Thursday, March 31, 2016

Back on Board

 We've been working on an old sailboat for years now. Fond families and favored friends who've faithfully followed our foolish and frustrated follies found some fun in our flummonoxities.  Is that even a word?  They've watched our glacial progress since we first struggled to sail it down to the islands  in 2012.   That 40 days and 40 nights set the tone for the next 40 months.    Ah, but things are starting to look a little better lately.  This photo is of a recent dawn.  Nothing new there, but the fact that it was taken from the anchorage at Sapodilla Bay, Providenciales is a fairly big deal to us.  Yes, we finally got the old girl out of the marina for a while.  I'm talking about the boat here, just to be clear.

The bright lights in the distance are from a container ship delivering supplies to the South Dock commercial area, which is just on the other side of that hill. Which is Sapodilla Hill.

We're watching a lot of boats these days.  This is what one of those looks like from our 'back porch' during daylight:

And here are a few sailboats coming into the same bay where we're anchored.  We've seen as many as sixteen others here with us so far.   And as few as none.

We're finding ourselves paying a lot of attention to how and where other captains choose to anchor.   The winds here sometimes go through 360 degree changes in a 12 hours period when a weather front comes through.

It's very satisfying to finally be able to use the boat as we intended.  We  had blindly started with what turned out to be a project boat from the beginning.  And we complicated that when we very briefly became ground zero to a lightning bolt halfway through the trip.  It fried most of the 12 volt electronics that came with the boat. From the VHF antenna at the tip of the mast to the alternators down in the engine compartments, taking out almost everything in between.   Most people manage to get through their entire lives without being inside something being struck by lightning.  The only good thing I can think of to say about that is that it's over amazingly quick.  Really before you even have time to worry about it.   We were sitting in the saloon of the boat having lunch, watching a line of dark clouds approaching. Then in a moment so quick you could fit a thousand of them between heartbeats the shock, noise, and flash all happened at once.  I remember my immediate thought was "Wow, we just survived a lightning strike" while seeing bits and pieces of  sparkly smoking  boat components still suspended in mid air as they flew and ricocheted around the cabin.  In the extremely brief time between my next two heartbeats the inside of the boat looked like one of Doc Edgerton's photographs.  My next thought was something like "so that's what it's like, huh?".  I'd always wondered.

The two small electrical fires on board the boat afterward actually scared me a lot more than the lightning.  Fires on boats are extremely bad news for a number of very good reasons. Well, I'm not going to recount the whole thing, but I would definitely advise against being struck by lightning, if you can at all avoid it.  Unless you're trying to build up some tolerance before applying for a research position with Dr. Frankenstein.

In early March we took the boat out for some shakedown cruises that included staying overnight out away from our nice safe spot at South Side Marina.  There was no lightning in sight when we started.

The view ahead was enough to make us consider turning back and waiting for a better day, but we self goaded and kept on going.  The plan was to anchor on the other side of that hill where the two cargo cranes are located.   I have absolutely no idea how the only thunderstorm in sight knew the exact location of our destination.  I'm convinced that the cosmos has one wicked sense of humor sometimes.  And you may notice that Dooley the Drooler was nowhere to be seen in these early photos.

The squall blew over and we managed to make it to the anchorage without any great drama. We kept waiting for something major to go wrong but we arrived and threaded our way between the boats already there without incident.  And with both engines running. La Gringa handled the anchoring chores while I just drove the boat normally.  It went suspiciously well.  Did I tell you I finally found the problem with the port engine that's been haunting me for years.  It's fixed.  Things are looking up.

That blue thing in the water in that photo is one of my flippers.  We've been in the water a lot during the last few weeks.  You can also see that we had the inflatable boat in the water while at anchor.  The RIB became the family automobile for the length of the trip.  It made for some exciting trips to shore.  

We've  gotten more experience  launching and retrieving the RIB.  We lower the boat into the water, lower the outboard onto the boat, and then load it up with life jackets, gasoline tank, anchor, and one  pushy, obnoxious little dog. This is a 3.5 meter dinghy, which is fairly large by small sailboat dinghy standards.  And yes, this is considered a pretty small sized  catamarans these days.  Plenty big enough for the two of us and the dog, though. I was interested to see how high the RIB floats on it's hull without any extra weight in it.   Those lines from the davits were slack inside the boat.

The past few weeks have repeatedly pointed out another part of the boat that needs improving.  This swim ladder would be nicely replaced by a swim platform  that extended out from the hull a foot or two.  It would be nice to have a secure place near water level.   This will go on our wish list, along with a lot of other things that it "would be nice to have" should we ever get to someplace where we can get things like that fabricated. We tried to do it here. We gave up.  The local welder just isn't interested in a big project.

Here's the dinghy (or "dink") anchored with Twisted Sheets in the background.  This has become our twice daily commute for Dooley to visit several bushes and posts near the beach to check his pee-mail.

We were expecting a shipment of various boat goodies via Federal Express while we were away from the marina. You may remember we introduced Jonas from FedEx  in a previous post. Well, this time when he called to tell us he had a delivery for us,  La Gringa asked him if he could deliver to a beach instead of a marina.   Jonas was game and we took the dog and dinghy ashore. I thought I would just relaxed in the boat while La Gringa and Dooley took a stroll to wait for FedEx.

