Friday, September 27, 2013

300th Post

I find it surprising that this blog has continued for 300 posts.  That must be the equivalent of a book or two. I  thought of several  cliche'-sounding things to write about that. But after my maximum sustained effort of three or four seconds of unusually deep thought, I decided it just means that we must be reaching people with dreams and interests similar to our own. And that's the whole point.  As long as people keep reading it, we'll keep posting it.
La Gringa  has gotten back into taking sunrise and sunset photos.  This is the wet season and we have a lot more clouds this time of year.  Clouds make for some dramatic celestial scenery. I was just looking through a bunch of photos she took on a recent morning. I was noticing how much the scene changes as the morning light develops.  This was just before the sun broke through a cloud bank on the horizon one recent morning:

There's a lot of atmosphere going on in that photo. 

It was one of those calm, clear days when the water looked like a big lake more than it did an ocean.  It's quite common for us to get thunderstorms and squalls  in the afternoon on late summer  days that start out like this.  But they're great days to get the skiff in the water if we do it early.

And this next photo was taken on the same day as that first one, just a short time  after the sun had risen above the clouds.  

We didn't do anything special for our 300th blog post.  We had already planned to take the skiff over to West Caicos on the next calm day, and this turned out to be that day.   They all get here eventually, don't they. We launched it with the KIA instead of the Land Rover for the first time, and that was a little different. Backing a boat down a ramp while sitting on the left side of the automobile and peering over my right shoulder seemed easier after these  past several years of backing boats with a right hand drive Defender. I guess by now we're backidextrious. And the little KIA handled the light skiff just fine.  I'm pretty sure I'd never hook up the Contender to it, though. Oh, I don't doubt that it would pull it. Just not very fast. Nor very far. And not for too many times.

By the time we got the boat into the water the wind had picked up a little bit and the ocean was not as smooth as it had been at dawn.  This little boat is okay in some slight chop, so we headed over to West Caicos as planned.   It's not hard to recognize the water over here.  It's got a look of it's own:

We were heading for a specific spot this time. Back in October of last year we ran across this old sluice way over on West Caicos.   I noodled around on the internet and found out that it's probably the ruins of a salt exporting plan that was ongoing back in the 1850's.  We took photos and wrote about what I had found in a post called " Local Histories Little Mysteries" almost a year ago.  I also planned to come back someday when I had the ability to take some aerial photos of this place.

Dooley the Delighted was way happy to be boating over to West Caicos again.  He likes this place.   It's a beach lover's paradise, and Dooley likes to explore beaches.

I won't go into the details of what we've been doing with the kite cameras lately. All of the fiddling around that I do with those things would be a blog post all of its own. This rig is the one that rotates clockwise as the kite string jiggles it.   I'll post a few of the images that I consider as most representative of what we got.   One thing we're learning is that we only need to put the camera up for a few minutes.  Leaving it up while the camera goes around and around doesn't gain much. All the good stuff is in the first dozen images and after that it just keeps repeating the same general scenes.  Unless you're moving.  The wind varied between about 6 to 9 knots this trip.  It was good for boating, but  borderline for the kite we had with us.  At one point it dipped so low that the camera went underwater. I think La Gringa put some of those photos on the Face book page. I'm not going to post them here. Too embarrassing.

This is looking down at the old sluice way, and shows most of the  masonry and rock structure that extends out from the shore.   I call it a sluice way because I haven't yet come up with the correct name for it.  I'm pretty sure it was a ditch to get fresh ocean water into the interior lake of West Caicos so that it could be evaporated for sea salt.   I'm puzzled at all the effort with the stone work, though.   This had to be a tough job.

Here's a photo with the boat in it to give you an idea of the scale.  And we are getting a much better view of the structure we had noticed directly offshore when we were here a year ago.   The rectangular shape of it immediately becomes apparent when viewed from above.

This is just more of the same scene.  I'll upload a few of these so you can get a good idea of what this stretch of coastline looks like.   

This is another view of that structure offshore.  It could be my imagination, but I am wondering if I am seeing similar sized blobs equally spaced out in the same vicinity. Possibly this was part of some planned structure to protect the sluice inlet from storms and waves.  Maybe it was an offshore loading platform. Perhaps it's the remains of an old barge or other vessel. The problem with all of this in my mind is that the water here is only a meter deep.  It gets three meters deep out where it turns blue, but this thing is in waist deep water.  Too shallow for a boat of any size.  It would be easier to bring a boat up to the island on the opposite side, in the lee protected from the wind, and where deep water goes right up to the shoreline.

This  next one is another shot of where we dropped the anchor near the ruins of the sluice way.   .  We actually don't know for sure what this all was about. You can see how straight the stones were laid, and how they're still holding together in places. Keep in mind that this is on a sand beach, in the surf zone, in the hurricane belt, below the tide line, after 160 years of exposure on the windward side of this cay. I'd love to know how they  mixed that mortar. That's some good stuff right there.

