Saturday, October 26, 2013

Fort Saint George Cay

This post is about a recent skiff trip over to Fort St. George Cay.  Most people here leave the "saint" part off and just call it Fort George.  I was surprised at how little information I could find about it.   And rather than  just regurgitating things I've read like I was coasting on someone else book report, I'll provide you with some Fort George history links and anyone interested can quickly find out what's available.  And those who are not interested can hopefully just enjoy some of the photos.

Last weekend we had a lucky break in a  period of intermittent squalls. We've been having periods of intense rain over the past couple of weeks.  We grabbed the chance to get out of the house and out on the water.

This is a Google Earth satellite image of our destination,  Fort St. George Cay.  This  image from 2004 so it's now almost ten years old.  There have been quite a few physical changes since 2004.  Mostly in the exposed shoreline to the north and west. 

The fort was on the northwest bulge of the cay. It apparently was there for at least a decade, and there were as many as 200 British troops stationed there. The houses on nearby Pine Cay give you an idea of scale.

I bet the tropical thrill of being stationed on this little island and away from England got real thin, real fast.  "What?  Fish stew, AGAIN??"  

I wonder if they knew about conch? And lobster.  They must have.  It would have been an excuse to get out of those wool uniforms.  Surely the locals clued them in.

Anyhow, we wanted some better aerial photos than this.  In fact, I couldn't find anything useful on the internet.  I know that local veterinarian and pilot Mark Woodring has published some aerial photos of these islands in a hard cover book, but I don't have a copy of it. Besides, this easily justifies going for a boat ride in these amazingly transparent waters with a beautiful woman for company, a deranged dog for amusement, a new kite to play with, and a great excuse to take photographs.  Sounded good to me.

This was the first time we've hauled the skiff down to Leeward with the little KIA.  If you've seen photos of our previous car and boat setup, you might get a chuckle out of how far we've downsized.

We got the boat down the hill, five bumpy miles to the nearest pavement, and then down to the boat ramp in Leeward without any trouble at all.  We've decided we like automatic transmissions for towing boats, by the way.  Sure makes life easier on slippery ramps.  Starting on hills, too.  We paid our $5 ramp  charge to Kilo at the marina, and took the boat up along Water Cay as we've done so many times before.  We've made this trip so many times now I think I could do it in my sleep.  We've certainly done it in the dark a few times.  So it's easy on a sunny day.  We snapped a few photos along the way, noticing recent changes in a landscape  constantly being remodeled by the sea.

This picnic spot is relatively new.  In a few years, or storms, whichever comes first, this will be another little sandy cove with a pile of broken rocks that were once an arch.  But for now, it's some nice shade.  If your name isn't Damocles, I suppose.

And this spot which was once a cliff now has become a cave.   We'll stop and take a closer look at this on an upcoming trip.   We thought seriously about it on this trip, but the afternoon weather was getting spotty on us, and we were already on a mission.   In the past, we've done well when we stuck to plan.  And we've had a few near disasters when we didn't.  Unprepared deviations can be problematic.

Did I mention the weather?  As we  approached Fort George we saw a series of squalls moving over the area.  We had packed a lunch, and decided to duck into the marina at Pine Cay to wait out this one. There was lightning involved.  We don't like lightning any more.  Dooley never did, and La Gringa and I have come around to his way of thinking.   It is a bit annoying to have to put up with a Jack Russell Terrier with an "I told you so" attitude.  And I am continuously surprised how  many attitudes will fit inside such a small dog.

Once ashore and under shelter, we didn't venture far from the marina.  We were just looking for some shady spot to eat our sandwiches and wait for the weather to clear over Fort George.   We sat in  a little hut that the Meridian Club uses for arriving and departing guests.

I bet you thought this next photo was just a bunch of palm fronds.   Not entirely.  Yes, they are palm fronds, but they are not just palm fronds.    These are replacement shingles for the hut we were enjoying.

The shingles were there, the ladder was there... I suggested maybe La Gringa might want to climb up there and learn how to make a palm roof. Her response was brief and to the point, and I don't think I need to repeat it here.  While colorful, let's just say it was, in general, negative about the roof idea.  We decided to just wait for the weather.

Things were pretty quiet at Pine Cay, in general.  It's still a bit early for their busy season, as it is for most islands in the Hurricane Belt.  We had plenty of choices of where to park the skiff.  There it is,  tied up with empty slips on either side.   Now I'm wondering if Twisted Sheets would fit between two of those floating docks.  It would be fun to bring the catamaran over and stay aboard while visiting here.

