Sunday, March 24, 2013

March Mutterings

We get a number of identifiable seasons here.  Tourist season, whale season, hurricane season, dry season, lobster season.  I guess we can say we're well-seasoned? Anyhow, right now it's The Season when a lot of the local businesses are at their busiest.  We've been doing a lot of driving around the island recently, and have noticed everything seems to be in full swing. As remote as we are, the increased seasonal population of Provo only touches  us when we're out for groceries or running errands. We hit restaurants early and are usually settling up about the time the last table fills. We know to do our grocery shopping on sunny days when the temporary population bloom in Grace Bay is concentrating on the beach and water sports. The lines at the registers are directly proportional to cloud cover. This has been mathematically described as Cr > Cl in the presence of Co (coconut oil). And it's true.   Compare the smell of coconut oil in the aisles of the grocery store on cloudy vs sunny days...  Well, okay, I admit it's not very scientific.  Nor peer reviewed.  I withdraw it.  Tell the Nobel people it was a false alarm again.

Other than those exciting times when we step away from our dreary existence to entertain temporary seasonal visitors from up north, life out here pretty much follows the same general paths through the winter days. We get storms, and we get good days. Often at the same time.

We didn't fully understand the geographical ramifications of this piece of property when we bought it.  We loved the view, of course. We anticipated the wind.  We  underestimated the effect of it, but we are learning.  Reading "20 kts." during an internet search is not quite the same experience as living in 20 knots.  The wind holds flies against the screens until they become flews. (Flews is the past tense of flies.... right?) And we knew when we bought this place that with the view of the boatyard and the Caicos Bank to the south we would quite often have something interesting to look at. And we do. We get to watch a lot of different boats come and go. We are also close enough to the departure path of the airport that we get to see a lot of air traffic. We like that.  Ospreys and kestrels are constant visitors. And sometimes we spot sea life. Here's an example of that for you:

See that dark blob just off the beach, where I drew the arrow?  It's not unusual  to look out over the Caicos Bank and see something large moving.  We've seen bottle nose dolphins, sharks,  a few big fish we haven't identified, and a lot of rays swimming along these south facing shores.  We've seen turtles on the banks, but not usually near the rocks here. They are very common in the passages between islands in places like Leeward and Pine Cay.  It's not always glaringly apparent what we're looking at if it doesn't surface for air, but that in itself is a good clue.  There are other clues. Sharks swim by flexing back and forth. Dolphins and other aquatic mammals swim by wiggling up and down, when you think about it.  Even us human aquatic mammal wanna-be types don't have a swim stroke that mimics any side to side spinal flex motions like fish do.  Turtles stop and stick their heads up. Rays swoop along the bottom like a stealth fighter flying low in terrain following mode.  It looks to be a little on the large side for a typical local stingray but I just read that they get up to 150 cm across.  So it's possible.  That's easily a hundred meters away. We've got sting rays, manta rays, and eagle rays here.  We've seen them leaping completely out of the water.  Local boatmen have told us that they do that a lot when storms are coming.  I think we've been too busy to go look, when we've been under those circumstances.

We've been back to Sherlock Walkin's marina at Leeward Going Through several times recently.  It hasn't changed much lately.  "Hasn't changed much lately" could be a mantra for a lot of places in the southern Bahamas and vicinity.  Sometimes that's a comfortable thing.  It hasn't been a stable thing on this part of Providenciales for some years now.   We  stopped for a few moments while passing through.  We wanted to  visit the former location of our slip here.  Dooley seemed to think there was something familiar about it.

This is a very familiar view, in some ways.  We kept our first boat, Cay Lime, here right up until early September '08.  If you've read some of the old archives from that period in this blog, you'll recognize this next view.  You have to imagine a floating dock extending out to where the boat is anchored, with power boats tied up to both sides between small floating spurs.  Our boat was in the second slip on the left.  Nice spot although a little tricky getting into  during max flood or ebb with a strong east wind.

Here's a link to what this very spot looked like the afternoon Tropical Storm Hanna decided to stop, turn hard to the south, and become Hurricane Hanna, the deadliest storm of the 2008 Hurricane Season. Sure thumped us pretty good, that one did.  There were a dozen boats on this dock.  They all got smashed when it let go.  I still feel like falling to the floor sobbing and rending my garments in anguish when I think about it.  Well not really.  I thought about doing that but the whole sackcloth, gnashing  and ashes thing turned La Gringa totally off.

I took this photo only because we do get emails from time to time asking us about the status of the restaurant in Leeward.  Not as often these days, as people become accustomed to these kinds of unfinished projects.  And other small business men have stepped into the gap to fill some of the economic opportunity. There are a couple of small food and beverage vendors nearby.  It will be a great spot for a restaurant and bar. There is no doubt about that whatsoever. Any bank with any cents whatsoever would finance it.  So why has it sat uncompleted for several years now?  I'm sure there's a good reason.  But we don't know what it is.  Insane projects nearby seemed to take no time at all.

While we were looking around the marina we noticed that there have in fact been some changes. The entrance way looks spiffier than I remember it.  And there are some new planters defining what was a confusing open parking area.  This helps organize it into rows. Gives an aiming point to those drivers who seem to always park wherever their vehicle first comes to a stop.