You can just see them heading down the public path next to the wall in the middle of the photo.  But it didn't take long for Dooley to become a pain and he got returned to the boat to make life easier.

He helped me keep an eye out for La Gringa as she disappeared up the path to wait for the FedEx truck.  No, he didn't much like it.  But he had to do it.

Finally, after a few phone calls to get directions to the specific beach where we waited, Jonas and Zack showed up with our package!! Dooley let me know as soon as he spotted La Gringa and FedEx coming down the path.

Zack was carrying the box on his shoulder down to the edge of the water.  Not your normal, no-address FedEx delivery.  I know places in the USA where this would never happen. Thanks again, guys!

I was wondering if he'd start taking his shoes off to bring the package out to the dinghy, but no.  He had to draw the line at the surf zone. We were impressed that they got it this far. La Gringa could take it from there.  She was better dressed for knee deep wading, anyhow.
We're glad Jonas and Zack got a kick out of our temporary delivery address.  This has to be above and beyond the call of duty, but I also suspect they like a break from normal door and business address deliveries, too.  
We motored  back to Twisted Sheets to get the dog, cardboard carton, and us back on board.  This is a new reality for us, and we're really enjoying spicing life up a little bit again.  Getting a little bit interesting when I have to come up with physical address or zip code locations these days.  This is home now.
I couldn't wait to rip into the boxes in the carton and see firsthand the goodies that had only been photographs on Amazon's website for the past two weeks. One of the things I had ordered was a new small tripod for the camera. For some reason Dooley the Disgusted seemed embarrassed when I showed it to him. He wouldn't even look at me, or the nifty wrapping-leg tripod.
I can't imagine what was disturbing him.  He reminded me of a teenager who's embarrassed to be seen with his parents acting silly at a social function, although I can't imagine that was the case here.  Yet there was definitely something about this tripod that was disturbing him.   I guess it'll just have to remain a mystery.
He wasn't much interested in the merchandise in the boxes, anyhow.   He preferred to smell the olfactorial history of where the boxes had been, anyhow.  And he hates to have cameras close to him.  He's not a big fan of things that have bright flashes associated with them.   He knows thunder and lightning are only a nightmare away.
We lucked out with the weather for the most part on this first trip.   We stayed at Sapodilla for five days, and had essentially calm seas for almost all of it.   We got totally new sunset views to photograph every night.
We also managed to get into the water every day on the trip.   We worked out our procedure for getting the stand-up paddleboards off the racks and into the ocean.  Everything seems to take just a little more thought and preparation when we have limited space in which to work.   That cockpit area normally feels pretty spacious to us, but it can get crowded in a hurry.

La Gringa and Dooley the Demented taking a rest break after paddling around the bay for an hour or so.

He watched me swimming around this old boat wreck site I was interested in for a while.  Then he decided to hop overboard and come see whatever it was that had captured my attention. 

He made a few close passes before giving up and going back to the paddleboard. He's mostly cueing on things he can smell, and of course the old boat wreck on the bottom here wasn't really something he could get any kind of scent from. It's too bad I can't find a diving mask to fit him.

Then I could have showed him the bow of a sailboat that once anchored here very near where we dropped our hook.   Oh, the boat is still here.  In pieces.   This is the bow of the hull section.

The rigging and internal components of the sloop are all collapsed into a couple of heaps on the seafloor.  It's all covered with marine growth.   I snapped a few photos just to show you.

One section of the fiberglass hull is still stickup up from the bottom, to within two feet of the water surface at low tide.

While I was in the water I swam up to our anchor to take a look at how it was set.   This is really our first extended experience with setting the Delta style anchor. It looked hooked to me, but it really wasn't. We were up at 3:00 in the morning pulling it up and resetting it after La Gringa noticed that we were being blown toward another anchored boat on a windy night. She has an app on her smart phone that's called Drag Queen that sounds an alarm if we drift further from the anchor position.

In a subsequent anchoring location I dove on it again and noticed that when it's well hooked the entire anchor is under the sand with only the shackle and chain showing.   Later I realized that this is the photo of an anchor that's just waiting until the wee hours of the morning to let go of the sand entirely. Now we know what to look for. And letting out another twenty feet of chain made all the difference in the world.

We've made up two new bridles for the boat. One is for situations where we are on our own anchor chain, such as we were here at Sapodilla.  

The two sides of the bridle connect at a chain hook that attaches to the anchor chain.   This keeps the catamaran from swinging back and forth in wind and current. The load is distributed to the two hulls instead of to the single windlass in the middle of the bow. Much more stable at anchor.

I had plenty of little witnesses watching me while I was in the water. I noticed that this school of bait fish maintained a constant margin between their top layer and the surface of the water.  It was a very clearly defined line above which they would not venture.  I don't know if that was due to them feeding on a layer of zooplankton that was in the water column, or whether they have evolved this behavior to minimize their exposure to diving sea birds. But none of these guys got any closer to the air while I was watching them.

And back on the boat I also have a constant lifeguard keeping an eye on me.   He gets real interested when I start gathering tools and  getting my snorkeling equipment ready.  He knows something's up, he just hasn't figured out what it is, and whether or not he's going to be involved in it.

He maintains a constant watch whenever either of us are in the water.  This time it was just me, taking an opportunity to clean some of the marine growth off the hull of the boat.

