Friday, December 31, 2010

Loose Ends

I usually try to put a colorful, tropical sunrise photo here near the start of these posts. But in the past couple weeks most of our photos have included family who have been visiting us for the holidays. Late nights and sleep-in mornings mean not many sunrises or sunsets. Since there has been some howling at the moon, however, I decided to post one of the moon images La Gringa was taking last week when the lunar eclipse was occuring during the solstice. She got her camera set up just in case we happened to actually be awake at 03:15 in the morning and felt like taking photos. (We weren't. And we didn't. It was cloudy, anyhow)

There, that looks suitably cold and miserable, doesn't it? It's not all sunshine and clear turquoise water and white sand beaches here, you know. Oh no. Definitely not. Sometimes it's moonlight and clear turquoise water and white sand beaches instead. This is a great little country for people who like to walk deserted beaches in the moonlight.

We are into winter here, too. Last night the outside temperatue plummeted down to 67 deg.F. We were scrambling for warm clothes to put on. Winter days are typically a mix of clouds and sunshine. We are getting into the drier part of the year and windier. We start seeing more birds around now, as many of them winter down here in the lower latitudes. Some of our favorites to watch are the Ospreys. A couple of them usually have a nest just a few hundred yards from the house. They swoop down into the ocean in front of us and sometimes land upon the shore to eat. This guy has a fish on the rocks at his feet but was getting nervous at the attention he was getting from La Gringa. Can't imagine why a bird would be worried about a human pointing a dark cylinder with a lens at them. Perhaps he thought she wanted to steal his lunch.

So he picked it back up and swooped off to find someplace a little quieter and more peaceful than our house has been for the past week. Can't say as I blame him.

And away he goes, lunch firmly in hand. Or in talon, in this case.

I didn't really have much of a "theme" for this blog post. As I look through the photos we haven't posted yet I am finding I have little snippets of things. Not a nice long narrative that starts in one place and logically continues to another. This is more along the lines of cleaning up some small stories so that they don't get lost and forgotten once we get all enthusiastic about sailing. And I just know that's going to happen after the holidays. So I am going to take this opportunity on the last day of 2010 to say goodbye, for now, to a couple of the 'characters' that have passed through our lives recently.

We know quite a few people have been interested in the boat Treasure Seeker, which is the former ferry C.G. Richter. Capt. Ray Hixon has been stranded in the boatyard here on Providenciales since getting towed in back on November 18th.

Most of the repairs that could be done here in Provo have been done. Treasure Seeker's diesel is completely repaired. Ray tells us his engine room is clean and squared away, and he has gotten caught up on a number of other projects in the five weeks he spent here. We have a little news to report on that front. We had written quite a bit about this story a few weeks ago when we had a post with a lot of photos and the story of the "Treasure Seeker"

We got a call from Ray a few days before Christmas and he was finally leaving the dock on his way south. The decision had been made by Treasure Seeker's insurance company. An ocean-going tug boat was chartered to come to Providenciales, hook up to Treasure Seeker and to tow Ray the Pirate right on down to Puerto Rico for the next stage of his adventure. Here he is finally getting away from the dock after five weeks of 'standing by' waiting for parts, repairs and decisions.

We have been looking at this red and black pirate boat for all these weeks, and we know Ray has been sitting there looking up at us for the exact same length of time. Finally getting the green light (with 'green' being the operative word here) to move on to Puerto Rico was such a momentous thing that La Gringa did a little video of Treasure Seeker actually leaving the dock. For a while there, we thought we might have to find a cutting torch to break her free.

The tug boat from Haiti was not coming into the boatyard to take Treasure Seeker under tow. I would assume that the tug probably draws more than six feet, which is about the maximum draft for any boat trying to get to a dock in this part of the islands. So Ray managed to finagle a pull from his new friends and recent neighbors for the past month, the Marine Police:

We had ringside seats for all this, of course and were able to follow Treasure Seeker's progress as this slow-motion handoff proceeded without a hitch. The tug boat waited offshore in slightly deeper water:

And of course the crew of the TCI Marine Police patrol boat Sea Defender has more than a little experience towing disabled vessels. In fact, dealing with seagoing pirates is a part of their very job description.

The reason Treasure Seeker is being towed to Puerto Rico is because the Turks and Caicos Islands just does not have the ability to haul out and repair the hull of a boat this size. I believe Ray told us everything was done except replacing the large steel rudder that was lost off Plana Cays. The nearest suitable shipyard that can do the work is in Puerto Rico. Under ideal conditions, that's a three day trip from here for that tugboat. I would think that to be a long three days at the end of a rope.

