Monday, September 26, 2011

Little 5 Cays Picnic Trip

I realize that we've now done the last four posts on this blog with no boat photos. This will never do. That is misrepresentative. We never go that long without boating somewhere. We just got uncombobulated by that last unscheduled hurricane. But we do have some boat photos to get back with the program here.

First, instead of starting with a sunrise photo or a flower photo I decided to use a moon rise photo. Just something different.

This post is about a typical Saturday excursion in our 'local sailing grounds', and we thought that it would be entertaining to some of you. This was one of our typical Hobie sailing trips, where we packed up a small cooler, grabbed a small dog, and a small sailboat, and headed out in a small country in search of a small island to have a little picnic. You thought I was going to say small picnic, I bet. Oh, and we had it on a small beach.

We launched at our usual spot on the canal , and noticed that some of our friends are keeping their new cruising catamaran at a slip here. Jim and Sharon are the former owners of the former Windmill Plantation resort on Salt Cay. And yes, two 'formers' is correct. They are no longer the owners, and Windmills is no more. The resort was essentially destroyed by Hurricane Ike just months after they sold it. I would call that a pretty good example of the definition of serendipitous.

We usually take a turn around the South Side Marina to see if anything new is going on. It's very quiet this time of year. The cruisers all avoid this place during hurricane season. I can't imagine why...

We did see our friend Stanley, of the fishing/freight/support/passenger vessel Five Cays as he walked by some new construction going on near South Side. We hope that whatever they're doing here results in some more boat slips on the island. We don't particularly need a boat slip right at this particular moment in time, but one never knows what the future will bring. And it would sure be nice to have some options. This country could use some more protected marinas, and places to keep boats safe from storms. It wouldn't hurt the local economy if more cruisers could safely park their boats here during hurricane season, either. Would be a great place to kick off from, either north to explore the Bahamas or south to the entire Caribbean. Most cruisers that leave Florida never get out of the Bahamas, from what I can tell. Starting their cruise from here would solve a lot of time and distance issues. It's frustrating to see the unused marina in Leeward, the unfinished marina at Cooper Jack, and the privately owned marina at Turtle Tail.... all completely empty.

We really didn't have any agenda when we set out on this trip. It was blowing about 16-18 kts. which makes for some fun sailing on the Hobie. We decided to sail into the wind (east, generally) until we needed a break and then find a spot to eat lunch. Then of course we have an easy scoot back downwind to the canal. There are these five little islets (caylets?) not too far from our neighborhood. For some reason I have been unable to determine, these five little cays are locally called the Little Five Cays. It's a mystery. Maybe to keep them from getting mixed up with the Five Cays to the west. These are not much more than rocks with some bushes on them. But they're close by and easy to sail to..

I am thinking that some of you other boating people out there will be looking at that chart and noticing the areas marked "Unsurveyed". The places where there are depth numbers are the only places that have been surveyed. Not very many, are there? Imagine a boat with a depth sounder and a navigation system making two to four passes east and west on that chart, and that data is all we have. (Thank you, Wavey Line). It's especially good in a spot where the other major feature is a warning about Numerous Coral Heads. Numerous is a good term. Think in terms of thousands. It's a good thing the water is so clear here. Running a larger boat around here without visibility would be a very high stress job. Imagine the Mississippi River with sharp rocks three feet under the surface.

Sometimes we don't decide where to launch the boat until after we leave the house with it under tow. On days when the sky up toward Leeward and Pine Cay looks like this, we've found it prudent to just hang out locally on the Caicos Bank. We KNOW we would be trying to dodge squalls up there.

With the stiff breeze it didn't take long to sail up around the Little Five Cays. We played around with the wind and the waves for a while. We generally just sail for the fun of it. I'm reminded of what our ASA sailing instructor, Tim McKenna, once told us. Tim said "When you climb aboard a power boat, it's to go somewhere else. When you climb into a sail boat, you're already there."