It took me several hours to scrape away the moss and critters that had adhered to the boat over the previous three months in the marina. I used a plastic putty knife to try to keep from scraping off the bottom paint.

Here's a before and after photo.  Two forty foot hulls took up a large part of my afternoon on this project. I also chipped away some barnacles and hardshelled critters on the props themselves. The blue bottom paint contains high concentrations of a copper compound that helps keep the barnacles to a minimum for a few years, but the props are not painted and they get crudded up pretty well. It's a fun job for those of us who like to spend time underwater. I guess this is our version of mowing the lawn. I prefer the putty knife to a riding lawnmower.

Whatever one might imagine life on a sailboat to be, I suspect the experience can only truly be understood by doing it. It's getting accustomed to your body being constantly accelerated in pitch, roll, heave, and yaw motions.  When awake, when working on something, when relaxing, and when asleep. Just standing upright watching a sunset uses more muscles than some of us knew that we still owned. This morning I chased two fried eggs around  inside a frying pan with a spatula for several minutes trying to keep them from combining themselves into a sloshing puddle.  It was like trying to herd cats. I never knew that  simply cooking breakfast could become such a matter of timing and determination. It's a good thing to have scrambled eggs as a fall back position. I can claim I intended to scramble them all along after totally botching the 'over easy' part while chasing cackle berries.

The boat isn't finished finished, if you know what I mean. Probably never really will be.  Interior is still about half done.  But it's functional.  All the major systems are up and running.  We can live on it, and move it around, and meet our energy needs totally off grid.  I have projects going all the time, of course.  I'm still going back and forth between repairing old problems and installing new ones. I do miss my former land based workshop, but I'm also finding some real enjoyment out of using some of the old woodworking ways.  It's slower, takes more thought and care, and goes well with the lifestyle.  It's fulfilling the function whittling must have done in years past.

Life on a boat at anchor is different than life on a boat in a marina.  The constant movement of the water and the wind make the boat feel alive. Another major difference is the air and light when we're out away from land. In the marina we tend to keep the boat closed up, all the windows blocked, with the air conditioner running. We feel closed up in a darkened tube. But we can't orient toward the wind in a marina.  And we're surrounded by other people and things.  We retreat into the boat.   Ah, but on the hook we turn all the fans and noisy motors off and open the hatches to the constant breeze. The boat is free to constantly point into the wind, and the hatches catch it.  There's a steady flow of air through the boat.  There's also a steady flow of rain if we don't move fast enough, but that's another story.

And we're enjoying life on the hook.  Does that make us a couple of hookers? I'll have to look that one up. And we're getting a new perspective on downsizing and living off the grid. We used to love the sunrises just because we like tropical sunrises, but these have the added advantage of starting our solar re-charge day.

And I've ordered parts to try to repair the wind generator.  With the constant winds we see here that should keep our batteries topped up a little better overnight and on cloudy days.  But we've got about 800 watts of solar on the top of the boat. With shadows and angles less than optimal we can't count on anywhere near that much power from the array, but we do get enough to power the stuff we need all day and still watch a movie at night. Unless we just decide to watch a sunset instead.

And for those sunsets when we don't want a dog hogging the photo we can just relocate to the bow and have an unobstructed view.  Until he notices that I've moved and comes looking for me.

Once again we have an unobstructed view to the horizon.  Just the way we like it.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Lots of Boats with Most Afloat

This post got a little bit out of hand.  I was looking through all the  various boat photos that have been accumulating over the last few weeks and decided to lump them together into one blog post.  I just didn't realize how many there were.  Boats are very much a major topic with us these days as we transition from being land based residents to  our new status as floating residents with no fixed address.  Posting these will also be 'clearing the decks', so to speak,  for some new stuff we're working on. I also know that if I don't post these photos now while they're fresh that they'll fall by the wayside.  Never to be seen again.  Deleted in some not-too-distant hard drive purge.  I wasn't really looking for an abnormally long post, but then I realized that this is the 349th post in this blog. So, why not make it a longer one.  And I suspect that the tone and subject matter of all the posts after this one are going to be from a slightly different perspective. 

This funny looking  and battered little thing is called a PortaBote.  I won't go into all the reasons here, but I've been interested in these little boats as dinghies for some time now. I've studied them on the internet, watched the videos,  and read the reviews. I checked in with PortaBote owners on several online boating forums.  But I had never seen one in person before Capt. Bill D. showed up with this one at South Side Marina.  Bill is just finishing up the last leg on his way to completing a three and a half year circumnavigation  of the planet. Now we have an idea why this one has a few scuff marks on it.  It's been "around", in more ways than one.

We watched the S/V Advent II come into the marina and tie up two slips over from us.  It was obvious that this is an experienced vessel.  It had that look.  Well worn, with patches and repairs on   places where patches were needed and no time wasted on non-essentials.  We always pay attention when we know that a boat like this is being single-handed, too.  For the non-sailing readers among us, single-handed does not mean an amputee nor does it have anything to do with handcuffs.  Nope.  It means that there is only one person on board the boat.  These are usually either pretty serious sailors or complete idiots that have just been lucky so far.   The ones that make it as far as the Turks and Caicos are typically pretty serious.   

