Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On the rode again...

You might wonder why the self-proclaimed big mean animal in this photo is nervously dogging my feet. It's because he doesn't know what's happening next and he positively hates not knowing what's going to happen next. He also turns into 100% Grade A Chicken if there's any hint of atmospheric electrical activity around. Or fireworks. Lately I've rediscovered how much he worries about bubble wrap, but that's a different story. So for all you Dooley the Disgruntled fans, don't worry. He's just nervous.

This was his first trip on the sailboat.

He's been on this boat dozens of times while it was tied to the dock. Where things don't move around very much. But we're not sure that he fully understood that it's a boat. It never moved away from land the whole time he was on board. It must have seemed like a real small waterfront condo to him. Stable. Quietly plugged into shore power. And now that's all been changed. We started up these two diesels, moved the condo out of the marina, and put up the biggest sails he had ever seen close up. Sails apparently look pretty big to small dogs standing under them. To the point where they immediately stop standing under them. Then we left the island behind. This was all new to him. He wants to know exactly what is going to happen next. He'll be better once he's got this whole new experience catalogued. Next time, he'll be volunteering to cast the lines off.

We've been wishing for a nice weather window for weeks. We wanted to wend our way West where we would wander whilst we would while away a wonderful weekend. We were wistfully waiting... for the chance to make an overnight trip with the dog. I ran out of 'W's. You're welcome.... oops.

We weren't sure how The Dog would handle it.. We finally had a good forecast after a long stretch of those bruised looking weekends. You know the ones you get in the summer. Surrounded by serious cirrus. Dark, moisture laden clouds just looking for an opportunity to fling some lightning. Rumble some thunder. Once upon a time I would have told you that the silly dog was a nervous wreck if there was even the possibility of lightning. Now, I would tell you that all three of us are nervous wrecks about it. Getting hit changes some of your parameters about these things. I still twitch and walk funny. Yeah, yeah, I know. I can't blame that on the lightning. But this past weekend was forecast to be a nice one. We looked at how far we could get in a day, and looked at the forecast for strong southeast wind on Saturday and then strong east wind on Sunday, and decided to go anchor for a night on the far side of West Caicos. This is one of the places in the Turks and Caicos that we've wanted to visit again. All our trips to the outside of that island have been brief. We always had to stop what we were doing and start thinking about getting home before dark. But that was before the S/V Twisted Sheets came into our lives. Now we've got our magic carpet. Which looks amazingly like an old fiberglass boat with dingy sails.

Dooley the Deceived hopped onto the boat just as nimble as ever. He didn't know what we were up to. It's not like we were being sneaky, either. We carried coolers with drinks and food and clothing, and he's an old veteran of overnight trips. And he loves to ride on a boat. But he'd never before spent the night at anchor on a boat. That's a different sort of thing entirely than being home before dark.

After the boat got struck while La Gringa and I were sitting at the salon table, we remarked what a good thing it was that Dooley had not been on board with us for that experience. I am sure he would have been seriously traumatized. It was his worst fears confirmed. And it's an intense experience. It does make an impression. In HIS case, he's already terrified of even distant thunder. I think he gets nervous just thinking about thunders he's heard in the past. The dog never forgets anything. A thunderclap in the same boat with you is another level entirely. La Gringa's left ear rang for 24 hours. Mine always ring so I missed that special effect. We showed the dog around the cabin before leaving the dock. I even scratched his neck while La Gringa took a photo. He seemed jumpy about the camera. A mystery. Sometimes I think I know what he's thinking, but most often I'm sure that I do not.

We've managed to visit most of the outside edge of West Caicos over the years. We'd been about a third of the way down the western shore from the north. We'd been down around the southern tip and a few hundred yards beyond. We've gone beachcombing on the eastern side many times. But there was still that big unexplored stretch of the western shore that had been just out of our comfortable reach. We always had to cut the trip short to make it home before dark. This is not the kind of place to boat around in the dark if you don't know the water very well.

Except for a security presence up at the unfinished Molasses Ree resort, West Caicos is uninhabited. There are ruins at an old long abandoned site called Yankee Town. There is an old causeway that crosses the island. This was used in the 1890's when a sisal plantation was located here. I have also read that the causeway is part of the remnants of an early sea salt operation. Bermudian sea salt businesses were here hundreds of years ago. We've long been curious and wanted the time to investigate this place. Of course knowing about the Maravedi coin and the island's drug smuggling and dictator hideout history just whets our appetite even further.

Notice all the dive boat moorings shown on the chart below. This should give you an idea how fast the bottom drops away once you leave the island on that side.

We loaded up the boat for a long picnic and away we went. We used the engines to just get clear of the obstructions and over the shoals and around the coral heads. Once we were out into deeper water we put up the sails and shut the diesels down. What a peaceful way to travel. Unless one is a nervous little dog, apparently.

If you look just to the left of the center of this next photo you should be able to make out the new radar installation here on the south side of Providenciales. This is finally starting to sound like it's operational. We hear the Coastal Marine Radar Station talking to people on the VHF radio. This little country has a huge issue with illegal immigrants arriving by the boatload from Haiti. This radar is modern and covers the entire nation. It should definitely lead to more Haitian sloops being intercepted long before they can make landfall.

Of course catching more of the illegal immigrants means that the country will have to foot the larger bill to feed them and buy them all airline tickets back to Haiti. I wonder if anyone has thought about that.

That photo of the new radar station above was taken where I printed the number "1" on this image of our approximate route to West Caicos.

We had a great wind for a beam reach over to the island and then for a turn to the north. We didn't have to use the engines again until I was lining the boat up on a mooring loop floating on the ocean where the "X" is marked.

Sailing along with the wind on the beam.

Back in the long ago days when we took our ASA sailing catamaran courses in the Virgin Islands we never really relaxed for very long. We spent the entire week as the only two students of a sailing instructor accustomed to keeping a half dozen of them busy. We tacked, and came about, and jibed, and sailed back and forth for a week without just setting a course and keeping it for hours.