We were looking for a good spot to eat lunch. We needed some place sheltered from the wind and waves, with a safe spot to either anchor or beach the boat. A lot of the shoreline in this part of Providenciales is rocky and totally unfriendly toward plastic boats. Steel boats, too, come to think of it.

We cruised around through the little islands looking for some shred of beach we could use to get ashore without having to climb anything sharp. With the attendant bleeding.

It doesn't show up in this Google Earth satellite image (from 2003 like the rest of this area) but there is a very small sand beach tucked up into some mangroves on one of the little cays. We had seen it several times over the years, but just never bothered to spend much time there. This was a good day to check it out.

Dooley the Diligent was helping us keep an eye out for obstructions, although we really don't worry much about rocks or reefs out away from shore when we are in this little boat. Still, Dooley knows my obsessions and he helps me worry.

Here's a short video of us sailing downwind and into the lee of one of the cays. This was the only stretch of beach we could find at the present. Of course that could all change with the season. Sand is like that sometimes in the ocean. It moves to the whims of the sea. We've learned a little about sand migration from boating around here over the years. Some of the sand bars are constantly changing.

But not to worry, we have our port side bridge watch on the job as we make our way to the little patch of beach sand you can see at the end of this video:

Music is 'Let Me Go' by Dante Bucci

I don't think I even had the boat tied up before Dooley swam ashore and went exploring. It just wouldn't do for one of the people to find a rat, lizard, or grasshopper before he did. That would never do. He's one of those dogs who has to be the first one out of the truck, too, if you know what I mean. Pushy little booger. Obsessive. I think he might have been in a mongrel horde in an earlier life.

This is a really nice little spot for a picnic. The lee sides of all these little islands always seem to have some nice soft sand deposits tucked up close to them. In many cases the sand makes it too shallow to get close with a boat, and this ability to get into the shelter of small islands is one of the reasons I am always looking at a boat's draft. In many places in the world, such as the Virgin Islands, the water gets deep close to shore and draft is not so important. I was going to use the Pacific as an example, but then thought of several shallow parts of that ocean, too. The Polynesians invented multihulls, I think. Anyhow, it's not much of an issue for us anymore. We can get into less than a foot of water easily with the Hobie. We pulled the centerboard and rudder up and I tied it to a mangrove bush. The water was nice and calm here in the island's protection from the wind.

Here's our little picnic spot. It even has a picnic table. Of sorts. If you use your imagination a lot and squint your eyes a little. Well, maybe more than a little.

It's enough to handle two people and a cooler. And that's a shining endorsement for a lot of things I can think of.

Dooley was in overdrive as usual. He likes to live life at a trot. I don't think his transmission even has a Walk position. He has to check out every single aspect of a new spot like this. Once it's been inspected thoroughly, I suppose we could say it's been 'Dooley authorized'. Ouch.

It only takes a few steps to see over the top of the island to the Caicos Bank on the other side. This island is only 400 ft from end to end and a little over 100 ft. wide at it's thickest point. Still photos of the choppy water never seem to show the waves very well. It was pretty sloppy on the upwind side.

The islands are the same marine limestone based rock as the rest of the country. The stuff actually does have a strange name, but I prefer marine limestone. It's not that homogeneous, though. The rock here changes character from one spot to another. Some of it is so soft you can sculpt it with a spoon. Some is much harder. And all the islands here are made out of it. They look solid at first, but the rocks are all cracked and fissured. They're honeycombed with underwater chambers and holes. You can't walk around on these without paying a lot of attention to where you put your feet.

This is on the south side of the cay, looking east:

And this is looking back to the west, over some of the other little cays. No beaches on this side.

We walked around the little cay for a while, looking for any interesting trash, or just things to take photos of. It's not a long stroll, but it's a slow one. Some of the holes in the rock are unique. I tried for some time to figure out why this one is shaped in this distinctive pattern. And I have to admit, I'm stumped. It's got straight sides to it and is about a meter deep. You can see the full size conch shells in the bottom of it for scale. This is calcium carbonate basically, and I suppose any number of acidic chemicals would eat a hole like this in it. I mean, the 'bedrock' here fizzes like an Alka-Seltzer if you just drop vinegar on it. And I've tried that, back when I was making our new house number out of a piece of it. It just wouldn't make much sense for anything like vinegar to be here in quantity on this little deserted rock. Must be another explanation.