When I saw the PortaBote strapped to the lifeline stanchions I made it a point to ask the owner all my questions about owning and operating a folding, non-inflatable boat. And Bill,  the Captain/Owner of Advent II,  was kind enough to answer all my questions. He likes his PortaBote. He uses it often.  He's on his second outboard motor and has a good set of oars for it. He wouldn't go back to an RIB unless he had to, and he doesn't have to. Told us he owns two more back home in North Carolina. I'd say his advice on dinghys is based upon solid,  long-term first hand experience. Any boat owner is enthusiastic when a boat is new.  But this one has been strapped to a sailboat for almost four years and has seen a lot of use. It's been put together and taken apart hundreds of times.  It's been in constant salt and UV exposure and has been bounced off the world's rocks, beaches, and reefs.  It's got a good collection of scars, bruises, dings and gashes.   And he tells me it works as well as the day he first got it. That's a heck of an endorsement.   He let us help him put it together and launch it.  

Putting this together with our help took just a few minutes.  I suspect Bill could have done it alone a lot faster.   Basically, the boat gets unfolded and the three seats get pressed into place, holding the hulls in position.  That's the simple version. I've also seen the video on YouTube where a new PortaBote owner falls into his refolding boat and disappears like a fat juicy bug triggering a Venus Flytrap.

He also let me take it out into the marina and row it around a little. I learned more about PortaBotes in one hour with Bill than I've learned in two years of online research.   And looking at one that has been around the world told me just about everything I needed to know on how they hold up.

We were able to see the little boat in action later in the week, and I'll be getting to that shortly.

A few days after  Advent II  arrived we were sitting in the saloon of our own boat Twisted Sheets when we heard people shouting and a loud outboard motor nearby. We looked out a window to see blue clouds of two-stroke outboard oil drifting by.  We went out onto the deck to find out what was making the commotion and were greeted by this sight.  A heavily smoking outboard on a power boat towing a bare, battered hull.  The hull was well into the process of sinking.  They had pulled into Bob's fuel dock here at the marina.  All the people on board both boats seemed fairly excited about it.  I guess being on a sinking boat generates some excitement, as does being tied to a sinking boat.  

Three South Caicos guys with a couple of kids had pulled the hull over to the other side of Advent II.   We could hear Bob, the marina owner, yelling that he didn't want a boat sunk at his dock.  Or in his marina.  And there really wasn't a lot of time left to discuss it. This was looking serious.

And we very shortly found ourselves personally involved in the situation.  To give you the quick explanation, Smokey Yamaha boat was attempting to tow unpowered hull from its former storage spot somewhere up the canal.   They had planned to take it across the Caicos Bank to South Caicos.   They made it this far in a semi panic.   Mainly because the hull they were towing was sinking.  Big time.

The only way to keep this thing from sinking at Bob's dock was to get it over to where he could lift it out of the water with his crane. Sinking boats are still somewhat mobile.  Sunken boats.... not so much.   This thing was never going to make it to South Caicos  40 miles away. It was looking doubtful that it was going to make it around the dock. It took on this much water in the first two miles of its trip.  Definitely not a good sign. I guess the guy who had to ride in the towed boat drew the short straw.   There were no life jackets in sight, in either boat, by the way.   In case you are into that kind of thing.

Smokey Yamaha guys pulled the bow of the sinking boat out away from the fuel dock but were not able to control it as it rapidly was taking on water.  A semi-submerged hull is a real pig to maneuver.   Especially if the only plan was to tow it on the end of a rope. Ropes are notoriously lousy at pushing things.

None of this fazed Bill the Circumnavigator.   He hopped into his  dinghy and just shoved the sinking boat into position.   The man has obviously done this kind of thing before.  With this folding boat.   And yes, of course I was paying attention to all this.   I think you can tell that the guy in the sinking boat was slightly more tense than Bill was about it all.

I realize this next photo looks like Bob was abandoning ship, but that's not what happened.  He had to climb on the Advent II  to keep the damaged hull from banging into Bill's steering system.   He's pretty spry for an old dude.  They both are, come to think of it.

After leaping aboard Bill's boat to fend off the floating hulk, Bob then had to scramble over to clear a spot out under his crane while the rest of us tugged the hull into position. The broken jet-boat dinghy from the ill fated M/Y  Sea of Love  was sitting on a trailer and in the way. No one had planned to use the crane.   This wasn't a planned rescue.  I guess none of them really are.  Bob and the South Caicos sinking boat owners did a little human chariot thing to get the jet boat tender out of there without a tow vehicle.   We didn't have time to line up something with a trailer hitch.  A lot of metaphors come to mind looking at this photo.  And I'll just ignore all of them.

We had plenty of help pulling the boat alongside the dock once we had lines on it. As you can probably tell from the long shadow of Crazy Ron (he's the guy on the dock in his  white socks looking longingly toward the bar) it was getting late in the afternoon when all this happened.  This boat was in deep trouble.  It was only moments away from sinking in the canal.  Or somewhere along the route to South Caicos.   That's Bill in the background.  He took one look at the situation and climbed back aboard Advent II.  I knew he had something in mind.

