Monday, July 8, 2013

Loose Stuff of Absolutely No Consequence Whatsoever

We have a functioning tow hitch again. Whew.  This is very important to us. We've  attached that magic tow hitch to an automobile and started pulling the Hobie Tandem Island around to various boat ramps. Last weekend we sailed from Leeward to the Pine Cay marina and back. I think the new hitch has come just in the nick of time. This blog is way overdue for some fresh material. We're hoping that adding the kites to the boats for a bunch of new aerial photos will do the trick.  The recent weather pattern here has been seasonally typical for the beginning of the rainy season. It has been what I would call photoantagonistic.    The calm days are unphotogenically overcast and the  clear and cloudless days are clear and cloudless because a stinging wind blew all the moisture over to smash up against the hapless hills of Haiti.  We've been having a tough time getting the weather and the weekends aligned.  Check this out.  A sunrise that actually got darker as it progressed:

That's not a reversed video, it really happened like that and yes, that meant rain and clouds were on the way.   For a change, I think I'll post up a hodge podge of images without a coherent theme.  So Incoherent will do as the operative adjective here.

I installed the new hitch and this is how it looks while pushing the car and pulling the kayak along behind it.

We didn't specifically decide to downsize this setup. It wasn't a  part of any plan.  It does seem to have been a side effect. We've stayed within the same definition of a little AWD and a boat small enough to trailer.  But we've gone from three hundred  horsepower to one jackass, along with La Gringa and a funny looking little dog.  And Dooley contributes to boat propulsion efforts about as much as a wet bag of jumping beans. Let's just say his vectors are omnidirectional and nonlinear. Is a dog still considered dead weight for those moments  that he's momentarily lost contact with the boat? Anyhow, if you compare that photo above, taken last week, with this one from three years ago, I think some of the differences will be obvious.  We've gone from twelve tires to seven, counting the spares.  That's got to have positively affected our carbon tireprint.

We have many fond memories of using that Land Rover to move the Contender around - and not all of  them heart-stopping or dry-mouthed. But it's time for us to move on. We've found good homes for the Defender 90 and the Contender 25.  

And speaking of that beautiful Contender, you might remember that the previous owner wanted to see photos of it cruising around the clear blue water down here.  Well, we can literally hear that 300 HP a mile away, so we know when it's leaving the marina.  It's getting quite a workout  during its third life. We recently spotted it towing a disabled sailboat back into the Caicos Marina and Shipyard. It's often out happily  fishing and family cruising on weekends, and now it's even earning its keep as a local "Sea Tow" equivalent.

The white caps in that photo should give you an idea of our typical weather lately, too.  Those  long deep V hulled boats can handle it just fine, but  our little 18 footers would be getting bounced around pretty well.  We could do it, but we wouldn't enjoy it much.

Thinking about it, I just realized that our previous boats here are all still out there running and making their owners happy.  

I mentioned that we had sailed the kayak over to Pine Cay last week.  This is the first time we've taken it up as far as the marina there. That's about a 13.4 nautical mile round trip, measuring straight line distances. Our GPS says we sailed 21.4 nm. We had to zig zag a lot to get east in the narrow places with the  wind and current against us. 8 miles of zig zagging.  But we did over 8 knots sailing back. I thought I'd better post a photo to prove we were there.  I want to document this in case we ever get into a discussion of who sailed the first Hobie Tandem Island kayak into the Pine Cay marina.  You know these kinds of things sometimes come up after sundown when sailors are standing around bars in places like the Meridian Club, or the South Side Marina, right?  Documentation can be worth a round of drinks.  Sorry for the water spots.  It was a fairly wet trip.  

We took a break while at Pine Cay. The GPS says for 53 minutes. We needed a break. We were ready to get out of the sun for a while. I know that La Gringa would agree that I was  at least half baked. We'd stopped at the Graceway IGA  on the way to the Leeward marina boat ramp and picked up a couple of store-bought sandwiches for lunch. Once on 'the Cay', we wandered up the path to a bench in the shade of a native tree, and ate a leisurely lunch on the cool sand. Very relaxing.