This is different. We set the sails just south of the radar tower and pretty much held the same heading for the next few hours. Very nice.

We told Dooley the Distracted that there were NO thunderstorms on the horizon, and that none were in the forecast until at least the following evening. And we planned to be home before then. He was still nervous. So we don't have a lot of photos of the dog on the boat. He wasn't much fun, come to think of it. Constantly underfoot or hiding in a corner.

La Gringa did take some video with her iPad. This is what sailing along leisurely without the engine noise sounds like:

I know some people don't like to click the videos, so we've put a few still images in here as well. I know eventually we'll get tired of taking the same old photos and you will no longer be getting subjected to the same old view from the outside helm station. But this is usually where I'm standing when taking photos while sailing.

We planned to take the time to test the old Mercury outboard that came aboard Twisted Sheets. I cleaned it up and got it running fairly smoothly while it was clamped to the Land Rover. It's pretty elderly and could use a lot of parts replaced. This trip should tell us whether it's worth keeping or not.

This photo was taken just as we passed the southern tip of West Caicos. This is marked as location "2" in that Google Earth satellite image up above.

The angle of the wind up the other side of the island was even better, and we were cruising along at 6-8 knots without bothering to fine tune the sails. This is not a fast catamaran. It's a solid, heavy catamaran. Stable. Slow. We could have probably played with the sails and gotten a little more speed out of her, but we were enjoying the sail so much we just didn't bother. We knew we would be at our destination by mid afternoon. There will be plenty of time to play with sail trim on some of our long trips in the future. We've got 8 other sails we haven't even tried yet.

We had planned to anchor near the shore at West Caicos, but we've learned that private boats are allowed to spend the night on one of those several dive site moorings located along the west side of the island. The moorings are reserved for the dive boats from Provo during the day, but that means that they are unoccupied and available from early afternoon until the next morning. La Gringa grabbed the mooring with a boat hook, and we were secured for the night. We like moorings better than anchoring. When we anchor, we're constantly on alert in case the anchor drags. When we are attached to a solid mooring made for boats several times our size, we really can relax and not worry about an anchor. This location is also good for us geographically. IF we were to break loose from a mooring or anchor and slept through it, we'd just drift to the west all night with nothing to run into. Probably wake up half way to Great Inagua. Would have to decide which way to go at that point. Return to the Turks and Caicos Islands or go check back into the Bahamas. And Great Inagua is definitely on our list of places to go visit in Twisted Sheets. It's about a hundred miles from Provo to Matthew Town.

Everyone was ready for a swim and a look around, so we unlimbered the dinghy and got the outboard running. I have to get a few drops of gasoline into the throat of the carburetor to get it fired up, and this is a bit of a hassle, but once it's running it seems to idle and accelerate just fine. Maybe it needs a carb gasket.

After four or five hours on the boat without a tree or rock in sight, Dooley the Desperate was very interested in going on shore leave. The inflatable dinghy is more his idea of what a boat should be, anyway. Zipping around warm tropical islands in inflatable boats with tiller outboards is just one of the finer things in life to many of us. I'd say the feeling of the wind in our hair was part of the charm, but obviously, that doesn't apply in our case. Wind in our beards? Nah. Wind flopping our ears back? No, that doesn't quite work either. But we do know that these two old dogs like boats.

We set a new record for how far we've gotten from the boat while it was not tied up in a marina. I'm okay with that as long as I can see it and have a way to get back to it.

We hadn't planned to do extensive land exploring on this one-afternoon visit. We wanted to take a closer look at the shoreline, and just enjoy spending a night on the boat, out of sight of Providenciales. We know it's not that far away, but just being the only man made light in sight gives the darkness a special character.

Almost as soon as we got near shore we spotted an interesting looking opening in the rock. From a distance it's sometimes hard to tell a cave from a deep shadow. This was looking like it had some depth to it.

As we got close we could tell that it was quite a respectable little sea cave. This entire section of the coast line is honeycombed with fissures and crevices and caves. Fascinating places for history buffs with fertile imaginations.

One of the nice things about the inflatable boats is that you can easily get really close to things like rocks and walls without worrying too much about the boat. We got this close and could see that there was a ledge at the back of the cave.

This photo came out a little blurry, but it's the closest one we have without getting out of the boat and swimming inside. The cave seems to bend to the left, and there is a ledge that could be walked on. You'd be in a bent over position, but there's room.

Every time I start thinking like that, I remind myself to look around at all the broken rock that has fallen off this rock face over the years. A couple tons of limestone pinning you underwater could potentially ruin the entire day.

As much as I liked the idea of poking around in caves, this one had a major drawback as far as Dooley the Determined was concerned. There was no place to, uh, stand. Some things just don't work right while treading water. We headed further up the coast knowing that the charts looked like there might be some beach further north. Twisted Sheets was still in sight. The dinghy planes just fine with the 2.1 of us and no other load.

It wasn't long before we spotted the same two coves we had seen on the previous trip in the Hobie Tandem Island. We decided to see if we could find a place for the dog to go ashore for his nature walk. Which was starting to look like it might be a nature jog, if I was reading his expression right.

We got better photos from our GoPro camera on the little sailboat's mast on our previous sail-by, but this is the same cove in that post.

And just around the next corner we spotted what looked like a small beach in a protected spot. Perfect.

I didn't notice the spot of water on the camera lens at the time, so this kind of got blurred in the middle, but you can still see what a nice spot this is. Clear warm water, a fine soft sand bottom, and a beach with a built in doggie fence.

To give you an idea of the scale, this is the dog standing outside the smaller of the two caves. This is the one on the right in the image two photos up. He could walk around in there no problem, but I would have to be on my hands and knees.

The next time we come over here I'll try to remember to hook up the "Dooley Cam" and we'll send that little booger into every cave we can find. I know he'd get into it, and I bet he'd do it for the fun of it. This cave also appears to go further back into the shore than is immediately apparent. And there is a sand ledge above the high tide line.

