Monday, December 30, 2013

Winter Ramblings

I chose this photo over the morning ones we've gotten lately. It fits right in with why we haven't been posting a lot of fun-stuff photos these past few weeks.  In this one, Dooley was waiting on the deck of Twisted Sheets as yet another day spent working on the boat came to a close. He was tired and he wanted to go home. He likes being on the boat in the marina. There is a lot going on  to keep his attention. There are people and boats coming and going.  He has a cadre of marina dogs that he likes to trade barks with.  But when that sun gets low to the water, his thoughts turn to dinner time.  And  all the food is back at the house.

We've been spending a big part of almost every recent day working on Twisted Sheets.  This hasn't left us a whole lot of time for playing on the water so we don't have a lot of adventure photos at the moment.  But realizing that all work and no play makes Jack a bored terrier, we did make another short weekend trip to Pine Cay since our last post. I can show you some photos of that, at least. 

We launched the skiff at Leeward and headed for Pine Cay with Capt. Jack Russell in command. Or so he thinks.

He was actually pretty nervous when that photo was taken.  Notice that he's refusing to even look at the weather ahead of the boat?  This is his "ignore it and maybe it will go away" position.   We were trying to sneak up along the beach without getting caught in one of the numerous squalls blowing through.  We didn't do a very good job of getting a photo of this, but if you look where I put an arrow on this next photo perhaps you can tell where the heavy rain begins. The rain line is where the trees on the beach suddenly get obscured.  It was raining heavily to the left side of th photo. We were aiming for the narrow margin between that arrow and the beach.We were hoping to get through before it closed out on us.

I haven't seen any evidence that the prayers of small dogs carry much weight but I don't discourage his efforts. He does get pretty serious when lightning bolts start flying. No different from lots of other folks, I guess.  Anyhow, we had to make the trip whether we got soaked or not, so we were sun surfing between squalls.  The heavy rain was only a few yards off to our left:

While there were still patches of clear sky mixed with small squalls off to our south.  I'm not really trying to make any point here.  This is just me trying to show you some typical scenes on a recent weekend.  There's nothing unusual about this if you live here.

There were a few specific places on Pine Cay where I wanted aerial photos.  We're interested in the history of these islands and sometimes trying to get information is frustrating. There doesn't seem to have been much left to us in the form of recorded observations.  The people abandoned here by the former plantation owners were not very literate for the most part. They were much more concerned with day to day survival than they were in recording their day to day observations about survival.  So what we have are verbal stories passed down through generations of  interspersed with snippets of English history and sea stories. I've read that the pirates Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, and Mary Read had frequented these islands for a while  during their fairly brief criminal careers.  I wonder where they hid their boats, and where they got their water while hiding.  I've been looking around for these places.

I know it helps to visualize what we're writing about when I stick a map or Google Earth image in here.   This is the area between Leeward Going Through and North Caicos.  We know that this area was active with pirates in the 1700's  and Loyalists by 1800.  We've found enough ancient hardware on the reefs near here to confirm that ships have been visiting these waters for quite a long time.

One part of this little stretch of islands that has gotten my interest and imagination is the area between Pine Cay and Water Cay.  We've posted many photos of "The Aquarium" over the years, and it's a fun spot to watch the marine life that hangs out in the deep water just off the rocks.  But I've been interested in what this spot must have looked like back in previous centuries. I think that  we are seeing the results of strong tidal current washing sand and small rocks out toward the reef.  The deep old channels inside the blocked off inlet also show that there was a strong current flowing through here in days gone by.  Something scoured that channel out, and it wasn't the gentle tidal action we see here today.

We've commented on some of the descriptive  place names here in  previous posts. The old names often describe the place. We have both Leeward and Windward Going Through. Names like Bird Rock, Mangrove Cay, and Logwood Beach are pretty descriptive.  Suzy Turn.  Heaving Down Rock. These places  were  named for features and uses. And I keep looking at that island named Water Cay, and wondering why it was called that name so often that it became permanent.  There are only a few small fresh or brackish water ponds on it.  I had long thought that perhaps the large pond at the southwestern end of Pine Cay made more sense as a source of fresh water.  You can see that pond in the upper center of this next photo:

That looked like a likely candidate to me.  It's near a place deep enough to get large boats into, and it's a relatively easy hike to the pond.  So I made that hike with the kite for some photos.  And getting to the edge of that pond changed my mind.  The water is not very fresh at all.  It's definitely on the brackish side.   I did find the final resting place of a flamingo on the edge of it.  The tracks are  of a certain obnoxious little dog running around before I could get the camera ready.

