Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Aquarium, Pine Cay Part 2

There's nothing I can say that will improve upon  the images we've been lucky enough to record here.  The trick is to know when to shut up and not try. Looks like I still can't do that, either.

This is the second part of our latest Pine Cay trip report.  We've done so many posts about Pine Cay that I hesitate to keep explaining the details.  If you're new to all this Turks and Caicos stuff, please look at the list of topics over in the right side column listing for older posts.   I'm going to try something new for this blog. Our new "kite-cam' capability  gives us a way to easily label some of these places where we're taking all these photos..  Please let me know what you think.  Does this help make sense of it all?

I can put little numbers on that aerial image and reference it all together.  It reminds me of  a science project with the rest of the class doing the grading. I guess the upside of that is being reminded of  what it was like to be 16 with homework assignments again.  If that's an upside.  La Gringa would probably tell you that I act like a juvenile most of the time, anyhow.  And I'd have to plead guilty, as charged.

"But it took years of effort to become the mess that you see." (John Fogarty, "Rattlesnake Highway")

It's a nice walk through the sandy bush trails of Pine Cay but  we took a golf cart over to the Aquarium. We had kites and spools of string and camera stuff to carry. None of it heavy, but all of it a bit awkward when not suspended as the wind  intended. That's sort of true of flying things in general, isn't it. They're graceful in their element, but mostly look pretty awkward when moving around on the ground.

This trail is obscured by trees in that photo from the kite, but I marked its location as [1]. We went to the end, and then came back and turned south to the little beach.   That white rectangle is the top of the golf cart. This is the drier, lee side of this island microclimate, and the vegetation reflects that.  It's not quite as tall or as lush as similar locations just a few miles upwind.  You can also see from the narrow  single cart trail that this is one of the less traveled "roads" around here.   We got two lane dirt roads elsewhere.

I just happily snapped away right to the end of this one at the water's edge.  This is also from location [1], looking  generally westward across at the uninhabited island of Water Cay.

We've been to the Aquarium many times. La Gringa tells me this is the 8th post that mentions it, in fact, so I am going to keep the scientific explanation out of this post in our never ending fight against redundancy, repetitiousness, and saying the same thing over and over.   As I keep telling you time and time again, I never repeat myself..... uh... please just forget I even said that.  While I'm thinking about it, though, I want to mention that Sara Kaufman did a nice write up on it in Caribbean Property magazine. There's a lot of good Pine Cay info in there. And her write up is much more concise than mine tend to be. I tend to ramble, in case you haven't noticed.

Back on topic, I wanted to mention that in all my visits to this very spot, I never really thought that much about the little humps of rock you can just barely see by the water in that photo (above).   This photo is in a sequence, but I wanted to point those rocks out for some more discussion later.

 I am going to use this image of the Aquarium from another one of our posts, since it's already uploaded with the Picasa image hosting service I use. This is my own mental laziness equivalent of the paperwork reduction act. Or just an excuse to entice you to read earlier posts, take your pick.   You can see that this was once an open, deep channel between the ocean and the Caicos Bank. 

I know the writing on there is confusing since it's out of context for this post. That's about a kayak trip from hell. If you do want to know what all those  frustrated words are about it's on this Mid-Winter Slog Blog post.  I don't even like thinking about that trip, but it did teach us some valuable lessons about getting caught on the flats at low tide.That image shows you the geology of the Aquarium and should also help with making sense of these photos.

This is a view of the little beach you can see in the aerial, and was taken from location [2].  Now it's all reminding me of an episode of CSI.  I'm not so sure about this numbering idea.  I'll wait for your feedback before doing it again.

We've often seen the water here so clear that you can easily watch big schools of snapper swimming back and forth ten or twenty feet down, over the edge of this underwater ledge. I almost used the phrase 'with the naked eye' there, but then I got to wondering what other kind of eyes there are.  Aren't they all naked?  I know mine have never been dressed.  At least, not while I was wearing them.  My eyes are nudists!  Oh my.  Do I have to register them or something?

