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.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful trip! Looking forward to seeing more. Watching Isaac but most forecasts have it going to the west of you.

Anonymous said...

Hey Gringos......
glad you had a pleasurable sail over to West...beautiful.
Have to ask if you've played Chris Cross' 'Sailing' yet "whinst" on the vessel!! It is a good one.
Was curious as to when the restaurant at South Side would be open?
Thanks as always for sharing...

rumblewagen said...

I never get tired of the color of the water.... or the DIY post!

Anonymous said...

Nice! Must feel so much better sailing in known waters like that. Though the distance from Twisted Sheets when in the putt putt made me kind of nervous. Hope you have an or oar or two in that old thing.

Seems like Dooley needs to see what the action is when under way? Feel the breeze in his ears and nose. Does he slip and slide on the deck? Anywhere for him to prop himself up like on the dinghy so he can stick his little head out and see and feel what's going on? Maybe some sort of Dooley's Nest to be made say the height of the console there?

Anonymous said...

Great to see you got Twisted Sheets out on the water again. West Caicos was the perfect choice for a local run. Please keep in mind that many of the moorings are old and sometimes those big ropes do break. Been there, done that, at the NE Point. Making the table and fixing the boat are a couple more items to add to your Island Living for Dummies book.
Have fun, we broke our old record of 42 days sailing this season already and are at 44 days. With 6 to 7 weeks left in the season, maybe we can get to sixty. Enjoy and keep the blog coming.
Lil Provo

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim,
We looked at a couple of the moorings and the ropes were almost new. Pretty good shape.

I don't feel like a tropical living expert. A couple years ago we met a couple of ex-pats now living on another island who had been here 26 years and told us that they are still learning. I know we're still way down on the learning curve. But getting more experienced every day.

NC, Bob says he hopes to have the new restaurant opened in September, in time for this next cruising season. He's got people working on it every day now, so that's a real possibility.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff Gringo. about the glass top table, would slots in the legs to receive the glass work?

Ken said...

Well, I thought I was envious before you got twisted sheets, the sail boat simply completes the lifestyle, well done.

TEST said...

nervous dog around thunder storms?
look up a product called thunder shirt for dogs. the same concept can be achieved with ace bandages, work wonders on our bundle of nerves

TEST said...

look into a doggie product called thunder shirt, we found that ace bandages achieve the same effect for our little bundle of nerves

Anonymous said...

We're aware of the Thundershirts. Saw the ads on the airline magazines and we bought an Ace bandage to try the concept out. Didn't seem to affect him at all.

We also wrap him up in his life jacket most of the time when we're on a boat, since the little booger has gotten worse at jumping overboard. He thinks he's ten feet tall and bulletproof. But he still shakes and goes into thunder panic mode at the merest hint of a storm approaching. Any bright flash will start him into nervous mode, and then a loud rumble sends him into full blown breakdown.

We took him out conch diving yesterday, and he was fine for most of it.