This is a kite photo from the side of that pond.  You can see that it's very close to the ocean.  The sea water gets into it, and locals have told us that there are barracuda now living in the pond.   I don't know how thirsty those old pirates would have gotten, but I do know there are better sources of fresh water in the area.   And this pond is on Pine Cay.  It makes more sense to look closer at a place they named Water Cay, doesn't it?   Duh. I'm slow sometimes, but hey, I had to find out for myself.  This is NOT water you would want to be drinking on a long sea voyage.  Not on a short one, either, come to think of it.

This next view is from the Pine Cay side of the Aquarium.  You can see the sand that now closes off the opening between the islands, as well as the deep channel that still exists.   And there is one little feature that now has my attention just to the left of center in this photo.  See that small fresh water pond?  It could be my imagination, but in the photo it looks to me that it might be slightly higher in elevation than the nearby sea water.

If this is true, then that pond would be almost certainly full of rain water and not be poisoned by the salt.  And that little bit of lake is on Water Cay, close enough to a deep water spot for a boat.  We find this interesting.

Getting ourselves to Pine Cay and taking the pond photos took up the most of our first afternoon there. We were hoping for a Green Flash sunset, but conditions just didn't cooperate.  This is usually the case.  Green Flashes are rare.  But that sure doesn't stop a lot of people from using sundown as a convenient place to relax with a drink and end the day.

The next day we decided to walk over onto the near end of Water Cay to see if we could find an easy access trail to that small pond.  Once again we were totally unprepared for trekking through the underbrush.  And the bushes here get fairly thick once you get away from the edges of the island.    Those Casuarinas trees off in the distance here mark the location of the sandy end of the Aquarium.

I took my favorite 9 ft. Delta kite along in case I could get some decent aerial photos. 

I thought this looked like some comic book hero's t-shirt emblem. As in "Look!  There's some fool in shorts and inappropriate footwear stumbling around and bleeding in the pucker brush!  It's Kite Man!"

Yes, once again we changed plans in the middle of a trip and found ourselves equipped for Plan A, and ill equipped to go forward with Plan B.  As has been the case in several other similar adventures, we just didn't have the footwear to proceed.  To get to the small pond from this direction we would want to be wearing protective trousers and shoes or boots that don't expose toes or skin.    We had to satisfy ourselves with putting the kite up and seeing what we need to deal with on our next excursion.

You can see this short section of cleared path in the satellite photo I posted up above.  You can also see the small pond that now has my attention as perhaps the source of the name Water Cay.  It's the one just to the right of the center of the photo.  I just can't get there from here.

This is just another shot of the Aquarium area from a new angle.  You can see where the sand fills in what was once an open channel.  The temptation to bring a backhoe in here to open this up must have struck a number of people since the hurricane filled this all in back fifty three years ago.

While I was stumbling around gouging divots out of my shins and getting tangled in kite string, La Gringa took one of the other cameras for photos of some of the local plant life.  

We're often surprised at how well adapted the local flora is to the relatively harsh growing conditions here.  These sprout and thrive in sand and sea water.

The mangroves, sea grrapes, and casuarinas trees seem to quickly get started wherever conditions permit life.  I don't understand where the nutrients come from to support these, but they seem to find them.

We were constantly ducking squalls over the weekend.  I wasn't in a hurry to repeat Ben Franklin's famous kite and lightning experiment, but it was cool to watch the little squalls come toward us. 

And the pattern is generally the same sort of tropical weather patterns that other warm and humid islands experience throughout the day.  We have the clearest conditions in the morning. The sun warms the water surface and then thunderstorms and squalls tend to build more in the afternoon. Then they all dissipate shortly before sundown. We were all primed and ready for a green flash on our second night at Pine Cay. Nope. Just another mundane, boring sunset.

