Friday, March 23, 2012

Oh No, Not Another West Caicos Beach Post!!

Yep. It is.. I wrote in the last post that we'd be going back to try to pick up some more useful pieces of battered, waterlogged junk. Well, we went back, and we did pick up some more good "stuff". But before I get into the details of another scavenger run, I wanted to show you this rainbow La Gringa spotted last week. It ended right about exactly where our center console boat is parked at the marina.  Are rainbows bi-directional by any chance?  I mean, does this represent gold coming in.......or going out?

I realize that we seem to be fixated on this one stretch of West Caicos.  We have reasons for that. That beach is on an uninhabited island. When we're on this beach, we're almost certain that we'll get through the entire day without seeing another person. We like that. And it's not a classic, beautiful beach by any means. It's rocky, and covered with years of debris. We like that, too. It's an interesting beach to us. And the only way to get there is by boat.

You might ask why this dog has a concerned look on his face. It's not because of the GoPro "Dooley-Cam" strapped to his back. That little camera is visible just over his right ear in the photo. Barely. He's pretty tough on wearable camera mounts. Especially when he's storming a beach like Audie Murphy in four wheel drive. But he's accustomed to the Dooley Cam by now. Or maybe he's just become accustomed to me using him as a Guinea Pig. To the the point where wearing a camera doesn't even faze him anymore.  When La Gringa took this photo he was making up his furry little mind on whether he should swim out to where I was maneuvering a large sheet of 'Starboard' marine plastic toward the skiff.

For those who don't commonly spend a lot of time around boats, 'Starboard' is the trade name for a  plastic product that's used to construct things on boats. This stuff is dense and can be cut, drilled, and tapped like heavy plywood. I've been wanting to get my hands on some of this for a long time now, but could only find a few small pieces in sporadic stock here on the island. Sporadic stock means that in six years I saw a few pieces for sale,once. So I was pretty happy when we found almost an entire sheet of it on the rocks this afternoon.

While Dooley the Distracted had been off in the bushes chasing rats or lizards or whatever his harassment-du-jour agenda called for, I'd wrestled this thing down to the water to float it. It's a lot easier to float than it is to carry. A 48 x 84 inch sheet of 0.5 inch Starboard weighs 70 lbs. I looked it up when I got back to a computer. I was surprised. I thought it felt more like 600 lbs. at the time.   And this is 3/4".   It's tapered, though.  I think it might have been the surface for a fish cleaning table on a commercial boat.

But discussions of weight aside, the important thing for me is that it turns just slightly positive in water. Kind of like me, I guess.

This was good news.  Meant I could float it out to the boat.  I sure would have been bummed if it sank.

So while La Gringa was waiting in the skiff to help me get this thing aboard, she was taking photos of my little salvage operation. As she often does. And that reminds me, I want to apologize up front for there being so many photos of me in this post. You might recall that my pocket camera bit the bucket, and kicked the dust, and mixed it's last metaphors recently. So most of these photos were taken by La Gringa. And it's really difficult to find any that don't have me in the frame. I've tried to minimize the damage, and cropped myself out when I can. I guess it's not the worst way to be framed. Or cropped. Now, back to our story....

I know, I know. Last weekend it was a stainless steel tank and some wood. This time it's a big sheet of plastic. "But this is good stuff, honey! I can make something useful out of this." Yeah, sure, she's heard that one a few times.  I would say I deserve the title Pack Rat, but I wouldn't say it too loudly.
You know how Dooley feels about rats.   He wants for there not to be any.   Anywhere. Anymore.  Ever.

Anyhow, after figuring out that I must have invented some kind of new floating toy out there, Dooley the Decisive decided he'd take a break from scaring the pellets out of rats and swim out to investigate it for himself. Dooley's awed by my mechanical skills, but then he's impressed by anyone who can operate a can opener. If JRTs ever develop opposable thumbs, we're in trouble. It would be like inventing a raccoon with a Type A personality and a measurable IQ.

I don't really ever know for sure what's he's thinking. He has his own way of looking at things. As far as he was concerned, he was swimming from the island to a boat. Looked like a nice place to rest. Maybe he thought that I had built him another surfboard, since someone threw away his last one.

I tried to tell him what was going to happen,but he doesn't listen to reason once he's decided upon a course of action. Sometimes he's right. But then we could say the same thing about a broken clock.