We were driving a rented Jeep around for a few days.   The two door model.  We parked it next to a Defender 90 down at Leeward.  Interesting to see the differences between the type we've been driving and the new Jeeps.   They do have some things in common.  Solid front axle assemblies, coil springs.  I guess maybe form follows function in automotive evolution.

There are some more new planters along the front of the office building at Leeward.  This is where the marina and several of the fishing and sailing charter companies maintain offices. Sail Provo, Catch the Wave, and Leeward Marina all have offices here. I think the planters add a nice touch.

Looking out toward Bird Rock, there's a good view of the Conch Farm facility. There's still some hurricane remnants lying about.  Parts of these structures were in the parking lot next door after the last one. Rebuilding and cleaning up is a slow process.

The circular pens are for raising conch.

We were happy to see Cay Lime temporarily tied up at the marina. This is one of the  sections of floating dock that was rebuilt after the storms.  We noticed that Preacher has added a bimini top to the boat.   Good idea around here.  This sun will eat you alive, especially out on the water.  Having even a little shade to sit under makes a huge amount of difference.  With shade and the breeze, it never really feels uncomfortably hot here.

 I haven't been writing much about Preacher lately.  That's not by design.   We just haven't been spending much time in the Leeward Going Through area lately, and that's his main hangout. We haven't been pulling our boat down to that end of the island in recent times, because of our vehicle tow situation. Thus the bus is a bust with my hearty distrust of fatal sheet metal with deep cuss-ed rust.

In early March we made two trips out to Pine Cay with Preacher and  his boat.  Skipping along at 45 miles per hour in about eight inches of water is still pretty exhilarating.  I took several photos on the first trip over,  but most of them were too blurry to use here. There was just the three of us and I think Preacher was showing off.  I was holding on with both hands. It was windy.  Cloudy.  We got drenched in a squall that day.  Not very photogenic. On the second trip we had better weather. There were also five of us in the boat so it wasn't quite as lightly loaded, but still a thrilling ride.  I think Andros Boatworks should send their prospective flats boat customers down here for a ride in one of their boats.  Preacher should be their agent.

He'd  been out diving that morning and had a pile of conch to clean. He likes to cook native dishes and was treating us all to breakfast.  I forget what we were talking about.  Something serious and profound, no doubt.  Could have been hull design. Sailing. Sunken treasure. Local Politics. Airplanes. Diving. Fishing.  We were talking about fishing for the big Mutton Snapper. La Gringa and I intend to get back into fishing again, but not the same way we were into it the first few years we were here.  We want to concentrate more on the  local subsistence style that produces steady protein, and leave the big lure, deep sea fishing excitement to those guys with that hobby.   We're moving more toward sail boat living, and our fishing style should adapt to that.  I don't think S/V Twisted Sheets would be all that great at trolling for wahoo, so a lot of our future fishing will be at anchor or from small boats in shallow water. We like snapper, and have seen some really nice ones caught on the Banks.  It has something to do with the phases of the moon.   Preacher has promised to educate us.

We also haven't been getting out to Pine Cay as much as we'd like to.  Even living just a few miles and three islands away, that trip takes a boat or airplane.  We're always happy when we have the time and excuse to go out there.   Just coming into the landing at the marina there, and shutting down the outboard, feels almost like stepping into another country.  The only powered modes of transportation on Pine Cay are the electric golf carts, and the overall silence is nice.  Suddenly, the sound of the warm breeze ruffling the Gumbo Limbo trees is all you notice nearby, with the distant sound of waves crashing out on the reef. We can feel the relaxation settling in immediately.  Well, coming from a couple islands over it's a quick change for us.  We don't have as far to go as some. We've watched the process for years now, and some people need a day or two to completely downshift.  A week's about right to truly find neutral.   This is a great place for that.

After Preacher finished up  cleaning and rinsing his freshly caught conch (above) we went to the home where some visiting friends were staying.  Preacher handled everything, tenderizing the conch, and mixing up one of his specialties...

Conch and grits.  Turks and Caicos Islander style breakfast at it's finest.   We went back for more.  I don't think there were any leftovers.

The chef took a bow, as well he should.  I think we were discussing something else by that time. We had a lot of catching up to do.  There is a lot going on in the Turks and Caicos Islands at the moment. The government is transitioning from direct UK control back to elected officials. It's great to get Preacher's perspective on some of it.  His loyalties are well established, and he knows all the players.  He grew up with them. We don't vote here, being US Citizens, but of course we are keenly interested in the politics that affect us as residents.

Day trips to the other islands mean an early return, so we really didn't see much of Pine Cay on this one. Nobody really likes to boat around here in the dark. Back on Provo we had the rented Jeep. We could only keep it for another day so we decided to take a trip up to the other end of the island.  We hadn't been up to Malcolm Beach in quite a while.  The road over that part of the island has some unimpeded  views out across the 'bush' to the reef.

We had heard that improvements had been made to the road here.  We were actually looking forward to really trying the rented Jeep out, and we knew this road was typically one of the steepest and most rutted on the island.  However, the rumors are true.  Well, not entirely true.  What we actually heard standing around the bar at South Side Marina was that 'they fixed the road'.  I'm reminded that fixed is a fluid, and flexible term here.  In this case, the worst of the ruts gouged into the solid rock road surface have been filled in with concrete, and all in all, it's now actually better than the road we drive every day.  This one is certainly more fun.  Especially in a rented jeep.

