Monday, October 29, 2012

Holiday Weekend

We decided to play tourist last weekend, so this post is about a mini-vacation over to the eastern edge of the  Islands.   It's a bit of a long read, by latest standards, such as they are.   No DIY, though.  Not in this one.   (But  I'll tell you right up front that the second half of this post is completely full of junk. Trust me.)

 We found ourselves with motive, weather and a three day weekend all at the same time.   We got an early start on  Friday, packed up Dooley the Doozy and a couple changes of clothes, and away we went.  Drove to Leeward-Going-Through, hopped on the TCI Ferry, and rode over to Sandy Point on North.   This Middle Caicos trip was a little different.  This time it was just the "three" of us (rounding Dooley up to a whole number) and we were totally on our own agenda.      No fishing trips, no visiting guests, no tasks,  no model boat races, no crowds.  Just Middle Caicos as it normally is when left alone.

We'd arranged to spend two nights in Bambarra, in a small cottage just steps from the beach.  We had plenty of time to look around, and didn't have to worry about rushing back to Provo before dark.    Whoops, almost forgot, and speaking of Provo and dark, here's a recent sunrise photo La Gringa took:

We went  to Middle to make one of our periodic check ups on a  long-running dream. Our decision in 2005 to build on Providenciales was based upon factors that don't all still exist in 2012.  And it was a close decision to begin with.  Things change. From time to time we like to both entertain and torture ourselves by thinking about packing up our life here and moving it along to another  adventure in island living. We've enjoyed  a lot of trips to Middle Caicos over the years, and have been asking  ourselves if that's a good place to relocate the whole kit and kaboodle, as it were.   This would be the Turks and Caicos equivalent of getting out of the "big city" and moving to a simpler life in the country.   That's the fantasy, anyhow.  I know some of you will be laughing at the thought of Providenciales being compared to a big city. You've got to think of it in our new scale, though. We'd be moving from a 38 square mile island of 24,000 people to a 48 square mile island with a population of less than 170.  I looked this stuff up on the official 2012 census site so it's probably pretty accurate.  Except any census of Provo probably skipped a whole lot of people living 'off the grid' and away from the pavement.  There are small shanty towns in the bush here, whether anyone official wants to admit it or not.

To put it in another perspective, Provo has a population density of 640 people per square mile.  Middle Caicos..... three and a half.    And they all know each other and everybody knows the half. Hey, you have to admit, this remote island idea has some attraction to some of us. Especially those who would actually move to a small island in the first place.    I think that surviving that  first big step of  living somewhere outside of your native country makes the thought of subsequent moves much less intimidating.    There are degrees of  remote, though.   I was going to say that I don't recall many people  wanting to move to a small crowded island.  But then I realized that  isn't accurate.  I do know people who would love the idea of living on Manhattan.  I know people who love Singapore. I'm sure there are some happy folks in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and lots of other places that I'd consider crowded islands.  You have to be wired a certain way to seriously entertain the idea of living on an island with only 170 people and only the barest of infrastructure.    SO, La Gringa, Dooley, and I decided to go spend a few days  on 'Middle' with the express purpose of deciding once and for all if we wanted to live there full time. 

We knew we'd get some good photos for the blog out of it, too.   That was our other justification: a break from boating and beach-combing West Caicos.  Well, we got enough photos for three blog posts.

We parked the truck at Leeward and took the TCI Ferry over to Sandy Point on North Caicos.  Susan Gardiner met us at the ferry with a Toyota mini-van that I had contracted for a couple of days.  We also ran into some old friends at the ferry terminal We know our way around pretty well, and navigation is pretty simple on islands with only a few roads, so we were shortly at our first stop for some refreshments.

La Gringa went into the store with a $20 bill for a bottle of water and  a diet Coke.  I was surprised when she came back out and asked if I had any smaller bills.  I did have, but couldn't understand why they didn't just change the $20.   There were at least a half a dozen people in the vicinity. I figured they must be doing a pretty decent business on a holiday weekend Friday.   La Gringa came out with the water and a Sprite.  No diet Cokes.  Ah well.  Welcome to smaller island life.  And this is North Caicos. Ten times the population of Middle Caicos.  We found out later, in a conversation with friends in the restaurant business, that this scarcity of small bills is actually a problem for the merchants here.  People come over for the day, hit an ATM on the way, and arrive with a pocket full of large denomination bills.    They tend to hand the cashier a $20 or $50 expecting change.  There just isn't enough small bills in the register to do that too many times before they're all cleaned out of $1's, and it's not easy to get small bills.  I'm not sure about this, but I think that the bank here got closed down some time back.   Hmmm.   Another factor inherent in living remotely.  Something I wouldn't have even thought about before, a difficulty in making change due to pure logistics.

We thought this sign was interesting.  Someone was enthusiastic about this half way point on the road.   Enough to build a frame, paint a sign, and pour two concrete footings.    It's a mile and a half to either settlement, and I'm sure that this is useful information to have.  I guess I just cannot imagine someone factoring in those distances in their decision as to which way they're going.

The fact that the sign is hand made doesn't mean that it's not official, by the way.  Just about all the signs we see over on this sparsely populated end of the nation are locally made.  There are no sign companies here. In this case, I am thinking that they were already planning ahead to the days when the budget got approved for the Police Department to add a cell phone.  Or maybe the Bottle Creek policeman wants you to ask him for his number.