He scrambled up onto the floating plastic fairly easily, but then things started going south in a hurry. Remember when I said earlier that this stuff is slightly positive in water? I meant just barely positive. It floats as long as nothing gets added to it. Such as a miscalculating dog without even your average hamster's grasp of elementary physics.  I said he was smart.   I didn't say brilliant.

I think this must be the moment when he realized that he wasn'tt going to be able to stretch out in the sun on this new "raft" and catch up on his reading. In fact, the fickle little booger immediately turned to La Gringa in the real boat. This is his "Help me!" look. I think he must have majored in beseeching with a minor in pitiful,helpless,and starving.   His eyes get all squinty and he really tries to make one feel sorry for him.   But look at this photo.  Does this look stressful to you?  It's safer than a YMCA swimming pool at the moment.

We didn't have as much time as we'd hoped for, and had to leave the serious beach combing for another trip. This time around my main purpose was to try to determine what was left of this catamaran under the sand. The 'seagull striker' was still sticking up just off the beach in the shallow water. I suspect it will remain until at least the next major storm.

I tried to move it. I really did. I grabbed it and pulled. I braced my back against it and pushed. I spoke to it nicely. I tried threatening it. Nada. I couldn't budge it at all. I dug a number of holes in the sand and discovered that it's still attached to both the front crossbeam and the little walkway that divides the trampoline down the middle on many catamarans. I don't want to get too far into unfamiliar terminology here, but the result is that there is a substantial structure still buried here. The entire front frame of a large multihull. That little glob to the left is some marine plant life growing on some steel cable still attached to it all.

I had seen what I hoped was something useful a little further out from the beach when we first came into shore in the boat. I waded out to where it was and recovered it.

Hey, one man's discarded length of PVC pipe is another man's.... uh.... excuse to go beach combing? More good stuff! I'm sure I can use this somewhere, someday, somehow. It's really good when guys like me have understanding wives. It's also a good argument for a separate garage.  Beats separate beds.

La Gringa and Dooley the Disappointed decided to walk down the beach, and leave me to explore this wreck on my own.   They took my camera with them.

She found hunks of the fiberglass hulls all up and down the beach. She was hoping to find something with the name of the boat, or the manufacturer.

Dooley the Destroyer made sure there were no evil rodents hiding inside the wreckage. No well-meaning but misguided rodents either, for that matter. He's an equal-opportunity terrierist.

I want to point out that the Dooley-Cam is preventing him from crawling inside the hull in that photo. This is both a good thing, and a not so good thing. It caused some problems a little later on in the day. Especially when we were packing up to leave and head home. we couldn't find the dog. We called and called to him. We shouted both veiled and overt threats. We hinted at promises we never intended to keep regarding mountains of cheese. We whistled, and used every trick we've come up with over the years to get him to listen to us. I even started the outboard motor and shouted out that we were going to leave him overnight with no food, water, or access to the Animal Channel. And then I used the ultimate in Dooley psychology tools, I yelled that the updated forecast was for severe thunderstorms. That should have done it. But the only reply was the sound of the waves, and the wind. At this point we started getting nervous.

We turned the boat off, waded back ashore and started searching. We were worried that he'd gotten into something harmful.  I think the little beggar would eat straight strychnine if he thought it had a chicken bone in it.

After a half an hour of searching, La Gringa found him entangled in a thick bush. He'd tried to crawl under some low limbs and gotten the GoPro camera and straps all tangled up to the point where he couldn't get out. We ran the video later, and had a laugh over the early parts before he got tangled and his batteries all ran out. But I confess it had me worried and in the future I'll remove the life jacket if he's going to be crawling through the underbrush. And he will be.  Like men, a dog will just naturally like to do those things that he does best.

Overall the new version of the Dooley-Cam worked okay. The early stuff was all floppy and I won't show you that. But then  we did a little  Archie Bell tighten-up thing with his rigging and turned him loose again.

La Gringa made a video of the good part when he was using his nose to prospect for whatever it is he prospects for.  And I'm not sure I really want to know what all that is.  He'd run for a while then stop and pop up to check on our location. Here's what one minute of Dooley's idea of beach combing looks like from his perspective:

While Dooley and I were playing in the big sandbox, each absorbed in our  prospective searches for respective treasures, La Gringa took the time to look around and take some nice photos. Like this:

That was a very intricate wood grain she found there. We left this particular piece alone but found other more workable lengths of this same wood. I have some of it at the house now, and wish I knew how to find out what it is.   Could it be black locust? I'll clean up a piece and polish it and maybe if I post it someone reading this will recognize it. I strongly suspect it's one of the main components in the Haitian sloops, but when I look up the native trees of Haiti it's a long list. How do you classify wood if you don't have the bark and leaves to look at?