The Sea Defender and the Police RIB ('Rigid Inflatable Boat' call-sign Hurricane ) managed to ease Treasure Seeker out of the boatyard without a scratch. Not so simple when Ray the rudderless has no way to steer Treasure Seeker at all. He could put the boat in reverse to slow it down, but he still won't have any steering control. Just the drag of the propeller.... and that's the brakes.

The transfer of a suitable tow line from the tug to the Treasure Seeker all took place out where we couldn't really reach them with our cameras.

They certainly picked a good weather day to depart Providenciales and get clear of the reefs that surround these islands.

Finally, the boats were all hooked up and the last sight we had of Capt. Ray the Pirate and the Treasure Seeker, they were disappearing over yet another horizon headed roughly south east.

We found it slightly humorous that the Treasure Seeker found itself being escorted to the outskirts of town by the local sheriff. It seemed a fitting sendoff somehow. What else would you expect from a pirate ship that was just passing through?

La Gringa took those photos as Treasure Seeker departed for Puerto Rico on December 23. We just received an email from Capt. Ray (the Pirate) yesterday, December 29, from Puerto Rico after an "interesting trip". That's six days for a trip the tugboat crew estimated as three. Can't wait to hear this next chapter.

At this point, I think I will turn the story of the newest pirate in the Caribbean back over to Ray Hixon and family to keep up with. But I wanted to let everyone know that he made it safely away from the Turks and Caicos. Alas, the origin of Ray's next pizza is no longer under our control.

Now on to some more news from a different ship entirely. We very recently posted some photos of the Star of the Sea, along with a description of the humanitarian efforts of Capt. Bob Nichols. We knew when the ship left here bound for Gt. Inagua and we read that they were anchored off the Il D'Vache, an island on the southwest edge of Haiti. Then we didn't hear anything more.

Well, this weekend we got an email from Capt. Bob. The Star of the Sea made it home to SW Florida on Christmas Eve after an eight day, non-stop run from Haiti. Capt. Nichols writes us that the rampant cholera and violence on the main island had kept food and supplies from ever reaching Il D'Vache and he promises me a good story to tell once things settle down next week.

Capt. Bob did attach five photos to his email, and I am going to post them here. I didn't receive any explanation or captions along with the photos but as far as I know these were all taken during the offloading of food for the orphans in Haiti.

I can tell you that I recognize a panga style hull when I see one:

And we've certainly seen enough hand built Haitian sloops to know what we are looking at here:

Baskets and donkeys and cardboard boxes marked "Kids Against Hunger". Seems pretty self explanatory so far.

Looks like a few kids are pretty excited about boxes of goodies from the USA.

And physically handicapped orphans will have a better life than they would have had for the next few weeks thanks to Capt. Bob and the Star of the Sea crew.

I would guess that these photos and more will be showing up at the ships blog for the Star of the Sea and you can follow that story straight from the source. As with the previous story of the Treasure Seeker, I am going to turn the narrative back over to the people involved at this point. (This is supposed to be a blog about living in the TCI, after all.) The Star of the Sea headed north. The Treasure Seeker headed south. If and when they ever pass back through our waters and our lives we'll probably be posting more about them. But for now all we can do is wish them fair winds.

In the meantime, we are already planning some trips for the new kayak. So far we have a couple easy ones in mind and two that are a little more challenging.

For the easy trips, of course we will be heading up to Pine Cay at the earliest opportunity. This has become somewhat of a benchmark kayak trip for us, and we are anxious to see how much time it will take for us to sail the new boat up and back.

Last week we were scrambling around for last minute Christmas gifts and one of those involved some gift certificates for a restaurant over on Chalk Sound. While there we looked around and realized that while we had made one trip to these irridescent turquoise waters back when we first got our inflatable almost two years ago, we never made it back to complete the exploration.

So another trip to more completely explore Chalk Sound is definitely on the agenda.

We had also taken the inflatable out to West Caicos. This was an ambitious little trip for us since we had to cross over six miles of open water between Providenciales and the nearest tip of West Caicos. We had hoped to be able to try to find the ruins of Yankee Town but had equipment problems on the way over and spent our time beachcombing for string to repair the kayak Mirage Drives. So we definitely want to go back to explore more of West Caicos. And I am very interested to see if we can find the little spot called Maravidi Cove.

And of course we have long wanted to return to French Cay after our plans to explore that little uninhabited island got interrupted by fuel problems on our one and only attempt way back in October of 2007. We got tied up getting the fuel tank of Cay Lime repaired and well.... we just never went back to finish up our exploration of all the wrecks that get washed up on the outside of that remote little cay.