If you ever visit the TCI, you'll probably notice abandoned houses scattered around.  That's been true on all of the inhabited islands that we've been to so far, which is all of them except South Caicos.  Since we were playing tourista and looking around, we saw quite a few of them on North and Middle Caicos. This one got my attention because it's wood framed.   That really dates a place here.  Hurricane Donna essentially wiped this place out fifty two years ago.   At some time during that rebuilding, the government changed the building code.  New homes and businesses were to built to a much stronger code.  We've been told that a house built to today's code should survive 140 mph wind gusts.  Of course you can build them stronger if you want.  But  wood frame homes are totally verboten.  So this one either survived Hurricane Donna in 1960, or was built very quickly thereafter before the codes changed.   There are not very many surviving wooden structures in the Turks and Caicos Islands from what we've seen.   This kind of looks like a 1960's house, doesn't it?

For comparison, most of the deserted houses on these islands are of much older construction.  It's hard to date something made of native stone and mortar.   Remember just a couple of post before this one we found native stone and mortar still holding together in a tidal action zone after 160 years.  I wonder how many hurricanes and tropical storms have battered this place in that time.

This one's been plastered over, but the door and window hinge designs are the same.   This is of some interest to me.  We often think about how we would build the next time around if we built another house here.  We think we've learned a few things.   And paying attention to how the old timers did it is one of those things we've learned.   I guess I could say that if it's lasted for a hundred years in this climate, it's worth some thought.

Obviously, this construction still accommodates more modern techniques where someone wants to use them.  For example, this building has a metal roof, rainwater collection system and mostly glass windows.

This next photo is not as good as it should have been.   It was actually taken on our way back to Provo on Sunday.  When we came by here on Friday from the other direction, we just got a quick glimpse of a man sitting on the top of a pile of gravel on the side of the road. I didn't have the camera ready and we were not sure what he was doing until we were already past.  His back was to us, the approaching traffic.   It wasn't until I saw that he had a hunk of limestone in one hand and a brick hammer in  the other that I realized where the  big pile of exceptionally clean gravel came from..  He was manufacturing gravel by hand.

He sits under this battered plastic tarp tied in the tree,  on a mound about eight feet high at the moment, and chips these rocks into that gravel.    I know you can't read the little sign but it basically says: 'For Sale' and has a phone number.  This is about as basic a small business as you can get.   I have no idea how much gravel he sells.  But if we were landscaping   I think we'd stop and talk to him.  How many places do you know of where you can get hand cut gravel?

This is the man's workspace.  Fresh air, sunshine, unlimited free raw materials, and probably the lowest overhead for miles.  We've got to come back and meet this guy some day.  He was here on a Friday, and not on a Sunday.   That's a start.

I wish we'd turned around on Friday and taken some photos when he was at work on his pile.  He was turning raw material into finished product.  I never seem to learn that we should never pass up an opportunity for a photo.  A specific photo can only be taken at that one exact moment in time..  After that, it's a different photo.  I'll just have to file this one under "things I wish I'd paid more attention to at the time".  It won't be alone.

Here's another nice old ruin on the best part of Bottle Creek.   What a great location.

We were noticing how so many of the old, small houses were located close to the road.   Then we realized that the old houses were built when there was only a path from house to house.  And the road followed the path.  So it runs through a lot of old front yards. Nobody wanted to be far from the roads.  Traffic is just not a problem.

Eventually we got to the eastern end of  North Caicos and onto the causeway that is the lifeline from Middle Caicos to the rest of the country.  It's even more important now than it was in the past.  Middle has no deep water harbors, and the airstrip is the only other way in and out.  We had not seen the causeway in at least a year, during which there has been another hurricane (Irene) and a few tropical storms. Sadly, it's in even worse shape than the last time we were here.  One more good storm should just about do it, I think.

We were slowed to about 5 mph in the rented minivan. It adds a considerable amount of time to the trip.   For the people who live on Middle Caicos and drive to North Caicos for supplies or for further travel, it's been an inescapable reality since September of 2008.  That was when Hurricane Hanna impacted us all here.

Hanna's storm surge tore the pavement up by undercutting it, and Hurricane Ike came by a week later to peel the pieces off and finish the job.  It's only gotten worse since then.

Here's a map of Middle Caicos showing the causeway and road structure of Middle.  If you've read this blog over the years, most of these places are already familiar.  As you can see, there are not a lot of options if you're staying on the pavement.   There are a number of dirt paths and roads in reality that don't show up on the official map, by the way.   We did get into a few of those on this trip.  Would love to have one of the Land Rovers over here for some serious exploring.
See that bump there on the north shore, between Conch Bar and  Bambarra Beach?  I know the printing is hard to read but it says "Platico Point".   I was scoping this place out on Google Earth, and a structure at that spot got my attention.   Most of this post is going to be about that.   But first some accommodation photos.

We stopped by Daniels Cafe in Conch Bar and picked up the keys to the small cottage we rented for the weekend.  We drove to the cottage planning to drop off our bags and open the place up to air out.  We're accustomed to open air living on our little hillside on Provo.   Well, we dropped off the bags okay, no problem.  But as far as opening the place up to air it out, well, it was not what we had anticipated.

The cottage is beautiful. Nice two bedroom, with a small kitchen and a big enclosed screen porch.  It's all just a few steps from Bambarra Beach.  We brought snorkeling gear with us, and an underwater camera.  We had plans to spend a big part of Saturday in the water taking photos and checking out the fish, conch, lobster situation.   We never got in the water.  We spent maybe five minutes on the beach. And we paid in blood.


