Monday, March 5, 2012

West Caicos Revisited, again.

I think we may be close to making the transition from casual beachcombers to outright scavengers. Well maybe that's a little too strong. We're not aggressive about it. We haven't resorted to lighting fires on the beach at night to try to divert ships onto the reef. So perhaps foragers is a better word. That's better than pack rats anyhow. In either case, we've graduated to the next level of whatever term applies to those who leave home with an empty boat and return with it filled up with junk from a deserted beach.

Recent DIY projects used up all of the recyclable wood that we had on hand. I wanted to try to find some more. We've been keeping a weather eye out for a good day to return and last weekend we lucked out. We got a break from the seasonally strong winter trade winds and were blessed with a few days of light southerly breezes. The meteorological equivalent of a soft drawl to small boat operators. And perfect conditions for a trip back to one of our favorite beaches for some mahogany and teak shopping.

The whole idea of making things from salvaged shipwreck wood appeals to us. This stuff has been tested by the worst that the world can throw at it short of actual destruction. From the condition of some of the iron fasteners that we see, most of the stuff we are picking up has been drifting for many years. Twenty years? Fifty? A hundred perhaps? I don't presently know of any way to tell how old it is. It's what a decorator might called distressed. This stuff has some character. New and untested wood seems so.... shallow, by comparison.

On our way to West Caicos we spotted a set of three tall masts at Sapodilla Bay. Single masted sloops are most common here, and we do see the double masts of a yawl or ketch from time to time. Three masted boats are unusual. The only other three masted schooner we have seen in a while is the Star of the Sea. Sapodilla was a little out of our direct path to West Caicos, but we had a full tank of fuel and an entire afternoon to goof off , so we detoured over to check it out.

La Gringa took her DSLR camera with her on this trip because my beloved little Pentax finally went crazy after two years in my pocket. That's a record for us here. Since moving to Providenciales, I've watched three Sony's, 2 Olympus, 1 Kodak, 1 Reefmaster, and now the Pentax fail. Electronics and salt do not play well together. We still have an Olympus and La Gringa's Pentax Kx DSLR. As for my pocket camera, I tried taking some some of these shots with the Optio, as it still functions to a limited degree, but with no display. I thought that perhaps I knew it well enough to use it, but after uploading some of my pix here I discovered that the resolution has also gone even further south than I have. Sorry to see you go, Pentax, it's been fun.

I've been reading about this new little Nikon CoolPix AW100 waterproof lately. I might give that a try next, but in the meantime I wanted to explain why some of the photos on this blog post are grainy and not even up to our usual standards, as low as those are. When you set the bar on the ground and still fail to clear it.... something needs to change.

As we motored the skiff closer to the schooner, we could read the name on the bow. This is the Juliet.

We could see racks of SCUBA tanks secured to the railings on deck, and a substantial boarding ladder mounted to the hull. So we pretty much knew this was some kind of dive boat deal. When we got back to internet land later that night I Googled it up and found a website for the boat. It's a three masted, 104 ft. Australian-built steel schooner being used as a liveaboard dive boat out of the Bahamas. You can check that all out by clicking here.

La Gringa's telephoto lens did a nice job on the stern of the boat, where one of the crew was gazing down into the clear warm waters of Providenciales. Check out that helm seat, though. Man, that is one magnificent place to sit if you've got to be in the sun all day driving a boat. I bet there are some big floppy hats on board.

I almost expected to see some big bald headed guy with a whip hanging from his belt, beating a drum to keep the rowing tempo. I might even volunteer for that job myself.

After checking the Juliet out we zoomed on over to West Caicos for our free wood shopping spree. Dooley the Digger didn't delay deploying or even wait for us to get his new life jacket off before he was investigating all the interesting scents and scurrying noises beneath the piles of ocean debris that line this shore. He loves it here. There is a good supply of sand crabs, lizards, and random rats for him to terrierize.

Dooley was here for the fauna, but I was here looking for mahogany driftwood. And as those Latin American futbol announcers are so fond of screaming into an amplifier.... "SCORE!"

While Dooley the Disruptive gleefully panicked every small animal within reach and I searched for goodies to take back to the shop, La Gringa strolled around taking some photos. And yep, here's the first shoe of the day:

And she was having fun with the colorful tangles of fishing nets and various ropes and lines that are everywhere on this and every other cluttered beach that we have found here.