The distance out to French Cay from where we launch on this side of Provo is a little over 18 miles and it's all open water. So I suspect we will get a few other trips under our belt before we decide whether or not to take on a journey like this. We'd have to go out there prepared to camp out on the beach overnight, for example. Should be quite an adventure if and when we can pull it off. It might make sense to wait until longer days are once again upon us. Then we might have a chance of making it out and back in the same day. We have sailed kayaks in the dark before but it's definitely not our idea of the best way to do it.

And as ambitious as a kayak trip to French Cay might seem to us at the moment, that's not the big goal. For some time we have been thinking about whether anyone has ever physically set foot on every single exposed island in the Turks and Caicos Islands. When we first had this idea, we had been reading about the "40 cays, 8 of which are inhabited" that is a pretty standard description of this little country.

Then I started going over the charts and Google Earth, and putting a mark on every exposed rock I could find. And guess what? Without even numbering the islands we have already walked upon, I came up with another hundred. No kidding.

Now to be precise, a lot of these little islands and cays I have marked are nothing more than an exposed bit of rock, but since they are exposed and surrounded by water, I am choosing to include them in our definition of island. Just as an arbitrary rule, I am going to include every island and cay I can find that is larger than the boat. That sets us up with about an 18 ft. diameter required for an island to qualify.

I wonder how long it would take for a couple people with an obnoxious little dog to actually stand on each and every 'standable' island in the Turks and Caicos. Interesting thought, isn't it? Certainly would be enough material for a few blog posts. And I would be genuinely surprised if anyone has ever done it. ever.

Well, that's all I have for this last post of 2010. It's been an interesting year for us. Much better than 2009 was, in many ways. Maybe it's the start of a trend.

We want to take the opportunity to wish all our readers, friends, families, and other correspondents a Happy and Prosperous New Year. Thanks for all the support and interest.

And until next year, here's a photo of the sunset here, taken by La Gringa night before last:

Saturday, December 25, 2010

New Toy

The crew and I decided to try to get another post together before Christmas. I seem to maybe remember that I might have sort of partially established an arbitrarily flexible and pseudo-imaginary goal of approaching the idea of an honest attempt to possibly try for some new photos every week. Or so. Roughly. (And they call me commitmentally challenged. Hah!)

But we ran pretty thin on the tropical photo-ops this week. Most of the pre-Christmas stuff we got caught up in just wasn't all that photogenic. Four trips to the airport, for example. Last minute Christmas shopping with very limited choices. We haven't gotten any great sunrise photos this week either but we did get some nice relaxing beachside lunch time in over at Blue Hills.

How's this for a typical winter scene?:

You should be able to just make out the little conch pens where the local restaurant keeps them until someone orders them from the menu. Then someone wades out and loads up that little boat there on the beach.

Here's a better view. The two square structures are the pens. And they are surrounded by heaps of conch shells to keep them in place. The fishermen just unload their catch directly into the pens where the conch live out the remainder of their time in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The heaps of conch shells act like a small artificial reef, with the waves breaking over them at low tide:

There are a whole lot of conch fritter memories represented around here. All good ones, we hope.

Speaking of "heaps of conch shells", you get used to seeing them everywhere in these islands. Conch has been a major part of the diet here for as long as people have been here. They are easy to catch and very nutritious. We see conch shell jewelry, implements, fences, ornaments. And piles of shells, everywhere.

Since the last time we were at this restaurant someone has started using conch shells in an 'architectural' manner, building a barrier between the Conch Shack and Horse Eyed Jacks next door. Robert Frost wrote that "Good fences make good neighbors". Since there was formerly a foot path between these two restaurants, perhaps this new development signifies someones effort to become a better neighbor...?

It just occurred to me that in lieu of one of La Gringa's sunrise photos we could offer you one of these little time lapse things I have been experimenting with. I finally got around to reading the manual for the Pentax W80 I've been carrying around for a year. I discovered it has some great interval timer options.

This is six hours of watching the Caicos Bank condensed into 30 seconds. La Gringa chose the sound track, by the way. She's good at that stuff.

(I like the part where the raindrop dries up on the lens after the little shower blew through.)

Okay, back on the home front and the main subject of this post is our new toy. We have a new kayak.

Our Hobie "Tandem Island" and its trailer showed up finally. It was delivered in six packages.

We launched right into shredding cardboard and ignoring assembly manuals, as usual. The boat itself is fairly straightforward. But then, we know most of the parts of a boat by sight. Sailboat parts are pretty much self explanatory even if you don't know all the nautical terms.