While Dooley did his canine spelunker thing, we enjoyed a nice swim in the clear, warm water. The bottom slants away very quickly on this side of the island. A lot of the dive charters here bring their customers to one of the spots marked on that chart up above. It's a good place to get anchored out of the prevailing wind and seas.

Once Dooley the Downloaded noticed me out in the water taking photos he had to come out for a look.

He might appear serious in this photo, but this is the face of a happy dog.

We didn't have all afternoon to explore, but we did zoom back to the south to investigate a small cut we had seen in the shoreline as we sailed by on the way up to the mooring. The cut was square and symmetrical, and that's pretty rare in nature. When we got close we could see that this was an old loading wharf for boats.

La Gringa spotted the rows of dressed limestone blocks that had been used to make a vertical wharf here. These have to be at least a hundred and twenty years old, and maybe older. There is just no decent history written about most of these islands. So much is left to the imagination.

There is no doubt that someone spent long hours in the tropical sun using hand tools to cut, transport, and place these blocks, though. There's got to be some stories there. Is it lost forever?

We hoped for a spectacular sunset to polish our first night on the boat in six weeks, but it was not to be. The sun slipped away without a splash of any kind. We were left alone, just the three of us in a floating home in the dark. It felt comforting and familiar to two of us, but not so much to one little nervous dog who must have wondered if the big guy forgot to get him home before sundown. NOW he was nervous.

We made the decision to head back to South Side Marina in the morning. We had toyed with the idea of doing some more exploring and maybe some snorkeling, and delaying our departure until mid day. But we reminded ourselves of something we learned on the trip down from Florida. We think it's best to get the earliest start you are comfortable with on a day you plan to travel. It's a lot better to have extra daylight left to allow for delays. And so far, in our limited experience, there are always delays. We didn't really know how long it would take us to sail back to Provo, and we decided to play it safe. In retrospect we should plan two overnights with a full day for exploring in the middle. We're still learning.

Since our earlier issues with navigation equipment failures we have replaced both our GPS receiver and the laptop we use to navigate. This is how it looks when it's working right. Our position is the little boat icon in the top middle of the screen. The arrow extending forward from the icon shows our direction of travel and how far we'll be in five minutes with this course and speed. Or something like that. It's adjustable in the software package, which is an open source code thing called OpenCPN.

We just found a bug in the software, by the way. I was changing the icon to be a catamaran when we found it. Bugs seem to be attracted to me for some reason. All kinds of bugs. Two legged, six legged, eight legged, and software.

We were sailing along pretty well, and while I was inside playing with these navigation photos La Gringa was at the helm. Looks miserable after a night at sea, doesn't she?

We spotted 8 flamingos flying across our bows headed for Lake Catharine on the island. They look bizarre in flight, but they are absolutely great at playing 'Follow the Leader'.

The trip back was what we are coming to realize is normal. We wanted to make good time into the wind, so I started up both engines as we cleared the tip of West Caicos. Within a few minutes the engine temperature alarm on the starboard engine started squealing. I opened the hatch, shut down the engine, and could smell that hot oily smell engines get when they are hotter than they should be. Have you ever noticed that an engine is like a little petroleum cracking tower in that regard? All the chemicals that will evaporate up to the normal operating temperature have long ago evaporated. But heat the engine up to a new temperature, and previously unvaporized hydrocarbons start making themselves known. Just an observation. Sometimes you can tell an engine is getting hotter than usual just by the smell. That's a whole lot better than finding out it's overheating by the noise. Trust me.

I looked down under the engine and could see that the bilge was full of black oil. Oh Boy, I thought. Just what I was hoping. Not. I knew it was going to be a mess to work in, so we elected to use a combination of sails and the remaining engine to motor-sail back to Provo and I would address the oil issue at a nice safe marina.

We can motor into 20 knot winds with one engine, but it's very slow. Maybe 3 knots. By using the combination of the port engine and the genoa and main, we were able to move at 5 to 6 knots. This is known as 'motor-sailing'. The problem, of course, is that we had to tack to make headway into the wind. It was fun, and that's our story and we're sticking to it. It did give us another opportunity to practice tacking the boat under these conditions. This is our approximate path back keeping in mind that none of these lines was anywhere near that straight in actuality.

We made it home with plenty of daylight to spare, and ahead of the thunderstorms that were forecast in the afternoon and evening. I think Dooley the Distracted was glad to be back in familiar surroundings. Hopefully, the next time we take off for an overnight trip he'll know what to expect and be a little more relaxed. From his perspective, he got through the entire weekend without a single thunderstorm.


The last post was so DIY intensive that I was planning to leave that stuff out of this one. But we did receive some comments on the patio tables, so I thought I'd show you another one in progress. This is the kind of DIY I like. Working with wood is a nice break from working with greasy engines.

Oh, before I forget. The problem with the engine was minor. The cleanup wasn't minor, took me two days. But the problem was that the new alternator got loose and rattled a hole into the oil filter next to it. I cleaned up the mess, replaced the filter and oil, and it seems to be okay. We haven't run it again yet. Other than idling at the dock. Now, back to the DIY du jour:

We had a piece of glass left from a rattan table we put to pasture a few weeks ago. I also had this stump we brought back on one of our beach combing trips. I didn't have a purpose in mind for the stump. I thought that maybe eventually some use would present itself. In the meanwhile, I've used the stump as a stool, as a workbench, and as a pedestal when I was carving that rock I made into a lamp. (Did you know that the Brits sometimes use the word 'plinth' instead of pedestal? No, I have no idea why. But keep in mind, they use the word 'whilst', too.)

I set the glass on it, but could immediately see that this was a disaster waiting to happen. Glass, alcohol, patio, bare feet.....you can see it all now. I figured I better come up with something more stable. And of course by now I was fixated on using this driftwood stump to do it.

I took one of those Japanese style hand saws and cut this thing into quarters, lengthwise. I love these saws. They cut on the pull stroke and give you a lot of control. It took a while.