Here's another angle on the little picnic spot. I think the mangrove roots are starting to help hold the sand together here. We've seen from other spots that the mangroves like shallow, sandy spots. And their roots block the currents that wash the sand away. So in a way, they help build their own favorite habitat.

Another example of a real fine place to turn an ankle or worse. Imagine stepping into one of these because it was covered with vines or seaweed.

One member of the crew continued to be exceptionally interested in these little grottoes and sinkholes. I think he probably gave every single one of them at least a cursory sniff. Most of them he signed off on immediately, but some of them really got his attention.

These dogs are quite happy at disappearing into burrows. I think Dooley was annoyed that the life jacket kept him from going all spelunker on us. Which is why we left it on him. Well, that plus the very real possibility of him falling off a rock into the ocean. All it would take would be one little rat like animal bolting over the edge and away he would go. The term "single minded pursuit" might describe what happens to him when the game's afoot. And if he fell into the ocean here I would have to go in after him. And then I would have to swim him around the island to the other side. Naaaaah. Easier to just keep the life jacket on him. Then we could pick him up at our leisure.

He seemed quite certain that this one hole was worth watching. I didn't see any tracks that would indicate that something lived in this hole, but Dooley was adamant. The sand probably gets swept clean at every high tide, anyhow, so no fresh tracks might not mean anything.

He said he could almost taste it.

Looks to me like it must have tasted remarkably like dog nose.

And I still have no clue what it might have been that interested him. I have to keep in mind that this dog is perfectly happy to spend hours staking out a path a rat once took.

It doesn't take long to explore a rock this small. I was considering what it must be like to be marooned on a small island for a long stretch of time. Of course there is no source of fresh water on this one, unless there's some in mangrove stalks.

Can you imagine slipping off this rock and falling on that piece in the lower left? I think the light color of that rock, and the still sharp edges, are indications that it broke off the main rock not that long ago. Most likely in Hurricane Irene a few weeks back. It looks that fresh. The rock turns a dark gray with time and exposure, and the sharp points wear away.

Here is the view looking to the east, more or less. That is the nearest point of land to the Five Little Cays. I hesitate to call it a point of land. It's also rock. Just part of a bigger island.

La Gringa Suprema and her faithful sidekick Dooley the Detective explored all the way out to the edge, camera in hand, to get a closer photo of the last rock in the chain.

While I took some more of those photos of the waves and the broken rocks, etc.

That was a good spot to get a little wave video and a shaky panoramic view of the entire rock:

La Gringa found several spots where the fissured nature of the rock was very evident. The water in this hole moves with the waves and tides.

Here's one of the photos La Gringa took of the easternmost of the Little Five Cays. It wouldn't be that difficult for a good swimmer to reach this from the beach.

Looking at the chart, I see that the rock we are on, and this little one to the east, are called the "Dick Penn Cays". If we followed the conventional way of referring to things around here, this would make that rock's name Little Dick Penn Cay. Of course this would mean that we had our picnic on Big Dick Penn Cay. And I am going to let this speculation on the naming of cays coast to a stop right about here.

This would probably be the best spot should someone want to park a rental car on the shore and swim/wade out to this little cay for a picnic. It would be waist deep for the most part, if you stayed on the sand. Might not even have to swim. There's a good place to park a car over there. I'm just saying....

We didn't see a lot of trash on these little cays. Oh, there is always something washed up, but since the current and waves constantly hit the rocky faces of these I suspect most floating stuff bounces off and continues onward down current. Of course we did see the omnipresent shoes. There are always shoes. Shoes and plastic water bottles. Has anyone ever thought of making an affordable homeowner's version of an electrically heated plastic smelter, so people could scoop up plastic bottle trash and melt it into bricks and build homes or pave walkways with big plastic fake rock Legos? I guess not. Unless maybe the Earthship people have thought of it. They sure do some nice stuff with beer bottles as construction materials.