La Gringa mentioned that I anthropomorphize Dooley a bit too much, but she hasn't been dogging me about it.

So, we're finally getting back to sailing. And we've got some pretty substantial sailing plans going forward.  Much more than just the Hobie between  the islands here in the Turks and Caicos. We're within a week or so of re-launching Twisted Sheets, too.  Oh yeah.

We've also continued to work on our aerial photo capabilities.  I know it looks simple... 'just strap a camera to a kite'.  Easy, right?   That's what I thought, too.  Well, go try it.  And then go try it in a place where the wind blows 15 knots most of the time.  Still, it's been fun so far. We've started adding to our collection of  'bird's eye view' images from around the Turks and Caicos.  And we've  added another camera to the mix.   Right away, the differences between a conventional point-and-shoot and the wide angle of the GoPro are apparent. I'll show you a couple of examples of what we're seeing, and some of the tradeoffs.

This photo was taken with a little point-and-shoot waterproof Pentax.  This is the Caicos Marina and Boatyard.  Notice, the resolution is better than our earlier aerials, and there's no fisheye distortion.  That's what we thought we wanted.   I remember telling you that very same thing. I may be changing my mind back in favor of the GoPro though. We still have some experimentation to do.

After taking a few hundred photos with the Pentax we pulled the kite down and strapped the GoPro to it. This next image is from basically the same position as  in the above photo.  It was the same day, same conditions, with the same amount of string out.  Its very hard to get a kite back up into the same position, but we got it as close as we could at the time. By eyeball. I labeled the position of our catamaran in the boatyard for those of you who wonder about such things.

See what I'm talking about here with the cameras? That wide angle fisheye lens gets a lot more information than the narrower field of view of the better camera. This narrow field of view becomes a bit of an issue when trying to get a specific photo. Control of the camera position is almost impossible without getting involved with pan and tilt, batteries, transmitters, etc.  All the complications that I am trying to avoid. What works fine in a ball field in the USA on a calm morning just doesn't cut it in this environment.  We had about 18  knots of wind on that day.  A "standard" KAP setup, with pan and tilt and video telemetry would have been shaken like a rat in Dooley's favorite doggy dream. We've come home from some of these photo trips with bruises from kite flogging.  And the kite wasn't the one getting flogged.  I don't think complicated arrangements of strings and pulleys and batteries and fragile assemblies is the answer here.

As another example, here's a cropped GoPro 5mp photo showing "Sea Weed" and "Sweet Charlotte" beached there in the little scooped out area.  I've been consistently complaining about the resolution of these little cameras for some time now.   Maybe I've been unfair.  That looks pretty crisp to me.

 Because this is the same area, cropped about the same, from an image taken with the 16 mega pixel Pentax. 

I'm not seeing it as being that much better.   They obviously handle the white balance differently, but I think that's adjustable. And the GoPro is a whole lot easier to use.     Oh, if  you were wondering what I meant by "Sea Weed" and "Sweet Charlotte", that's the name of the old landing craft  and the fishing boat in the foreground there.  Or here's a close up from ground level:

And this one shows a little more of "Sweet Charlotte":

We're pretty determined to have this KAP thing figured out  before we take off sailing on Twisted Sheets, so I think we'll continue to experiment. The photos we posted a few weeks back of the South Side Marina from the air got some positive attention from other people interested in that area. We ran into Marta and Barry from the Harbour Club Villas a few nights ago.   We were all at the Tiki Hut over at Turtle Cove. They are interested in more images of their half of the marina. We've promised to put the new camera up at the next opportunity.  The wind coming over that hill to their east makes launching the kite pretty tricky. I need wind for the kite to work, to a point.  I'm just not into flagellation.  I think the answer here is to get the kite up in the air somewhere  in clean air  downwind, then walk it over to where we want it. Another lesson.