The trailer, however.... is a bit more complicated. We spent most of the first day putting it together. It's this strange little design all based upon a single spar of extruded aluminum, and special t-slot bolts. The assembly manual, alas, is on a CD. I don't quite understand that. Maybe somebody somewhere builds boat trailers in their office.

This boat trailer assembly was the perfect opportunity to introduce La Gringa Suprema to the joy of pneumatic tools. She's now experienced with the air ratchet:

These days I find myself reaching for the air tools more and more. I suspect this trend will continue as my electric power tools bite the salty dust. I haven't been able to find the compressor powered version of a table saw yet, though.

By the middle of day two, we had the boat assembled on the new trailer and our trailer hitch modified and were finally ready for a shakedown cruise.

Backing this down the local boat ramp is quite a different experience than backing the Contender. In fact, if we don't get this one lined up perfectly the first time, it's easy to just unhook the trailer from the truck and walk it down the ramp by hand. Boat and trailer together only weigh around 300 lbs.

So here is our new toy floating for the first time, waiting only for us to figure out how to fold the amas out. "Amas" are the standard Polynesian-based term for the two outrigger floats. The arms that hold them to the boat are called "akas".

And with everything secured, cooler attached and Dooley the Decadent claiming the trampolines.... we pedalled our new boat down the canal for the first time:

The dog took to it immediately. And having him out of the hull and out from underfoot made this a much nicer experience for La Gringa and me as well.

We came out through Southside Marina and were quickly out into the open water. Our first trip was on a perfect day. Sunny with light winds and calm seas. Ideal conditions to get the boat all rigged up and to figure out which widget thingy works what. Me..... well, I was just miserable. Miserable, I tell you...

We got the rudder and the amas and the trampolines all figured out before we tried the sail. One thing we noticed was that this boat is a lot faster than our inflatable kayak. In just a few minutes we were out where the breeze was.

And Dooley the Deck Dog figured out that he could switch sides, and face any way he wanted:

This boat has a carbon fiber mast and a boomless sail. This design lets it function without the hassle of side stays. It also has roller furling. That means that we can pull a rope and roll the entire sail up around the mast in just a few seconds. And we can loosen that and pull it back out just as quickly:

I wondered if the much larger, flapping sail would bother the dog. But nope. He took to sailing on this boat in less time than it takes to write it. The inherent stability of the trimaran design helps, too. You can stand up on these kayaks if you want to. It would take a whole lot of effort to put one upside down.

With the sail out, and the centerboard down, we are able to just relax and scoot along. Both the sail and the rudder can be controlled from either seat and this is another enormous improvement over the inflatable. La Gringa can take over and sail from the front. This frees me up to concentrate on muttering imprecations at the GPS and blaming the camera for missed photo opportunities.

Within the first few miles Dooley the Dozing was hooked. He has decided he wants to be a sailor.

Finally, a kayak where he doesn't have to slack off on his napping habit. He does pay attention anytime we get near land, though. On our first day we sailed up to the shore near where we live, and La Gringa and Dooley the Dehydrated went ashore to make us lunch.

While they were at the house building sandwiches, I had the chance to see how the kayak does being pedalled from the rear. It handles great, a huge improvement. It would be very easy to sail single handedly, although I haven't done this yet. Basically I was just too lazy to crawl up and release the furling line.

We were doing around 5 kts of ground speed in about a 9 kt wind. We were very happy with that. We also normally have a lot more wind than that.

Dooley the Deadweight quickly figured out that if he moved to the windward ama, he could fly above the waves and stay a whole lot drier.

We were able to sail about 12 miles that first afternoon. We were pretty impressed at how well it worked in light wind.

We made a few changes in the rigging of the boat and trailer, and then took it back out on Sunday for another trip. We started out by sailing near one of our neighbors' home, just to say hello:

And on this trip we decided to head for a small island we had not been on before. This one is off of the Five Cays area and is called "Bay Cay". We approached it from the ocean side of the cay. And you can see there are freighters in the distance, anchored and waiting to get into South Dock. That is the only commercial wharf area on the entire island and all sea freight that enters the TCI via Providenciales clears customs at that dock.

We might sail down to South Dock on another trip but for today we wanted to see what beaching the kayak would be like on small cays.

This one is fairly typical on the windward side, steep rocks and sea caves in the limestone:

We sailed around the cay, and found a small stretch of beach on the lee side. This is also very typical of the cays here and in the Bahamas. The sand builds up on the protected side, out of the wind. Makes for a great place to beach a small boat that can handle shallow water. Of course this is one of the main things we plan to do with this kayak. We want to explore all the little cays we can reach.