All of the Parker boats are Meridian Club boats.  They've been using them for some years now, and have standardized on the brand so I think they're pretty happy with them.  There were several in the water at the fuel dock.  Next to this suspicious looking golf cart.  I wonder if Fidel is on the island?

I thought the fishing pole holders and the trailer hitch were nice touches.

Golf carts are the only wheeled transportation on Pine Cay.  They get used for a lot of things.   Hauling the K9 security team around, for example.   Hey, I wonder if this had anything to do with the Cuban cart...

We watched the squall dump its water over the islands to our north.  Once it started changing over from lightning to lightening we resumed our trip over.  Dooley argued about the spelling for a while, but he was over ruled on this.  If he was calling the shots, we'd never leave the house with a squall like this anywhere in sight. Jumpy little boogers, these Jack Russells.

As usual we had to order Dooley the Delinquent  out of the water at the marina in order to continue to Fort George.  I think he has some theories  on being grounded during electrical storms.  He's been asking me a lot of questions about SCUBA lately.

We got him onto the boat and zoomed around the point to the little cay, where he promptly jumped overboard back into the water.   This is Dooley the Detachment, single pawedly storming the beach at the former British garrison at Fort St. George:

Looking at this next photo, one would be unlikely to realize that there is a small body of water located  just on the other side of that low spot. In reading up on the place, I saw that proximity to fresh water on both Fort St. George Cay and Pine Cay was one of the reasons the English chose this spot to built a small fort here over 200 years ago. I know, I know, I said I wouldn't go into all that.  BUT.... if you're interested, our friends from Ships of Discovery did a bit of a survey of this area just a few years ago.  Dr. Don Keith put together a team, and they produced an interesting blog about their adventures.  If you read that blog, please notice the underwater photo of the cannons.  More about this later.

Dooley the Devious didn't wait for the rest of us before swimming ashore. We were not planning to go ashore, just yet.  I wanted to try this new, light wind kite I picked upr recently. It's got more surface area than my other kites, and is supposed to be able to fly in 3 knots of wind.  That doesn't mean it will lift the weight of a camera in 3 knots of wind, but on this day we had  mild gusts of 5 or 6 knots and I was hopeful we could get something from it.  This was also the first time we tried flying the kite rig from the skiff.

Dooley eventually noticed that we were not following him in his mad charges into the underbrush, and he resignedly swam back out to the boat to see what we were up to.  I think he was worried about getting left on the island.

We had to explain to him that we were staying in the boat.  That he was included in the group who were to stay in the boat.  He didn't like it. The squalls were still in the area and he had a lot of unwanted advice on where we were the safest.  I don't think it's ever been unanimous in his mind as to who exactly is the alpha dog in this little pack of ours. 

The new  kite took off in the light air as hoped.   If you're interested in these kites, I've gotten three from a kite shop in Boulder called Into the Wind.  I now think I have the wind speed spectrum covered from about 5 knots up to over 20.  And I'm using woven Dacron fishing line for string. 

This is the view from the boat of that little area between the cut and the inland pond.  Nothing much in the way of clues here to indicate that there's a pond in there.

We managed to inch the kite up, pulling the weight of a GoPro camera and my little rotating rig up with it.  It took a while in the light wind. It was gain five feet, lose two.  Gain three, lose four.  But eventually we got it high enough to start getting some vertical perspective.  The water in the interior is easily visible.  And suddenly I can imagine that little garrison built out on the crowded end of the cay.  Picture 200 troops living on 8 acres.

Part of this little experiment was to see if there were any unexpected hassles in flying the kite from the skiff.  There were not.  We'd envisioned driving the boat slowly and pulling the kite behind it.  We quickly realized that in this one particular case that wouldn't gain us much.  In order to get good views looking down onto the shore using a kite, the land needs to be down wind from the boat.  Or it won't work very well.  Once we figured this out, we decided the best bet was to just jump off the boat and go walk the perimeter of the beach.   Of course this was Dooley the Discoverer's plan all along.   So we hopped out of the boat and waded ashore.

And there were plenty of things to see from the beach, too.  Some interesting debris here and there.

About a million squadrons of large dragonflies zipping to and fro, and fro and to.  And up and down and all around.   The sky above the bushes here in the lee of the very slight wind was literally humming with these flying mosquito hawks. And we like anything that eats mosquitoes. While I was busy trying to walk and fly a kite at the same time (how's that for a straight line?) La Gringa was snapping photos down at sea level.  She got a pretty good representation of the dragonfly density here.