We had our little picnic, and then sailed smoothly (downwind) back to South Side Marina and the canal. A trip like this is something we could easily do in three hours, if we wanted to do that. We find ourselves stretching out our sailing trips lately, though. We rarely shorten one unless the seas start getting ugly or the weather starts rattling the dog too much. And he rattles pretty easily. One thunderclap will certainly do it, without question, 100% of the time. Sometimes his memory of a thunderclap will do it, if the sky looks threatening enough to make it possible. We have even seen some occasions when the clouds start to darken, and a camera flash goes off, and Dooley the Demotivated is watching the clouds, and sees the flash, and starts shaking in anticipation of the incoming thunder. I swear, if he had a watch he could tell you how far away he thought it was.

Remember the dark clouds over Providenciales in that previous photo? Please notice that even when we are on a smooth, mellow reach, Dooley is facing the cloud bank over Provo. He likes to keep an eye on the squalls. His version of a horror movie. The suspense builds.

But as long as they maintain their distance, he can handle it just fine.

Music is 'All Day Music' by War

He's learned to move to the windward side of the boat now every time we tack. He gets pushy about it, in fact. He thinks that His moving to the upwind side is a sailing command priority that the rest of us are just going to have to accommodate ourselves to. We've also noticed that he will move into the shade of the sail on hot days when he can. He's becoming a pretty good little boat dog.

We continue to try to look at everything we can find to look at. Lately we've been discovering how much we like going over to West Caicos, so there will be some more posts coming up on that. There is some interesting history there. Well, interesting to me, anyhow. I'll try to keep it brief when the time comes to describe it. In the flow of things, as it were. Or as it is meant to be. Which are not always the same.

Dooley the Devious settles in for the cruise home.

Or he tries to settle in, but it's not exactly the venue for a relaxed nap.

I looked at all the sunset photos La Gringa has been taking and I liked this one for some reason. I think it's the 'time-to-turn-the-headlamps-on' end of the day kind of feeling I get from those few, fast fading tropical moments between sunset and dark. It happens fast in these latitudes. We go from sunset to dark pretty quickly.

But there's still room in that little window for a "Red sky at night...Dooley's delight" moment from time to time.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bushwhacking for Boat Ramps

In which our Recovering Recluses Return to Fun Stuff and Exploring.
Some basic DIY projects with Salvaged Wood,
and Dooley Glares at Duct Tape.

This post is about what we were doing right before that little 3-post storm detour we just experienced. This one has no boats in it or nice turquoise kissed photos of gin clear water, colorful fishies and coral. We're skipping the standard boat trip complete with its random squall clobbering us briefly before we blithely coast back home along powdered sugar beaches under tranquil cerulean skies. Nah... Not THIS post. This post is about bush.

I probably should define the term 'the bush'. Bush is that part of the environment that has not yet been plowed under, paved over, developed or otherwise recently 'improved' by man. I mean recently because old improvements become part of the bush in many cases. And when we are not playing in the ocean we sometimes go explore some of it here. Of course the ocean is never very far away. This is an island, after all.

This adventure started because I was studying Google Earth's satellite images looking specifically for places to go check out. There are still large parts of the north west portion of Providenciales that we haven't looked at in any detail. This is where to find most of the still undeveloped land on this island.

See the little spot on the left side, circled, that says "Good place to launch boat?"? Well, that's what started this all. I saw this nice little road on this image and it appeared to me that this might just be a great beach launching spot for the Hobie Tandem Island. If we could trailer the boat to this spot, we could then use it to explore all the way up around the tip and extensive reefs off this side of the island. Sounded like a plan.

We took the Defender 110 on the first pass at this. I refer to it as the 'first pass' because it took us two days to find this spot. No kidding. If you read the other notes on that map, you can see where we went on that Saturday afternoon. We came in from the right side of the image. We made that hairpin turn to the south and drove completely by the spot marked "missed turn the 1st time". Well, to be accurate, we missed it the second time, too. After we turned around at the Amanyara Resort, and headed back. We drove back to the Malcolm Beach road, and then down to Malcolm Beach itself. Then we turned around and went home.