At one point we noticed two guys on PWCs zooming down the coast of the island. As you can tell from the photos, there was absolutely nothing other than our kite photography going on.  We were the only people in sight. They zoomed over to see what we were up to, and the kite camera caught some images.

This is the point when they changed course to pass well out away from us. When we got a look at them, we got the impression that they might be associated with the resort development that's been in limbo here on the island. The word in the newspapers is that the whole Molasses Reef resort is starting up construction again.  We think these guys might be security for the new contractors.

There are roads still in place from back before the development plans halted, some five years ago.   I marked each end of the remains of the old sluice way that we're investigating. You can see the old causeway that crosses the pond here, and how the roads still follow the ones originally laid out back in the 1800's or earlier.  The man made waterway is filled in with sand and vegetation, but is still clearly visible from the air.           

I posted this one because it shows all the pieces in one photo.   And where the roads are.

This is looking almost directly down onto the remaining parts of the submerged portion of the structure.   You can see that the finished, straight sides of the stones were all facing inward. And very carefully laid out. I wouldn't have thought that precise control of the width of that structure would be very important if all it did was carry water.  Yet, obviously, someone took a lot of care with it.

I was winding the camera and kite in during that photo. This one was taken just a few minutes later from that same position.  This is what those rocks (above) look like from beach level.   Getting the bird's eye view has spoiled me. The shadow is  the camera's self-portrait as I was unclipping it from the kite string.

And this shadow, hanging around my feet being a nuisance, is Dooley the Dehydrated telling me he's had enough fun and sun for one day. I also notice that the camera was beginning to fog up around the edges in these photos.  We have yet to solve the humidity issues with sealed up water proof cameras in the sun.

So that's basically what this post is about.  We had wanted to go back to take another look at those old ruins, and having the kite setup was the perfect excuse.   We still have some more exploring to do, now that we know the limited extent of the ancient water way.   We'll have to bring some decent hiking shoes out with us.  I also want to dig around a little in that offshore structure.  If I find the remains of wood and iron out there, it was a boat.  If it's all rock, that will tell us something else.

We wouldn't want to solve all the West Caicos mysteries at once, of course. We like having excuses to keep going back. I don't know what it is about this stretch of water, but it's become one of my favorite beach combing places. And the undocumented history is fascinating to me.  We have  plans for  getting more images from the kites on the rest of this island.  Heck, we'd come back just to look at the water alone.

I had originally thought I'd end this post with a couple sunrise photos  that could pass for sunset photos if one didn't know better. But these were definitely taken at dawn. I had just poured my first cup of coffee, looked out across the Caicos Bank, and thought "well, that looks like some potential for a decent sunrise. I'll go grab my camera".    And so I did.  And walked out into the calm morning and took this image:

And slapped at the clouds of bugs that  were zeroing in on the fact that my dawn coffee stroll put me immediately in the middle of their menu.  No wind means mucho mosquitoes.'s what a nice sunrise looks like through a hastily slammed screen door...

Not wanting to end this with a screen door sunrise photo, I'll upload a few more and then angle in for a better ending. We just put our old sailboat, Twisted Sheets, back into the boatyard for some additional work. I brought the boat around from South Side Marina to the Caicos Marina and Shipyard.  If you read this blog much, you know both places pretty well by now.

La Gringa was on the patio with her telephoto lens when I came around the bend.   Still photos don't show the motion very well, but you can tell that there was a little bit of chop.

I had already had to shut down the starboard engine at this point.  It had an overheat alarm blaring and we don't ignore those. I had also had to climb down into the port side engine room to be sure that the low oil pressure  reading was not critical.  This stuff gets interesting on a bumpy day when you're the only one on the boat.    

All this while remembering to keep an eye on the rocks.

Until finally I was able to turn into the mouth of the marina.  I was still running on just the port engine.  I guess it's a good thing we have so much experience getting this boat to a dock on one engine, because it seems to be a required skill.   And yes, we realize that thousands of sailboats do perfectly well on one engine. But things get a little trickier when it's a catamaran. Getting these engines right before we take off on another long sail is one of the reasons it's going back into the yard.

And now after that distraction, I can get back to a proper 2 Gringos blog post ending.  With some of La Gringa's' photo stuff. She took this one looking out over the salina just before sunset.

I thought that was good enough, myself.   But then she noticed a disturbance in the water there in the foreground.    The bone fish were starting to feed.  There were some larger fish streaking in from the edges, no doubt headed for the same bait the bone fish were chasing.