We probably had fifty bites each before we even realized we were under attack. This happened the moment we stepped outside the car.  We had our own individual, dedicated clouds of  bugs just waiting for fresh meat.  Which was us. I had bugs inside my sunglasses. Crawling in my nose. The high pitched whine in my ears could have been a leprechaun with a chain saw, but it wasn't. It was mosquitoes trying to find an artery.

Then they called in reinforcements.

I've traveled and worked in a few places.  Now please bear with me on this. I'll keep it short.... ish.  Grew up in Texas, and worked my youth on the US Gulf Coast. Worked both coasts of Central America, and have spent months up tropical rivers in the jungles of South America.  Southeast Asia.  Alaska. Canada.  And my point here is that these places are all well known for their mosquitoes. I've seen mosquitoes that needed runways.  I've seen clouds of mosquitoes with a combined tankage capacity larger than my blood supply.  That's worrisome when you think about it.    But until we stepped out of the car  here at Bambarra, I had never seen this many mosquitoes per cubic yard of airspace anywhere in the world.  We dashed to the house with the key ready, and rushed inside and slammed the door.   We looked at each other in shock as we listened to the frustrated little dive bombers bouncing off the windows. It was hot enough to bake bread on the kitchen table  inside that closed up house, but our first order of business was to stand there slapping each other silly.   It was a mutually agreed double assault. I think each slap probably killed twenty mosquitoes in the area of a hand print, and we had hundreds that rode in with us.  Little bitty mean ones. Fearless, voracious, persistent  crafty and evil little vampires.  After our slapfest we looked like a couple of victims of a Smurf drive-by paint ball attack.  In red.  These things define bloodthirsty.. We cranked up the air conditioners and tried cracking one window to let some of the heat out.    There were big glass sliding doors out to the screened porch, but  having learned from our experience just blithely hopping out of the safe rental car, we did a careful reconnoiter of the porch before venturing out there.  Good thing we did.  It revealed a tear in the screen, and thousands of hungry mosquitoes; quivering in anticipation..  We narrowly avoided another ambush.

They don't show up in the photos, of course, they're too small. But never mind that.  You all know what a mosquito looks like.   I did take some photos from inside the cottage, looking through the glass sliding doors (that we were now afraid to open) and the screened porch out toward the beach.  It's really a great location with the beach right there a few yards away.

I zoomed in on the view down the little path through the Casuarinas trees.   You can see that the reef is off a little distance out from the beach here.

You can also see some little flying black spots there in the foreground between us and the water. Blurred because they were moving so fast.  These are some of the billions of dragonflies that are feeding on the eleventy gazillion mosquitoes. Go, dragonflies, go. We love dragonflies. And lizards, and bats and birds and anything that will eat mosquitoes.  I wonder where our DNA ended up on this trip.  I think the large Cuban Crows we saw were probably the top of this food chain.  We saw them strafing the dragonflies that were gorging on the mosquitoes that were struggling into the air weighted down by their fresh load of Gringos blood.

And we got woken up by the Cuban Crows in the mornings.  It's an interesting start to the day, if you want to get up at dawn.  They actually make a pretty good alarm clock.  I can't imagine sleeping through it.   Have you ever heard one of these guys?

Turn your sound on and check this out:  (Just press the Play button)

And that really isn't a very good recording.   The ones we have here are a lot clearer,  sing a longer song, and sing it a whole lot louder.  I'll look for an opportunity to get a good recording next time we get a chance.  This one came from a birding blog.

We did take the path to the beach.  We sprayed each other down with a product called Deep Woods Off.   We know this stuff.  It's pretty good bug repellent. We laid on a good top coat.  Rubbed it everywhere we could reach.   Or so we thought at the time. We quick-stepped down the sandy path to Bambarra Beach, optimistically dressed in our swimming garb and carrying towels.   We were determined to try out this beach we were paying a premium rental for. We never made it into the water. By the time we got to the beach, the horde of flying assassins had discovered that the repellent was thinner in some spots than others.  I can only assume they were able to hold their breath long enough to drill through to the oxygenated blood below the skin holding the thin layer of repellent.   By the dozens.    We did find the can of repellent useful in squashing the smaller packs, but it was a losing battle on our side.  Now I think I know how George Custer must have felt after the first few arrows.   So we quickly ran back down the path, with me astonished at a new awareness of places where I should have put repellent.   Behind the ears.  The webbing between the fingers.   The bottoms of my feet.  Parts of my anatomy that  I had mistakenly assumed that my clothing would protect, if you know what I mean..  Tropical cotton was not enough,.  We needed Kevlar. With the optional inserts.

The cottage was very clean and well-equipped and nicely decorated.  It's adequate and comfortable.  Good enough.  We could tell it hadn't been used in a while, but this IS hurricane season here.  August, September and October are pretty dead in the tourism market.   Found a small scorpion trapped in the bathroom basin.   He couldn't climb up the smooth sides.  I noticed something  that had escaped my attention before.  Notice how this guy's stinger curves to the left?   The little barb and his tail are set up to sting to the right.

We thought we better take a quick look around.  And we only saw one other scorpion.  This one was in even  more of a predicament than the one in the basin.  He'd somehow gotten inside a plastic garbage bin in the bedroom. We puzzled over this one a bit. We finally chose to believe that he'd climbed up the wall and mistakenly lost his footing on the plastic.   Because the other alternative was that he'd dropped down from the ceiling and we quickly agreed that the weekend required us to believe that this was just not possible.  We're sleeping in this room.