  The water was still a bit stirred up from recent winds on this brief visit, and not as clear as we would have hoped.  You should be able to see the windrows, or  Langmuir streaks  as an indication that it was still blowing enough to affect the water. You can just make out the lighter colored ledge here.

And you can really see the ledge looking down from above up in that aerial photo with the numbers on it.  It's off to the left of  position [3]―I'll say no more about what that reminds me of― and you can see that the water gets pretty deep immediately there.  We've seen sharks, tarpon, and dolphins in here despite the shallow nature of all the water to the south. I wonder if there's still some genetic memory in these sea creatures of habit. Do they have a dim feeling that  great granpa said there should be  an opening to the sea right about here? One that must have existed for centuries before the 150 mph winds of Hurricane Donna closed this up just a few generations back in the grand scheme of things. Is Grand Scheme of Things supposed to be capitalized?  I was going to call it just the GST but find that this acronym has already been firmly taken.

While I was playing around with my new kite aka 'latest toy', La Gringa took the little pocket Nikon for a walk around on the big limestone outcropping.  She was impressed by this plant coming up through apparently solid rock although we know that can't really be the case. There has to be some dirt involved somewhere, doesn't there?  I meant dirt for plants, not for the blog! I'm saving all that dirt for the uncensored ebook version.

She tried to get some good images down into the water, but even with the sun overhead the turbidity had not settled out enough yet to show it at it's crystalline finest.  Needs another day or two, but it does eventually get almost as clear as you can imagine. Kind of like an aquarium, come to think of it.  Full of fish.

She got another view of our nominee for healthiest hardy plant of the day.  This includes the little cays off to the south.  And some of those treacherous shallows that have thoroughly schooled us on some of the realities of getting stranded at low tide around here.   That's potentially much more serious than it might sound.  This is all part of an education that has greatly affected our choices regarding boats.  And we don't travel without fresh water.

Okay, in my roundabout but semi-logical way we've gotten back around to the little piles of rocks I made such a big deal over earlier.  This is another view that we took as we traveled from the south end of the Aquarium up to the closed off end.  I wanted to find another spot to redeploy the kite.  See the line of rocks?  I still wasn't even thinking about them at this point.  They just happened to be in this photo.  It wasn't until I looked through the aerials that I even realized what I was seeing.

Then when I was going through those hundreds of images it suddenly became obvious. At some point in the past someone built a small boat ramp at the end of that road.   I'm not claiming some great archaeological discovery here, but offer it as an example of how a different perspective can quickly identify features and put together a story that wasn't so obvious at ground level.

This sure gives me some ideas about many of the places we've already written about here on this blog.  Now I want to go back and put the kite up and see what we can find out with this as another tool.  And you know how I am about new tools. One of the things that immediately comes to mind is the old pre Civil War era  sluice/canal ruins over on West Caicos.  I think we can take this setup back to a lot of places you're probably tired of looking at from ground level, and hopefully make it worth taking another fresh look at.   We'll see.

We went over to the ocean end of the former cut between Pine Cay and Water Cay.  This is a nice place for a beach picnic.  Quiet, peaceful, and generally deserted.  This is looking to the south, at the opening onto the Caicos Bank.  Once upon a time before 1960 we would have had to be on a boat to get this exact perspective.  Preacher tells us he remembers sailing through here on a sloop drawing seven feet when he was young.  It's pretty solid feeling sand these days.  I wonder how many people have looked at this over the past fifty three years and thought of running a front end loader or backhoe through here and opening it back up.  200 meters of trenching beach sand would do it.  And I'm sure there's a law against it, no matter the natural order of things.

What I mean about nice picnic spots?  There are plenty shady places under the trees.  You can see the little Casuarina groves in the first aerial, all up in the general area marked [4].