Do you remember the smoking outboard that was going to tow this boat from here to South Caicos 42 nautical miles,  across the Caicos Bank, in the dark?  With no lights?  Well if you'll look in the background in this photo you can see the blue smoke from the still running Yamaha.  I am pretty sure the owner was loathe to shut it off.  This usually means he anticipates problems getting it started again. He left it running the entire time we were saving his hull project. Several hours. Once we maneuvered the boat into the lifting slings we could breathe a collective sigh of relief in the knowledge that at least it wouldn't be sinking any further.   The slings would support it, minimizing further movement in x, y, and most importantly, z directions. It wasn't a straightforward task to just lift it out of the water though.  

A boat full of water weighs a lot.   Tons in some cases.  And in this case it was more weight than the  crane could lift.  There was also the complication of trying to pick up a hull when the water would slosh from one end to the other.  Imagine trying to carry a basin full of water without spilling any. The whole situation was unstable.   The towboat was still running.  He never shut it off from beginning to end.  I suppose that this should be considered evidence that it was plenty capable of running all the way across the country to the other side.    Without anything like heavy life jackets or emergency flares or VHF radios to weigh it down....

Bill came back up out of Advent II with a portable pump rigged up, but it needed 12 volts to operate. The dock had 110 volts available, but not 12 volts.  So Bill also contributed a battery, but it wasn't fully charged and would be drained well before the boat was. This was going to take several hours. We had a 12 volt battery charger. Bob had about 200 ft. of electrical extension cord.   With  those four components pulled together we were able to start pumping the water out of the hull.  I'm not sure why Crazy Ron was still running around the dock in his stocking feet.    I'll ask him about that one of these days when the time is right, but I'm not sure I want to follow his reasoning on it.  Sometimes it's enough to just be bemused.  But Ron....WHITE socks?  Really?

Bob slowly increased the tension on the lifting bridle as the pump slowly emptied the hull.  It took a while. Long enough for the leaky hull owner's daughter to make friends with a certain boat dog.  You can probably tell how much he hates having his neck scratched.

It got dark before the hull was emptied enough to lift but at least it was now secured in the slings.  Bob picked  it up as far as he could at high tide knowing that as the tide fell overnight the water in the hull would run out with it.  Eventually.  That's one of the nice things about water.  It's pretty predictable when gravity is involved.

The next morning the boat was light enough to  slowly lift  it further out of the water  It wasn't difficult to spot the hole in the middle of the keel.It was about a 40 cm crack where the boat had hit something hard. Water was still draining out of it.

Things got a little bit nervous when the boat was lifted completely clear of the stabilizing effect of the water for the first time.  There were still several hundred gallons of seawater sloshing around in it, and the water all ran to the stern of the tilted hull.  Bob and his friend Cam stood on the bow to counterbalance the stern while more water drained out. For a while it looked like  there was a possibility of the hull slipping backwards out of the slings.  This would have threatened the Advent II.   If it sloshed forward, it would hit us.  We'd rather it hit Advent II, if we had a choice.  Bill's boat is made out of steel, ours is fiberglass.  But fortunately there were no mishaps.  Everyone took it slow and easy.  If Bob and his friend Cam had jumped off the bow at this point, the whole thing would have probably slipped back into the water stern first.

This was all going on just a few feet away from our own boat so we had plenty of time to get a look at the damaged fiberglass hull.   It appears that this is not the first time that this local boat has been dinged.  It's got quite a collection of patches on it.  In some places the patches have patches.

At around mid morning the next day the hull was finally light enough that the crane could safely lift it and swing it out of the water.   Now it was our turn to be nervous.   There was still enough water in the hull to make it stern heavy.  But that could change pretty fast.

 We were paying a lot of attention to this boat as it  was hoisted onto solid land.  Islands are a good place for boats with holes in the bottom.

Finally it was all secure and safe.  The damaged boat was ashore.   Neither Advent II  nor Twisted Sheets was damaged. 

I hadn't planned to make this post about boat mishaps, but after looking through the photos I see that there are a few more I could mention.  For example, the catamaran on the right in this next photo left the marina, went through the first couple of buoys, and then apparently decided to head straight out toward Bay Cay.  Unfortunately, that's not the way to do it. They were aground in this photo, and they stayed there for the next six hours while the tide fell and then rose again. That's a big Whoops.  Plays the devil with a schedule when you get stuck on a sand bar for six hours.    

A few days later we saw another boat having obvious problems trying to get into the marina.  We watched them motor right up to the entrance, and then drift back and drop a  anchor.   We could tell that they weren't aground, yet, so we surmised they must be having mechanical difficulties.  We wanted to see if the Club Med dive boat, Bat Ray, would be able to squeeze by them in the narrow channel.   That boat in the background here is the dive boat approaching.

The Bat Ray slowed way down, and we noticed that all the divers on board were moving forward toward the bow of the boat.  It was going to be tight.

The Bat Ray made it through without hitting the damaged sailboat, the anchor chain, the channel marker, or the seafloor. We did notice that putting the customers forward had the additional benefit of lifting the stern for more ground clearance, too.  Sort of like what Bob and Cam were doing standing on the bow of the damaged hull earlier.  Neat trick. Like something our friend Preacher would have come up with.

As we were wondering just what the problem was with the monohull anchored in the channel, our new friend Bill from S/V Advent II  hopped in his PortaBote dinghy and headed out to see if they needed help. Bill's good like that.

And we got to watch a ten foot PortaBote plane with a six horsepower outboard on it.

Bill told us that the sailboat had engine and rigging issues they were working on, but didn't need any help.   They eventually got themselves into the marina before dark.  In addition to their engine problems they had a broken backstay.   They could neither sail nor motor.   This would be a good place for some galley slaves with long oars. Those are pretty hard to come by these days, though.

There have already been quite a number of interesting boats come through South Side this season.  This one is headed for the Trinidad/Tobago ferry service as a support boat, I think.  It's a brand new, all aluminum boat being delivered to St. Martin.

Here's another view from abeam.   Interesting boat.  It looks like it could handle just about anything.   That sailboat next to it is also made from aluminum.   It was like a bauxite lovers convention around here for a while. Bill's boat, Advent II (above on the left) is also a metal hull it's made out of steel. 

For about a two week period in late February the marina was completely full of boats.   It made for some interesting challenges when people were trying to maneuver in the small waterway.

There was so much activity at South Side Marina that we wondered what might be going on over at the islands most upscale marina facility at Blue Haven. So we took a ride over. Here's a view of the scene at Blue Haven Marina as seen from Heaving Down Rock.  There must be at least a few hundred dollars worth of boat there. (Actually, there's probably a few hundred thousand just in crew's uniforms alone.) 

We spotted the Sun charter boat Ataberya just leaving with a fresh group of vacationers.  This 70 ft. day charter continues to earn her keep, taking people out to Fort. St. George and on various other sightseeing tours.  

And the unusual looking gray boat in this photo is another reason we had gone over to Blue Haven.  La Gringa has become friends with a member of the Dashew family, Leslie. Leslie's brother Steve is a yacht designer of some repute. We found out that one of his boats, a FPB 97 named  Avatar was in town and we wanted to see it.   It's a very distinctive boat,  easy to spot, tied up in the slip next to some of our local friends' catamaran Pirateboat.

There is just about always something interesting to look at over at Blue Haven these days, if you're into boats. We spotted this nifty looking little wooden monohull tied up.  

It even has a wooden hard shell dinghy slung over the port side, hanging from a cargo boom.   Quite nautical, and very traditional sailboat.   We hung around for a few moments hoping to meet the crew and talk about their boat but no one was about while we were there.  Or perhaps they were sleeping below.  That's a common situation for boats that have just sailed down from the Bahamas.

After stopping to look at about a dozen other boats on the way, we finally got a close up look at the  Avatar.   Definitely not your average motorboat.

While we were standing on the dock we looked out to sea and spotted something we had never seen before in Providenciales.   A mini-cruise ship was heading into Blue Haven marina.

Of course we didn't know what it was at the time.  Our first guess was that it was some kind of research boat ducking in to avoid some upcoming bad weather. This is the M/V Grande Mariner.

As soon as I got near my computer again I had to look this one up to see what the story is.  This is a little cruise ship that has now begun a route down to Providenciales. This boat can carry up to 88 passengers, and seems to get to a lot of different places. You can do some research on it here if you are interested. We're not interested in that kind of cruising, but we know many non-boaters who are.

We hung around to watch it tie up.   We found out that it was spending a couple days here before heading out to their next stop.   This little island sure is changing.  It was just a few years ago that we watched as cruise ships started coming into Grand Turk.  It was okay, as they didn't really impact Provo at all. And now we're seeing a smaller version of cruise ship showing up here, too. Might be good for Providenciales, I don't know. I do know it's not one of the reasons we wanted to live here ten years ago.

Meanwhile we continue to live aboard our sailboat at the marina. Dooley the Displaced has not adjusted as well as we'd like to life aboard a boat. He says he's an old dog and gets to pick his new tricks, and life without trees is of no interest at all.  He insists on taking several long walks a day.  And of course he also insists on hopping in the water at the first opportunity.   Here he is wading in the marina.

Here he is going for a swim at the little boat ramp we've used hundreds of times over in the canal.

I wish I had gotten a movie of the shakedown he did after that one.   He had his ears wrapping half way around his head at one point.  I did snap a still photo of it, but it really doesn't do it justice.

And here's Dooley the Devious Darling after he lurched himself (leash and all) into the middle of one of my photos of Flamingo Lake. The dog really does spend a lot of time in the ocean. I'm starting to think that he just doesn't really appreciate how many millions of years his ancestors worked to get out of the ocean.     Could say the same about us too, I suppose. But what wouldn't I give for a good functional set of gills.

In case you were wondering what photo I was trying to get there in the salina, I was looking at the mangrove sprouts popping up along the shoreline.   From down low they look like a little miniature forest.  If you squint your eyes and hold your mouth just right, and get down on your knees with your head tilted so your cheek is against wet salty smelling sand while ignoring the laughter of those around you. You can maybe imagine some strange kind of alien landscape, right?   Oh well, guess you had to be there.

Okay, how about a miniature alien landscape after a sudden blizzard of sea foam?  Come on.  You gotta use your imagination for this stuff.  This is what a crab would see returning home with a hangover from a night on the town.   Sort of the aquatic version of "you know it's going to be a bad day when you watch the sunrise over a curbstone" kind of thing.

And of course after every one of these excursions yours truly gets to enjoy some one on one time with a wet dog and shampoo.  Dooley the Desalinated acts like he hates these fresh water washdowns, but he's always in a fantastically good mood after surviving one.  The dog just loves the water.  And he's not a breed known for their water ability.  I'm surprised he hasn't grown flippers yet.  He should have been a Labrador. 