Our first impressions of Malcolm Beach still linger in our memories as indicative of what to expect when we get to the end of the road.  Eight years ago it was just a rough trail along the coast.   It's all changed now, and has been like this for some years.  The road ends in a small parking lot, with an elevated wooden shelter and steps to the beach.  It's nice.  When we first came here the road turned right at this point, and we drove down the ruts until we found a break in the vegetation that we liked.  Each one was a shady picnic site.    We noticed that there is a security camera setup on a sturdy wooden post here now.    I wonder who monitors it and what the response time might be.

Dooley ran around this wooden platform several times when we got here.  He looked like a small pylon racer, going fast and turning left.  He did several loops and then zoomed right back down the steps.

He gets this intense look on his face when he does these things.  I have to wonder what complicated set of formula must be running through his little skull as he careens around and around on the very edge of losing control...

The view here remains spectacular, as I'm sure it's been for a very long time. This is the view straight out from the beach. There are two SCUBA dive charter boats anchored off  the steep drop off.  Right out there where the ocean starts getting serious about its blue mood.

I noticed the break in the shore rock here on the right, and the unnatural underwater pile of rocks.  I saw the sand there and was thinking it might be a place to wade into the water barefooted. But it doesn't extend out very far.  Something man made to investigate there.

This is the view  up the beach.  Now, I don't really know why I called that direction up the beach.     I guess I imagine some general convention regarding up north, vs down south.  Up the beach compared to along the beach.  I'm up for looking into it further as long as I can get down with the definitions.

 This view to the south might be considered down the beach.

But in this case down beach leads to very much up scale, if you know what I mean.   That group of buildings down past the little point is the western end of the Amanyara resort.  From that aforementioned little point it looks like this:

Can't really see much of the resort from here.  That's the main beach, and also where the  charter dive boats pick up hotel guests who have booked a dive with them.   We've never actually visited the resort itself.  But if we could win our choice of a weekend getaway to any place on Provo, this would be the place. Don't get the idea that photos of the grounds are forthcoming any time soon.  

I thought this was as good a place as any to try the little Nikon's panorama mode again.  It works okay but needs a really big format to view it.  This is probably why I don't take more of them.  It's one of those "Oh  yeah...NOW I remember..." moments.  I'm starting to think that 180 degree panoramas are a gimmick, and 360 degree panoramas must be targeted toward an audience of owls. Or accident victims, past and future.

We wandered up and down the beach for a while, as we tend to do.  The beach here is like the water.  It's very clean. There's not much flotsam here to pick through. And the water is beautiful.  I know I've been using words like 'crystal clear' and such when I write about the ocean here.  It's difficult to describe without using the same old words for really clear water.  The photos show you some of it, but even this doesn't accurately represent how clear it is.

You can go from having dry sand beach to  a thousand feet of water  underneath you  in just 800 yards of movement here.    Some of the best diving within easy reach of Grace Bay is here, and it's usually somewhat protected from the east wind.   Nice.

There are a couple of very large inflated rafts moored off of  Amanyara's beach.  We didn't see anyone using them while we were there.  But hey, it IS winter time here.  Not everybody braves these fierce Atlantic weather conditions.

There really isn't much in the way of collectible junk washed up here. This part of Providenciales is basically tucked up into the lee of the trade winds and the current.  Floating things tend to keep going and not come onto shore here.  Did you notice the way all the boats are riding, sitting on their anchors?  That's pretty much the prevailing conditions here.

 There are are numerous marine fossils in the rock. And walking barefoot is not unpleasant if you don't stub a toe.  The rock is smooth and the sand is soft.

We came back by that break in the shore rock that is near the little beach shelter.  It's also right in line with the road.  It's easy to see the two dark objects that emerge from under that line of rocks.

And a close look reveals them to be two cables.    I couldn't be sure what kind of cables they are, but I would assume communication. It's pretty modern looking urethane so I'd guess fiber optic. I'm puzzled as to where they might go.   They leave the beach here on a heading of 282 degrees.   There's nothing in that direction.  Mayaguana is much more to the north, and West Caicos is to the south.   The cables are marked on the nautical chart, but not as to their destination.  On the chart they are drawn from the beach and continue for  a short distance to the west before disappearing into the deep ocean at the point where they no longer concern boaters.  Kind of like in real life.

We never get tired of looking at the water here.  It's interesting to us even on bad days.  And we've had a few bad ones.   And on good days it's just amazing. If you ever visit the Turks and Caicos Islands, the chances are that you'll fly in from Miami to Providenciales. If there's a choice of seats on the plane,  I'd pick a window seat on the right side.  You'll see plenty of reef, and the water all the way past West Caicos.  Including this spot right here:

Every time we've come out here we've told ourselves that we need to plan a trip specifically for snorkeling. There are spots where one can walk out barefoot over soft sand until the water depth exceeds one's draft.   We've just got to come back here with the underwater camera.  The people on the boats in that video are diving on places with names like  Shark Hotel, The Crack and Hole in the Wall.   And just past that, the water is a mile deep. Floating on the surface in a mile of clear ocean is always such an otherworldly experience.  If you watch long enough, eventually you will see large shapes deep below you. Just on the very edge of your vision.  And every now and then you'll see something you can immediately identify, close enough to be clear enough to be just enough to send a little jolt of adrenaline though your system. And then it swims away and disappears from your view into that deep blue mystery that transforms turquoise into something darker than blue ever gets. And suddenly the ocean seems a little bigger than it did a moment ago.  And I always feel a little smaller.