The coarse saw marks are from the first cut I made with an electric recip saw. It cuts fast, but the result is so coarse you make up the time saved in cutting it while finishing it. My belt sander has bitten the dust (pun intended) for the last time. It lasted two years here. About standard for power tools. I traded for the hand saw for the final two cuts.

I know you can see where I'm going with this. I still have to figure out what to use to connect the four staves together. Something to use as rungs. I think I'm going to just use round driftwood if I can find the right sizes. Hey, this is starting to sound like justification for another beachcombing trip.

There's still a lot of rough work to do before I get to that point, but it's work that I enjoy. I did finally figure out that the glass just doesn't fit in with this kind of scheme. I tried, but it's just not right:

The glass needs to be protected and cradled, and so I'll have to build a table top to fit it. And come up with some other idea for the stump legs. It occurred to me that if I space the legs just far enough apart to allow a tennis ball but not a certain little canine skull, it might be good for some entertainment. Stay tuned.

And I'll get back to it as soon as I finish the latest list of things to fix on the boat.

Dooley seems calm now. He was back on the boat yesterday while tied to the dock and he was enthusiastic and had a proprietary spring in his step. I think he now knows what this boat is all about.

Now, if we could just get him to realize how pretty thunderstorms can be from the right perspective.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Back in the D.D.I.Y.

We've  settled back into island life and started back into some of our old hobbies.  It seems like all the recent weekends have been marginal weather, just windy or rainy enough to give us an excuse not to take a boat out.  That happens a lot this time of year.  We can pretty much count on afternoon atmospheric unease. Last weekend we did finally roust ourselves from our post cruise lethargy for a sail on the little Hobie Tandem Island.  It seems strange that we hadn't been sailing for over a month.   Well we fixed that.  Dooley the Disgruntled was more than happy to get strapped back into his life jacket and take up his rightful spot on one of the trampolines. We tried to show him Twisted Sheets from the water, but he's not entirely clear on the whole new boat situation just yet.  

We think he might have a distorted opinion of where we were actually located  during May and June. He may think that we were hiding down the street.  He watched us disappear into the airport in late April. He knows things about the airport.  He's been there with us many times  when we're picking someone up or dropping them off.  He doesn't associate the airport with us leaving.  He never sees that.  He gets dropped off at the kennel on the way.  Then we come back and pick him up on the way home.   So on his mind, the airport is the place where we sometimes go to collect fresh laps for him to climb into.    I imagine he was confused when we walked into the airport and then people he barely knew drove him away to his home, in our Land Rover, and moved in. Time went by. Then one day seven weeks later he went for a ride with the new people and discovered us actually living down at the South Side Marina.   He's suspicious.  

 I don't think he's quite convinced that Twisted Sheets is a boat.  Why should he be?  He's never seen it move.   We go on board, we work a few hours on things, and then we lock up and leave.  We think he might believe it's a condo where we hid from him for all that time.  It's hard to tell what he's thinking.   He's been playing things close to his chest, lately.  Unless there is thunder involved.  Then he'll play it close to ANYbody's chest.  We've been pretty skittish about electrical storms ourselves lately, come to think of it.   We're all testaments to Pavlov's observations around here.

We took a quick sail around  the marina and then headed out into some open water with a nice 18 knot breeze.  I didn't take a lot of Hobie sailing photos because you've seen them all before.   This is our home sailing ground.  We were sure glad to get back on the ocean.  There's just something about the sound of the wind and water that appeals to us.   I did shoot a short section of video of Dooley on the windward trampoline, as we ran downwind back to the marina after several hours of sailing:

I know I've written that things are getting back to normal, but that's not precisely accurate.  Things have changed for us after that trip. We're   aware of a lot of new possibilities that have opened up now that we own a boat we can live on.   Of course we're not getting too adventurous just yet.  We're moving into the thickest part of storm season now and we are not planning on sailing much further away than we can scoot back from if big chunks of the atmosphere start spinning on a large scale.   I don't even like to use that "H" word. The Turks and Caicos Islands went over 50 years without a significant hurricane, but have been hit with three of them since we moved here.   What's up with that.

Here's a couple of the reasons we hurried  through the Bahamas and didn't stop for a day here and a few days there anchored near some of the fantastically beautiful islands we passed on the way home:

"Ernesto to the right of me, Florence to the left, here I am: Stuck in the middle with you....."

I think we'll keep the boat close to home for the next few months.   We've got a lot of things to accomplish before we take off for an extended trip again.

Before I get off onto one of my DIY rants, I wanted to give a plug for a really nice restaurant experience we had.  People are often emailing us and asking us about hotels and restaurants on Providenciales.  Recently we went to a long time old favorite that's got a new venue .  This is a photo I snapped from our table at the Mango Reef restaurant last week.  I wanted to show you how the restaurant is situated right on the dunes on Grace Bay beach. I don't know about anyone else's criteria, but we judged this to be an acceptable place from which to watch a sunset over libations.

We'd been going to the Mango Reef almost weekly for several years. Then they left their old location at the Royal West Indies hotel and moved to this beach-side spot at the Alexandra Resort.   We went by for a meal right after the move, and it was raining  and the kitchen was disorganized, and the service wasn't very good.  So we hadn't been back.  We figured that they would get it all organized eventually and  we waited  to give it another shot.  We were very pleasantly surprised at how much better the beach location is than the old spot next to a hotel swimming pool.  The view is great, and the food, service, and staff were as good as we remembered..  We believe in saying good things when we find good things to say.   If you're visiting Provo and looking for a nice beach side dining experience give them a try.   They've become one of our favorites again, I think.  Right up there with Coco Bistro and Las Brisas. 