A few minutes of patience and she caught the sun breaking through the clouds for a sunset and the bone fish breaking the surface of the salina at the same time.   The sun reflected off the ripples caused by the fish,  on the otherwise still and glassy surface.

 And that makes for a pretty good blog-post finishing-up photo.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Running Amuck

You'll probably recognize this scene if you've  been reading this blog.  This is the view from the top of our garage.  It's looking back generally to the west, and shows you the only road into and out of this peninsula.  I mention that for a reason.  Background, as it were.

That body of water just on the other side of the road is called Juba Salina.  It's a big, shallow, tidal flat.  Great bonefishing on the right tides. Flamingos love it.  We've seen flocks of over 70 of them here. Off in the distance in the middle of the photo you can see the hill overlooking South Side Marina.  You can just make out some of the Little Five Cays offshore.   There.   Got you all oriented now?

This is the same photo with some notes added to give you an idea of what we were watching on a  Friday afternoon not long ago.

Yes, another sloop full of refugees from Haiti has landed.   This isn't anything new or unusual here, but this time we had front row seats because the boat landed during daylight hours, and within sight of the house.  La Gringa took these photos with a hand held telephoto lens so they're not quite as sharp as some of our stuff.  But good enough to tell  you the story.

I can't imagine what the captain of that boat was thinking by putting those people ashore here.  At this specific location.  There's only one path off this peninsula if you're walking.  It only takes one or two police to completely close it off at one of the narrow spots.  The Marine Police detachment is a few hundred yards away.  The new Coastal Radar installation is just a few miles in the other direction.  WHY would a boat captain run into here with an illegal cargo? And HOW did this boat get past the radar station and the Marine Police? 

If you're looking for Haitian sloops, this is a classic. A wooden boat that fits the profile of an illegal Haitian sloop just about as well as that profile can be fit.

See that road near the top of the distant hill?  That's the little road we've been launching the kite from for our aerial photo experiments lately.  There's a reason I mention it. The apparently abandoned boat drifted from this location to a spot close to that road.

We had police all over the place that day. They were hot footing it in their uniform trousers and good shoes all across that salina.  Maybe hot footing it is not the right description. Nobody was moving with much alacrity in the salina.  The same  muck that was making it difficult for them to walk also indicated the fresh trail of those they were seeking. A mixed blessing.  But wet sock city, for sure.

We watched this little drama unfolding  as we stood on our garage roof with our camera and binoculars. I mean, it was a little drama to us.  As observers.  It might perhaps be more like a life changing experience for some of the participants. We couldn't hear what was being said between the detainees and the detainers, of course.  And we wouldn't have been able to understand it if we had  since it was almost certainly in Creole.  It can't be much fun trying to assist a cable-tied miscreant across a place as difficult to walk in as the silty bottom of this salina.

Not too hard to tell which is which here, is it.

The police were having a difficult time even without the responsibility of herding the prisoners.  This is some tough stuff to walk through.  Some of it took both feet and a hand for balance.

We watched as small hordes of hapless Haitians had their hearts' hopes hacked  into hash.  I was trying to imagine how they felt as it finally got to this point for them. It must take quite an effort to accumulate the money for the passage.  We've heard that it's $1,000 per head, in a country where the minimum wage is  $1.75 per day. Making the arrangements in Haiti for leaving, and at this end for help from their friends and families already here. Grabbing what  minimal resources they'd been told to bring. A dry change of clothes.  Some money. A phone number in Providenciales to call if they elude capture long enough to be picked up.  And they do elude, and are picked up by people in automobiles.  We've seen it.  A rattly old car with a single driver comes slowly down the road, and suddenly two or three people step out of the bushes and climb in.

But not yet, in this case.  The cars come after the police have left.

The police treated them fairly gently as far as we observed.  There was nothing like  the SWAT equipped local police departments you see these days in the USA.  Not a single automatic weapon or body armor.  No helmets, or clubs, or riot shields.   Just some sympathetic law enforcement officers trying to do their job,  with no evidence of anger or animosity toward the "criminals".  And even though the unarmed police officers were substantially outnumbered , we also didn't see any violence or disrespect on the part of the Haitians.  I think they must be accustomed to accepting bad news and disappointment.

Eventually, the mangroves were combed and the detainees were all herded over to the road.  The last of the search party made his weary way back across the salina.

The groups were assembled into van-sized loads for transportation to the Detention Center.  We could see some other small groups off in the distance, and assume they were more of the same boatload.

And eventually,  after a couple of hours of 'catch-me-if-you-can" slogging through the bushes and mangroves, the police loaded up the temporary visitors and took them  away.  

At least, the ones that got caught in the first sweep. About an hour after everyone left, we saw another half dozen emerge from the bushes along the road and assemble into a small group near this same spot.  They seemed uncertain what to do, which way to go. They dropped the few belongings they had in their hands right there on the edge of the road.  It was as if they realized that carrying clothes made them appear unusual. They saw us watching them from the hillside. A few small waves, some brief nervous smiles, and they walked down the road toward town.