This is one of the best images we have so far of the Harbour Club Villa end of the marina. It is somewhat of an unintentional shot, as we were really trying to get South Side at the time. We can do better if we plan it out right. I'm starting to consider adding a better quality GoPro to the mix.  Their next level up is 11 mega pixels. Two levels up is 12 mp, and a sharper lens. This kite hobby is starting to get expensive.

I'm going to stop before I get off onto another of my aerial photo rants. It's still the passion-du-jour, but it's not all we've been up to. We've been out driving around the island quite a bit, and almost always take a camera along. The operator's manual for the new car wants us to log 3000 km before towing anything with it. We don't think the little kayak counts as towing, really, since it's only about 300 lbs trailer and all. But we want  to be able to haul the skiff and it's right at the 2,000 lb. limit of the car.  Theoretically.  Maybe I should say 'published limit' of the car.   And it's not easy to quickly build up 1200 miles of driving on a small island.

We were out aimlessly racking up some mileage a few days back and got these images late in the day.  This one is of the unofficial but much used boat ramp at Heaving Down Rock in Leeward.  In a rare quiet moment.

We also were cruising by Chalk Sound and stopped long enough to snap a few photos.  There are a couple of hand built Caicos Sloops anchored there.

I don't know exactly why I took this next one.  We were zipping along on one of the back roads of Providenciales testing the AWD function and independent suspension setup of the KIA when we saw this project sitting in someone's yard. Something about this car made me smile. I am very familiar with  the concept of a car "sitting up on blocks". But this one is sitting up on rocks. Would you crawl under that and start removing parts with a large wrench? You know, one of those long ratchets that shake the whole car with leverage when you brace your feet and yank on it with both hands?  How about in a high wind?

Well, I guess I'm not quite done with the aerials just yet in this post.   I  was looking through the photos of the last week or so, and found some more I want to show you.  Last Sunday we took one of the kites for a walk along the beach at Leeward, starting up at the very tip of the island at the entrance to Leeward channel. We were experimenting with the new camera again, and it's a good excuse to go to the beach, anyway.  This is looking back across Leeward-Going-Through at Little Water Cay. Which some people refer to as "Iguana Island".

Someone has outlined a large heart shape on the beach near here with shells.  I'm guessing they wanted to be able to spot it from the window of the airplane taking them home.  Or perhaps it was a message to someone on that airplane from someone still on the ground here.  But of course that's pure speculation on my part.

 Or maybe it was just a family of  Peruvians on holiday and homesick for Nazca. Stranger things have happened. Both here and certainly in Nazca.

I'm continuously  impressed by the information the bird's eye view gives us.  We've walked by this pile of rocks on the beach a dozen times.  We even took a few photos of this area from some years back. We'd noticed the loose jumble of rocks on the beach .  You have to pick your way through or around them. We didn't really think much about it.   Then, with the aerials, we see that same scene from a couple hundred feet up.  And I think it tells a little more of the story.

I think that the contractor who built that rock groin on the left dumped a big pile of material there on the right.  It sure looks to me like the scattered rocks on the beach itself were dropped while moving rocks from one pile to another.   Does that make sense?  I never would have realized that without the aerial.  Not that it makes a bit of difference in anything in our lives.  Other than the desire to know things.

This is just a photo of a nice arrangement of beach chairs.  No other reason to post it.

Okay, two more aerials and then I'll stop. I was looking through the several hundred that we took in a three hour stroll down the beach, and this one caught my eye.  Again, it shows so much more that we would ever see standing on the beach.

We knew that the field of view was going to be a limiting factor with this camera after looking at the Boatyard images.  I thought that perhaps one way to improve things would be to just get the camera up higher.  So I let out another long bit of string to see if that helped.  And it did, to some extent.   We can see a lot more real estate with the camera higher.