We've never spent a single night in a hotel on Grace Bay, or even on Providenciales.  So we're not the best judges of the fine points of the local room situation.  But we have been out to eat at a number of local establishments that are associated with hotels and resorts.  We've been to Opus, at the Ocean Club East. We recently went to Pelican Bay at the Royal West Indies.  We've stopped by Hemmingway's at the Sands Hotel a few times.  We've been to Coyobas at the Caribbean Paradise Inn, Bay Bistro near Sibonne, and Fairways at the Provo Golf and Country Club.   We've been to a couple of functions at The Palms, but I wouldn't judge their restaurants by those catered experiences. Not that they were bad experiences, just that they had nothing to do with menus or service.    The only actual rented room I think we've seen the inside of was at the Seven Stars and a condo where some of Dooley's readers from the USA were staying.

Now, while I'm on the subject of good meals, just a couple days after we returned to Provo in our new old boat we were visited by our friend Preacher.  We'd missed his birthday while we were out cruising the Bahamas in our rag-top Catalac.   Preacher came down to see the boat and brought us a sort of a boat warming celebration.  I think he was surprised that the two of us made the trip on our own.     We had a simple but very tasty local steamed conch and grits picnic style lunch on Twisted Sheets.  We didn't realize he delivered.  Even the local pizza shop won't deliver on this road.

Our local friends here handle birthdays a little differently than we were accustomed to back in the USA.  The birthday boy throws the party, and cooks for all his friends and family.  I know I've alluded to this local custom before.  We've been to several of Preacher's birthday cookouts.  And I personally will never forget ripping the seat out of my shorts at Froggy's birthday party over at Bottle Creek. It's a nice way to celebrate when you throw yourself a party.    Well, for most of us, anyhow.  I'm still a bit red-faced about that last local birthday party I attended on North Caicos.  Way too much exposure.

Dooley the Deranged has been acting tough since we brought him a new skull and crossbones pirate dog collar home from St. Augustine.  We'd been looking for a dog collar with stainless steel hardware on it - and Dooley I'm sorry if you're offended but you ARE a dog despite all the funny expressions you keep promising to show me  if I'll just supply the peanut butter- and we finally found one along the ICW in Florida.

We got to the southern terminus of our Florida/Bahamas/T.C.I. "vacation" trip over a month ago. . It was a little strange trying to sleep the first few nights in a room that doesn't move with the waves. We've stopped waking up every hour and stumbling out on deck to see if the anchor has moved. I've once again gotten accustomed to the idea that the patio at the house doesn't change compass headings with the tides. After the trip that we had, one might think we would be glad to be home. But the strange truth of the matter is that we miss being on the boat. It's sure nice to confirm that you've been right about something you've only dreamed about for years. A big Whew. Nobody gets sea sick. We're still speaking to each other. Often! We've each now confirmed that we love the seafaring nomadic gypsy adventure of living on a boat. We're grinning as we recount every moment of the trip. Imagining what a really nice cruise would be like. It's one of our main topics of conversation. What a a feeling of freedom to realize that you can take your favorite hideout and go from country to country using only the wind and sun. It's a comfortably exciting and challenging set of experiences that can go on for as long as you can maintain it.     

We've been playing "catch-up" with a lot of domestic chores, maintenance, and a torrent of of Danged D.I.Y. issues since the moment we got back. I'm talking about oodles of DIY. Adding an elderly sailboat to the collection did not simplify things in any way whatsoever. Yes, I know that chucking it all and sailing away is how the dream is written.   I know this dream like a favorite bedtime story learned by heart. The perception is that sailing is a simpler life, and in many ways that's true.   But maintaining a boat and its systems is an ongoing job that seems to be proportional to the size, age, and complexity of the boat.   Maybe we just need a simpler boat.  And we're working on that.

Some of the DIY projects going on are from necessity.  Probably the biggest example of projects that demanded our immediate attention was a leak in a forward bulkhead.  Remember the pounding I wrote about in the last post?  Well, unbeknownst to us at the time, those three days of pounding into the seas opened up an old scar that we didn't know about inside the boat.  Something the previous owner forgot to mention, I guess.   A few days after we got home I was checking all the bilge access hatches while tracking down an electrical problem.  This photo is of the bilge under the port side forward cabin.  I've peeled the carpet up and opened the access hatch.  Doesn't look too ominous in this photo, does it?

But if you look closely you might be able to tell that both of those compartments are completely full of sea water.  No kidding.   

I stuck my fingers in it and wiggled them to show you the water surface:

We think this happened about a week before we got home.  We had sailed all the way down the Exumas with several hundred extra pounds of water in the port bow.  And never noticed it.   Normally, as the boat was designed, this water would have migrated from compartment to compartment and been eventually pumped out by the main bilge pump  that is located in the deepest part of that hull.  We have four automatic bilge pumps and several manual and electric auxilliary pumps as well.   We can pump a lot of water.  But since the previous owner had decided to close up the drain holes between the compartents, water that gets into the bow no longer drains down to the lowest part of the hull where the pump is located.  Not sure if I like this better, or not.  Still thinking about it.  I see the thinking in keeping the water in a given compartment, but then I  remember that was how the Titanic was designed, too.  This boat was not originally designed this way.  I am mulling over the thought that anything that keeps sea water inside the hull by isolating it from the pumps might just be an inherently bad idea.   Right now I'd say there is a better than even chance I will decide to open up the holes between these compartments and let them drain down to where the boat will discharge it all overboard.    It also would mean that I don't have to go looking for sea water under various compartments.  I can open one small hatch in the middle and inspect the pump and float switch and see the bilge water all at once. That kinda makes the most sense, doesn't it?

The leak was not in the hull itself, but in the fender storage locker on the bow.   Water that splashes up over the bow of the boat gets into the bow lockers.  They're designed to be free draining.   But at some time in the past the plywood bulkhead that separates the forward port cabin from the deck locker had been cracked.  And looking at it now, I can see that someone had repaired it before.  They fiberglassed it.    We cracked it open again.

That crack ran all the way to the bottom of the locker.  And waves that landed on top of the bow got in there and worked their way into the hull.   It's probably a good thing I didn't know about this during the trip.  I would have obsessed over it and we would probably have been sitting somewhere for days while I fixed it.   Truth is, it wasn't a problem if water wasn't getting onto the top of the boat.  We only had one or two days that were that rough.