Their business is mosquitoes, and business is good.

Continuing our little kite walk around the point, we got a good view of distant squalls over some of the jumbled ruins of this tiny military base.  I haven't been able, yet, to find a verbal description of Fort St. George.  It's probably a good assumption that they used the soft native limestone for most of it.  There's no lumber here to speak of.  Pine Cay has had a grove of small trees on it in the past, and it's entirely possible that they could have cut some rafters or the like from that.  But as for the native stone and with the way this stuff crumbles, I'd have little hope of being able to identify much in the surf zone from 200 years ago. Nothing made of limestone, anyhow.   But I bet the view to sea hasn't changed a bit in 200 years.

This is an aerial view of that very same stretch of shore.  Six or seven years ago we did find some sections of walls and foundations inside what's now a dense thicket of vegetation.  I see no evidence of those hand cut blocks in these images.  It's possible that the bluff I remember is now submerged in the rubble.  Anything left ashore here would be pretty well buried by the plant life, in any case.

We've learned to look for   unnatural formations or lines when we search for old sites and artifacts.  Straight lines, square corners, perfect circles or portions of any of these things are often indicative of the worksof people.   Nature rarely uses straight edges.  We weren't seeing much of that here.  It gets a little complicated in that the natural stone formations themselves are good at camouflaging loose rocks that may have once been part of a wall or gun emplacement.   Here in this next photo, for example.  We can tell that the curved bedrock is natural.  But what about that rectangular block sticking up in the middle of it?   I don't think that piece eroded to those angles in that location. 

Some evidence is, well, self evident.  This is a piece of iron wedged among the stones in shallow water.  The iron oxide catches the attention immediately.

While we were looking around for artifacts of the old fort, we couldn't ignore some of the more natural elements of the shore here.  Some of that included interesting marine life, like this little invertebrate monster.  This is called a chiton.

Here's a photo of another one.  Notice that  the  portion of this critter under cover  isn't nearly all of it. It's surrounded by some kind of foot or tentacle bed similar in appearance to an abalone.  That photo above makes it appear that these things are eating the limestone.    Not sure why, but that makes me nervous. Living on the limestone, and all.

I read in the Wikipedia article from the link that people in the Caribbean eat these things.  The foot is prepared similar to abalone.  Which basically means to beat the heck out of it until it's tender enough to chew and then boil or fry it.  I can't see me out rustling up a pot of these for dinner under present circumstances, but it's nice to know I could if I needed to.

Now this next one I do know.  This is a semi-fossilized conch shell, sticking half out of the rock.  It strikes me as somewhat odd that the shellfish are tougher than the rock here. 

And speaking of the rock here, this little cay sure has some interesting patterns.  We got so carried away exploring the little crevices and marine life that we almost forgot about those Englishmen walking all over this place back in the late 1700's.  But they did.

Remember up near the beginning of this post when I included the link to Dr. Keith's blog about the cannon?  I wanted to provide you with some background so you would understand what they look like from the air. There are two cannon distinctly exposed on the seabed here, in about four feet of water.  You can just barely make out exposed portions of at least one more to the right of the exposed ones.  The cannon are just to the right of the  middle of this photo. lying in the edge of the rubble  between you and that rain squall.  They're the dark objects that are pointing out to sea like, well, cannon. Tell you what, I'll send this photo to Dr. Keith and see what he says about it.

We went back and forth along the rocks.  Me with my kite, La Gringa with the pocket Nikon, and Dooley the Detached with whatever baggage he carries in that hairy little head of his. That Nikon Coolpix AW100 has worked out to be a great little camera, by the way.  If you're interested in those things.  We've been averaging a camera a year here. This is the best pocket point and shoot digital that we've had, by far.

We knew the Go Pro on the kite was most likely getting some aerial images, and so La Gringa continued to concentrate on the close up stuff.   Years of constant wave erosion have made for some interesting formations.  If someone told me this was an aerial drone photograph of some mid-eastern desert wadi in Kuwait, I would probably believe it.

But we know it isn't.  That photo is of the rock here, from an altitude of about one meter.   So is this next one.

Of course it's pretty obvious when we find one of nature's mortar and pestle setups.  This might make an interesting video at high tide, with the wave action grinding these rocks around and around and around.  Making sand.   Wonder what would happen if we dropped a few of those chitons in there.   Abalone paste?