I suspect there will be a lot of photos along these lines in our future:

We spotted some movement in the bush even before we stepped ashore. La Gringa snapped some photos of a large rock iguana sunning himself on his previously peaceful and undisturbed little island

I realized it might take some time to spot him in that photo, so I took the liberty of making it obvious which part of that foliage is reptilian:

Bay Cay is just a narrow strip of exposed limestone with not much on it except scrub brush and iguanas. Here is the view looking out to the south east at the water we sailed through to get here:

It's obvious that someone has taken advantage of some natural cover to build a small shelter here on the cay.

This is just a few feet from the small sandy beach where we left the boat. It would be a great place for someone in an open boat to wait out some passing squalls. The beach is protected from the wind and a good place to anchor a small boat. And people could keep warm and dry under this overhanging rock:

Speaking of shelter, we returned to the boat to find out that Dooley the Drenched was more than ready to head home after a day at sea:

This boat is incredibly easy to get around in. We used the paddles to get us out into water deep enough to put the Mirage Drives down. It's pretty easy to see what's under you with them out, too.

The dog dropped off into another intense series of snoozes as soon as we put the sail up. He's extremely serious at power napping, and practices at every opportunity.

I think Hobie should sign him up as a mascot. He sure does love their boats.

A few miles later and we were back at the entrance to the Southside Marina. I told Dooley the Determined not to get too attached to that bow position. I plan to be installing a jib there as soon as Hobie makes one available as an option. Maybe even before.

So that was what we did for that weekend. Two local trips totalling about 21 miles of sailing according to our little handheld GPS. We can already tell that this boat is going to open up a lot more places for us.

Looking back through what I just posted, what leaps out at me is that Dooley the Dangerous seems to be in every photo. I think that's just the natural view from where I sit in the back of the kayak. I'll try to start working on angles that don't make this look like the "Dooley the Dog Show" around here.

Since this blog is meant to be about what it's like to live here, I thought I'd throw in another typical day-to-day type DIY job. These little fix-it moments happen every day here. Some of them are minor, like this one, and some are pretty big deals involving major subassemblies and entire new vocabularies. But a normal DIY would be like noticing that one of the mud flaps on one of the Land Rovers is suddenly no longer attached to the vehicle on one side:

So I pull up my trusty milk crate modified as a seat for an old guy with bad knees...a nd take a look.

Ignoring the ever present dried mud we have to live with, it appears that this should just involve re-installing a bolt and washer.

But looking up underneath the edge of the body panel, I find out that it's not that simple. Nope. Rarely is, in fact.

What we have here is just one more example of what dissimilar metals do here in contact with each other in a high salt environment. The brace and bolt are steel. The Land Rover body panel is aluminum. It's kinda like that old 'rock, scissors, paper' game except aluminum always loses.

Not only is the mud flap bracket completely loose, but the body brace behind the tire is broken, too. Oh well. Not going to be able to fix this one with a bigger round washer. Better to make an aluminum one.

Luckily, I have kept the remnants of the aluminum satellite dish that Hurricane Hanna so thoughtfully destroyed. I built a shop stool and a kayak rack out of some of the parts. And now I will use some of the aluminum dish sheet to fix this Land Rover. Not exactly rocket science to cut a strip the right width:

And I doubled it over and drilled a hole in it:

And this kind of thing happens all the time. I never thought of these kinds of things when we first planned our move here. I am sure this bracket would last twenty or thirty years in most places. Probably for the entire life of the truck. This one is six years old.

So, now one of these Land Rovers has Hobie spare parts in it and the other one has pieces of a destroyed satellite dish.

Other than playing with our new toy boat and fixing things as they fail, we've been getting ready for Christmas here. Four of our five sons have flown down from the frozen north (and I DO mean frozen). Christmas here is somewhat different than it is up in the land of ice and snow but people here get into the spirit of the holiday in a big way. There are not a lot of huge light displays but various groups do manage to decorate in their own way. This is the entrance to the Seven Stars in Grace Bay:

The local telecom company has decorated one of the roundabouts with a big mystery Christmas package:

And we spotted some tinsel at the La Brisas dock over on Chalk Sound:

Back at our house we have this developing tradition of using dead drift wood as a Christmas tree. Or as we refer to it, our "Christmas stump". This year we let the boys take care of putting it together. They took a new approach. Instead of spending hours looking for that perfect 'stump', they picked up four pieces of driftwood and built one to fit. They were finishing it last night just at sunset:

And shortly thereafter it had undergone its magic transformation from driftwood to...

Christmas Stump!!

(No evergreens were harmed in the making of this holiday)