And it wasn't a problem like these guys had shorty after we returned.   VHF radio operator La Gringa  got involved with some more cruisers with a problem.   This monohull hit a coral head about half way between us and French Cay.  They hit the rudder hard enough to jam it all the way over and they were taking on water.   Once again,  the radio at the house  allowed us to relay information about a boat-in-trouble situation to the Marine Police. They went out to tow them back in.   Made our little leak seem mild by comparison.

We keep telling ourselves to take a weekend and go sailing somewhere, but it seems that  we keep getting involved with upgrading, cleaning, and repairing the boat.   I ordered two new alternators to repace the ones that haven't been the same since the lightning strike.   The people I ordered them from sent me the wrong ones.   This is a real pain in the patoot when you live somewhere like the TCI.  It's difficult and expensive to ship the wrong parts back.  And time consuming.  And frustrating.  I feel like an old grump when I say this, but some days I despair of finding simple competence when I have to order parts. A warranty isn't of much use to me.  I need it to be right the first time, to be the correct part and to work as promised.  Is that unreasonable?

That's the new alternator on the left, the one I want to replace on the right.   You can see that the mounting 'ears' are not spaced the same.

At first, when I emailed the supplier and told them they sent the wrong alternators I didn't get much in the way of a reply.   For several days I thought I was on my own with these things, and decided to see if I could make them work.  I took some pieces of our garage door openers that never worked, and  cut them into pieces and welded up an 'alternator adapter' bracket.   I figured that if I could get the new alternator pulley aligned with the engine pully, and firmly attached, it should work.   Here's my version of the bracket while I was welding it up:

But  after spending a day on it I was eventually contacted by the alternator people and they are sending two new ones down to us.  We still take it in the shorts on the shipping costs, but at least we'll have alternators that fit.  Oh well.  I needed the welding practice anyhow.  I found out that thicker steel is easier to weld.

Dooley the Dangerous has been spending a lot of time on the boat with us while we work on these projects.  A few days back I noticed that he was sitting out in the cockpit staring staring at something intently.  I went to take a look and saw that he was completely engrossed in watching this big bird standing on the next dock.  And the bird was watching him.  Neither of them was moving.   Like a Mexican Standoff without the pistolas.

 I don't know what Dooley was thinking.   I'm sure the bird was upwind of us so he knew what it wa more or less.  Certainly not a cat. That bird was easily twice as tall as the dog, and it didn't seem at all intimidated.   It's good that he can find things to occupy himself with, because I've had my hands literally full going from one project to the next.  I won't go into the entire list here, but will show you just a few more 'for examples'.

For example, we had noticed that our port side navigation light was very dim.   We noticed this in a driving rain squall when we were wondering if this big freighter could see us in the dark.   This was our last night at sea, in rain squalls and crossing the Caicos Passage with a failing electrical system.  I worked my way up on the bow to see if all our navigation lights were working.  They weren't.  Boy ain't that a warm feeling when big ships are bearing down on you in the dark.  Fixing the nav lights became another high priority, after fixing the leaks, and before fixing the radar.

 I have more or less started working at the bow of the boat, intending to address and rectify issues as I move toward the stern.  And I had plenty of projects on the bow alone.   I took the nav light apart and found out that the wiring had chafed all the way through. The positive lead was shorting to the steel bow railing.  Take a look at the wiring. I'd pulled some slack in it to get the damaged part out where I could work on it.

This sure solved a couple of  mysteries about what was tripping the circuit breaker sporadically as I frantically tried to figure out what was going on in the middle of a particuarly dark and stormy night, with a boat that looked like downtown Manhattan heading toward us.

While working on the wiring, I looked up the regulations and found out that the lights installed on the boat were inadequate (and illegal) for a boat this size.  The one on the left is the one that was installed.  It's for a smaller boat, and only has to be visible for a mile.   And maybe it would have been visible for a mile if the wires to it hadn't been shorted out.  I never found out, because the light on the right is the new one I just installed.  It's the right size for this boat length, and has to be visible for two miles.  Big difference in the shipping lanes at night.

While spending a lot of time working down at the marina we've met a few cruisers coming through.  Last week we met Cory and Rob on  the sloop Calypso's Fire.  They were in a bit of a bind after their centerboard cable parted, allowing the heavy board to open up a crack in the centerboard trunk.    Their pump was running continuously, and barely keeping ahead of the leak in the hull.    Being the really nice guys we sometimes try to be we loaned them the hookah setup on Twisted Sheets.   I told them I hadn't tried the system out myself yet, but that the previous owner had swore he used it often.  Cory was able to patch the crack with epoxy putty.   They radioed us their farewells  as they finally got out of Providenciales on their way to Luperon.   Dooley didn't care diddly about their boat problems.  But he was extremely interested in the two cats they have on board.

The majority of  problems that we are working though on our own boat are electrical. We've got two sets of issues.  Obsolete/substandard equipment, and stuff damaged on the trip down.  We've got a lot of original breaker switches on the boat that I can't seem to find replacements for. I've been thinking of just buying an entire new breaker panel, and mounting it over the holes in this one.   So far I haven't had much luck finding one with fifteen switches that will fit over this spot.

I think you can see why I want to replace these.   I've been looking for a source for these now for several weeks, but not having any luck.  This is one of the issues with buying an older boat.

Working in the marina does have some positives.  I find it generally peaceful, and relaxing.  I think just being on a boat does that to me.  We get to watch other interesting boats come and go.  I was looking at this photo (below) and trying to remember why I took it in the first place. 

Then I zoomed in on this part of it, and notice that it seems to be a boat with no spreaders on the mast, no boom that I can see, and apparently being sailed by a guy with a shaved head and wearing a skirt.

There must have been SOMEthing about it that was unusual enough to get my attention... but I sure can't remember what it was.