Well, as long as I'm talking about damaged boats and mishaps I should show you the latest in the saga of the M/Y Sea of Love.  We looked up one morning last week to see people attaching tow lines to it.   This yacht has been docked here for about a year, since shortly after hitting a reef at 25 knots.  It was finally being towed out of this marina and over to the Caicos Marina and Shipyard. Since there was a brisk breeze blowing toward us and this tow would pass upwind of us we were watching the whole operation with more than a passing interest. Besides, this is just the kind of thing we do these days. Sit on our old damaged boat and watch other damaged boats maneuver here and there.

Finally this particular damaged boat left its slip at South Side Marina. In addition to the tow boat there was an inflatable zipping around, presumably to offer assistance and help steer the powerless boat along its way. This guy was supposed to do what Bill was doing with the earlier hull using his PortaBote.  Between you and me, Bill did a much better job of it.  You'll see what I mean in a moment here.

We were watching all of this keenly, of course. This all was  happening upwind of us, and if they got it wrong enough we might be exchanging paint with the Sea of Love. Sounds ugly, doesn't it.  .

Once they had the boat pulled past the point where it was directly upwind of us we relaxed with the knowledge that if they lost it at this point it would just be a photo op. Photo ops are much more fun than blind panics, screaming, and sudden impacts. We've had enough of those for some comparisons, too.

When the Sea of Love moving crew got her to this point we could already see signs of what was about to happen.  That tow boat turned up the channel, pulling the bow of the big boat to the left at this point.  I think I may have even started mumbling about where the RIB should be at this point to help control the  tow. You already know about actions and reactions.  Imagine the wind blowing from the left, the little towboat pulling the bow around into the wind, and it doesn't take all that much nautical knowledge to anticipate what's going to happen to the stern next here.  With no forces opposing it there's a better than even chance it will all pivot in the middle.

And it did. The bow intertia kept it swinging left, and the stern continued to the right as it pivoted in a counter clockwise direction.  The largely ineffectual inflatable was off zipping around playing with his throttle, and the entire Sea of Love  turned sideways in the channel.  It looked a lot like this:

And yes, some barnacles were injured in the making of this adventure.  Along with  what started life as a two million dollar boat.  I bet it wishes it had never seen the Turks and Caicos Islands.

We just cannot tell you how very glad we were that this happened after the boat cleared our area.   Some of the other cruisers in the marina took their dinghy out to offer assistance and advice. The Sea of Love more or less sashayed back and forth in the channel making most of us fairly nervous for quite a while.   Some rocks lining the channel now have a new patina of expensive fiberglass applique.

Eventually they managed to get the whole circus out of the marina and around the point without any further impacts.    We could almost hear the collective sighs of relief from all involved as we watched the circus head east and out of town.  We heard later that its entrance into the Caicos Marina and Shipyard was equally interesting, for most of the same reasons.

I referred to it as a town  but that's really just a pretty loose metaphor for what is actually an ever-changing marine community. We've now been living aboard our old boat in this marina for over three months and are developing a feel for a seasonal rhythm. This rhythm varies with the weather. When there are strong or unfavorable winds we find groups of boats ducking in to a safe harbor at the same time. Early in the season most of the boats are heading south. Many of them have been anchored in Abraham's Bay up at Mayaguana to the north of us.   Boats collect there waiting for good weather to make the 50 mile trip across open ocean between the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos.   A few of these boats become our neighbors for anywhere from one to seven days.   The government here sells cruising permits for seven days or three months.  Very few cruisers go for the three month permit.  So our lives are full of one-week relationships.   You can learn a whole lot about someone in a week, though.

Seven days is probably too short for most cruisers. It can take longer than that for a weather pattern to clear out. It costs $50 to enter the country, and another $50 to clear out. That $100 buys that first seven days here. The three month permit is $300. Personally, I think the TCI could do a much better business if they made the initial cruising permit for a month instead of just a week. Three hundred dollars for three months makes the place look bad compared to the Bahamas.   People who have just sailed down from Mayaguana usually need several days to recuperate, restock, and attend to boat repairs and adjustments. That only leaves them a few days to explore the TCI without committing to another $300 fee. Most of them decide to move on south to the Dominican Republic.    If they could stay a month here for that initial clear-in fee I think they'd be much more likely to spend those weeks exploring Provo and the TCI. From the government's standpoint they'd be spending money on groceries, restaurants, car rentals, and entertainment.  

But hey, I'm just a dumb east texas expat living on an old boat.  What would I know about spending money?

Back off my soap box now, here's a photo of three catamarans in the marina.   We live on the middle one.   Seems kind of small, doesn't it. Well, I can tell you it gets a whole lot smaller when it's sitting out in the ocean somewhere.

The floating dock  becomes a tangled web of dock lines, water hoses and power cords when the marina is full. Try navigating this barefoot in the dark after an evening at Bob's Bar. Keep in mind that the floating dock rocks back and forth, too.  

This was our temporary neighbor to the west....

And our other short-term new best friends to the east during a recent typical week.

And we got treated to a light show from a brand new Leopard 40 catamaran tied up just a few yards away.    