Here's a "quick" video of that trip, and you can tell from the 'bonnet' this is the Defender 110, without the aluminum plate. Correction, I should have said 'aluminium' plate. There's an extra "i" in the British stuff.

This is like a mini tour of part of the island. The last part of it is after we got back onto the pavement and drove through the Blue Hills section of Providenciales. We thought that perhaps you might enjoy seeing what it's like cruising around here as an alternative to watching on a sailboat.

Music is 'Suburbia' by Trombone Shorty

And yes, we do drive on the left here.

We went home frustrated that we had missed the turn and I booted up Google Earth again, and took a closer look. And this road looks good on Google Earth. I could see the image of a vehicle parked right on the beach, at the end of it. We wanted to go there. Then I noticed the date the image was taken, down in the bottom left corner of the photo. 10/4/2008. Boy, a lot has changed here in three and a half years. Obviously whatever project was planned for this property never got off the ground.

We decided not to give up. Realizing that the road really must be overgrown in order for us not to even spot it, we went back the following day with the shorter, beefier, Defender 90. We found the turnoff this time. And it was not what we expected. It took another half hour to get to the ocean. This road is not nearly as good as the one to Amanyara and Malcolm Beach.

This is the spot where we finally came to a halt:

We didn't drive the last forty or fifty yards to the actual beach. It was turning into soft sand. And we could see that the beach no longer looked like it did in '08. None of this road looks like it does in that Google Earth image. All of the loose soil that the bulldozers had leveled to make the roads has been washed away. There have now been three hurricanes and a number of tropical storms and depressions dumping huge amounts of rain here since those satellite images were taken. Dozens of serious thunderstorms with flooding.

The speeded up videos don't really portray how bad this road is. We decided to post a short, real-time clip of part of this journey, with the original audio instead of music. Most of the road was something like this. Except this is the level part as we near the beach and there were also steeper parts with looser rocks. And little gullies. Stuff like that. It makes for cautious driving in a land without AAA. This would not be a fun place to be stuck with two flats, for example.

And one could pretty much forget calling a taxi, tow truck, or pizza delivery. We are in the land beyond street addresses, again. Like our neighborhood was last year.

If you look at that last satellite image above you can see a large salina, or inland tidal pool, just to the south of where we parked. This is what that looks like:

And it's probably a good thing I can't accurately show you what it smells like at low tide. If I could adequately explain it, I suspect you would stop reading at that point. It's ugly. All I can suggest on this subject is that if you ever go here, either go at high tide or do what we did. Hold your breath and move out of the downwind side of this as soon as possible. Unless you're like Dooley the Degenerate. I suspect he actually likes these rotten marine low-tide kind of odors.

After the long sweaty trek to get here, Dooley was more than happy to be the first one in the water. As always. It's a matter of tradition with him, I think.

There really wasn't much to see in that short section between where we parked and the beach. Some old fishing or marker buoy washed up in some storm. I appreciated how it was made. Some steel rebar bent and welded and then a buoy inflated within the cage. Simple and effective.

I know I have mentioned this before, but there are two things we can pretty much count on seeing on any beach here these days. And those are empty plastic water bottles and shoes. Always, always there are shoes. Don't count the ones with feet still in them as trash. Not yet, anyhow. Those are my hiking boots.

Looking off to the south, you can see it's a pretty rough shoreline. Nothing like what it appeared to be in 2008.

The water is the typically clean and clear Turks and Caicos Islands water, though. It just looks a lot different when it's over dark rocks than it does over clean white sand or colorful coral.

This is looking up toward the north from where we intersected the beach. It's austere looking, isn't it. Rugged. No place for a tenderfoot, that's for sure.