And working in the marina means we get to spend time visiting with some of the other marina residents.  Or near marina residents, as the case may be.  This is someone you've seen on this blog several times before.  He's usually standing on his boat Five Cays, and verbally abusing us as we leave the marina to go sailing, or fishing, or beach combing.  Lately he's been stopping by to shoot the breeze with us at the end of the day.

And some interesting conversations, indeed.   We know this gentleman as Stanley here at South Side Marina.  And on North Caicos he's known as Burly.  He tells us that in the Bahamas he's known as Mike.  Unless he's using his middle name, Louise.     He's got a wife and daughter on North Caicos, two sons on Providenciales, and is either 75 or 58.  I have  a witness to verify that I did not fabricate any of this.   I mean I have a witness in addition to Dooley who you really can't put on the stand. He just keeps pleading the fifth amendment and saying he doesn't remember.

And while we're spending time on board repairing, cleaning, and re-arranging, we've also been been lightening the boat as much as we can.  This load of chemicals, etc. that we took out of one of the lockers is probably a fourth of the total pile of these rusting cans and half empty jugs of various concoctions.   Many of them are printed in Spanish.   Since we're pretty sure the boat spent the past four years in Jacksonville, I think it's okay to assume some expiration dates have been met.    Paint cans should slosh when you shake them, right? 

We've removed the old mounting for the now-deceased wind power generator.  The stern and transom area is starting to look a lot less cluttered.  We've also given away those fishing rods since this photo was taken.

I wish I'd thought to take more photos of the water line on the boat when we left Jacksonville.  I well remember watching the exhausts for the two diesels bubbling away as they discharged cooling water.  This exhaust pipe was about half submerged before our new Twisted Sheets weight reduction program got some momentum.  It was near the top of the black paint.    I wish it was that easy to lighten up the captain.

For those of you who are not sailors, I should mention that most sailboats, and catamarans in particular, sail and handle better when they are kept as light as possible.   This boat has a lot of storage capacity built into it, and it's easy to load it up with unnecessary weight.  I think it suffered from a lot of 'out of sight-out of mind' syndrome.  We're working on trimming it back down to its original draft of 3 ft.  Instead of the 3.5 ft. that we sailed it home with.   And touched sand with.

I previously posted that when we hauled our anchor up for the last time at Abraham's Bay on Mayaguana..... the anchor windlass broke.   Well, this became another DIY I had to take on.  I completely removed the windlass, took it home to my shop and repaired it.  While I had it off the boat I noticed that the four big stainless steel bolts that held it to the deck looked suspiciously ratty.

Imagine how happy I was when I took the top bolt (above) and held it in a vise, and then pulled it apart with my bare hands!! I wish that I could tell you that I broke the bolt because I didn't know my own strength.

But the truth is that all of these bolts exhibited severe corrosion issues.  This crevice was right where the stainless bolt and the aluminum body of the windlass came together at deck level.  I have since replaced all these bolts, and cut a piece of half inch starboard to raise the windlass off the deck enough to keep it out of standing water.  I also made some isolating insulators to keep the stainless steel from contacting the aluminum windlass case.   File this under things I learned in the tropics.

Oh, and I cut a new bottom plate for it from aluminum sheet I had lying around the garage.

I don't know what would have happened if we had to rely on our anchor and windlass to keep us safe in a storm.  Would three bolts have held us?  Two bolts?   Glad we didn't have to find out.

I also remember telling you that we'd managed to get the dinghy outboard running on one cylinder up in a marina on Grand Bahama Island.  We were pretty disappointed that it was unreliable.  We had planned to spend a few days anchored in idyllic tropical settings, and use our inflatable dinghy to explore.   When we realized that we couldn't count on the outboard we postponed those plans, too.

So after the cracked bulkhead, bad navigation lights, broken winch bolts, wrong alternators, I eventually turned to tuning up the dinghy motor. I took the Mercury home and after cleaning up the carb and fuel filter and putting two of the correcly gapped and right model sparkplugs in it, I got it running pretty well.   Reading that back to myself, I'm amazed at how easy it sounds.... now.  Ten minutes, tops, I would think.  If I didn't know better.  First,  I had to make up some way to run it at the house so I made a frame out of wood and clamped it to the Land Rover tail gate.   I think it looks kinda sporty, myself.

All the DIY stuff I've listed here so far has been boat oriented.   And for each little project I've mentioned there are several more that I haven't even told you about.  We're still waiting for parts for several of them.  There are a lot of projects still waiting.  I still haven't climbed the mast, for instance.   There's probably enough for a blog post in that all by itself.

And even that isn't all of it by any means.  Remember that we left the house and automobiles here basically without much ongoing attention for two months.  I guess I could call it benign neglect.   Not long ago I was looking at some photos of early Antarctic explorers base camps.  The coffee cans and tools and canned goods and utensils that they walked away from decades ago are still in pristine condition. Preserved by the cold dry Anarctic climate.   Well, this is the complete other end of that scale.  Things here rust and fall apart seemingly overnight.  So when we returned with the boat after two months we were hit with a lot of things falling apart at the house, too.  Want some examples?  hah. That's  EASY.   And I don't even have to go into the ugliness of the termite damage.

For example, it was pointed out to me that the outside rattan patio table that we've been using for the last four years was exhibiting signs of being close to its unofficial expiration date.  It had a glass top, until recently.  I removed the glass to keep it from falling onto the patio and shattering.  I put a piece of plywood across the top, but was so ashamed of it that I removed it before this photo.    I had to agree with her, this thing had pretty much had it.

I stared at it for a couple weeks, and no matter what ideas I had about fixing it, I just finally had to admit that rattan work is probably beyond my capabilities at the present.  I couldn't fix rotten.  So I took some of that wood we salvaged from the beach at West Caicos and used it to complete  a couple more table projects that I had been working on to replace it.

This is wood with a history.  It all came from boats, and floated for some unknown amount of time before being washed up on a beach.   Where it lay for another unknown amount of time.    I think it's seasoned.