But notice the stinger.  This one is constructed curving to the right, so that all  his stabbings are conducted to the left.   Is it possible that there are both left and right handed scorpions? English and French scorpions  maybe?  Anyhow, that was really the only issues with the cottage. We don't worry much about the scorpions, by the way.  We have been lucky not to have been stung so far, but we've talked to people who have and the word we get is that it's really no worse than a bee sting.   (Tell you what, I think I'd trade one sting for  five hundred mosquito bites if I had a choice.)  And they're not aggressive.  They'll run and hide from you if they have an escape route.

We talked to quite a few people about the mosquitoes and everyone was in agreement that they were the worst they'd seen in four years.   There were unusually heavy rains about two weeks before we got there.  We just happened to catch the hatch, I guess.  And to be fair, we've been to Middle Caicos a dozen times, at least.  We've spent all day sitting on a blanket on the beach here at Bambarra without a single bite.  We've walked the beach at Wild Cow Run with Preacher, and spent the day digging Froggy's truck out of the sand, without noticing any mosquitoes    We've been on a boat with Dolphus, while Keith was fly fishing for bone-fish here.  No bug problems.   So we know, for sure, that as soon as the drier weather shows up, the bug problem goes away.  I can't tell you exactly when that will be, but we know they're gone sometimes before the annual model sloop regatta  right here on this same beach in February.  And that's the best time of year to be here.   This cottage would be a really great place to spend a few days in February.  I'm guessing that the rainy season is the hurricane season, which is over in early November.  Give the low spots a month to dry out, and I'd say come visit Middle Caicos any time between Christmas and September.  Heck, this cottage even has a parking spot for visiting ex-wives.

That's a hand made broom from here on Middle Caicos, by the way.  Straw work is a specialty of some of the good people here.  Baskets, hats, brooms, and other things, made by hand the old way.

We decided to give the cottage air conditioners time to do their thing and we headed out for some sight seeing.  We also saw this as an opportunity to learn a little bit about living in a place like this. We decided to make a  grocery store run.  We needed some basic supplies, and most specifically another can of bug juice and a bag of ice to be sure  La Gringa had some for her rum.  She'd filled the trays in the freezer at the cottage, but we had no idea how long it would take them to freeze.  We decided to drive back to the last grocery store that we'd seen on the way down, and pretend this was a normal, grocery run.   The last store we remembered passing was in Bottle Creek on North Caicos.  The round trip took us two hours.   The main issue is the damaged causeway between Middle and North.  We've read that the government has approved repairs.  That will change things.  When it happens.  But at the moment, a bag of ice is a two hour round trip.

 Now, I've broken this weekend trip up into three segments for the purpose of this blog.  They're not in chronological order, but it shouldn't matter.   They're divided up by subject matters.  The next two posts should be more scenic and less complaining.

We started out several of our trips at Daniel's Cafe in Conch Bar.  Daniel and Sara Forbes run the restaurant , a real estate company, and the Middle Caicos Co-Op.   This is a good place to buy straw work and native arts.   Daniel's Cafe is right on the beach.

Daniel's is kind of centrally located for Middle Caicos excursions.  If you look to the east you can see the old coast road that follows the beach for much of this part of the island.  This is different from the very well paved road that runs through the middle of the inhabited areas.

Before I get too far off the subject, Daniel's is an excellent place to get native dishes.  We usually eat at least one meal here every time we're on Middle.   Most often it's lunch, but we've also had some nice dinners here as well.  And if he has advance notice, Daniel will arrange to have conch and grits for breakfast.   On the Saturday night we stayed over this weekend, we had spiny lobster tail, collard greens, roasted tomato, peas and rice (which uses beans instead of peas but that's another story) and a salad.  We also had a nice bread pudding desert.

Here La Gringa is talking to Devon Forbes, Daniel's son and the chef at the cafe.   Devon has fathered a new baby daughter since the last time we've seen him.  La Gringa was commiserating with him, explaining how life changes when you start having children.  Isn't that the understatement of the morning?

If you look west from the Cafe, you can see the water off the settlement of Conch Bar.   I'm calling these settlements instead of towns, because they just don't seem to get up to the level of a town. The buildings up on the hills overlooking the ocean in the distance are the Blue Horizons resort.  We were trying to decide whether to head east or west from here.    Finally, remembering the structures I had seen at Platico Point on Google Earth, we decided to head the other way and save Mudjin Harbor for when we had more time to spend there.

This is the feature that caught my attention on Google Earth when I was researching this place.  This is an old image, from 2006.   I was originally scanning the reef line looking for openings where we could get Twisted Sheets in through the reef if we wanted to come drop the anchor here for a few days.  So first I spotted that break in the reef.   Then I zoomed in and saw the structures on the beach.  My first impression was that it was some kind of a wharf or breakwater.   There are pieces of equipment scattered around the bush surrounding the road.  There is sand built up on the up current side.   I really wanted to know what this was, and if we could get the sailboat in.  So we had a destination in mind.   I think I do better when I have a specific goal.

This also shows you both the paved road ( which is in great shape, by the way) and the old sand road that follows the shoreline.  You can see some of the rough trails that are scattered here and there on the island.

Now, if any of our friends at Enterprise Rent a Car in the US are reading, relax.  This was NOT one of your cars.   The folks that rented it to us know where we're taking it, for the most part.    This is what the sand road along the beach turns into not far into the bush.   At least the branches scraped the mosquitoes' little drilling crews off the side windows.   I could still hear some of them working on the locks of the tail gate.  Thank goodness they don't have tools and  thumbs or we'd look like those dried out husks you find under spider webs by now.

We knew we were getting close when large rusty hunks of what was once very expensive machinery started showing up in the underbrush.