Of course with greater distance we lose some of the advantage of the higher resolution.   The GoPro would have captured the entire neighborhood from this height.   Perhaps the answer is to put both cameras up at the same time.   I'll be thinking about that as I redesign the mount this week.  I'm trying a new approach. I'm going to try using the wind to stabilize and orient the camera by putting a vane on it.

Okay, this is getting to be too long to be called a short post.  I'll finish it up shortly after posting a joke photo.  What are these two guys watching so intently?

The unusual sight of La Gringa inspecting an internal combustion engine!! She knows how to check the oil and the belt and other related airborne gadgets that make that propeller spin.   It amazes me, actually.  I never thought that I'd see the day when she'd be the one opening up the cowling on an airplane.  But she does.

This is part of the pre-flight inspection she has to do before firing up that little Piper. I'm wondering how she might feel about taking up the time honored occupation of shade-tree mechanics and four wheel drive repairs. I think she's got the makings of a true grease monkey.

 But I'm not going to be the one to suggest that. Nossir. I didn't get to be this old by being that stupid.

And just as we get the tow hitch sorted out, the wheel bearings replaced, the outboard running again, the kite setup ready to test offshore,  a momentarily good forecast for the upcoming weekend.. we wake up to news like this:

Oh yeah.  It's that season, again.  Tropical Storm Chantal, aiming  for our general vicinity.   It's starting to seem like we get these things coming through here just about this time every year.  I'm starting to detect a pattern.  We should be gone by now, headed either far to the north, or far to the south.  Either one would work.  Come back in October.  That seems to be what a lot of the sensible people do.  I guess we don't qualify for that designation.    Not just yet, anyhow.

Got another time lapse of another sunset.  You can see the lights of Provo coming on in the distance.  And one of the neighbors driving home in the dark. Sounds like he hit a rock....  I'm having fun with this stuff.  Sure hope you are, too.


dmmbruce said...

You could make your new hobby commercially useful too. You could provide an aerial survey of all the coral heads in the waters round there and sell it to the Harbour Authority or Active Captain or some other gullible interested parties.



dmmbruce said...

Your 'joke picture' is brilliant. The others are good too. Your skill levels have improved remarkably.



Anonymous said...

That twin-camera setup sounds like a good idea; can't wait to see how it works.

"I didn't get to be this old by being that stupid." Good one! I'm gonna have to [try to] remember that one.


Anonymous said...

The kite pictures are actually very impressive. Once you get the hang of it you could make quite a few dollars offering photo services to the real estate cos. I know they used to use that helicopter to take shots like that of the houses for sale so potential buyers got an aerial view of the property and its location. Can't imagine what that would cost each time.

There are also a number of GoPro kite mounts out there if you do, two on the line, that might help with the one. Google images 'GoPro Kite Line Mount'

Do you have to manage/fly the kite once it's up? What control is there other than reeling it in our out? How would a small weather balloon and proper camera platform (even remote controlled), on the same line and fishing pole fair?

Anonymous said...

I saw the GoPro kite mounts. Those are for kiteboarders, with two lines running through them. What we're doing is a simple one line kite setup. The kiteboarding kites don't typically go anywhere near as high as we're going.

There is no control on the kites we use once up. The trick is to get the camera pointed at what you want an image of. It's a combination of pre-setting the camera for the conditions, and then moving around on the ground to position the kite. The wider field of view of the GoPro fisheye lens helps a lot with that.

I've just recently realized that the next two levels of GoPro up from the one we have are better quality. So right now I'm saving my nickels and dimes to buy the best GoPro out there. It's a $400 camera. Might be a while, at this rate. In the meantime, we'll struggle on with the 5 mp version. And the 16 mp Pentax.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to address your balloon question. We tried two helium balloons several years ago, and still have the pan and tilt and video link stuff for them. The problem with the balloons is the drag coefficient of the spherical shape. The vortex shedding above about 8-10 knots of relative wind makes for an extremely unstable platform. Added to the frequent wind velocity limitation are the logistics of handling, transporting and storing the balloons and helium. And the threat of what would happen should a line part. With the kite, it all falls down within sight and you go get it. Hopefully. With a helium balloon, it's basically "sayonara, camera".

