing going on with these lamps in the sun, too. I am thinking that even in a real frog strangler of a downpour, not much water would get into that hole. The rain here is usually blowing sideways, anyhow. And whatever droplet do run down inside will drip into the little basin in the end of the inverted aluminum can. It will evaporate. The can also acts as a heat sink, encloses the light bulb, and is grounded to the aluminum part of the fixture. I've found that "U" shaped cuts with the flap bent outward will direct the light downward. And vertical slits in the other side of the Coke can let the illumination shine outward in a bigger pattern.

Since that version, I've shortened the wine bottle glass and changed the aluminum plate that I attach the socket to. It's now two strips of aluminum crossed.

Dooley the Distracted hopped up on the wall to see what I was interested in (of course!) and while he momentarily blocked the nearest light I took this photo to show you how elevating the lights up a little more lets them cast light down to the ground outside the wall. I think it's working. Sorry about the dog butt.

That's it for this post. I've already posted the sunset photo from the sailing trip. So on that note, we'll just say adios until next time. And if you think it's easy living like this, well, I'll leave you with this thought, too: