Saturday, April 19, 2014

Micro Beach

We really don't spend much time at the beach.  That's probably surprising coming from someone who lives on a small island surrounded by beaches.  But it's true. We probably spend fewer hours per year on beaches than someone who comes here for a two week vacation. But we probably do spend a lot more time on boats or in the water. We do like the water here.  And the sunrises lately have been pretty nice out over that water:

It's not that we avoid the beach, really.  I think it's more that the activities that we are attracted to just don't include a lot of time on that land/sea interface known as beach.  We go to the marina to get on a boat and leave the beach behind.  We try to avoid tracking sand around, and would prefer not to be wearing the beach, cleaning the beach off the vehicle, filtering the beach out of the drinking water, and chewing on the beach with one's sandwich.

If you've read much of this blog you already know we do like to visit remote beaches and comb through the huge amounts of neat stuff that washes ashore, but that's really more about the debris than it is about sea and sand.  We don't, for example, take a blanket and cooler along and just sit on the beach during those West Caicos beach combing trips.  We're there on a mission, with a purpose, and 'Diems to Carpe'.

But  sometimes, every now and then, we just decide we need some beach time.   Not a lot of it, and not very often.  But from time to time we just want the feeling of the sand between our toes, and to watch the ocean, with nothing else on the agenda.  I thought I'd post up a few  beach-oriented photos that aren't tied to beach-combing.  For a change.

This time of year we get a lot of windy days.  We follow several online weather forecasting tools here, as you might imagine.  One of our favorites is Wind Guru. On one of our very windy days recently  we were looking at Wind Guru for Providenciales to see just how windy it was going to be.   We noticed that the offshore wave forecast was for 3+ meter waves outside the reef.   We decided to take a trip over to Grace Bay to see if things warranted some photographs for the blog.  These next few photos were taken from the park in the Bight.  That distant line of breakers is about a mile offshore.  This is what Wind Guru was reporting as 10-12 ft. seas.  I believe it.

I had my trusty little Nikon point-and-pray camera and La Gringa took her DSLR Pentax along.   Good thing that she did, because her camera did a much better job on the distant stuff.  She did a better job photographing the near stuff too, come to think of it.  Or perhaps I could just reword that more correctly and admit that she did a better job in general. The distant spray in this photo is probably going 20 ft. into the air.

This might have been a good time for a movie, but neither of us thought to take one.  A movie would probably be better to show you the little daysailor anchored off the park. It was swinging and rocking in the wind. These static photos just don't convey that well.  So this is what a 12 ft. swell breaking over the reef looks like from a mile away:

I couldn't really frame these photos and get these results from the little point-and-shoot.  Trying to line these up in a sun-blanched viewfinder was not very productive.   I was glad I had La Gringa along. But then I always am.

We took a few dozen photos that day, but I'm only picking out some of the more representative ones. A few boats went by during the time we were there.  These guys are about half way between the beach and the reef.

Every time we see breakers like this out on the reef I think about what it would take to surf these.   Titanium body parts come to mind.

There were very few people in the water that day, but I think that was due more to the wind than it was the water.   The waves near shore were not that  bad, but the wind lifted sand was uncomfortable. We didn't spend all day at it.

Then last week we had another good excuse to spend a few more days out on Pine Cay. The winds had died down, and we took several walks along the beaches there.  It's a different place on a normal day.  Calm and peaceful.

I was playing around with different exposure settings on the camera in that photo above.  I was trying to get the contrast in the sand ripples.   I have a hard time just sitting still on a beach.  So I looked around to see what else I could photograph, and the nature of the sand itself caught my eye.    I decided to take a closer look.

This is what the sand here looks like much closer up.  I know I've written about this stuff several times already.  So I won't go into it all over again. This is the crunched up calcium carbonate that makes up the sand in the photo up above.

I was carrying the little Pentax WG-III camera with me on this trip.  Among its other useful features is a really cool macro photography setting.  I thought we'd play around with that a bit, to give you a short break from the aerial photos.  Notice that I said a short break. Yeah, we had the kite with us, too.

This is what the sand of the beaches on Pine Cay would look like if you were the size of an ant.

Quite different from the crystalline structure of quartz-based sand on volcanic islands.   This stuff is soft.

When I was going through these macro photos later I was thinking about how much trouble we have with the sand and salt sticking to the automobiles.  I took the next photo with the lens right up against the rear window of our car. This is a closeup of the structure of the stuff that sticks to the window. The camera settings on this next photo were about the same as in the closeup sand photo.  This is what the wind borne mist looks like after it's stuck and dried on the car windows.   Did I just prep a huge microscope slide using the rear glass of a KIA?

The flakes of fine dust are trapped in a matrix of salt crystals.  And it all sticks to glass, aluminum, steel, sunglasses, feet and eyeballs quite well.

While we were strolling around the beach looking at small things, we did notice a few of the usual big things in the distance. Not the crashing waves on this day, but we got some great photos of the Wharram design catamaran Beluga sailing up and down between us and  the reef. If you ever come down here (or up here, or over here, as the case may be) and you want to charter a boat to just sail, I think this guy does more pure sailing than the rest of the catamaran charters put together.   He's always out there, with the sails up.

We actually pulled a couple of beach chairs down to the shore for this beach trip. This is a rarity for us. We don't usually plan to sit for long. But we were planning to go for a swim and the chairs are nice when one needs a place to regain one's breath and drip dry without sitting on the sand. I wasn't paying that much attention to the terrain when we set the chairs up on a little sand dune overlooking the water.  I plopped down in my chair and took this photo looking out.   See the short truncated line of footprints leading  toward the water that suddenly stop for no apparent reason?

I'd come out of the chair headed for the water, and came to a scrunching halt when I realized there was a five foot drop between me and the next level of beach.    We don't normally have this amount of relief in the dunes here.   This undercutting was the week after the heavy surf in the photos up above. We were at the beach before it had time to recover and level out.  That  almost reads  like a Prozac commercial, doesn't it?

Thinking about those close up photos of the sand granules, boy. That one dune sure is a big number of granules. Then I start thinking about space. My father-in-law recently sent me a link to a comparison of how small we are in the universe.  I started thinking of how many grains of sand there are on this planet.  Then I started thinking about the likelihood that there are more stars than there are grains of sand. Then I got all heebie jeebie and decided to just concentrate on the sand this time.   That's a whole lot easier for my limited intellect than imagining a number with zeros stretching to infinity. Sand, I can get a handle on.

When I was looking at the scene in that photo above, I was seeing lots of small sparkles in the sand.  I tried several times to get a photo showing them, but it was tricky. The angle of the sun was important, and the sparkles that were visible to my semi-naked eye were not showing up in the photos.  So I kept changing camera parameters until eventually I got an image that does show the sparkles in the sand, barely.

I imagine I looked pretty silly, a grown man out there scooting around on his butt in the sand with a camera.  Trying to get the right angle of beach and sun on undisturbed sand with a disturbed Jack Russell Terrierist running around is not all that simple. That photo above was the best of the lot.  

Why was I doing this?  Well, I'll tell you.  I wanted to know what the heck was causing the sparkles.  I had wondered about random crystals getting into the mix.  Or perhaps flakes of mica.  But none of this was making much sense given the makeup of the sand.   Of course the answer is obvious and you're probably already figured it out but hey, I had a camera, a beach, a question, and a blog post to write. Then the real difficulty began. How do you get a close up photo of a sparkle that disappears the moment you move even a foot toward it?   Well, the answer is you just keep taking a lot of photos.   Then in this case, I covered my head and the camera with my t-shirt so I could look at the images on the sun-washed  LCD which were useless in direct sunlight.  So I crawled around on my substantial belly, keeping one eye out for sparkles in the sand and the other one out for wayward harpoons from nearsighted whalers. Finally, I realized what was happening when I saw the few flecks of sparkle in the top left corner of this one.

I felt like such a dummy.  The shiniest bits are just wet shell fragments.  Those sparkles that disappear with the least movement also disappear with a few seconds of sunlight. The longer lasting flares are from the most polished shell fragments. Mystery solved. Dang it.

Why "dang it" you might well ask?   Well, because I am always hoping that the sparkly shiny stuff is worth picking up and hiding away from the authorities, of course.  No such luck this time. I think doubloons are bigger, anyhow. At least the ones Mel Fisher used to wear were bigger.  Mel let me examine a couple of his coins once in Houston some years ago.  Every would-be treasure diver's dream.

While I had the little camera dialed into macro mode we went looking for other  beach related objects to image.   Can you guess what this is?

I would have guessed some old piece of line or other cordage wasting away in the sun.  But that's not it.   Here's another view from a little further out:

And if you guessed a shot of the top of my head back when I had hair.... wrong again.   It was just a closeup of the bashed spot on this coconut.  Those fibers do an impressive job of protecting and transporting that coconut seed across the ocean.

I'm only going to show you one more set of those close-ups. Don't want to overdo it, and you know how I can be when I get focused on playing with cameras. I'm hoping that you're just glad I didn't do another entire post on broken boat parts.

This is what sand looks like trapped in a bit of natural sponge from the ocean.  I thought it looked more like a dozen eggs free falling in a shopping bag, but it's definitely sand and sponge.

Backing off a bit, the image starts to look more like sponge and less like trapped sand.

And then of course backed off completely the image reveals itself to be a strange and distorted birdlike animal with bleached coral for a beak and sponge for a brain.   That last part is starting to sound disturbingly familiar...

We took a lot more photos, of course.  I just don't know what to do with them all.  So I foist them on our readers and hope they're bored enough to continue onward.

Remember a few months ago we were out here at Pine Cay taking aerial photos of Devil's Cut?  Well, since January there have been some changes out there. We took the trusty rusty golf cart out to take a look. And there are changes, indeed. The most notable one is a new footbridge running across that treacherous little bit of water that gave the Cut it's name.

We were just looking for an excuse to put a kite and camera up, and this was as good as any.  If you go look at the earlier photos, you're probably going to see some changes in these.   First off, an aerial of the bridge looking to the west.

The little cay that is now connected to Pine Cay via this new bridge has also been changed. Now there are footpaths cleared all along the perimeter.   Once you come over the bridge and onto the little island, you are faced with a sign post.  I don't know if you can read this from the photo, but the sign to the left says "To The Channel" and the one to the right  says "To The Beach".  Some might call that self explanatory.  I might be one of them.  Meaning I've already said too much about the sign.

This is an aerial photo (says Capt. Obvious) showing the 'beach' section of this part of our program today. I shouldn't spoil it, but that's also the 'channel' in the background.   Hey.  It's a small island.  One lens is enough to cover it.

Dooley the Delirious had to try out the beach part.   He has examined it closely, first hand (paw?) and has made the determination that it is, indeed, a beach.  I suppose we can now claim it's Dooley Authorized.

This photo shows one section of the path that runs from that sign to the left, or 'channel' side.

Here's an image looking back at the entire little no-name cay from the east.  The new bridge is in the background, leading to Pine Cay.

We've been told that there are a lot of plans to further develop this little rock for Pine Cay visitors.  Picnic tables, sun shelters, all still in the works.

La Gringa spotted this goofy looking bird  watching us from the little point sticking out there to the right in that photo above.  When I saw it, I knew that the distinctive long bill was characteristic of one of the Oystercatchers.  I don't know exactly which one. This guy wasn't talking.

This is a photo of the channel that runs out from Pine Cay to the Caicos Bank.  The dark splotch is the shadow of the kite, before anyone gets too excited.  And I think 'splotch' is a scientific term in east Texas.

La Gringa was exploring the new paths on the little island while I was off playing with my kite.   She found numerous fissures running under the rock, some right above the high tide level.   Some of them are big enough to be hazardous footing to an inattentive hiker.  She was trying to get a good photo of one of them. Which can be tricky...

When she had a sidekick who promptly stuck his nose into anything she was interested enough in to photograph.  This was two seconds after the image above:

See what I mean?

It even has some convenient holes to a fishing pole into, if one were so inclined.

The overhanging shoreline is rife with these small holes through the limestone.  And I don't often get the chance to use words like rife.   I guess I should think about that, before using another one.

That one's not big enough to snare a human foot, but I'd sure be nervous about it if I were a certain obnoxious little dog running around paying no attention to my footing while chasing lizards and barking annoyingly at birds

He managed to get through the experience unscathed.  I guess it helps when your weight is distributed over four different  sections.  He can get by just fine on three legs. I don't do so well on just one.

While I'm on the subject of inattentive dogs it occurs to me to use this seque into a shot of what Dooley does best these days while I'm working on the good ship S/V Twisted Sheets.  He likes to nap to recharge for his next bout of insane and pointless barking. Acting like an idiot takes a lot of energy sometimes.  Please don't ask me how I know so much about it.

I was sitting in the cockpit of Twisted Sheets on a cloudy day recently, pondering the mysteries of the Yanmar diesel fuel injector.  Dooley's barking made me look up just as Ralph and Doris respectively from Michigan and Middle Caicos collectively came walking down the dock to say hello.  No kidding.  They had been staying at their vacation home out on Middle and were over on Provo for a grocery and supply run.  They knew about the blog, and decided to detour by the marina just to say hello. I was so surprised I wasn't sure what to say. Thanks for the nice words about the blog, Ralph. And thanks for coming by.

What was I doing during this unexpected pleasure?  Well, nothing noteworthy or exciting.  In fact, I had just dismantled my very first Yanmar injector.  I  was totally relieved to see that diesel injectors are purely mechanical in operation, and really very simple devices.   Much easier than the electro-mechanical things that go into gasoline engines.

 I found out that copper crush washers are common in these engines, and that they deform and need to be replaced each time you remove one.  The copper compresses and stays compressed. Copper gets hard and brittle when it gets fatigued.  Fortunately these expensive imported washers can be reused over and over again by annealing them.    I just heat them up red hot over a gas torch, and then when they cool they're soft and pliable again.  This is one of those simple jobs where it's a still a real good idea to pay attention and not get distracted by things going on elsewhere in the marina. I'm not going to elaborate on that.

Don't worry, you non-DIYers out there. I am not going to let this post fall into another boat repair tome.  In fact it's long enough that I think I'll just stop it right here and keep the rest of these greasy boat photos to myself.  And all I'll say about the boat is that it's getting close to usable.   I was wondering if Dooley was thinking about Mel Fisher's trademark phrase that he uttered every morning for years while searching for the Atocha. Mel used to say "Today's The Day!"   Somehow I think Dooley's thoughts were elsewhere.

We didn't get another sunset photo worth posting this week, but I'm thinking I can slip a great moonrise image in without too many complaints.