I realize that when we say Dooley is off annoying various rodents, it might seem odd to think of them on a deserted beach. But we've seen several to confirm what he was telling us all along. And there are plenty of places for them to get shelter here.   I haven't found a source of fresh water, but somehow, they sure survive and even thrive here.

I can just imaging Dooley the Daunted thinking "So many caves to hide in, so little time..".

This is the root of a large bamboo. There are thousands of these floated up on the beaches here, and bamboo this big doesn't grow naturally on these islands. I imagine they wash down rivers in Africa and South America and get washed up this way. There are a lot of fanciful shapes in these bamboo roots. I wish I could think of a use for them.

I'm not much of a 'plant guy'. In fact I usually only pay attention to those you can eat or build something with, but La Gringa found this little thing in full bloom. We've been paying more attention to the local flora lately. Eventually we'd like to replace all the imported and troublesome stuff our original landscape contractor sold us with local plants that are happy with ambient conditions and don't need constant attention. I'm willing to bet that this one is now on La Gringa's mental list. The sea sage is another one we like.

Now please remember that I had nothing to do with these next photos. I suspect that La Gringa Suprema saw me all hunched over digging in the sand like a slobbering two year old with a soggy diaper and wandered over to make sure I wasn't trying to domesticate a sting ray or something.

I was working away at trying to find where the standing rigging of that catamaran terminated. If you look at the part protruding from the sand and imagine that the main shrouds attached there where I am digging, you can get an idea of the size of the boat. I would have been sitting approximately in the middle of the boat. If it hadn't been smashed to smithereens, that is.

I have absolutely no idea why she took this photo. When I asked her, she just grinned at me and shook her head. I could almost call it a giggle. Which really baffles me......

.......because all I was doing was trying to figure out what this stuff was attached to. When I found that frayed section of cable, I stopped digging with my hands. That stuff will shred you in a heartbeat.

I'd remembered to bring a saw with me on this trip, so I was able to at least go home with about a five meter length of the stainless steel rod rigging. And the Starboard, and several buoys, and some pieces of mystery wood. And some glass fishing net floats. And a great funnel. We even wrestled a nice stump on board, for some reason I forget at the moment. But it made sense at the time. This is truly living up to the nickname Preacher gave it : Flea Market Beach.

I've had this fantasy for some time about finding an aluminium case floating along, or washed up on a beach, and just stuffed full of banded currencies in large denominations. Every time we go beach hunting these days I tell La Gringa and Dooley to "keep an eye out for my briefcase".   This is my own version of Mel Fisher's "Today's the day". We were on our way back across the fifteen miles toward home when I noticed Dooley the Diligent on alert staring at something off in the distance. I looked in the direction he was staring and by golly if I didn't see the flash of sunlight on a shiny surface, floating on the water. "Oh boy!" (I thought to my greedy self) "Dooley done found my briefcase!" I was thinking about how much sailboat we'd be able to buy as I headed over to check it out.

Until I realized that it was just a Mylar balloon that had lost its helium. Imagine my disappointment.

This is part of my growing collection of lumber we've brought home from the beaches around here. The longest piece here is about 9 ft. long. Some of it is teak, there's a fair bit of mahogany, and of course several planks of the mystery wood in various thicknesses.   And the useless stump.  Must not forget the useless stump.   I hope this stuff works out to be useful to build with.

I guess at this point it would be reasonable for you to ask "What the heck does he DO with all that old gray wood, anyhow?" So here are a few examples. Basically, I make stuff that we can use around the house. You've already seen the tortilla press I made for La Gringa in an earlier post (the latter part of this one) and the outside lights. Well here's some more.

We needed someplace to keep the binox we keep handy for scanning the ocean with our steely gazes. Or in my case, iron oxide gazes. I remembered all the mahogany binocular boxes I have seen in the wheelhouses of a lot of boats in my life, so I made one for the house:

On one of our recent scavenging trips we found several pieces of a teak swim platform, or perhaps it was a grating of some kind. I couldn't tell what it was, exactly, as it was broken into several pieces. I wish that I'd taken a photo before taking it apart and reassembling it. This is what the little pile of parts I have left looks like:

So, since we are in need of some outside patio tables, I decided to see if I could make one out of this teak grating. This is the top of it, so far:

I used mahogany frame pieces that still have the worm holes eaten into it during it's years at sea. The teak will get really dark when I rub tung oil into it. I'll show you another photo when it's' completed if anyone is interested in this kind of stuff.

I decided that all the outdoor furniture I build will be with the same philosophy of not using anything that will rust or corrode. So since I can't use screws or nails, I have to resort to some of the old ways of holding furniture together. I found out that a conch bruiser (that piece of yellowish wood ) works really well as a mallet for chisels. It's made from a local tree called lignum vitae and it's a very hard wood. If it were a mineral it would be diamond. This method of putting wood together is called 'joinery'.

Slowly, the frame for another table takes place, joint by joint.

There will be four legs joined at the top aprons, and down near the bottom at this spreader.

Sometimes we come across a hunk of wood that we just like for its own sake. There are several examples of this around the house now. Recently La Gringa found this root washed up, and neither one of us really know what kind of wood it is. It's very dense, like teak, but almost black in color, like ebony. All I've done to it so far was to clean it up, and smoth off the sharp edges. Then I rubbed a few coats of tung oil into it. I think we'll just keep it around to look at, hoping one of us comes up with a good idea about what to do with it. This thing is about 18 inches long. So heavy, I doubt it would even float. it must have come ashore as part of a bigger bush that did float.

I just realized that this post is getting excessively long with all my ramblings, so I'll cut it off here and save some photos for next time.

Oh wait, one more. We didn't want you to think life here is all beaches and woodworking. I still have my hands full with repairs and maintenance on the house, vehicles, and boats. For example, just this week one of the mirrors on the Defender fell off. I looked up what it's called and what it costs, and once again find that the shipping and import duties on a replacement "wing mirror head" from England will cost more than the mirror itself.

I thought it appropriate that along with using old methods of joinery to build furniture, I would resort to the old methods of securing things eaten up by salt.

Yep. I'm using that maritime classic: gray duct tape.

Duct tape is a very temporary fix here though. It's not like back in east Texas where a good duct tape job by an experienced red neck outlives the automobile itself. The sun's UV will eat that stuff in a matter of days here in the tropics. I still have to either fix or replace the wing mirror.

I was fortunate in that La Gringa stepped out the door as I was writing this, and snapped a fresh sunset photo for me. This is as fresh as they come.

I'll try to find something other than West Caicos to write about next time. We've got some new stuff planned.


Anonymous said...

That heavy wood is probably Ironwood. I think its native to your area...looks great in any case.

Emily said...

Love the part about Dooley and the starboard. Humorous story, and the photos are priceless! Also love your teak grid table top. Really nicely done, and for such a great price.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Got to love Dooley and his cam. Do you every give him a big kiss on the nose? Is it the greatest and the end of the day when he is thoroughly exhausted and just snoozes in one spot at home vs. constantly romping around all day?

Nice looking wood find. Based on the location of it all on the beach can you date when it arrived? All seems high up on the beach well past the high tide mark, and all seems to be clumped together in lots. When would there have been a storm that would have placed these lots up so high on the beach? At the same time the lots combind of wood and plastic all seem to have the exact same weather ageing.

Did you notice anything missing from the last visit. How spooky would that be, if you had a piece memorised from the last visit and you went to the vicinity of it and just it was no longer there?

That black root thing is beautiful. If you flip ot over and put one end on base, seems the other end could hold letters or magazines or something, depending on how big the whole thing is overal and how close the opening actually is?

Anonymous said...

Excessively long? You tease, you! I was just settling in for another great read, now I'm drooling for the next chapter.

Can't wait to see that table top when you're done with it.


Anonymous said...

Thanks. I made a set of legs for that teak grid table top, but then didn't like the way it looked. So I'm making another top for the legs, and another set of legs for that teak top. It's just patio furniture, anyhow. It'll be all gray looking within a few months in this sun.

And the stuff on the beach changes each time we go. The pieces that are up high on the rocks (Hurricane Irene) don't change until we get another storm but the stuff down at the high water mark changes constantly. It's one of the reasons we keep going back.

I'm trying to design up a set of outdoor furniture that uses laminated bent wood, on Google Sketchup. The hammock stand is pretty straightforward, but the chairs are taking some thought.

Jim (Lil Provo) said...

I love the video of Dooley! The music and him seem to work together.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. La Gringa gets the credit for picking the music, too. Did you catch the lyrics?

It's "Rats in Me Kitchen" by UB-40.