I was looking through these photos, and it struck me that on this one small beach alone there must be tons of polypropylene fiber wasting away in the sun. This is plastic. Made from petroleum. Think of how much of this stuff is floating in the ocean, along with millions of tons of recyclable water bottles, shoes, and other plastic products. I thought, "wow, wouldn't it be great if I could scoop up a boat load of this stuff, sort it into the different colors and characteristics, melt it and extrude it into the 5mm plastic rod that the 3-D printer I have on order would use to make new things?

So, I looked up 'extruders' on the internet, and found out that these are simple machines. They are a worm gear in a heated tube. There are photos and diagrams and even You Tube videos of these things on the internet. If you're interested in this extruder topic, click here for a good place to start. This stuff is really pretty clean already. It's been washed by the ocean and really only needs a fresh water rinse to be totally clean of salt and contaminants. I envision an extruder with different temperature settings for melting ABS, PET, HDPE, with a variety of extrusion nozzles for different requirements.

We've ordered one of the new Printrbot 3-D printers from Kickstarter's new start up company. One of their stated goals is to get a 3-D printer into every classroom. I personally think this is an enormously stupendous idea. Think of what it could mean if everyone with a new idea could design and create a working prototype almost instantly. This (and graphene, I'm also buzzed on graphene) are some world changing technologies And I think of all the millions of tons of plastic clogging the beaches and oceans of the world. And then I think of people buying 5mm plastic rod by the pound, and all the petroleum that would be used to supply this new requirement. Wouldn't it be great if classrooms had this perfect excuse to go clean up a littered beach, sort the various plastics into their different colors, and remelt and reuse them? People with boats could scoop this stuff out of the Pacific Gyre and the oncoming Japanese tsunami mess, and recycle it. Save oil and all the transportation costs of conventional recycling. And wouldn't parents and school administrators like to have the printers without buying all that new plastic by the pound?

I think the new 3-D printer world could use a "Consumer Model" plastic extruder. It's a natural fit. If I had the resources, I'd build one. But I don't have the resources where I live. I wrote Brook Dunn, the man behind the Printrbot and asked him if he thought this was a good idea. No reply yet. Maybe one of you guys know someone in the invention business. This is a good opportunity and if someone will build a consumer level recycle/extruder, I'll buy one.

Meanwhile, off my environmental soapbox (that's a recycled box!) and back on West Caicos...

Dooley the Devious and I beachcombed while La Gringa shutterbugged. Clean clear blue ocean and bright sunny weather. Light winds and calm water, it couldn't be better. Wading in water with nothing that stings.. These are a few of my favorite things. (Ouch.. sorry bout that. And my apologies to Julie Andrews.)

And here's another flip flop next to plastic bottles and a mahogany board in a debris pile. Now I'm seeing recyclable supplies everywhere I look. I suspect this could develop into something even more consuming than the battered wood fetish.

Some things would be almost a shame to melt. There must be some use left in this old toy flying disc for example. Heck, I didn't know that pirates even had ultimate Frisbee games.

It's not all reusable stuff here, though. La Gringa found a dead puffer fish and took some interesting photos. I've cropped this photo to show you just the skin of this fish.

I cropped it because I found the image of the empty face of this animal to be somewhat haunting, and I don't want to give anyone nightmares. But the inflatable skin is interesting. These guys swell up like this to make it difficult for predators to swallow them. I guess it worked, this guy didn't get swallowed. He probably shouldn't have ridden that last wave all the way to the beach, though.

If you look way up the beach in this next photo, you might be able to make out a small object sticking up out of the water just off the shoreline. We were making our way up there to see what it was when I spotted this piece of boat up at the extreme high water mark. This is obviously (to me, at least) one of the bow sections of a multihull boat.

I spent quite a bit of time examining this, because one of the aspects of modern catamaran construction that interests us is the hull layup method. Old boats were made with heavy, solid fiberglass hulls. They are rugged, but slow. Modern techniques often involve sandwiching a core material such as a honeycomb matrix, or even balsa wood, between two thin layers of fiberglass. This saves material cost and weight. It makes the boats lighter and faster. But like all choices in life, there are some trade offs. These trade offs are a subject of some discussion in the Gringo household these days. I also wanted to explain that that photo (above) is one of the shots I tried to take with the now defunct Pentax. Without a display, I didn't know the quality was that bad until later. Sorry about that. And there are a few more of those in this post.