Here's another 'slide video' shot, using a car instead of the slide this time.   I'll try not to overdo this like someone who just discovered the zoom button.

We found the spot we were looking for.  Not that it took any great navigational skill.  This is what the place looks like from the west.  It's the part where the beach sand has built up. Makes it pretty easy to determine which way the long shore current runs, doesn't it.

This photo shows the break in the reef to the north.  It was that possible way in through the reef that first caught my attention.  Obviously, someone was able to bring some pretty big stuff in.  There's plenty of depth for our boat here.  Of course Dooley the Delinquent immediately sniffed every single piece of hardware and structure on location.  He always does.

If you examine that photo above you can see how this was all set up. Someone built a substantial concrete wharf right on the shore, and snugged barges up against it for on and off loading.  There are also a couple of big concrete blocks poured a distance away from this  main one.  They were used to run lines from the barge ashore to stabilize it.   A good plan, but it seems to me that somehow, things got left in place a little too long. Now, they'll remain in place for a whole lot longer.

I'm not entirely sure what this piece of equipment is.  I would guess it's a big centrifugal  pump. Maybe someone was planning to do some suction dredging.  That would make sense.  Dredging a harbor, or channel, or excavating a shipwreck.   I can think of several good uses for a big pump here to move water and sand.  My own opinion is that whomever started this wharf project should have built a breakwater to protect it first. Waves coming through that hole in the reef must be a real factor in working close to shore here.   It was a calm day when we were there.

I did snap a photo of  this thing, to get the name.  Just in case anyone cares.  

This is a nice stainless steel tank.  It was in such good condition, I was wishing I had some kind of a practical use for it.  A submarine?  A hot tub?   Bomb Shelter?  Boat? Well casing?  A camping trailer? Now there's an idea.  We could put this on a chassis with wheels and build a TCI version of a stainless steel Airstream travel trailer.  Because I can tell you up front, the aluminum (or aluminium) version wouldn't survive long here. Oh well.  It looks like junk but  I suppose it belongs to somebody somewhere.  As I used to tell my kids when they were growing up, you might not know who it belongs to, but you do know it's not yours.

I know this would be an insanely long trip to find our traditional yearly "Christmas Stump" in a couple of months, but if we DID want to find one, I got a candidate already located.

I'd be a bit surprised if that tree is still there after Tropical Storm Sandy went by this week, though. Oh well.  There are plenty of others.

This is one of the more interesting items here.  This old crane is sitting there, one tread sitting on these huge timbers, and the other barely touching the surface of another sunken barge.  It almost looks like someone left for a lunch break, and never came back.   Who would leave a piece of equipment like that parked in the edge of the salt water?  There's got to be a good story here.  I tried an internet search on Platico Point, but really all I could find were some vague references to the abandoned wharf here.   Another small mystery for the  list.

Of course we had to walk around and examine the thing from several angles.   I am totally speculating here, but I wonder if perhaps at one time there weren't more timbers under those treads, and the sea has taken the rest of them away.   Only the weight of the crane is pinning these.

The other barge is also completly collapsed, and the inside forms a nice protected little kiddie pool.  Should one consider a smooth sand bottom over tons of rusty iron a suitable pool.    I bet you could cut your toe in there if you worked at it long enough.

And the rust.  Oh my.  I believe that this crane is long past its expiration date, by any criteria.   I suspect it will be here, turning back into iron oxide, long past the day all of us have returned to our own elements..

I have gained some experience in rust while living here, and I'm pretty sure this is now past the point where a can of WD-40 and a roll of duct tape are going to make much of a difference.   I do have to wonder if whomever is responsible for it thought to drain the oil out before the ocean gets to it.

Once upon a time, someone tied that line from this cleat to a ring on a  concrete bollard up on the shore.  I cannot help but wonder what happened here.  Someone had some big plans.  Someone invested a lot of money, and time, and effort.   I think one has to live here to appreciate how much really went into this in a location this remote. And now it all sits in the tropical breezes, overlooking the reef and the Atlantic ocean. Journey's over for this boat.

Well, by this point we had pretty much realized that living on Middle Caicos full time is full of challenges even above and beyond those of living on Providenciales.   We know people who are doing it, and we've long loved the idea of it.   The mosquitoes really don't bother us that much. We know how to deal with that. We'd build a home up on a ridge back away from the water's edge and the  low rainwater pools where bugs breed in storm season. Up in the cooling breeze and a fifteen minute walk from the beach.  Or we'd do what a lot of people do, and be somewhere else  in the fall.

Is this too remote for us?  We're still discussing it, with a bunch of new factors to consider.   This is hours from the nearest serious medical facility. It would take us an hour to go buy a loaf of bread.  There's not really any good place close by to keep Twisted Sheets.  As I age  I've noticed that  what  I once would have considered inconvenient appears increasingly unacceptable.  I'm in that transition from middle-age to geezer and have to start picking my projects a little more carefully.  Got too many irons in the fire already.   From what I am seeing on Middle, a lot of people have underestimated what it takes to live here in the style they had in mind when they started.  Maybe this island doesn't want to be covered in people full time.  The evidence so far sort of points in that direction.   Especially if one is feeling ancient and looking for excuses.
I like to believe that if I were even 20 years younger I'd be on this place like a duck on a june-bug, though.