One of the things I noticed here on the rocky shore was how many little "kettle holes" there are. Kettle is a geological term, but I think it's proper use is for depressions caused by melting chunks of glacial ice. There is nothing glacial about these, but I don't know what else to call them. Every few steps along the shore are these depressions where chunks of stone get trapped. The water rushes in and out with the tides with enough force to move the rocks around in the hole and eventually they get worn smooth.

I tried to get a photo of the process in action, but of course all you can see is a swirl of water. Underneath that frothy reflective surface there are some stones being moved around and around.

The result of this is that the stones get worn smaller and smaller, and smoother and smoother, and all the stuff that gets worn off of them eventually gets ground down into sand.

And when the tide runs out these little rivers of new finely ground sand are washed out of the kettle holes into the ocean . And this, friends and neighbors, is how beaches and sand bars are still being made the old fashioned way. Just like Mom has been making them for four billion years.

And if that's too much to think about, maybe you could just relax and watch some kettle holes in action. This is a soothing video. Nothing like those jittery fast motion versions:

Music is 'Triste' by Mythos

It's not all smooth stone around here, though. This is a great place to test out how tough your feet are.

As usually seems to happen on these trip, a series of squalls started headed our way. We were looking around to see where the nearest rain shelter might be when La Gringa saw the entrance of what looks to be someone's old camp site there in the bush.

I went in a few yards and wandered around. It's a very nice place to have a camp. Clean sand, plenty of shade. Open enough to let the breeze through.

It does look as though the site hasn't been visited much recently, though. After our drive in here I can see why. I found an old 'duck foot' style swim fin here. I don't see many of these any more. This one was rotten from UV exposure.

Of course there are shoes here, too. There are always shoes on the beaches. I suspect this is becoming a truism. I doubt we could walk a hundred yards on any south or east facing beach without seeing a shoe. There was also a few pieces of plywood lying about so we knew we had the basics for a temporary shelter if a squall caught us before we could get back to the truck.

While peering around in the bush looking for anything of interest I spotted a familiar sight from my past, almost hidden back in the thicker stuff.

I should have let the dog stand here for scale. This tube is roughly a meter long. These are used to store and transport air dropped sonar buoys used in anti-submarine warfare. This isn't the first one I've seen washed up here. I wish I could think of something useful to do with them.

Back on the beach there really wasn't much in the way of trash compared to some beaches. It's nice to find the clean beaches mixed in with the trashy ones. We like them both, of course. For different reasons. And this one has plenty of natural features mixed in with the man-made flotsam. I though about moving this bizarre brain shaped piece of coral.....

...over next to what looked like the entire list of components for a cellular phone. I could be sticking my neck out here, but I am willing to bet this one is not economically repairable. Still, it might be fun to gather up all the corroded pieces and see if I could get a warranty claim in on it. I was thinking of the word games I could play with the brain coral and disintegrating cell phone, and never thought to see if it still had a usable SIM card in it. Those things are sealed up pretty well, right?

The clouds were threatening us, and we were beginning to see flashes of lightning and distant but rapidly approaching rain squalls. So this is the maximum extent of our excursions to the north along the beach. Off in the distance here you can see one of the bigger local live-aboard dive boats. The reef drops off very quickly and close to shore here, and there are a number of good dive spots nearby. And that resort in the middle of the photo is the Amanyara.

I used the telephoto zoom to try to get a better photo of Amanyara, but it's difficult to do from this angle. The resort is very low impact, and blends in with the surrounding landscape very nicely. I've explained to a number of people who write us asking for recommendations that we have never stayed in a resort on Providenciales. I also would say that if we had the opportunity to stay in one of them, and had our choice out of all available options, we would definitely choose the Amanyara over any other local resort we can think of. It's got some class.

I was trying to show you how the shoreline changes here. There are a series of small coves, starting at the point of land where we were standing. As you move to the north, the coves get progressively larger, and eventually they're big enough to have their own little soft sand beaches. And these private, rocky coves with soft sand beaches are one of the main attractions at Amanyara. Maybe one of these days we'll figure out a way to get you some photos from within the resort itself. We'd love to sail the Hobie by here and get some photos from the water, too.