And the view is pretty much along the lines of what most people would probably consider a fairly nice beach.

We put the kite up into the air in the vicinity of that first aerial where it's marked with the Arabic numeral [5]. This is looking back at the Aquarium to the south, from the eastern edge of the historical cut.  The tidal currents must have really been ripping to cut the edges that clean.  The rocks on both sides are near vertical in places.

That's my white kite string on the left hand side of that photo. The camera is on a DIY pendulum mount about a hundred feet below the kite itself.  As it swings around it often includes the string in the photos.  It's not hard to crop it out in most cases.  I've read that black string is easier to 'photoshop' out. I guess it blends into backgrounds better and doesn't need so many pixels moved around.

Here's another view looking off toward a cloud bank. That sure looks to me like it might be forming over the nearest end of the island of Mayaguana in the Bahamas.  It's about 44 nautical miles in just that direction.  We anchored there for a few hours on our sailing trip home from Jacksonville with Twisted Sheets.  We didn't take any photos there, and I wish we had.  You can see the glow of the lights of Provo from there at night.  From here, you can only see the clouds that form over that island without the light pollution.  I think we got the better deal on views although it is nice to have a glow to steer by when you've been up for fifty hours, it's pitch dark, you're in a shipping lane doing 3 knots on one engine into the wind,rain, and seas, and your electronics are failing.  Yes, it is.  Light pollution can be your friend.

More nice picnic spots.  That's the far northwest point of Providenciales way off in the distance, about 12 nm to the west.

So far the camera swings and swoops through the air taking photos at a preset interval. I don't yet have a way of aiming it other than to plan the entire setup for orientation in a general direction.  That works surprisingly well, we're finding, as we gain some experience.  I'm hoping that you can already see the improvements in these photos over my first efforts.  Some new tricks take old dogs longer to learn. Possibly I just need a couple more cookies as incentive.  It works with Dooley. Sometimes. When he's  in the mood.

This is another view back up the beach to the east, where you can just barely make out the trees around the Meridian Club in the distance.  There's nothing but clean unbroken beach between here and there.

That's pretty much it for our latest set of Aquarium photos.  We also did some walking up and down the beaches experimenting with the kite.  I have to tell you, it's a bit of a nervous feeling putting a camera out over the ocean downwind at these distances.  We're getting accustomed to it, and have a list of things we want to change about the kite setup for future optimization.  This has been a real learning experience weekend so far.   Pretty easy to spot the three of us on the beach in this one.

We've gotten some questions about the kite stuff so I'll write a little bit about that.  Hopefully it won't be such a big deal once we start using it only from time to time as appropriate.  This weekend was all about the kite and learning how to get images with it.

This photo was taken by the GoPro as I attached it to the kite line.  You get a lot of out-take photos with this thing flopping around on the ground, too.  We might use one from time to time. In this example, you can see that I have the kite up  almost directly above me in stable air as I'm attaching the camera rig to the line.

My research into this taught me that tying a knot in the sting effectively reduces it's breaking strength by half.  So kite flyers look for ways to attach things without knots.  And it works.

I've found a cool idea online for rotating the camera using the pendulum motion to ratchet some simple gears, and I'm going to try to copy that design here.   It won't be any time soon, judging by present schedule and list of previous priorities.

The fisheye effect of the GoPro setup does have a little bit of a novel effect, I suppose, but I've also looked into removing that in post processing.   I've obviously decided that it's better not to try to correct for it.  I'll show you why.

Here's an image showing the whole Aquarium, with the horizon showing the fisheye distortion.  Notice that the resolution, such as it is, is fairly evenly distributed around the edges even though it's position is "wrong" visually.

I ran that through a photo editing program (Corel)  and corrected it so that the horizon is nice and level, as most normally adjusted people prefer their horizons to be when looking at the ocean.  Mountains are another matter entirely, of course, but we're talking flat here.

The trees along the right border of the photo show that the distortion of the horizon hasn't really been removed.  It's just been redistributed, in a manner of speaking. The trees are distorted and blurred along with the road, the rocks, everything around the edges. The top of the cart is no longer rectangular, and the little palupa roof is unsymmetrical as well.  This would make any measurements I tried to make inaccurate.  After looking at that, I've decided that I would rather have the information in the photo.  This is going away when the new camera gets here, I hope.

I've already mentioned issues with the kite reel.  We started with an open spool normally used for hand line fishing. It was a bit of a physical challenge. I had to keep a tight grip on this spool, wearing gloves to grab and control the line.  Reeling several hundred feet of dacron back onto the spool without twisting it was tedious and tiring. I can't just wrap it around, you have to rotate the spool like a little winch drum to get the flat line to lie straight. It's a braid that flattens. Here, this is a photo of the old spool. It's an old photo. Taken last week.

See the strain and concentration?  The trickle of sweat? The stupid open mouthed look of an idiot trying to remember "left hand, right hand, left hand ...don't let go of it, repeat"...  Just look at the knots in those mighty forearms.... well,okay, the actual knots are all in the forehead so please forget that part. Physical, mental, it's  a strain after a half an hour of this.  If this spool got away from me it would really change the pace of the afternoon.  Imagine chasing a $500 hat for three hundred yards in the wind over the beach just to watch it fly a half a mile offshore and sink.  I could follow the string to the bitter end, swim halfway out to the reef and it might make for a good blog post. but it wouldn't have any more aerial photos in it after some point of impact way down wind.

Now here's the  shiny new kite reel.  Just recently fabricated from scavenged materials in my very own home workshop.

It's not quite finished yet, but while I fine tune it I went ahead and loaded up 1000 ft. of 200# dacron string on it. This is lighter than the heavy white line we were using. Thinner, and black instead of white. I'm following directions I found on the internet, although I modified the brake setup on the reel.

I meant to take some photos of the construction of that reel for a DIY section here.  Had my camera sitting right on the work bench. I even managed to take a couple  shots before getting totally lost into it.  Put on the headphones, and then it was an afternoon piddling around with making things  with tools.  Lyle Lovett,  Paul Butterfield, Trombone Shorty, Rodrigo y Gabriela and Papa John Creech all explored the acoustics of the empty concert hall between my ears.  By the time I remembered the camera, I was just finishing up cutting the threads into the axle. I cut that from a piece of the standing rigging salvaged from a shipwrecked catamaran.

I've also discovered this photo technique of blending the cluttered shop into the dark background. The optical equivalent of sweeping the dirt under the rug, I suppose.  But hey, it works! I think that this is a cool photo for us DIY geeks. That's a 3/8-16 thread in what I think must be 316 or 316L stainless. It's harder than what I am used to, and shows no sign of oxidation after years in the ocean.

I used the salvaged standing rigging, some black locust driftwood, and pieces of our destroyed aluminum satellite dish in this.  The brake pads are scavenged starboard, and the fairlead is a bicycle spoke.   The winch drum is made from the center pieces of plywood left over from cutting the rings for the outside lights.

We haven't tried it out yet. I'm sure some modifications will be forthcoming.

Preacher Stubbs was involved in a lot of this before he left us and returned to Provo. He knows a thing or two about kites. He was impressed with how well this one flew, in fact. About five minutes after the GoPro snapped this photo of us he was on the phone to Froggy the master kite craftsman over at Bottle Creek.  I'm not sure if watching this one will affect J.R.'s own design, but it does fly pretty well.  I know he'll be interested.  Any competitive edge will get a lot of attention.

When I showed Preacher the jpeg images on the laptop, he was impressed and appreciative at what the overhead views were showing us. Seeing these islands fleetingly from an airplane at a thousand feet is different from this 100-200 ft. height perspective. He immediately thought of a few historical sites where this could be useful.  Think about those old plantation ruins, for example.  He and I still discuss putting together a book of the history of these islands from his perspective. The really big changes in the culture here have all happened during his life time. And he's got some great stories, if I but have the nerve to publish them.

I see that I have drifted well off the Aquarium theme a bit here.  So this is probably a good place to put in one of Dooley's favorite videos from this weekend.

He probably rousted three of these guys on the road to the Aquarium, but rest assured that no iguanas were harmed in the making of this blog post. Other than a briefly elevated heart rate and spirited scamper through the underbrush, their lives go on unimpacted by the experience.

I'll bring this one to a close after a brief and free advertisement anecdote for one of our favorite beach dives on Providenciales. We'd mutually decided that we needed a cracked conch fix one afternoon and headed over to 'da Conch Shack' in Blue Hills.  We were at one of the little tables out of the way on the beach side, shooting the breeze with friends, when Pete the manager came over. He said that a photographer was going to be wandering around taking photos for some magazine. He asked if we minded, as we might be in some of those photos.  Of course we didn't mind.  And we had our conch and forgot all about it.  And don't blame the conch for the forgetfulness. These tropical days all flow together after a while.

Then recently I was reading the BBC travel news and saw this article on the world's "best beach restaurants".  I looked at the photo and recognized some faces and realized that this is one of the photos taken that day. I'm sure this is a much better photo than the ones with us in them.

(photo lifted from BBC online article as credited in link above but this isn't being used for commercial purposes and it's free publicity for them anyway, so phtttt.)

Oh well.  Worldwide exposure is probably not all it's cracked up to be, from what I've seen. If Dooley had been there, we might have had a chance of making the cut.  But his behavior in restaurants is a tense situation at best.  He thinks it was all really meant for him, and he resents anyone who doesn't agree.

Our next post should be finishing up this trip with some marina and boating photos, unless something more interesting happens in the meantime.   We can only hope.  And try to be careful what we wish for.  That whole 'something interesting' aspect of life can really sneak up behind you if you're not careful.

I haven't been putting a lot of DIY stuff into the blog lately, comparitively speaking.  But rest assured it's still going on here. Big time. I don't bother with a lot of it because I just don't think you'd find it all that interesting.  I'm sure there are enough rusty metal photos on here to last all of us a lifetime.  Or maybe it just seems like a lifetime in my case.  Or perhaps I've just lost the novelty of having something break every day of our lives.  And of the DIY's that aren't about repairing the result of life under a salty sun, most of them just aren't 'blog-worthy', if you know what I mean.  I'll give you an example.

We've been having issues with our collection of kitchen cutting boards.  We needed a larger cutting board and a way to drain dishes that we'd hand washed. I used some of that big hunk of starboard we found washed up on a beach to make one. For you other tool freaks out there, I'm still finding that pneumatic tools seem to work fairly well and last a long time.   This 16"  air sander has outlasted two electric sanders, as one example. They are real simple devices.  Just be sure to put a couple drops of oil in them every time you use them.  And dry out your compressed air.  And it was cheaper than either one of those long gone electrics.  If you ignore the cost of the  compressor, which is a very useful thing to have anyway. 

The electric router is still workingtouch wood– so putting a drain groove around the edges was simple enough.  And there we have it.  A DIY that I normally wouldn't bother mentioning. And I only mentioned this one because I thought it might give someone an idea.  This custom cutting board fits a spot in the kitchen so exactly that it doesn't move when it's in place.  And it drains into the sink.    I guess I can file this under fun facts for flotsam.

And of course we continue to look for ways to showcase this beautiful little country for you with our images. I am sometimes reminded of that old cliche' about the difference between men and boys being the price of their toys.  

We're still essentially playing with crayons. A second childhood with technology added.  Sometimes the results are worth posting, many times it doesn't work out.   But it's sure a lot of fun trying to fill in the colors for your amusement.   How are we doing so far?


Brazz said...

Great blog Gringo,as usual. Your numbering system is very helpful for orientation. Hanging out for Jeep expeditions.. Thank you for taking the time to share.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting a comment Brazz. I was beginning to wonder if anyone was even reading this any more. We've been told the jeep was in Miami a week ago. So it should be here eventually. Dealer told us if we ordered a new one, he would have to quote a delivery in January 2014. We had a choice of billet silver or white, and we went with white. We imported the front and rear tow hitch receivers months ago they're all rust"proofed" ( yeah, right) and sitting here waiting for a vehicle. We're anxious to get one of our own boats in the water.

satbeachbill said...

Gringo, I look forward to and read EVERY blog. I wouldn't miss one. It's like a new episode every couple of weeks. Nice job on the kite photos.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Bill. Every bit of positive feedback helps a lot. And going over the aerial photos I noticed that one of the things that changed when they started getting better was that I went from the old original GoPro Hero to a new Hero 3 sometimes during that weekend. We're still working to improve on it all. Fun project.

Anonymous said...

Still reading? Heck yeah!! Haven't missed one yet; check back every two or three days to see which colors you've unloaded from that cavern twixt your ears.

How are you doin' so far? Excellent!!

I've been wondering lately whether flybarless stabilization and first-person view capabilities some of your old r/c heli buddies are using could apply to camera control on your kites.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for reading, and for the support. We're chomping at the bit to get our boats back in the water and go play with these kites above the islands for a change.

We still have the pan and tilt, camera control and video downlink setup for the helium baloon. Still have the balloons and a tank of helium, too, for that matter. With the wind above about 15 knots I think this kite would lift it. Problem is that we no longer have a camera with that capability. The nice Sony we bought with it died within a year, as all of our non-waterproof cameras seem to do. I'm working on a mount for the kite that should let us put up two cameras at once, and that should give us more useful shots.

I'm also just finishing up a motorized slider and we got some interesting sunrise and sunset time lapse stuff yesterday. A few more hardware tweaks and we're hoping these will be of some use.

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to see those time-lapse shots.


Anonymous said...

Wouldn't you know it...I finally got the thing working right and the sunset last night, and sunrise this morning have been non-spectacular. The sun in a cloudless sky. Not all that much fun to watch in time lapse.

I wish I could post a quick photo in the comments, though. What a contraption I finally ended up with. It works, though. It has 18 speeds like a bicycle.
I'm hoping that it really enhances our "standard" sunrise/sunset images. We're trying to improve the blog. It's now become part of a plan that we hope will let us spend a lot more time boating and blogging about our travels. First step in this plan is to increase readership. SO, if you know anyone else you think might enjoy looking at this stuff we do, PLEASE send them a link to it?

We even considered trying to sell "Dooley the Demented" t-shirts if it would help offset some of the fuel and camera costs.

Anonymous said...

Always read every word of your blog! Was even considering returning to Pine Cay and now after seeing your fabulous photos...OMG I want to go back for sure! - Chris

Karen thisoldhouse2.com said...

Virtual vacation every time I visit your blog, thanks so much for taking the time to share it with us, I said it before.. you're living our dream!

Unknown said...


I just got a GoPro in January and carried it to Costa Rica and videoed some Yellowfin and Sails. I need to fashion a longer pole as I got alot of bubbles. I like your kite setup. Two questions...Have you tried using mono on a fishing rod and what size kite did you use to get the camera up in the air.



Anonymous said...

We didn't try using mono for the kites. The string cuts bad enough as it is when we get a good gust of wind. Notice I'm wearing fishing gloves in the photos? I went with all the kite guy recommendations and bought a thousand feet of 200# test woven dacron. It's just like thick fishing line.

I could see some other issues with mono, like knots and attaching the pendulum camera rig.

The kit is a large 9 ft. Delta design, I bought it from Into the Wind in Boulder.