We reached the semi-submerged object of interest on the beach and immediately recognized it, as will anyone familiar with large sailing catamarans. I waded out with my crippled point-and-shoot, and pointed and shot. Maybe this one needs to be renamed a 'point and pray'. horrible horrible.

This is commonly called a "Seagull Striker" in the sailing community. It doesn't really have anything to do with birds, though.

The contraption is a way of handling the forces on the front part of a sailboat caused by the jib sail lifting upwards on the crossbar. Some boats have a different version of this that extend from the front trampoline crossbar down to the hulls, and since those were right at the waterline they have long had the nautical nickname of 'dolphin striker' because that's the area in front of a moving boat where dolphins like to play in the bow wave. When marine architects moved the rigging up over the trampoline and bows, people could no longer really call them 'dolphin strikers', so they started calling them 'seagull strikers'. What this all really means is that there is a substantial portion of a large sailing catamaran buried in the sand here. Imagine, if you can, my excitement. Dooley must have thought I found a fun rat, the way I was dancing around in excitement.

After finding one of the bows of the boat on the beach, and the rigging here in the sand, we started looking around more carefully. Almost immediately I saw something else shiny on the bottom. Let me tell you, living in a place like this, shiny stuff on the bottom gets our immediate attention, anyway. Yeah, sure, gold and silver would be nice, but after six years living on Provo, stainless steel has been added to the list of precious metals around our house.

This is a section of what is called rod rigging. It's used typically on racing boats instead of the standard twisted cable such as is seen in that second photo of the seagull striker up above.

I didn't have any tools with me to cut this stuff, or I would have taken this with me right then and there. I don't exactly know at the moment what I would use twenty feet of stainless rod for, but I'm sure something will come to me eventually. The fact that it's still shiny in this situation is all I need to see. I can use this. I did try to dig it out of the sand, but the end is still secured to the chainplate or shackle buried deeper in the sand that I could dig with my hands. And blindly digging with your hands around stuff like this is asking for some injuries and cuts. Yes, I have injuries and cuts. I didn't say I follow my own advice. At least, not the first time around.

While thinking about how much good stuff must be scattered around here, we continued on down the beach keeping an eye out for other debris from this shipwreck. Almost immediately we spotted a stainless tank up where I could get at it. This would have been for either water or fuel on the boat. The fittings are gone, so I couldn't tell exactly which.

I spent most of the next hour getting this thing dug up and emptied of packed sand. I'll spare you the details, but the result is that I now have this tank in my little shop. There has been several times that I wished I had some good stainless steel to make various straps and brackets. I'll cut this up and flatten it into sheets and store it under my workbench along with the flattened aluminum from our ruined sat dish. I couldn't buy this here. But I can sure use it. Nice.

We found one of the concrete splats used for property survey markers here on the beach. We've become accustomed to the local convention of slapping a shovel full of wet cement on the ground and inscribing the survey numbers in it before it dries. As you can see, it's a pretty lousy method of marking boundary lines. You can pretty much move these markers to where you want them. I'm sure it's great business for the local surveyors. They can pretty much guarantee that they will be called out to resurvey these points at the next real estate transaction.

And the catamaran we found today, and the sloop "Patience" we photographed earlier are not the only boats to come to grief on this shore. Oh no. Not even the smallest ones are safe here.

That's another piece of plastic, isn't it. I gotta stop thinking about this recycling idea. It's driving me nuts. Kinda like the obsession we've seen Dooley the Determined show a used Cheetos bag. He's always obsessing over that last little bit of odor from the hard to reach corners and seams.

Not everything we find here is trash, either. La Gringa spotted a Norwegian buoy in the rocks. It's in great shape, with the added benefit of a nice big stainless steel anchor shackle attached to it. We'll probably use this as a fender for the skiff. And I would estimate, without looking, that to buy a buoy and shackle like this would cost something around $100-150 here. Treasure! Loot! And I would also add Booty!, but I don't dare. I'll leave that one to you to figure out.

While strolling down the assorted wood scrap aisle here at Flea Market Beach, I noticed several examples of this tree species lying about. I don't know what it's called, and it's too light for structural work so I didn't bring any of it home with us. But I thought it was interesting the way the center pitch is hollow and segmented. I suspect this would make great raft wood. I wonder if Bear Gryll's knows about this stuff?