We wandered back down the beach on our way home just looking for anything vaguely interesting to take photos of. We were in a photo-snapping mood that day. We found plenty of uniquely shaped and eroded limestone along the shore. I think if I were a crab I would love this place:

The kettle holes produce some excellent skipping stones. I think I managed to get a dozen skips on the water with this one. Nice.

There is a huge difference in the shore here, from sharp, broken limestone 'iron shore', to this smooth worn limestone. I'm not sure why it's different, but there must be some geological reason some of the stones are so very smooth and others are too jagged to even stand or walk on. I imagine wave and water action is the shaping force here, but why does some of it wear smooth while other stones erode into jagged points?

The white stuff in the middle of this photo is evaporated sea salt. There is no shortage of salt in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Harvesting sea salt was the only real industry here for many many years. Generations of Turks Islanders were salt rakers on some islands here. I think it's a lot more fun selling coconut tanning oil than it was pushing salt.

La Gringa was on the lookout for additions to her shell collection. She found a few nice ones here. This beach is largely untouched for shell collectors. It's too difficult to get to for most people.

Eventually the squalls caught up with us and we had to make our way back to pavement. Not such a simple task. Here's a still photo from a little ridge we had to cross. Raindrops are beginning to fall. You might be able to vaguely make out the dive boat anchored off in the distance, though the rain.

We've made several boat trips since the last pre- Hurricane Irene post and I'll be uploading those photos in the next few installments. I thought you might appreciate a break from our boat photos, and that's why this post doesn't have any.

And in case you were wondering, the answer to our original question here is "No. We will not be attempting to tow our Hobie kayak trailer down to this beach behind the Land Rover. No way."

So far, I can't think of a reason we would drive back to that beach, either. There are a lot of prettier places a lot easier to get to. The terrain here sure does help in keeping the Amanyara Resort remote and private, though.

I also haven't posted any DIY photos in a while, but I assume anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis well knows that the DIY never stops here. Never. I just get so caught up in it, and it changes so much from day to day, that I no longer bother to snap photos of 90% of it. Between the house, the vehicles, and the boats... it's almost a full time job to keep it all going.

One of our readers had asked specifically for a photo of the tortilla squisher I made from wood scraps. La Gringa took a lot of photos of it during the initial process of actually using it to make corn tortillas. This started when we couldn't find any corn tortillas big enough at the grocery store. We could only find these stale little six inch diameter things. Not big enough for a proper wrap. So I figured out I could probably make a tortilla press that could handle say, a 10" diameter tortilla. And so I did. And so it does.

The red oak handle pieces came from the decorative trim from the front of the old Gilley's bar in Leeward, long gone now. The light wood around the edges is Casuarinas wood I had laying around here seasoning. It seasoned so much that fungus grew on it, and when I sawed it up into little planks, it now has what's called a 'spalted' finish. That's the dark streaks through it.

The dark wood on the top (and bottom) is from that 4x4 mahogany beam we picked up on our previous beachcombing trip to West Caicos. It was too split and worm holed for structural use, but I thought it looked cool enough to use for appearance.

I've discovered that if you design stuff to look rustic and beat up from the beginning, it saves a lot of time in sanding and finishing. I was trying for the look of an old tortilladora picked up at a yard sale in Mexico. How did I do?

We've got more photos of it open and in action if anyone is interested. You can Google up 'tortilla presses' and find out whatever you might want to know. You won't see one exactly like this, because I kind of made it up after looking at some other ones online. It's a a fun way to make really fresh corn tortillas. They taste completely different from the things we find in plastic bags in the grocery store. And we can make them as big as we want. This is a monster of a press, as those things go. Typical Gringo overkill, I suppose... you know how that thinking goes. 'If a little tingle feels good..... a hundred and twenty volts should be awesome, right?' Hey, I'm learning.

Now just for grins I want to show you another, typical, daily DIY project. This is the type of thing that falls in my lap unplanned. Necessity, I suppose. In fact, this is the one I was working on when we got interrupted by that last hurricane whistling through the slats of the crate containing our existence.