I have some more photos from this weekend at Pine Cay to show you.  But since we're spending so much time working on the boat lately I thought it would be somewhat misleading to think we're just lazing around the beach waiting for pretty sunsets.  I'm going to just plug in a few boat photos here to give you an idea of some of the things we've been doing.  Maybe you'll also understand why I haven't exactly been chomping at the bit to write about them.

The major job of the past few weeks was removing a holding tank and plumbing from one of our heads.  I admit that I've been tempted to write about this experience in some detail.  I've decided not to do that to you.  Let me just generalize and say in a non-specific way that in all my years of travel and working on boats and RVs and a multitude of plumbing systems.... removing this tank was one of the worst dirty jobs that I have ever done. After a long, long day of lying on the deck with my head, arms and shoulders down among the hoses and fittings of a 28 year old septic storage system... well... I'm going to stop here. This is a photo taken the night I finally got this thing off the boat. This experience left me convinced that I am willing to try just about any other method of waste handling imaginable, if it will prevent me from ever having to do this again.. It's gone. I'm still shuddering.

The Baby Blake toilet that we removed from the head had been installed here for almost three decades.  These holes were for the mounting bolts, an both the flush and outflow hoses.  I couldn't come up with any easy way to patch this fiberglass enclosure without it looking ugly.  The new  composting head we are going to install doesn't need any outside connections.  I needed to cover this all up somehow.

Remember the big hunk of Starboard we salvaged over on West Caicos?  I've lost track of how many little projects I've done using that stuff.  This was another one. I cut a piece of the Starboard to cover the fiberglass enclosure, with the one vent tube hole I needed for the fresh water sysetem.  That has nothing to do with the toilet. I used a pneumatic sander to smooth it all out.

It fit fairly well, and looks a lot better than the holes left by the previous installation.  I built in a little bit of an overhang on purpose.  It should all make sense eventually, if we choose to ramble on and on here about such things as sailboat toilets.  And I'm not sure I even want to.

I will put in one more "boat toilet" photo before changing the subject. This is the new "Nature's Head" composting toilet we are installing to replace the previous setup. I had to take at least one photo of it, pristine and uninstalled. Eat your heart out, Sir Richard Branson...

That toilet replaces a heavy metal head, several hoses, a 30 gallon holding tank, and two through-hull fittings.  If any of you are interested in this approach, please drop us an email and we can discuss it.  But as for this blog post... I'm moving on.

We've also been ripping out old vinyl and foam rubber that has been inside the boat since it was new.  This photo shows vinyl and foam hanging down while being removed, along with one of the hatches and windows that have been leaking.   We are also removing, cleaning, and rebedding hatches and deck fittings as we go.  We've had to make some decisions regarding appliances, too.  So far we've removed a microwave oven, an apartment sized refrigerator, an off-brand washing machine, a television,  and the propane powered toaster you can see tucked up under the stainless in  this photo.

And it's not like this is some fly-by-night operation.  Every step of each renovation procedure is closely supervised by Dooley the Dozing Dog. Yeah, right. At least we can tell he's getting quite comfortable with the idea of spending long days on board Twisted Sheets.   He's finding all the best nap spots.

I know that I had mentioned using the Starboard to space two forward hatches up off the deck in a previous post.  Here's a photo of those two hatches with the starboard spacers in place.  I made the spacers wider than the hatch frame, to give me some more surface area to work with when I applied the sealant. This seems to have stopped several of our overhead ceiling leaks.

This is the old propane powered toaster setup that we removed from the galley.  I guess I get a bit overly cautious when it comes to open flame appliances on boats.  If we can do without it, we will. We have a broiler in the oven that duplicates what this broiler did.  It was rusting out badly, and removing it not only gained us some counter space, it also removed another 30 pounds of metal from the boat.

We've been going through the interior of the boat cupboard by cupboard, and removing every bit of stuff we can find.  We're evaluating it all and separating it into useful and not so useful stuff.  We're even finding items that have been on board since the boat was built.  Tom Lack was the original builder of this catamaran. This box has been on board since it was new.  I hated to get rid of it, but we don't like having cardboard on the boat. It's not really all that great in a marine environment, and some bugs see it as a food source.