Once again, simplicity seems to be the clearest path forward here.

I do confess, though, that I've been looking at specs for quadcopters that can carry a payload and handle 25 knots of wind. Way out of budget though. One that would do the job here would cost around $1200.

Now if I could convince 1200 blog readers to each send us a dollar....

Anonymous said...

Just looked that up, pretty impressive, first hit, a quadcopoter filming in 15-25 knots, looks even better, full specs of the rig and link to the manufacturer also provided, seems totally customizable

200$x6 houses for an aerial shots, make up a portfolio and knock on some real estate co. doors. Even plots of land. Cruise around looking for real estate for sale signs, fly the kite, take some snaps, go to the listed agent and show them the pics and make a deal :-)

Wasn't the original idea with the weather balloons, take aerial snaps of yacht/boat owners boats? With the price of real estate there a couple hundred for decent aerial shots of the house or land shouldn't faze them at all.

Anonymous said...

The TCI Government might well see that as setting up a business, and we're not allowed to seek or accept employment while living here under the terms of our resident permit. Knocking on doors trying to sell services or photographs could violate those terms.

We've never sold a single photo.

That is a cool quadcopter, and just the sort I am looking at. But for that kind of money, I can get a complete ready-to-fly quad. I would rather do that. If you have a problem with one you build from parts, it's your problem. If you buy it from a manufacturer, you can get their help fixing it. And replacement parts. Usually. There are a number of them out there. I've been looking for a while.

Anonymous said...

Great photos once again! Thanks for making it hard to stay in the PNW.

What happened to the Jeep idea? Is the Kia a permanent addition?

Anonymous said...

We waited five months for the Jeep to be shipped down, renting a little Fiat Panda for three of those months. Finally had enough. Went looking for whatever we could find already here that was 1.) new, 2.) had AWD, and 3.) could tow the skiff.

We bought the KIA. Only other choices were big pickup trucks and full size SUVs.

Anonymous said...

Hi 2 Gringos - thanks for the pictures of Leeward...def a fabulous section of Grace Bay. Around what time of the day did you take those photos? -Chris

Anonymous said...

The ones that I posted were taken between 3:30 and 4:00 in the afternoon.

We started up at Leeward Going Through just after 1:00, and worked our way down the beach slowly with the camera set to take another image every 20 seconds. We got lots of photos.

Patricia said...

I am very curious about the kite setup. I have a GoPro2. I also have an AR Drone quadracopter with built in cameras that you control through an iPad/iPhone/Touch or android device and can watch the video in real time. It creates it's own wi-fi network so you're limited to about 150'. It's not a strong enough setup to hold the GoPro although people try plus it's hampered by a short flying time of 15-20 minutes. Hence my interest in the kite setup. What sort of kite do you have? Could you perhaps add into one of your blog entries a short summary of your setup and perhaps some photos?
Thanks, Patricia, a long time fan....

Devon the Lucky Troll said...

Hey, you guys are a couple boats over from me in the boatyard! Helloo from the owners of Sea Munchkin! Hoping to get back there when our little munchkin is old enough to take to the seas with us again (a few more months!)

Devon and Michelle.

Anonymous said...

Hello "Sea Munchkin". We've seen your boat numerous times, of course. Most recently two days ago.

Anonymous said...

What is "Sweet Charlotte" s main purpose? Still a fishing boat?

jwrichtetravel said...

I really love the shots. I have to ask is their any height restriction as to how high you can legally fly a kite? What height are you flying in most of these photos? My wife and I are coming to TCI next month and I would love to see your rig!

Amos said...

This is cool!