"It was the Law of the Sea, they said. Civilization ends at the waterline. Beyond that, we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top."  
Hunter Thompson
Dooley the Digger immediately seemed to feel right at home in the rear seat of the Jeep.   It's a good size for him.  He can see in every direction.  I guess the day at the beach wore the poor old fellow out, though.  He was snoring by the time we hit smooth pavement again. And I have to tell you, this little Jeep is a lot more comfortable to ride in than either of our badly beaten Defenders.  To be fair to Land Rover, it's probably not cricket to compare a six year old suspension with a one year old suspension on these roads. It's also probably safe to say that this rental Jeep spends most of it's time here on the pavement.  Our Defenders definitely do not.  I guess we can say the rear seat on the Wranglers has now been Dooley Approved.

We've had Jeep on the brain a lot lately.  We've already had both front and rear tow hitches imported and waiting for ours to arrive.  We only rented this Wrangler for two days.  Then we moved into the cheapest rental we could find for the long haul.  Have you ever heard of a Fiat Panda? Strangest transmission that I've ever seen.   I'll take some photos if anyone is interested.  Or bets on whether it lasts a month on our daily drives.

 his is a photo I recently took of   a little Piper PA38 Tomahawk, right after it touched down at Providenciales.

And I was taking the photos because La Gringa was in the pilot seat, taking her fourth flying lesson.   Dooley the Distracting and I sit in a car alongside the runway with an air-band VHF radio and a Kindle e-reader while she's up flying.   Very relaxing way to spend an hour or so.  For me, anyway.  I'm the one comfortably on the ground with a radio and a good book.

This is a nice place to learn island flying, too. The major airport here is not that busy for most of the time, and it's almost two miles long and brand new.  All nice and smooth and up to current standards.  She snapped this photo  while circling out over Chalk Sound one day during a lesson.     I don't know how that little Piper two seater was able to get behind that X-wing fighter... but the inescapable truth is that the little Tomahawk landed safely that day.  No X-wing fighters made it to the runway at Provo....

Just kidding.  La Gringa says it's a chip in the windscreen.   Just my imagination.... running away with me.

I've been keeping a steady string of DIY projects going.  Usually several at once.  Most of them are probably not even worth mentioning here.   Maybe one recent one and only because it's probably an unusual scavenging of materials.   A few years back I picked up a mangled road sign in the bushes here. I cut off the bent up part and ended up with a semicircle of aluminum plate.  I am working on a project that needs a smooth flat piece of aluminum, and I cut one out of this old half a road sign.  I had to scrape, saw, sand, etc. I don't know what kind of adhesive they use to put the reflective surface on these signs, but I sure wish I had some of it.  

It took a while to get it smooth and flat.  I used the electric sander to get the rough surface flat.   The dark gray areas are where the metal is still low.  The shiny stuff is the high parts.  I milled it on flat glass at the end.

That's one of the last parts I needed to complete this little 3D printer kit.  I still need to come up with a way to clamp this to the headed bed, but I'm getting closer to being able to make plastic and ABS parts.

I use a lot of aluminum plate here these days. It's generally good stuff  if you  work within its limitations and keep it out of contact with other metals.  I've taken another piece of our storm destroyed HD satellite dish and along with the strap from a diving face plate, I've put together another Dog Cam mount for Dooley the Director. I wanted something that he could wear on our walks that could handle a GPS or a camera. I didn't want to make him have to wear the entire life jacket with the other Dooley Cam mount. Running around looking like a miniature version of the Great Pumpkin wasn't cutting it.  I think it embarrassed both of us.  So I came up with a more canine friendly mount.

This one is like a jockey's saddle.  But unlike a thoroughbred horse, I can't find a spot that doesn't bounce on this dog.   I tried showing him videos of squirrels and cats, so that he'd get an idea about how to run smoothly... we wanted the camera to flow... But I learned not to show him videos of squirrels or cats as good examples.   He got the wrong idea.   He thought we were watching a hunting video.  At least he seems okay with this mount arrangement.   He didn't seem to be too upset on a trial run we did.   I explained how this was going to work, and I'm sure he was carefully thinking about all my instructions on how to walk level and smoothly.  I could see he was paying attention.  He listens to every word I say.  I could tell that he committed my entire speech to memory...

This brings us pretty much up to date at this point.   We were just over at the shipyard and a lot of progress has been made in rewiring the S/V Twisted Sheets.   A lot of the old tangled wiring is gone now, replaced by heavy cables, simplified runs and marine-rated switches.  And I have a brand new shiny helm station to replace one that gave me a whole lot of trouble last year. These are huge improvements to the boat.  And we've got more in mind once we get her back in the water where I can get access.  We're estimating another month in the yard. And then we plan to start doing some sailing.

We haven't been in position to take any outstanding sunset photos lately.  I thought this one was mildly interesting only because the reflection is crisper than the actual image of the sun.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Late Winter Ramblings

 This morning I read about another snow storm hitting parts of the USA.  So I'll take a SWAG (Scientific Wild A. Guess)  that a lot of people in North America might appreciate this  view  from the little beach on Bay Cay right about now.  We sailed out for a picnic last week, and will be posting some photos and video of that trip here shortly.