As near as I can tell, this next aerial shot should include just about all of the area that was the ocean side fortifications of the old Fort St. George.  The land would have extended out much further back then than it does today.  But we know that the heavy iron cannon must have pretty much stayed at their original locations, which would have been some distance above the seabed back in  the day.  So I'd assume that the outer bulwarks and cannon ports were about that far out, before the sea reclaimed the property.  So much for the sanctity and permanence of Crown Land on a small tropical island.  The water eventually wins any disputes.

Speaking of water, I think I mentioned up top that we've had tons of it falling on us lately.  So much that it literally leaps over the gutters as the force of it bounces it off channels already level full.   Now that's some rain right there.

And as much as we need the fresh water, it also causes some issues here with we get this much of it at once.  This is a spot along the Leeward Highway where a man drowned in his car after running off the road  into  those trees on the right during a similar storm pattern the year we moved here, 2005.     That was in October, too, come to think of it.

And that's not the only spot that floods.  We could fill a post with nothing but flooded Providenciales photos after one of these storms.  Without trying to place any blame, let me just offer one uninformed opinion that the weather sometimes overwhelms the engineering here. There's no place for this water to run to.  The curbs trap it on the roads.   I look at the bright side.  It washes the salt off the undercarriage, momentarily.

That's pretty much it for this post.  We've got a lot of DIY stuff going on with our elderly sailboat Twisted Sheets presently back in the ocean undergoing more repairs. And being at the end of the growing season presents its own challenges here.  The plant life is all growing at a rapid clip.  The bugs are loving the fresh water puddles, as evidenced by a bumper crop of mosquitoes and termites.  And the dragonflies and lizard populations are growing in response to the food supply.  And I've just lately noticed how many of the plants around here are armed.    The agave cacti are obvious, of course, but until I moved here I never really realized that the bougainvillea are also thorny little bundles.  The flowers are colorful, for sure.

And up close, those branches look like this:

And I've found these  next things to be quite a nuisance, and very difficult to eradicate.  They're easy to spot, and to pull up, but they grow amazingly fast.  And even if I pull all them at one time, within two weeks we have more.   Sand spurs, stickers, whatever you call them, it hurts to step on them barefoot.   They come in on vehicle tires.  And they are prolific. 

Lately I've been trying some new types of herbicides on them.  I figure I spray an average of four gallons of chemicals on this hilltop a month.  Three of insecticides, and now another gallon of herbicides.   I was stocking up at the local grocery store last week, in fact.   When I got to the spot over by the light bulbs and dog food where I usually find my 'cides, I was surprised to see that   they're now  apparently stocking something new.  I don't even know what an 'intesecticide' is, but I started worrying when I realized that Aisle 9 is where they keep the pharmaceuticals.  Ah oh. This isn't looking good for the old digestive tract.  I hope they have it in vanilla, or strawberry.  Wonder if it works on weeds and bugs, too.

Okay, that's it for this blog post.   I don't have a recent sunset photo to show you, but this is what the full moon looked like over the water a few nights back. Well, that's not actually true.  It looked a lot better than this.  It reminded me of that Alfred Noyes poem about The Highwayman.  You know the one... 'the road was a ribbon of moonlight'.   In this case, the road was a glittering path to the south east.  To people like us, it says 'follow me down through the Caribbean'.   Some day.  Hopefully, sooner than one might think.

We haven't yet managed to get a really good full moon photo.  But we'll work on it.  It's on the list.


Anonymous said...

I had always wondered if someone had passed a metal detector on Ft St George...thanks! -Chris

Anonymous said...

Oh yes. A friend of ours owns the nearest house to Ft. George, over on Pine Cay. He explored that site for 40 years. His home was a museum of Ft. George artifacts. He's approaching 90, now, and doesn't get down here much any more. He donated his collection to the Museum on Grand Turk. We have a piece of grape shot, and another hunk of ordnance he gave us.

Anonymous said...

Now that must of been a fun pastime! Def something I wld have done also -Chris

Jerry said...

Great blog. Really enjoyed reading many of the past posts once I found it. Bought a vacation home (for now) with some friends on Provo in Spring 2013. Any posts on home maintenance or yard care in TCI greatly appreciated. All a learning experience. It is great to learn about the island and explore. Please keep writing.

Jeremy Evans said...

A great read! I will definitely be using your pictures in my 7th grade Science class!

Anonymous said...

Hello Jeremy,
Thanks for writing. We love feedback. Glad to hear you agree that the blog is G-rated enough for your tribe of 7th graders. I do think there are some bits of science in there.