We like knowing that there are still places this beautiful where someone can get away and really experience peace and quiet without having to  get lost in a wilderness.   This is 90 minutes of flying from Miami.  There aren't many people here, but those we've met are some of the nicest and most helpful people in the islands.  There is world class bone-fishing all around this part of the country.   And it's quiet. We heard no traffic, no airplanes, no jet ski's this weekend.  If I wanted to get away, and walk a beautiful, remote beach by myself all day without seeing another soul... I know where to go.   This would be a great place to rent a cottage and write a novel, for example.  Or learn to play the trombone and drums, if one were wired that way.  My point is meant to be that you wouldn't bother anyone, and no one would bother you.

While La Gringa and I are still undecided on whether or not we want to move to Middle Caicos, we  are also in agreement that we want to start coming over here for weekends more often.   This kind of island is good for the soul.

Oh, before I forget.   Several people have expressed some concern because Dooley the Delinquent has not been seen in the previous two posts.   He is with us, and we saw THIS photo posted on his Facebook page....

I waved this under his nose but he absolutely refused to discuss it with me.   There will be more photos of him in the next couple of posts.  After we decided  to take our ideas about moving to Middle Caicos under advisement for a while we just relaxed and played tourist for the rest of the weekend.   Got some good photos and videos.  Stay tuned, it gets prettier and Dooley's out on parole.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Twisted Sheets Haulout

This won't be one of our tropical scenery posts. I suppose that any scenery photos we post  would be tropical scenery by definition, but what I mean is that this post is not about beach combing, fishing, or conch diving.   This one is about moving the  big sailboat to a safe spot for the rest of storm season.   It's a part of  keeping a sailboat in the middle of a hurricane zone. We have to have the boat hauled out if there's a named storm warning, or if  we're leaving town for more than a few days during the storm season.  That was the case, here.     I'll  start this post with one of La Gringa's sunrise photos.  I used hers instead of one of my own, because ... well.... hers is better.   Again.

This is the one I had been planning to use before she showed me hers.  It's not nearly so pretty.  I was concentrating on trying to catch the image of the early morning conch boat heading out, the wake across the still smooth water, .....while she concentrated on the sunrise.   I think there's a lesson in this here for me somewhere.

We wanted to make another trip on Twisted Sheets before pulling her out of the water.  We ran out of time.    We had a long-planned trip up to the U.S.A.  We were committed, all scheduled with flights, cars, and hotels all booked. We couldn't leave the boat in the water here and just fly away during the peak of hurricane season.  We moved Twisted Sheets from her comfy slip(s) at South Side Marina.  I motored her about six miles over to the hard dry limestone lot at Caicos Marina and Shipyard. This is the first time we've done this.  I admit to being a little apprehensive since I'd be running the boat alone again. You know what a nervous nellie I am.  La Gringa tells me I worry too much. 

We picked a good day with calm weather for the trip.   La Gringa helped push me off  the dock at South Side and  she  waved bye-bye  as I set off into the big, lonely, dangerous ocean all alone on an elderly boat with issues.  Both the boat and I.  Elderly, and with issues, I mean.

She drove ahead to the Shipyard to be there when I arrived.  Takes her about 15 minutes to drive about ten miles.  Will take me about an hour to go six miles.  If everything goes smoothly.   This was only the second time I had moved this boat by myself.  The first time was from Jacksonville Naval Air Station to Jacksonville Landing in the St. Johns River. My first solo, as it were.  This time was a whole lot better.   This time I was in very familiar water, and I have a whole lot more stick time on this catamaran.  No scary shallows.  At least, none I don't already know.  And no trains and railroad bridges, and no current to hold position in waiting for them to open.  No strange concrete docks, and maneuvering in water the color of.... well I won't dwell on the color of the river.  Let's just say it would never be mistaken for sea water in the TCI.    This tiny tropical trip should be a tray of twinkies, by comparison, true? ( I meant piece of cake but had that alliterdiction thing going on)

It was a typical summer day, with the Caicos Bank looking like a big, warm, clear swimming pool.   If you can imagine a 2300 square mile swimming pool. With a population of critters. Most with teeth. It's a magic place when it looks like this. I'm still amazed some times at how clear the ocean water can get here. I made the whole trip under power, by the way.  Well, that might be a bit misleading.  Maybe I should say I got the boat there under interrupted or intermittent power.  This is one of those nagging little problems I keep whining about. Catamarans just handle so much better when both engines are running.  I got spoiled when they both ran all day and night..... that one time.  It hasn't happened before or since, but we now know it's possible.  We have hope.

There was hardly a breath of wind so sailing  was pretty much out of the question if I expected to get there before dark.   And I most certainly  did want to get there long before dark.  This water is clear and easy to read when the sun is high.  It turns dark and mysterious when the light goes out.

This was only a short trip, but still  enough for me to settle into the chair,  and imagind the feeling of being on a 40 ft. sailboat alone on a long trip.   Even though this trip was within swimming distance of land and only took  an hour, it was enough to let me imagine what it would be like to go from shorthanded to singlehanded.   I admire those people who spend months on a boat alone, but I have no desire to become one of them.    I think it's potentially even more isolated than being a hermit in a mountain cabin.  You can walk away from a cabin.  And the distance to the nearest help stays constant.

La Gringa was driving  along the shoreline during the first part of the trip.  She had her camera with her, and managed to get some long distance photos of Twisted Sheets.   


We could hardly have picked a smoother day for the move.   We timed it specifically for  a sunny day on a rising tide, when the sun was high overhead.  The sun makes it so much easier to keep an eye on the hundreds of coral heads between me and my destination.    I am heading around the edge of that hill and then turning to the left. There was a time when I would have said turning to port, but I am trying to break myself of the habit.