We weren't sure what to do.  Call the police?  Ask the refugees in for refreshments? In the end, we just let them walk away. We did make a call to the Neighborhood Watch organizer.  We figured that they may as well know that another batch was headed their way.

The Immigration Officers  take the Haitians to a Detention Center.  They are fed, receive a medical evaluation, and then they are flown back to Haiti.  So these guys probably got one weekend in Providenciales under lock and key.   And then I guess the whole thing starts over at that point. Nobody really blames the Haitians for making the attempt to escape to what they believe is a better life.  The TCI  Government picks up the tab to fly them home.  This Haitian situation's a real drain on this small nation.

A few days after this all happened we took the kite over to the small ridge above South Side Marina.   We had some new kite cam goodies to try out.   And we drove up to that notch in the hill that I mentioned in the last post.   And there, lightly anchored just below the hill was the same sloop.  It had drifted across.  Someone had tied some kind of anchor to it.  Probably to keep it from smashing to pieces against the rocks.

We took our photos, and made our  camera adjustments, and I noted what needed changing and we went home. We thought a lot about that sloop over the next few days, though.

I didn't mention it to La Gringa.  But I had thoughts about possibilities with this boat.  I mean,  it DID make it all the way from Haiti without sinking.  Here it was still anchored and riding okay days later with nobody taking care of it.  I was thinking... if someone were to get rid of the t-shirt and torn sheet caulking between the planks and replace it with something good... and get a better mast for it.. wouldn't it be cool to own a Haitian Sloop? 

Well, of course we didn't do anything about it. We packed up our kites and cameras and went home.  A much more comfortable place to ponder life's reality show than a detention center. Or apparently, anywhere in Haiti.

By the next weekend   I had printed up what I hoped was the final version of my little kite rotation device.  We took it back to our favorite kite testing hill and put it up in the air again.   We were curious as to the status of the sloop after a week of calm weather.   Well, it wasn't good.  That's it off the coast there. 

The boat didn't sink, exactly.  It  just sort of gave up on being a boat. 

I guess without all those frightened eyes to spot every new leak, and desperate fingers to push the thin cloth caulking back between the planks, she just gave up and filled with water.  Obviously, the flotation of the wood in the boat was slightly greater than the weight of whatever ballast had been aboard.   We've seen bags of sand used in other boats.

And this was our last view of  this little vessel.  Hand made with the most basic tools, using yet more of the precious wood that is fast becoming depleted in a nation that seems doomed to misery and disaster.  She made one trip, probably about 130 miles.  We don't know how many people risked their lives to make that trip in a boat with no motor, radio, life jackets, flares, or future.  We haven't read a word about this one in the local papers.  It makes me wonder how many times this scenario is being played out here, with no publicity.  It also saddens me to wonder how many of these boats don't make the entire trip, but break apart and sink somewhere in the deep water between that island and this one.  Many, I suspect.  We find pieces of these boats everywhere on the beaches.  Big pieces, with jagged edges.

And now, another week after this little drama, the stage is reset for the next one.  Some of the immigrants undoubtedly made it into the bushes and got picked up by a jitney driver or friends and family with a car.  Most got arrested and shipped back to Haiti.  Some drugs came in.  Maybe some guns.   The disposable boat is quickly turning into loose planks and memories.   And the only signs of  this passing through our little world  are the abandoned piles of clothing, shoes, and water bottles that were thrown away by the group that eluded the police in the immediate aftermath.

I suspect that a dry change of clothes is carried by all of them.  They know they're going to have to swim ashore, and then try to blend in and avoid arrest.  And  I thought the TSA at the airport in Miami was a pain.

Kinda makes ya think, doesn't it?  

I realize that this isn't in our usual mien of blog posts.  I've kept it short, sort of.  And we've got a nice more tropical one coming along shortly.

This blog is intended to be about our experiences living here.  Not all these experiences are good.    This one wasn't  about us personally, but it definitely is about an aspect of living on an island down here. This just isn't the kind of thing that ever happened in front of us living up in the USA. It's happening all the time, here. And in the Bahamas.  And probably even in Cuba.

It's not difficult to ignore the plight of an entire nation when it's just a brief mention on the Nightly News every couple of years.   Not so easy to ignore when it's right in front of you.  Thin, wet, desperate people with haunted eyes and another shattered dream being rounded up and returned.  Their choices are to either give up, or try again.  I hope their next boat is at least as good as this one was for a few days. Too many aren't. And the builders don't worry about refunds or complaints.  It's a one shot deal.  And somebody is making money at it.

And now we'll return you to our regularly scheduled tropical blog program.