As is the case with anything on the beach that I start to show an interest in, Dooley the Detrimental ran over to stick his nose into it. Usually he gives something a quick sniff, and moves on. He and I have completely different priorities and ideas of what constitutes 'interesting' stuff. We agree on cheddar cheese, for example, but differ widely on the use of white mice as pets. Dooley's views on rodent husbandry closely parallel those of boa constrictors, cats, and owls. He thinks everyone should raise a few rats. I suppose that if he gives me any more flack about it, I could tell him I have photographic evidence of him snorting crack....

I took a few more photos of the beach that day, but the quality is just too poor to post here. I don't want first time visitors to this blog to look at our photos and hold their nose. Appreciation for the photos is pretty much what the blog is all about, so I junked them. But rest assured, the presence of that catamaran wreckage and stainless rigging pretty much guarantees that we will be back to this beach very shortly. With tools. And maybe a new camera.

Other than the shopping trip our recent activities have been pretty much what we commonly do in our spare time on weekends around here. Weekdays typically get taken up with the mundane activities of living here and maintaining a house, two vehicles, and a couple of boats. We've made several excursions in both the Hobie Tandem Island and the skiff. We find ourselves spending more time around the south side of the island these days, and South Side Marina has become a very familiar site. That beautiful big power catamaran in the next photo is registered in Helsinki, Finland, by the way. I keep intending to talk to the crew the next time I see them. I made three trips to Finland in an earlier life.

When we got back to the house from this trip, I took a photo of the boat with our newly found loot. Sticks, floats, mahogany, Norwegian buoy, shackle, stainless tank. It was a pretty good haul. And we've found that this little skiff is a really good seagoing pickup truck of a boat. It actually rides a little better with some added weight forward of the console.

That little black looking root to the right of the radio antenna is an interesting piece of wood that La Gringa picked up. I don't know exactly what kind of wood it is, but it's very dark and very dense. It reminds me a lot of ebony, and I know some of that comes from western Africa. But I didn't think it would float, so how did it end up here? Must be something else.

We've also made some sailing trips when we had the wind. Another picnic on Bay Cay:

I recently changed the anchor line on the Hobie Tandem Island from this nylon stuff that always got tangled, to common black nylon paracord. It looks very light, but that stuff is rated to over 500 lbs breaking strength. It saves some space on the little boat, and should be up to the task of the limited anchoring we do with it. I'm not worried about the thin line. Besides, I've got Dooley the Diligent keeping an eye on the boat for me.

I was looking at that photo and realized that we are still using his old partially destroyed life jacket on the kayak, because his good one is on the other boat. La Gringa wants me to resurrect the old "Dooley Cam" and perhaps I can dedicate this beat up jacket to that purpose.

The label originally said "Outward Hound". I'm not sure how he managed to change that to something to do with war and North Dakota. Or why.

We discovered something new recently at the house. I was skittering down the 'driveway' one night to close up the workshop when I spotted a snake there in the dark. I almost stepped on the poor thing.

I know that you guys already recognized this, but yes, it's a great example of one of the few local snakes here in the islands. This is the first live one that we've seen here in six years. They are shy, and nocturnal animals, and that's probably one of the reasons we haven't seen any until now. The other reason, which I suspect is the main one, is that they prey on small rodents. And guess what.... we don't have many small rodents in the vicinity of Dooley's house for some mysterious reason.

I happen to like snakes, and had a pet Red Tail boa for many years, so I had to take a good look at this one. It's called a Rainbow Boa, or Bahamas Cat Boa.

Cute little booger, ain't it? Was squeezing my hand as hard as he could in that photo, and would have bitten me if given the chance. Of course I let it go, hoping it lives a long and full life scarfing up rodents. It needs to learn to stay out of sight when Dooley's around though. He thinks anything his size or smaller is in season. And he thinks his size is that of a big tough 150 lb. dog.

We also had an opportunity to visit the new hospital on Providenciales. We were impressed with the relatively new facility at Cheshire Hall.

While we were sitting in the Outpatient Waiting Room to see a doctor, I snapped this photo of other people in the waiting room. What I found interesting about it is that between the people here in this photo there was a total of at least five cell phones, and conversations going on in four languages.

Our friends Sharon and Jim Shafer (former owners of Windmills Plantation on Salt Cay) recently left the Caicos Marina in their new catamaran, Pirate Boat. We were trying to get a good photo of their boat as they left, but they were too far away by the time we noticed which boat was leaving. They are the vague black blob on the right side of this photo. I'm including it here because I think it's a nice early morning scene on a cloudy winter's day.