We continue in a bit of a "hold mode" as far as boat and exploring trips go.   We're feeling a bit tied down by transportation issues. We're still waiting for our new Jeep to arrive on island and the Land Rovers have gotten so bad that we're renting a vehicle in the meantime. The rental doesn't have a tow hitch, and  I'm nervous about pulling the skiff and trailer with our existing setup.  Somewhere there's a number which corresponds to the force it will take to pull that rusty rear cross member off of the Land Rover. This number has been changing fairly rapidly lately, and not in our favor.  I'm no longer confident of the efficacy of any imagined margins of safety.  I can pull the rusty steel apart with my bare hands.  Now, that  feels as  faux macho as crumpling an aluminum beer can on one's forehead, but  it doesn't bode well for the trailer hitches that are attached to that steel.  So no skiff trips. And the S/V Twisted Sheets is still in the boatyard for repairs and upgrades.    The glue on the inflatable kayak decided to stop gluing.   We've been limiting our boating excursions to sailing the little Hobie Tandem Island  close by here in our home sailing ground. We've got some video and photos of another one of those trips for you.

But before the sailing stuff, I wanted to show you some images from around our neighborhood. We've been doing a lot of  local exploration  via shank's mare so far this year.    We're both inveterate shutterbugs. I've always got a point-and-pray camera in my pocket, and La Gringa  has been taking her Pentax DSLR along on  some of these little jaunts of ours.  The quality of the photos always seems to improve substantially when that happens.

These long walks are a new thing in my life. With knees # 3 and 4 now installed and working, I've got two fully functional legs for the first time in 35 years. This makes a difference   I've been grinning a lot more lately. I had  forgotten what a pure joy a nice walk can be.  And every time we visit a beach around here, there's something new to check out since the latest high tide.

A few weeks ago we showed you a photo of some  blue stone that we've found on one of our walks. It's on a beach not far from here.  I wrote about how how unlikely it is to find ancient ship ballast stones in this location. This bay would look inviting from the sea to someone coming in by ship.  Especially if they were running for shelter. But this place is exceptionally shallow.  Way too shallow for the kind of boat that brings ballast stones from Europe. We're talking ankle and knee deep shallow here.  I wanted to take another look at that site. Ancient ballast stones are not that unusual here, but this location is a real puzzle.  So we swung by (swang?) on one of our recent rehab strolls to take another look around this little site.   Gives the walk a purpose, anyhow.

And I can show you why the location of these European stones puzzles me. This next photo pretty much shows you what I mean here.  About it being super shallow water.  This boater is aground in the same little bay  just a short distance from the blue rock location.  We saw this guy run his PWC in there at a goodly clip. He was grinning like a mule eating briars and having a great ride.  You know that feeling.   This all came to a sudden stop when he ran out of water before he ran out of bay.  Isn't it amazing how noisy one of these PWCs can suddenly not be?  We saw the whole thing from a distance and  watched to see what happened next.  He needed help to get unstuck. This photo looks a whole lot closer to us than it actually was.  It was taken through a telephoto lens. He's further out than the 'ski' and you can see how shallow it is where he's standing.   We know a little bit about being aground, and this qualifies.

I can understand why people unfamiliar with the area think they can swoop through this bay. The ocean water here is so clear  that judging depths can be tricky.  Most local boaters here also know that you never, ever come off plane scooting across shallows. You do S turns to raise the drive  if you have to.  It only took us one season to learn that lesson, and the locals are masters at it.  This is  also not the best place to be on a falling tide.

I think you can see why we wouldn't expect a boat big enough to need ballast stones to be able to get close to the beach here.  And there's no reason that I can see to haul stones to this beach. I wanted to look at the stones again. Maybe I was wrong about them being non-native.  I was prepared to admit I'd made a mistake.  It's rare, but it happens.  Then we looked around the area where the stones are scattered, and we found pieces of red brick.  This didn't clear anything up at all.

The other places where we've found European stones mixed with pieces of brick  have been ancient shipwrecks on the reef.   We find bricks in the ballast piles. So, instead of proving that I was wrong about the possible ballast stones, the presence of brick fragments actually supports it.  When a wooden ship breaks up, the heavy items tend to fall out of the same big holes and they go straight down. Ballast stones and brick ovens tend to stay put where they land. I'm still puzzled.  I had hoped to get a photo of the sparkle of igneous crystals in this broken edge. Limestone doesn't sparkle. This stuff does, but sparkles seem to be difficult things to photograph off hand.

I could be wrong, but it looks like blue slate to me.   And common sources of blue and gray slate are the western coasts of the UK and Spain.  One thing for sure, it's not the native limestone.   That looks like this:

Well, I don't know any more about this site now than I did before .  I know that it appears to me that these are pieces of the galley of a boat big enough to need a brick oven to feed the crew on long voyages. This is not from a Haitian sloop.  That's a short trip.  A peanut butter sandwich voyage.  They don't bring gas grills on those little boats, much less bricks. And I know what kind of a storm it would take to blow an oceangoing boat  this far up onto this beach.  With a south wind, no less.

Glad we missed that one.

Well, after further confusing ourselves about it all, we continued our stroll.  It occurred to me later that I should have looked at the bricks closer.  To see if they are similar to the ones we picked up from an early English wreck site we found on the reef.   That's an excuse for another walk.  Not that we really need one.