It was nice to meet you guys at Pine Cay. I spent a big part of the weekend taking more photos, of course. There should be plenty of Pine Cay and some Water Cay footage and blurbage over the next few weeks.

Hope your stay at the Meridian Club was everything you hoped it would be.

Tim said...

It's great to see you're still in action!

I found your blog about 3 years ago when I started looking for work away from "the Great White North" and it reinforced my decision to pursue a Caribbean destination. My wife thought I was nuts at the time, but after being out of work due to the recession for nearly two years, it was either go back to school or get way "outta Dodge" where my line of work is full time. Repairing boats in the Great Lakes region is awfully seasonal, but not wanting to throw away nearly 20 years for a whole new career I starting looking "outside the box", which meant tropical :)

I was engineer for UM for a short stint on their research boats (the Calanus and Walton Smith), so I had been around the Bahamas, the Keys, and most of South Florida, so that's how it all started. Then I musta figured that if we were willing to go that far why not the Virgin Islands or some other Caribbean island..?? Anyway, long story short we have been in Cayman for nearly 3 years now, we love it and our son loves it, we will never move north of 22 deg lat again (if we can help it of course).

Sorry that got kinda long winded but after rediscovering your blog after all this time (and catching up on the last 3 years worth of your posts!) I wanted to say hello and keep 'em coming, they're a joy to read!!


Anonymous said...

Hello Tim, and congratulations on making the jump. We hear from a LOT of people who say they want to try this kind of life, but something always seems to prevent them from doing it. That first move offshore is the big one. After that, it gets easy. Like anything else. If you've been in the BWI for three years now, you've made it over two of the major humps. Overcoming inertia, and acclimating to a new life.

Hey I spent a month on the Walton Smith back around '02. We put a SWATH bathymetry system, a sidescan sonar, and a gravity corer on board. Back in a previous life.

We almost made it to the Caymans last year. We were trying very hard to buy a boat based there, a 12M Catalac named Caymanifique. We didn't get that boat, but did buy a sister ship in Florida.

Small world, when viewed from certain spots.

Glad he hear you still enjoy the blog. Are you boating in CI?

Tim said...

Hey there Gringo, I wasn't sure if you'd even be around today with all that kite testing you've been doing lately...very nice by the way!
Unfortunately I don't get much boating time in due to keeping everyone else on the water, unless you can count work related water tests, but occasionally we'll make a trip with friends over to Rum Point and Stingray City for an afternoon of beach lounging and drinks, it is very relaxing. We'll hopefully get out more once my company's new boat line starts arriving, we gotta have a demo to show off you know, and since that's my department I elect me for job! haha My wife does have some good underwater shots of the stingrays (and peoples' legs) from a trip to Stingray City earlier this year, they are very friendly and curious here, a little creepy at first but very cool to be around.

It's probably (maybe?) a good thing that you did get Twisted Sheets from the US instead, it seems like a long way between decent ports from Cayman to TCI, would've been nerve wracking (for me anyway) for such a long voyage in a new (to you) boat. That's a lot of blue water, though I hear Cuba is a good stopping over point so who knows...

SWATH eh? I believe we did a similar trip in '99, right after commissioning the Walton Smith. We were "plowing the field" from Miami to Ft. Pierce inlet for ONR, mapping I can't even recall how many miles of sea floor. I do recall it was late February or March and we were working 24hrs/7days for 30 days through some serious swells in the Gulf Stream; you've been on the boat, so when I say serious I mean standing on the bridge in a trough you couldn't see anything but a wall of black water! It was an intense experience for a mid-western boy!

Small world for sure, we've met so many great people from all over the world that live and work here and world gets smaller with each person we meet, we wouldn't trade the island life for anything, it's our home for sure. You're right, some people aren't cut out for island life but it's been a dream of mine since my days at UM, no complaints from me about spending 2 years out work scraping by, it all led to this and we love the Caribbean life!

Anonymous said...

That must have been the trip I was on. The ONR was the client. I was consulting for the British company that made the swath system. Dave Powell was running the marine dept, right? Dave and I go WAY back to when I was a teenager working for a seismic company in Houston as a summer job in high school in the 60's.

Tim said...

Yes, Dave was running things and it was a British company indeed! I still feel bad for the dark haired girl from the company, she was horribly sea sick most of the time because of the weather I mentioned, of course it got real nice the day she left the boat! Poor thing.

Small world indeed Gringo.