On another DIY tack, we've managed to get some tomatoes to grow here. The trick seems to be neutralizing this highly alkaline soil, and adding some organic material. So far, so good:

And what would a Gringo blog post be without mentioning some DIY stuff in the workshop. I am still making these outdoor lamp fixtures that I've ranted about for the last three blog installments (starting with this one and the one after it) and have a few more photos for those who have written with a specific interest in them. So far I've replaced eight of the damaged light fixtures with these home made ones, and so far they are working great.

Some people have emailed me about the rings I glue together to hold the wine bottle. This is a photo of a 4" diameter hole saw cutting the plywood circles out of a 4" strip of 3/4" treated CDX plywood.

Yes, it would all look completely different if I had a lathe. This is the best I could come up with using what I have on hand. Drill presses are pretty handy tools to have around. I'm somewhat amazed at how well it's working so far. I need to come up with a way to test these for hurricane winds. Without another hurricane, hopefully.

The next step is to change to a 3" diameter hole saw to cut the middle portion out and make the ring. In this photo I was still using clamps to secure it, but later I discovered that using a simple rubber strapping wrench to hold the 4" disc worked better and was faster. I'm pretty sure that's not OSHA approved. Oh well. It works.

For the first couple of prototypes I had used yet another hole saw to cut a circular piece of aluminum to mount the lamp socket. I've changed to just cutting and crossing two strips of the metal.

Making them longer than the diameter of the post lets me bend them up and this jams them into the fixture securely. It also makes it easy to take them out should that be needed.

So we've got another scavenger trip over to West Caicos planned for as soon as we can fit it in, and in the meantime I am going to try to get another camera to use out in the wild. And I am going to see if I can't dust off the old Dooley Cam and fit it onto his life jacket again. I promise.

We didn't get another great sunset to close this post with, but I've got another nice sunrise instead. Hope that's good enough for now.


Unknown said...

Interesting to see the Dolphin striker. One could almost determine what kind of Catamaran it is from that photo. I don;t recognize it.

Also interesting is that power cat at Southside. Nice looking vessel. what is the 411 on it.? Can't be a Fifi boat as he has moved down the canal a little?

Anonymous said...

When we go to horn island off the coast of Mississippi, one of our favorite activities is beach combing, we are always finding floats, wood, shells and yes the occasional shoe or flip flop! As always enjoyed your post, went surfing last weekend,winter almost over here on the gulf coast. getting the hobie t.i. ready for a trip to the island. Thanks again! Leo

Anonymous said...

That power cat is privately owned, and registered in Finland. We've spoken to the owners a few times. They seem to be spending the season here. They have been outside washing and polishing every time we sail past.

Thanks for the extruder links. I can see the auger is just a wood bit, and I just happen to have a broken glass GE electric cooktop with heating elements and controls. I might be able to come up with something.

Anonymous said...

Maybe use the biggest available drill bit on the island and scale down the whole thing, just to see if it all works?

Anonymous said...

That guy used a 3/4" auger inside a 3/4" black pipe. I can get those here. I have a few spare electric motors lying around, mostly from garage door openers. The motors I have are all 110 VAC AC. The busted glass stove top with heating elements and touch control that I have is 220 VAC. I'm not a good enough electronicker to design a circuit board, but if I could get it all to run on ac I might be able to do it.

Anonymous said...

Should be interesting. I am thinking auger drill put locked into your variable speed drill, clamped into place., little hopper to feed, and your heating element. Got control of the speed via the drill and control of the heat via the stove element. Just scale it down to whatever the biggest auger drill bit is available there and mix and match the drill speed and level of heat until it comes out right.

Anonymous said...

sheesh, drill BIT, not sure how that came out as put,180,42240

Anonymous said...

I've got most of what I need for this, everything but the wood auger bit. Problem is that there are about three or four projects already going.

Romantic Bed and Breakfasts Luray VA said...

Very strange but colorful and informative trip. Some of the unseen photos that I never see before.

Unknown said...

I've recently come across your blog and I love following it. I read this post and I remembered an article I read from It's about a japanese invention that turns plastics back into petroleum, basically. I'll post a link here for you to check out if you want. I hope someday my wife and I can be like you guys when we grow up!