We were carrying cameras and snapping away on this one.    There is no rhyme nor reason to these photos, by the way.  There is no theme.   I don't know the name of this tree, for example.  I can tell you that it grows in sea water and will never be planed into long straight boards.   This tree is also highly unlikely to ever be used as a telephone pole or a ship's mast.  I was wondering if this might be the type of tree the local boat builders searched out for the knees they use in framing wooden sloops.   If not that, then at least surely there are a few good future boomerangs in there somewhere.

The wood of these trees is very dense.  And they have an incredible root system.   Their roots will be under a foot of sea water at high tide.  Kind of sets a benchmark for the horticultural phrase 'salt tolerant' that I read from time to time when I read that kind of stuff.   At the moment it escapes me why I would be doing that.  These trees seems to shrug off hurricanes pretty successfully, too. I think these trees are very old.   At least I get that impression just by looking at them. They look like I feel.   Spread  thin,  hanging on through the tide changes and storms while being beaten  and bent by the prevailing wind.

It's bent in the direction that the Trade Winds push it. Knowing that they're from the north east, doesn't this make the tree a kind of a compass?  We can tell which way is South, from observing this tree.  Which also makes it a sun dial.  It would also make a good place to tie a boat to......if the bay were not so shallow.  See how I cleverly lassoed that drifting topic and pulled it back toward the subject at hand?   I've already warned you that this post has no direction.  Other than the one indicated by this salty little tree.

The roots obviously like to be exposed to air as well as beach sand and water. I wonder where the tree gets its minerals and organic nutrients.  Calcium carbonate and salt is some pretty harsh stuff to use for topsoil. This is nearly a natural version of hydroponics on a fairly big scale. This is hard wood in a hard place. When the sand migrates in and covers the root system, they just send up the plant equivalent of snorkels, I guess.  They're not green shoots, seeking the sunlight. I think they're roots, snorkeling for air.

I remember reading some planting instructions in some long ago garden, and that I needed to make sure that the roots of the vegetable in question would have room to breathe.  This tree takes that need to breathe to a militant level.

We don't typically see a lot of animals on these walks. There are no native mammals here, unless you count birds and rats.   And how native can anything be to an island that was once a submerged shallow place in the ocean, anyway? And the chances of sneaking up on a bird or rat with Dooley Destructo in tow are pretty slim.  We do surprise a lot of lizards of various makes and models.  They always seem to be a beat behind in their attention span or something.   Dooley will chase them if he's bored, but ignores them if he's on the scent of something interesting.   He will cautiously sniff at a crab if he finds one,  from downwind and a distance.  Past experience has made him very careful with his nose around things like that.  And some of the land crabs here are big.  And grouchy.  Totally intolerant of yippy little obnoxious dogs and unsympathetic about claw damage to pushy little black noses. We didn't see any crabs on this walk.  La Gringa was taking photos of places where  some kind of marine invertebrates are dug in for the tide cycle.  Whatever it is, it sure can kick some sand.

Pieces of the Haitian sloops wash ashore on just about every south facing shore of some of these islands.  After seeing a few dozen of them, it's pretty easy to spot both the wood and construction techniques.  It's scary to consider how many boats full of people have broken up in these waters.  We only hear about the ones that make it to shore.   The south side of French Cay is covered with this kind of wreckage.

Here's La Gringa's self portrait of the photographer as a function of time.  Since it's all about angles and time determines all the angles.

That sounds like some kind of universal truth.  (Kind of like my favorite: "It's ALWAYS connectors.")

We tried taking along a little collapsible monopod camera t'ingum that I have. You can see the shadow of it in that photo.   It turned out to be fairly useful in holding the camera steady for clear shots. Like this next one.

Obviously, that started with smooth sand, and then a bare foot print, and then the sand ripples from the wind..and then someone with a shoe  and a small foot. I don't know exactly what to call that, but it's pretty clear.  I've shrunk these photos down to load faster for viewers, and that makes them a little pixelated and blurry, but the original version of this is razor sharp.

Now, this next rock is a bluish gray color, too.  But it's what's called 'ironshore'.  Basically just the hardest parts of the marine limestone that remains when the softer parts have been eroded away. It weathers to a gray color.

I managed to catch a rare photo of a giant extra terrestrial striding across the surface of the bay between us and the small cays.  He was waving his arms and asking about toilet paper.

Just kidding.  It was a large spider and he didn't say anything of consequence whatsoever.  Not in English anyway.   I decided to leave him alone, there in the breeze on the beach.  This is obviously one of those industrial strength, harsh-marine-environment rated spiders.  Looking at the net spacing on that web of his, I'm not sure I want to know what he catches and eats here, either. Cessnas?  Does this explain why there are so few seagulls in the Turks and Caicos?  Nah. They can't afford it.

We take Dooley on these walks with us.  I know I don't take a lot of photos of him.  He's always moving.  At least on a boat I can pin him down to one spot.  I put a blue dot on each of my footprints in this photo, and connected them with a blue line.   For Dooley, I used yellow.

If we walk for three miles, I suspect that he trots four or five times that distance. And he doesn't really "walk" anywhere. He trots.  He Jumps. He skips, runs and frolics. Leaps, spins, and pirouettes.  The only time he really walks is when he knows he's in trouble.  And that's really more of a slink than a walk. Sometimes I force him to listen to a really stern-voice-of-the-gods sounding lecture. He gets worried. Especially with arm waving and  finger pointing. If I keep the pressure on long enough,  he turns into some kind of spineless semi  liquid life form that can't move at all.   He plays this from the heart to signify his acknowledgment of my criticism, and admits that  he has indeed and once again proven his capacity for baddogism. He's abjectly miserable and despondent.  For about two minutes. Then he totally forgets about it and gets  into something else. Even when on the springy, forgiving, low-shock bungy cord leash I've been experimenting with.  Here's a photo of the leash, by the way.