And this cast of characters will all meet up at the bar, exchanging boat cards and sea stories and learning about each other's lives, boats, and plans.   And within the week, they will all be scattered heading to different destinations on different agendas.  Some are heading south to the Caribbean. Some north back to the US or Canada.  A few are planning to cross the Atlantic, and others are heading west to Central America and some are going for the Panama Canal.      

Many times lately we've met complete strangers and know within the first few minutes of a conversation that we have something in common other than just the boats.  I know you can tell from things we've written here that we've already made many friends with people passing through. It happens more and more as we get closer to the cruising community. We find  a high concentration of what we refer to as like-minded people in the cruising community, if a bunch of self sufficient individualists scattered across thousands of miles could even be called a community. 

For example a couple on the monohull S/V Pilgrim were only here for a week.  In that time we found out that we have a lot in common.   The owners of this boat live in Colorado in the summer and sail during the winter, and this is what we are striving for as well. We hit it off immediately, and were genuinely sad to see them fuel up that last morning of their seven day permit.

And even sadder to wave yet another goodbye too soon as they continued on with their lives, leaving us here to continue on with ours. It's a bittersweet feeling to be a part of this type of lifestyle.  We wish them well. We promise to stay in touch, and to get together next summer in the mountains. 

But we really wish we were going with them.

Back aboard Twisted Sheets the DIY just never stops. Some things are harder than others, like ripping pieces of mahogany without a table saw. A hand saw over a bucket works, of course, but it's another completely new experience.  This will teach one patience. And how to apply various adhesive bandages.  The bucket was a makeshift workbench, and caught the sawdust.  And some blood.  I'm learning as I go.

I needed to install some new, better quality tuners on my mandolin.   I didn't bother trying to look up "musical instrument repair" or "luthiers" in the local phone book. Suffice it to say we have fewer music shops here than we do McDonalds restaurants and we don't have any of those.  There is a store called the Music Man over on Airport Road. The last time I was in there they seemed to be specializing in wigs and hair care products. It's not some place I would ever take a musical instrument that I like. And anyhow, due to the necessity of doing it myself,  I now know how to do this. On the deck of a sailboat in the tropics. It's nice to still be able to learn new tricks at my age.

We don't spend 100% of our time on the boat although it might seem that way from these posts.   We do get out and about upon occasion.  We just usually don't have a camera with us. We  had a sudden craving for cracked conch last week, for example. So we headed over to one of our favorite local restaurants for lunch.  It was a windy, cloudy day, but Kalooki's does have some seating that was protected from the stiff north winds.  

We loaded up on cracked conch and French fries.   And we're not the only ones liking the local cusine these days.  Check out this article in the Boston Globe about TCI restaurants.  Wow. The place is getting to be known. Might be time for us to move on. Bugaloos, da Conch Shack, and Kalooki's have no need of our support. Not that they ever did. Good food and service pretty much speaks for itself.

Back at the marina life is pretty much going on as it usually does here.   The dive boats leave in the morning with excited looking visitors  and  then come back early afternoon with exhausted looking sunburned visitors.   And another batch of SCUBA tanks to be filled before the morrow.  We've become accustomed to the sound of various compressors running every afternoon for several hours.

I just thought of something else I wanted to show you.   If you've been reading this blog recently you will have seen a post we did a few weeks back titled "Jim Hill's Bush" in which I theorized about the deep bush and hidden mini-forests we had found on the south side of Providenciales.  In that post  I drew up a sketch of what I thought was happening, and why I thought we were finding 8-10 ft. tall trees on an otherwise scrubby hillside.   This is what I thought was going on at the time:

Then a couple weeks ago we walked down to that same exact location where the developer is building these seaside villas.   They have cleared out the entire area where we were exploring and  where we found that big termite mound. I just had to take a photo of the bush with the ground scraped flat. Wow.  That new chainlink fence is six feet  high, and the trees are a couple feet higher than the fence.  There are clearings under the little canopy of this micro forest. It's really nice when a theory works out the way one thought it would.

I noticed that the dip in the terrain that would hold water is actually somewhat deeper than the one I had envisioned.  And the shoreline drops off steeply to the right, although I didn't fit that into the photo.  

We're now getting ready to take the boat out away from the marina for a few little shakedown cruises. The interior isn't completed.  All of the electronics are not yet installed.  But the support systems are working and we just want to get out and drop the anchor somewhere and enjoy being overnight boaters for a few days.  At the moment we've been waiting for a decent weather window.   One that doesn't start out with squalls would be nice. We were glad we were not anchored at French Cay, sixteen miles south of here for this one, for  example.   We've seen what squalls at French Cay can be like. Check out the video in that linked post for an idea of what can happen.

We are still checking out the nightly sunsets from Bob's Bar here at the marina.  The conditions have been varying widely this season.  From days like this next photo when there wasn't a cloud in sight...

To days with complete overcasts.   Neither of which are conducive to exceptional sunsets.  It's still fun to go up to the bar every evening at sundown, though, just to see who else is going to show up.   Most nights this time of year are a mixture of cruisers, local residents, and vacationers down for the week. Someone looking for material to write about could certainly do a regular column about this place.

La Gringa has been teaching me the leisurely sport of Bocce on  Bob's court.   A good excuse to be at the bar for those of us who don't imbibe, and also a nice place to watch sunsets in its own right.

And eventually, with enough patience and liberal doses of Nevarde's rum punches, a decent sunset will arrive.   

Good things come to those who wait.