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.....     


Unknown said...

Hope the knee is back to normal. It is time to move Lil Provo to the driveway to start preparing her for the coming season. Since hurricane Sandy there are all sorts of warnings about the change to bottom depths. It will start as a very cautious season. We haven't put anything up on our Lil Provo blog lately as I have been busy with a new blog on Raritan Bay.
It is a slow recovery from the Super Storm. There were houses that just disappeared into the bay. This also included boats, cars, and all sorts of yard stuff. Caution will be the key word this spring.

Thanks for your great posts. It keeps us New Jersey sailors in check.m

Thanks again.
Jim Ashworth
Lil Provo

Anonymous said...

Great post!

Loving the Dooley tracking, don't believe I have ever seen anyone do that, track the hounds path like that.

Seems to be a pattern there, he seems to criss cross over your every 2nd-3rd step. Are you calling him every now and again?

Be interesting to repeat the whole thing on a longer beach and see what pattern develops again. Also walking in land if the same occur.

Just real cool and interesting to see it mapped out like that.

kristine barr said...

Loved the update!

Anonymous said...

Hey Gringos...great stuff as usual.
Loved the Google Sail on Google Earth...never saw that one before.
Also, the 'creature that kicked up the sand'...could it be a Mantis Shrimp??
Lifts my winter spirits to see the photos....Thanks,

Jack in Denver said...

Bar name:

Sandy Bottoms



Cheers from cold and snowy Denver

Kate said...

Loved the time lapse! That Hobie's got a tall mast - you can really see the curvature of the earth from up there! It's like you live on a tropical, oceanic mini-planet like the Little Prince!

Anonymous said...

Thanks. We're still working with these GoPro cameras. They have their strong points, but they're really not the best cameras. Just handy. That curvature effect is because of the "fish-eye lens" characteristics of the GoPro cameras. It's annoying when it distorts something one did not want to be distorted, but it's manageable if you're aware of it when you're setting up the camera.

I've been trying to figure out a way for Dooley to wear one on his head....but this approach has proven to be fraught with complications.

Anonymous said...


Don't you still have that CC with a Yamaha 300? If you are looking to sell - maybe check you this thread?:

Anonymous said...

We finally found a great home here for the Contender. The manager of the Caicos Marina bought it. He is familiar with the hull, and knew what he was getting into with the HPDI 300. I included all the parts and Yamaha Diagnostic system. He's got a perfect place to keep it, a dealer's advantages for parts, and plenty of support. The boat will be getting frequent use, which is a whole lot better than it sitting in a parking lot. It's been back in the water for almost a month now. Running strong.
I think it's one of those win/win things that do happen from time to time.
And we can now spend the money on Twisted Sheets.

Eric said...

Hey Gringos, thanks for your post. Great photos. I came across an article today I thought would interest you. I remember reading about how you were interested in providing your own freshwater, and it looks as though Lockheed is getting a step closer to making it much cheaper.

Bill said...

Great time lapse of the sail! That Hobie looks like a great little boat. Looking forward to the next post.

Randall said...

Wow that water is super clear. Awesome place to be. Any pirate treasure found yet? :)


Karen said...

I've just discovered your blog, you're living a dream of mine! I live in the Northeast and we've just had another march snow. UGH!!.. your photos are lovely..

Rebecca @ It's Not Easy Eating Green said...

Headed back down in a few weeks to get out of the frozen north. I've been trying to keep up with the site all year. I may have missed it, but did Bob's restaurant/bar ever open and get a name?
Keep blogging! Your site gets me through the year when I'm not there!