And why is the leash just lying there across that rock, you may ask?  Dooley was doing a rodent check:

If there were any rats snoozing away in there, I bet they had to change their little mousey shorts after that experience.

The leash has been working out okay. It's not abrasion resistant enough to last for long in this environment, though.  Sometimes when Dooley has it stretched out tight, it occurs to me that there are a number of times when it's probably not the best idea to be tied to the end of a big elastic band being stretched out by a straining Jack Russell Terrier, longer and longer, kind of like this whole sentence....  The potential for one of those redneck Kodak moments is very high when that leash is stretched thin and tight and twanging.

Well, that's generally part of how our walks have been going.  Nothing too exciting, but not the worst winter conditions, either.   We'll be glad when we can tow the boat(s) around again. We haven't been through Leeward in a long time,  and we're way overdue for a 'shopping trip' out to West Caicos.   We do have a Pine Cay trip in the works.  Remember our friend Preacher?  He's still around and still driving that boat of his  fast and shallow.

We are making do with the Hobie. It's a great little boat for these waters.  We do get wet, of course, and that's part of it.  The first photo in this post is from a recent Hobie trip.  We were playing around with some of our little toys on this one.  Maybe you'll be interested in seeing some of this.

Excuse a brief lapse into DIY here, but I've been experimenting with mounts for the GoPro cameras. And it's germane to what this next section is about.  This is what the very top of the mast on the Hobie Tandem Island looks like.  It's a plastic piece with a slot for a strap that holds the sail up.

My previous camera mount tucked down between the sail and the mast, and I wanted to do something different.  I wanted something what would not contact the sail at all, or clamp around the top of the mast.  I took a piece of our former satellite dish antenna aluminum and cut and bent it into a shape with a flat surface to which I could glue a GoPro camera mount.

I  Marine Gooped (that's an adhesive product) the mount to the flat side, and bent and clipped a stainless steel bicycle spoke to make a little catch pin.  It's extra long for a little bit of spring action and to keep the whole thing from sliding out of the mast top slot.

These next photos are tilted so you can see the camera mount as though the mast were pointed straight up.

And this is how the camera mounts to it.  The mast swivels, of course, but it's possible to rotate it to orient the camera.   The black cord is just a safety strap in case I forgot or overlooked something. That's been known to happen.  But you see, knowing that it has been known, I know that I need to do things like this for those times when it might become known again. Before I become known for it.  Ya know?

We usually take more than one camera on these outings.  Never the "good" camera, of course. It's not waterproof, water resistant, or even anti water.  Taking it on little splashy boats would be the end of it.  We have our GoPro's and waterproof point and shoots for these trips.   We count on the photogenic colors of these tropical islands to distract you from  poor photo quality and technique.

We had great weather last weekend. Light winds make for sedate sailing, but then again we don't get as wet.  This time of year we definitely feel the chill if we get wet in the wind.  Especially if the sun is going behind clouds.  This was a calm, easy sailing day.  The water was typically clear, even at the ramp.

We started sailing out in the general direction of the Five Cays.  We had a rare south wind.  This meant that we could beam reach back and forth east and west without having to work our way into the wind.

I didn't take a lot of photos with the pocket camera, as I know you've seen all these images before. We knew the mast camera was snapping away, taking a shot every five seconds.  La Gringa took those shots and put them into a time lapse video. This is a half a day's sailing (16 miles) in two minutes and forty seven seconds.  And she sped up the long parts even more.

I also had a small GPS along for the ride.  I use it to check the boat speed when we're sailing (I can't help it!) and to mark any interesting things I might want to chart or get back to.  I recorded a track for this boat trip.  Playing around with it later we discovered that it's easy to import this string of positions into Google Earth.  And I also discovered that my intelligent wife knows how to turn that into a video, too.  So... if you're interested, here's the Google Earth track along which that time lapse video was taken:

You can see that we can sail back and forth pretty well with a south wind. La Gringa put a couple of 'bench marks' on that for you as references.  When we first saw black smoke coming from the vicinity of Bugaloo's restaurant, we headed in that direction.  It looked like their kitchen was on fire. It wasn't.  When we realized the fire was on a hill well behind the restaurant, we turned.    We also spent a bit of time having lunch on the beach at Bay Cay. You can see that sojourn on the GPS track, too.

Speaking of our time at Bay Cay, I got to try out a new anchor setup I have for the kayak.  I am using paracord for the anchor line, and wrapping it around a piece of Noodle flotation.   The paracord has a 550 lb breaking strength.  The flotation keeps the cord from tangling, and  makes it easy to unspool.  It also acts like a little shock absorber. So far it's working well.  I use a simple  hitch to secure it. A lot of drag would rip the end off of the Noodle and let all the line out.  Which is probably what I would want anyway, come to think of it.  It would unspool and mark a spot as a buoy if I threw it overboard without the  hitch.  This may work.  Maybe someone at Hobie will see this and finish  it  as a new product.   They should come up with a better anchor, though.