I'm trying something different as far as finishing the wood.   The legs on that one above are what I am calling 'aggressively rustic'.  Meaning I didn't want to put a lot of time into finishing something that I expect to turn gray and weathered shortly.  The grating is teak, and the rest of it is mahogany.  It should last.

And since I still had some wood to use up, and we could use another outside table, I made this one, too.

It's also salvaged wood. The black holes are where iron spikes originally held the mahogany planks together. I don't mind working with wood. I hate working with grease.

A few days ago the battery went dead on one of the Land Rovers. I wanted to check the alternator to make sure the belt was in good shape and all the wires were connected. I pulled the 'bonnet' release, and it nothing happened.   You know when you 'pop the hood' on a car it comes loose and literally pops up enough to get your hands under it so that you can trigger the safety latch?   Well, when I pulled this bonnet release, none of that happened.  So of course I pulled it harder.  Hard enough that the cable popped off of it.  I removed it to see if there was anything I could do to fix it.  You can see where one of the mounting lugs that normally hold the cable end had broken away.  I knew it was going to be a waste of time to try to glue it.

BUT I had a thought.   Remember the stainless steel tank we salvaged from the catamaran wrecked on West Caicos?  I've now cut the ends our of that  and have been chipping away at it when I need flat stainless steel.  I used the cutting wheel on a Dremel tool to cut out some small strips.

Those big circular holes are from where I cut four large flat washers out to go under the mounting bolts for the anchor windlass.  I'm getting a lot of use out of this tank.

The first little bracket I made broke after I bent it too many times and fatigued the metal, but my second attempt worked:

So, I installed this back in the Land Rover, so that I could pop open the bonnet, so that I could check the alternator belt.  This took the better part of a morning, by the way. And I found out two things.  The alternator belt was fine and the problem must have been a battery connector.  And the reason the bonnet didn't pop up when I pulled the release was because the part of the latch that is attached to the bonnet/hood itself was rusted up.   This is the part where the spring that 'pops the hood' is located.  So I had to free that up, clean the rust off, lubricate and re-install it.    And this is how so many of these projects go.   Starting with a dead battery, I ended up working all day on a bonnet release.   The battery issue got fixed in passing.  The original problem was the simple part.  Getting to it, well, that took some work.

I'll throw out another corrosion related DIY.  We've been having ongoing issues with light fixtures rusting up on us.  I became so frustrated with dealing with the rust stains on the floor that I even built my own version of a rust-proof floor lamp.

This time, the problem was that our two bedside reading lamps were rusting up.  To the point where we needed to do something.  By 'we', of course I meant 'me'.    We like these lamps.  They're solid and work well.  They've been sitting on the two tables bracketing our bed since they day they came home from the store.  So this is what happens inside the house.  Protected from the harsh environment that we have to deal with outside the house:

I managed to get the old paint and rust off. I used Ospho (phosphoric acid) on the steel, and repainted the lamps.  I used an enamel, and gooped it on as thick as I could.   Totally changed the look of the lamps:

I didn't bother taking a photo of the other one.  I painted it the same, but different.  If that makes any sense.   The blue and red are swapped on the other one.

Oh, I did find one little DIY project simple enough.  I'll pass it on here in case any of you have a similar situation and find it useful.   I have one of those big Casio Pathfinder wrist watches.  I love big wrist watches.  I think it's part of the reason I took up diving.  My Pathfinder has a compass, altimeter/barometer, motion sensor, thermometer, solar power, radio synched atomic clock... shows me the moon phase and the tides... I really like this thing.    And about two weeks ago the little keeper thing (I don't know the term for it) broke.  This is the little loop that holds the loose section of watchband so that it doesn't flop around.  And when it flops around, it keeps me awake at night.  It also gets in the way during the daytime.   So I figured it was time to buy a new watchband.   These Casios don't use ordinary watchbands.  I went online and found out that the watchband would cost me about $ 45. Plus $ 50 Fed Ex feess and plus 46%  customs duty, for an approximate total of $116.  Ouch.

This didn't set too well with me.  I didn't need the whole band.  I only needed the little plastic loop to keep it nice and secure. I tried an 0-ring.  It lasted about an hour.  I thought about duct tape, but the logistics and mess of that was unappealing.  Finally I remembered that I have all these scrap pieces of polyurethane irrigation system tubing laying around.  (Doesn't everybody?) This stuff is tough.  And it's black.  And in cross-section, it's just the right shape for a watchband keeper:

So if you find yourselves in a similar situation, and need a good, rugged, cheap keeper for your Casion watchband, this will work.   In a pinch:

This has turned into another one of those long blog posts.  And it's not even one of the interesting ones.  Sorry about that.  But I did want to explain why we haven't posted anything recently.  We've just been real busy getting our house back in order while also trying to make some progress with the boat.   And while I see most of the house DIY stuff as a real pain, I find I actually do enjoy working on the boat.

 There are so many plans in store for the boat I don't even have them all listed yet.   In addition to fixing things that need repairs we have a lot of modifications in mind.   We want to replace this hard bimini with a better design, and it needs to accommodate most of these solar panels and it would be nice if it incorporated a dinghy/radar arch, too. That will be a big project.   I'm sure you'll hear about it if you're still reading the blog at that point.

We want to get the bow railing fixed, and I have to install an ice maker in the space where I just ripped out a refrigerator. And of course, there's always that stuff up on the top of the mast that was hit by a lightning bolt: the vhf antenna, the radar, and the wind speed and direction.  And the steaming and deck lights.  So much for the simplicity of sail.

We've been watching the weather here, and looking for the right set of conditions to take the boat out sailing again.   We figure if we keep fairly close to Provo we can get some time under sail without every little thing being repaired before we go.  Heck, if ya wait until everything is perfect, you never leave the dock.    I think we've proven we can get by on less than perfect.

But we do miss the sailing.

And I have to admit that even though I whined about it at the time, there are worse places to spend an evening than in a nice, calm, protected marina. Was this really only a few weeks ago?

Right now the forecast for next weekend is looking pretty favorable....