 I know my keels will clear these things, but there is still a tendency to steer for clear spots.   One of the fun things with a catamaran is that in many cases I can steer directly at a coral head and have the hulls pass to either side of it.

I remember what I was thinking at that point.  I was judging how long it would take me to swim ashore from here, and then that led into thoughts about what would happen after falling overboard while single handed.  Power boats small enough to fall out of typically have a  safety or 'deadman' switch. It's often a little cord or lanyard that you can attach to your clothing. If you fall overboard, it disconnects the ignition.  The motor stops, and you have a chance of being able to swim to the boat.  Even that's not a sure thing.  If there's enough wind, it's entirely possible for a boat to drift faster than you can swim for as long as it would take for you to catch it.  But the thing is the boat stops motoring, and you do have a good chance if you weren't injured.

If you're on a sailboat alone, and fall overboard, I think things are about to take a serious turn for the worse.  There's no deadman switch to stop it.  If you're not tied to the boat, it's going to sail on without you.  Might even pick up a little speed without your weight.  If you are tied to the boat, it's going to drag you though the water at something like 3 to 6 knots.  To get back on the boat, one would have to be able to haul themselves up the tether hand over hand, into a current stronger than most rivers.  Then if one manages to breathe and haul themselves up to the boat, there is still the significant problem of getting back aboard.   It's hard to climb onto a boat from water level. That's probably a good argument for us getting a better swim platform, come to think of it.   These are the kinds of things I think about when left alone for too long.  You can see I'm not cut out for singlehanded, long distance sailing.

Every time I pass a coral head I think of how many lobster might be hanging out around the base of it. They like to hide in jumbles of rock and coral if the conditions are right.   And there's typically an entire established neighborhood of fishies hanging out around these things.  I don't know how many coral heads there are on the Caicos Bank.  It's almost totally uncharted.  I would guess several thousand.

Maybe we should do a post just primarily with underwater photos of coral heads. That would be a fun one to put together.  Nurse sharks sometimes curl up around them and fall asleep.  We haven't taken any shark photos in a while.

As you've probably already guessed, one of the engines stopped as I was about half way through the trip.  It was the same engine we keep having issues with.  I think the vibration of the diesel loosens some of the fuel fittings after a certain number of hours.  This eventually lets some air bubbles get into the fuel system. One thing I've learned this year is that diesel engines are hugely intolerant of air bubbles. I'm nervous about overtightening the fittings, too. I worry about damaging threads in  the soft alloy metal that Yanmar made these filters and pumps out of.  It doesn't rust, but it's easy to damage. 

I continued the trip on one engine.   The boat runs quite happily on one engine, as long as no fancy slow speed maneuvering is required.   The boat turns left or right just fine on one engine as long as it's moving through the water fast enough for the rudders to have some authority.  Slow it to a knot or two and everything changes.  It becomes difficult to turn it toward the functional engine, and the rudders only seem to be useful for holding a position in reverse.  And then you have to turn them completely opposite what's intuitive.   We got quite a bit of experience docking with one engine on the trip down.   We'd been on the boat two weeks before we realized that it's not normal for witnesses to come running to the dock and shake your hand in congratulations on the landing.

What La Gringa saw from where she was waiting for me at the Shipyard, was the boat get almost to the entrance, and then turn and face in the other direction and stop.   Then she saw me drop the anchor.   She pretty much knew what was going on at that point.     Still, it would have been a good time for someone to have remembered to bring his cell phone, eh?     Well, I didn't have anyone in that category with me, at the time.  I can honestly say the whole crew forgot.

If the rest of Twisted Sheets' crew had been aboard, she would have just taken the wheel and ran the boat while I crawled down into the engine room with a flashlight in my teeth and  my sweaty little fistful of wrenches to bleed the fuel lines.  Since I was alone I turned wimpy and elected to drop the anchor.   I didn't want to have to worry about the boat drifting into something hard while I was preoccupied with getting the engine going.   I assumed I knew what the problem was and that it would only take a minute or two. I could have let the boat drift. But if I got hung up somehow, and it took longer, well, it was safer to just drop the anchor.  I wanted to check out the newly re-repaired anchor windlass, anyhow.

There is also the question of physical risk.  When the boat is moving the propeller shafts are also moving.  The Yanmar diesel manual says to put the transmission in neutral when sailing.  So the propeller moving through the water spins the propeller shaft and fittings quite briskly. They are spinning just a couple of inches from me when I am contorted down in the engine rooms bleeding the fuel lines.  I won't even mention which parts of me that all this spinning metal is closest to. Parts that I don't want to part with.     And every time I've ever seen meat against machinery, the machinery won.  When La Gringa is on board and I'm working on something near the engine, I tell her to slam the dead engine into gear  if she hears any horrible screaming noises coming from the engine room.  The screams don't even have to be all that horrible.   She should do it even if she hears pitiful whimpering sounds coming from the engine room.  Putting the transmission in gear stops the propeller from turning the shaft, for the most part.  In most cases.  Of course by the time she'd get it in gear and stopped I imagine any part of me that got caught up in the propeller shaft fittings would have gone around it several times already whether it was still connected to me or not.  Cheery thought.

Finally I got the fuel line bled, both engines started, the anchor back on board, and proceeded into the Shipyard.   You can see why I was keen to have use of my port side engine to get around this turn.  I meant my left engine.  Of course.

Well, I made it.   Another few miles for the log book. Another trip with engine problems.  So far, I think we're batting a thousand on that scenario.

I didn't have a lot of trouble getting the boat into the travel lift slip.   It's pretty easy with no wind and no current and both engines running.