The wind conditions were such that I didn't need to set the anchor in the sand.  I just unfolded a fluke and dropped it into a convenient hole in a suitable rock.   Islands make great anchors.  Didn't even have to get it wet.

We didn't take the "Dooley Cam" mount along with us this time.  He was running around in his life jacket without it.  He gets a bit restless and disgruntled because we won't let him off the beach at all.  These islands are habitat to the native iguanas.  We keep him below the high water mark, basically on the beach with us because we know he would chase one if he saw it.   So he paces in circles muttering to himself.

There are iguana tracks leading from the beach to that rock, so we know they are around.  We keep an eye on Dooley.  I don't think he even realized he was looking at iguana tracks.

The current shifted while we were tied at the cay, and you will see that the boat drifted up to the rocks in that time lapse video.  I moved it to a space where the wind overcame the effect of the current.  Makes for a nice Hobie photo.

Hobie continues to be an absolutely great company to deal with, by the way. And so has their dealer in Ft. Lauderdale, Nautical Ventures.   I hope to have some good news on our inflatable kayak soon.

It's pretty easy to find a rock to anchor to in the lee of these little islands.

As stated already, I didn't take a lot of photos.  That trip was just a normal sort of weekend thing we do when the conditions are right.  This time of year, that means sunny weather with the wind between 10 and 15 knots. We like 20 knots in the summer when the water is warmer and one doesn't mind getting splashed more.  Getting wet on a cloudy day this time of year is our idea of winter misery.   I don't really expect much sympathy.

Other than a lot of long walks and the occasional sailing trip, life goes on pretty much as normal.  We  received several comments about Bugaloo's and the Conch Shack.  For the record, we still like the Conch Shack too.  It's more scenic than Bugaloos.  It's hard to beat that view through the swaying palm trees. The mottled sunlight warming the soft sand beneath your feet to a level of pure therapy. And just at the gentle edge of earshot the waves are crashing  and splashing blindingly white along the reef for as far as you can see. And beyond the reef  the clear turquoise water quickly turns to a deep ocean blue as sudden as the abyss.  We don't need much arm twisting to lunch at "Da Conch Shack" this time of year.

I don't want to give you the impression that this is a full time party down here, but we've also been spending a little time at South Side Marina's new almost-but-not-yet open bar-restaurant lately.   I'll mention it  because we know that some boaters run across this blog when they start researching the Turks and Caicos Islands while cruising through. We know  that this happens because we get to meet some of them.  We've gotten some email questions about it, so we have taken on the (ahem) responsibility of  monitoring the development personally.   South Side Marina has long had a tradition of hosting a cook-out  on Thursday nights. The cruisers bring something to cook for themselves, something to share, and whatever they're drinking.

The marina supplies gas grills for cooking, along with ice for drinks and ice cream for dessert.  These are things that most cruisers appreciate, with freezer space being small and precious on most boats.  South Side Marina is putting the finishing touches on a new bar/restaurant, and  owner Bob Pratt is awaiting the rest of the legally required permits from the government  before he can start operating as such.  In the meantime,  the Thursday night cook-outs have already benefited from the new venue.  In addition to the visiting cruisers, a lot of the locals have started dropping by.  On a recent Thursday night, over 40 people were there.

The place doesn't yet have an official name, although variations of the term "Bad Bob's..." have been floating around.  Along with "Riptide" and some others. I still support "Dead End Bar" myself.  I think it could be a humorous line of t-shirts for the funny t-shirt collectors amongst us. In any case, it's starting to look like we have now have the beginnings of  a neighborhood hangout for at least one night a week. A very multinational gathering with a lot of boating talk, as you might imagine. We've learned that a noticeable percentage of the long time expats here are also  pilots who flew themselves to these islands back before there was regular commercial service.  Someone should write down some of these tales.

I'd say Bob's mobs of jobs on "Bob's" have brought out  gobs of yobs.  Oh, yes, the new stainless steel counters, sinks, coolers etc. are now in and functioning.   You just cannot buy food or drink here. "Bob's Hangout"? If he serves pizza it could be  "Caicos Bank and Crust"...... owwwwww.  sorry.

And we also make it over to the Caicos Marina and Shipyard from time to time.  That's where we have the sailboat, Twisted Sheets.  Hopefully we should be getting news of progress on sorting out some of her basic electrical issues.  As followers of this blog know, we limped home in that boat after a lightning strike in the Berry Islands.  We want everything important working before we take off again for any extended trips.

While we were at the boatyard this last visit we spotted what appears to be a confiscated panga.  I know a number of our blog readers are power boat people, and specifically fans of this hull design.    We're  panga people, ourselves.   Anyhow, this is a great example of a totally  hand made boat, and what a real panga looks like in many countries south of the USA.

Looks funny on that trailer.

I had to get a look at the inside of this boat.   It's pretty well thought out. That high bow will make it dry in chop.

A splash well, rod holders molded in.... a bucket for... well..... all those things that a bucket will be useful for.  Looks like a well used and useful boat.   There's a lot to be said for a boat that doesn't mind getting a few more scuff marks and that can easily absorb another patch without damaging the cosmetics.

I'm going to end this post with those photos.  We're about to head out to Pine Cay today.  We've been getting out a little more lately, and we've got some really colorful, tropical water and beach stuff coming up. 

And I heard ya about posting more often.  Maybe we can do that.  I'll give it an effort.....