Some of you might notice the odd connector next to the cardboard box.  I have replaced the cigar-lighter type 12 volt connectors with these simple two pin versions.  That's been another project going on.  Along with a lot of rewiring, resealing, replacing, and just general redoing..

Spending the days working on the boat in the marina is also a welcome break for us.  We're now well into "cruising season" and there is an increasing flow of visiting sailboats pulling into South Side Marina for a few nights. A few days ago I got to watch Bob pull a power boat out of the water and place it on a trailer using his crane.   It's a pretty neat little system for a confined space.   Bob and Julian place web slings under the hull, and lift the boat straight up.

It only took them about five minutes to have the boat out of the water and lowered onto its trailer.

Meanwhile, we're emptying every locker, every little hidden storage compartment, every lazarette.  We're probably removing 50 lbs a day of old stuff that we don't feel we need for our own plans.  This boat was still carrying supplies from when it last crossed the Atlantic.  Our tropical island hopping lifestyle calls for some different priorities than North Sea liveaboard life would have demanded.     They needed insulation. We need ventilation. That's part of the problem with the vinyl, I think.  But we're addressing it.

We don't yet know the gentlemen who recently purchased this fishing boat.  We've been privileged to watch the new crew as they learn some of the peculiarities of working from a floating platform.  We don't always understand their reasoning, but we're taking a watch and learn attitude to it all.   For example, on this particular day I think we would have left one of us on the boat to handle the engines.  We would have probably just used the motors to position the boat, instead of having the entire crew leap ashore to wrestle with the one line.   I wonder when that moment came that someone realized they had nothing to tie it to....

Back at the house, I think we are continuing to see the results of the banner year of termite infestation that Providenciales has been experiencing.   We have never seen a lizard population as dense as it's been here for the past year.   We are attributing that to the increased food source as the termites work their way across the island.  We've had to make some changes in our own home, and have removed or protected any termite attractions we can find.  Still, we don't mind seeing another banner crop of these little bug-munchers showing up. 

And by "little", I actually did mean little.  It helps to add something into the photo for some scale sometimes.

Well, I could keep posting aerials and boat renovation photos for quite a while here, but I think I'll save some for the next post.  

We're finding that we like spending our days on board Twisted Sheets. We're excited about our upcoming plans for some cruising and taking our little blog show on the rode. 

Here's another recent sunset from South Side Marina, just before we closed up the boat, scooped up the dog and headed up the hill to Bob's Bar to make sundown official.  How's that for an upbeat ending?


Anonymous said...

Looks like 2014 will be a good year! Really enjoy reading your blog, the amount of work you are putting into Twisted Sheets is remarkable & you will know every inch of it! -Chris

Charles May said...

Happy New Year from Salisbury, UK

I love dipping in to your blog posts every-so-often and enjoy your style of writing and excellent photography.

The first time I heard of your blog was when you had posted for help on a Land Rover forum, asking for help, I think, about preventing rust.

Keep up the good work and best wishes for 2014.

Bill said...

Happy Nee a year Gringos! Looking forward to seeing Twisted Sheets sailing in 2014.
Have you used any butyl tape for re-bedding ports and hardware? I just used some to do ports in my Pearson and found it really easy to work with.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we've been using butyl rubber for bedding the fixtures and hatches. Except for the two forward hatches, where I cut the starboard spacers. I used 3M 4200 for that as I thought some structural rigidity would be good there. The butyl rubber is easy to work with. We'll end up doing just about everything on deck before we're done, I think. Previous owners had different ideas on how to make something waterproof.

wyattsailing said...

Great post, Byron! We miss you guys already. But we know our paths will cross again! Love to La Gringa and Dooley!

Paul H. said...

Greetings from NJ where it is a brisk 9 degs. I just found your blog online and find it very interesting. I hope to follow you down to the TCI in a few years. Enjoy the good weather & Bambarra Rum, cheers!

Anonymous said...

Great pictures and an interesting trip around those islands. Something I'd love to visit!

Ana @ CuracaoRentalHomes said...

It seems you had a great time there. It was a pleasure to read your article and follow you through your adventure.

Mandy Indonesia said...

I love these shots! The atmosphere - lonely, but beautiful - is incredible. Wow! Travelling is really beautiful

Chelle said...

I think Dooley sees a poodle friend in the clouds of the second photo!