I had to wait about a half an hour or so for the guys at the Shipyard to drive the travel lift over to to the slip.  It's that blue steel frame looking thing on the left in that photo above.  Those things don't move very fast.    That was okay with me.  I could use a short break between anxiety attacks.        One major crisis at a time, that's the way to manage this stress stuff.

Waiting for the lift gave me time to straighten up a few things on the boat.  Coil some lines, secure some fenders.   And watch the activities going on around me at the Shipyard.   It was pretty quiet, but that's usually the case on week days.   I watched one of the guys with the local jet-ski operation towing a jet boat over to the boat ramp.

After a while, JP of the Caicos Marina got the travel lift moved over to the slip where I was waiting.   We had to turn the boat around to fit it into the lift.   With it in bow first, the fore stay and jib were rubbing on the travel lift cross bar.     With it in stern first, we were able to get the two lifting slings down and under the hulls.

Bernard came over from the fuel dock to watch.   This was a pretty nervous moment for me, too.  I'll show you why in a moment.

Once the boat was lifted clear of the water, we walked around making sure that she was ready to move over land.   Both of our back stays were touching the lift cross bar, but they weren't pressing on it hard and we figured it was okay to move it.

This front sling is the reason I mentioned earlier that I was a bit nervous.    I know the angles are such that it's not likely to slip off.   I realize this.   I figured it out for myself.  I also asked JP and Bernard what they thought of it.  JP said it looked to him like it should hold.    Bernard said it was making him nervous and he didn't want to watch.   So it was down to me.   I said "Okay, lets move it."

What the heck.  It's only 18,000 lbs.

The lift is geared way low, and moves along at a crawl.   Two of the wheels are steerable like a shopping cart, so they can put a boat just about anywhere they want it.     I just wanted this one to be in a safe place.   I asked if they had a place next to another multi hull.   You know, something that won't fall over in a hurricane.     JP told me that he had just the spot.

So we were pretty happy when he maneuvered Twisted Sheets right into position alongside Sharon and Jim Shafer's brand new 50 ft. catamaran Pirateboat.    Looks like a Before and After comparison of how far the catamaran industry has come in 26 years.

We spent a few hours getting the boat ready for storage while we are out of the country.  All loose items that might get out of hand in a strong wind got stowed.   The big fenders, the loose lines, anything a hurricane could pick up and hurl into another boat.   We strapped the dinghy down fairly well with extra lines.   We even removed the sails from the main and jib furlers.

Of course I took this opportunity to take a good look at the hulls.  I was curious as to what kind of condition they were in after our thousand mile shakedown cruise.  Even though the boat had been freshly bottom painted by the previous owner just two months earlier, there were signs of barnacle and other marine growth already starting.   This dismayed me a little bit, as we didn't get a choice as to what type of bottom paint was applied.   We normally get at least two years out of the stuff we use.

But what bothers me more than the bottom paint at this point is the condition of the sacrificial zinc anodes bolted to the propeller shafts.    These zincs are used to keep electrolytic corrosion from attacking the steel of the boat.   When an electrical current is present, either due to natural galvanic action between dissimilar metals or an external current being passed through the boats electrical system, the zinc gets eaten away first.     What concerns me here is that this zinc is also only two months old, and is about a quarter gone already.  This tells me we have some grounding issues going on in the boat.   Oh, I already knew that.    But I was surprised at how rapidly the zincs are going.   It's probably a good thing we hauled the boat when we did.   The electrical system just hasn't been the same since the lightning hit us.    Not that it was anything to be proud of before then, either.

I was also curious as to how the hulls had fared after we sat aground for several hours during our trip.  We were happy to see that the only sign of touching the bottom was some easily touched up bottom paint just on the bottom of the keels.    This is one tough hull.  Or I guess I should say, two tough hulls.

I confess to a feeling of relief after getting the boat hauled out of the water and secured safely ashore.  This is the culmination of a process that started over four months ago when we flew up to Florida to take a look at this old catamaran.  It now feels like it was  1.) Find a boat and buy it, and 2.) Somehow get it transported to the TCI.  Step 3 is to get the boat the way we want it for some cruising.

We plan to get a few things fixed before we relaunch her later.  The electrical system is the first priority, but not the only one by any means.    This boat was sitting "on the hard" in Jacksonville when we first saw her, and now four months later, she's once again high and dry two countries south of there.  We felt good about leaving her here, safe from any storms, while we took off on our  little vacation to the Rocky Mountains.   We knew she was in good hands, and in good company among the varied population of other boats waiting out hurricane season at the Caicos Marina and Shipyard.

Now That's a water taxi.

And this.... oh yeah this is my idea of a Sport Fishing boat.    We were curious as to how that one even fits in the travel lift.   But obviously, it does.

That's pretty much the end of the story on this little trip.   We have several things we want to get accomplished before we re-launch Twisted Sheets. Some of it will be things we hire the shipyard to do, and some will be things I do myself.  It's a long list.  

We took our little vacation in the USA and are back on the island now.   I guess I could show you some photos of La Gringa  boogieing up a mountain trail  at around 10,000 ft on an All Terrain Vehicle, or biking over a raging river.  But while those are examples of our own version of a "Tropical Vacation" (a vacation from the tropics) they really don't fit in with the Tropical Life aspect of this blog.   Those mountain trips are so far from life here I don't even try to explain them.  So I thought I'd fill in the blank space until our next local excursion with this 'filler' post.

We have a trip planned to Middle Caicos, and I bet we can find some nice tropical scenery for the next one.