We had this house built about three and a half years ago. Not long after we moved in, La Gringa asked me to put up some curtain rods in the bedrooms. We went down to the local store that supplies these things, bought some curtain rods, and I installed them. Back in a previous life I would have expected curtain rods to last until someone either broke them or got tired of looking at them. That's always been my experience. Curtain rods don't wear out. Usually.

Well that's not the case here. After three years, La Gringa asked me "Isn't there something we can do about these curtain rods? They are rusting away and staining the curtains." And I took a look at what she meant, and she wasn't joking. These curtain rods should not have been left unattended, I guess, but what are you going to do, spray oil on them? Nah. You just end up with oily rust. Or rusty oil. Either way it doesn't work well with white curtains.

We went back to the local stores, and looked through all the options we could find for replacement curtain rods. And all of them were either plastic of a quality that gives plastic curtain rods a bad name...... or they were steel. Like that one above. Well let me tell you, in the three years since I put that brand new curtain rod up, I have learned a few things about steel. And aluminum. And brass, bronze, and zinc. There's no way I would just put up more metal curtain rods. So what to do.

I had an additional factor to consider in that I had already drilled holes in the concrete wall for the metal curtain rods. I mean why not? I figured they were good for twenty years. Ha.

So the obvious solution was to just make some non-corroding curtain rods and curtain rod brackets, and make them to use the same screw hole spacing. I had all these red-oak scraps still left over from Gilley's bar. And we bought some bamboo for cheap. How's it look? I think it's kinda tropical.

At least I am reasonably sure it won't corrode. I would be willing to bet it would last 20 years, too. Unless of course someone tears it down or gets tired of looking at it. You know, the normal life span of a curtain rod.

I was just finishing up three slightly different brackets for the next bedroom on the list when Irene came. Now I have to do a little archaeological dig on my workbench to see if I can get back down to that specific layer of DIY project. There is debris and tools from at least three other Irene related projects overlaying that little period of local history. I need to do it, though. I haven't actually seen my bench top in weeks.

I don't mean to sound like it's all DIY work here. I've left out the skiff steering issues, the dead fuel gauge, the failed brake line on the 90, or the damage to the house appliances caused by our lousy, substandard generator (Honeywell) and faulty house wiring installed by the irrigation people. I am leaving out the hole in the exhaust pipe, the defunct clothes dryer, the stopped up dishwasher, the hurricane smashed vegetation. I didn't say a word about the four flat tires I have dealt with in the past week.

Now there's a point. Let me stop my diatribe for a second just to mention this. I mean this blog is supposedly about what it's like to actually LIVE here, right? Okay, think about this one.

Think back to the last time you had a flat tire on a vehicle. For most of you, I bet that's years ago. Oh ,yeah, some of you will have had a recent flat, but I bet 90% of you haven't had one in years. Right?

Now think about the last time you had TWO flat tires in one week. Pretty rare, eh? Well, to put it into perspective, I've had to deal with four unrelated flat tires this week. And while four in one week is unusual, it's not totally unheard of.

The roads are strewn with sharp stuff. Especially after a storm. Roof shingles blow onto the roads, and many of them take those roofing nails with them. Even the lovely bougainvillea plants have thorns on them that can puncture a tire if you run over a large branch on the road. I can guarantee you a bougainvillea thorn will penetrate a Croc shoe with no problem whatsoever. I've lost count of how many flat tires we have faced in the six years we have been here. I would guess somewhere around thirty or so. And there will be more. This is part of the experience living here.

I was going to tell you about how many vehicles we see here with a front wheel completely torn off.... but will save that discussion for some other time. I'll collect a few photos first. It probably falls under the heading of "Things that once frightened and amazed us that we now take for granted".

But it's not all work. Oh no. In addition to all the boating and DIY we do fit in some fun. For example, I have a good time messing with the dog. Dooley is manic about lizards. He spots one on a wall and will dedicate the afternoon to keeping his eye on it. He whines, barks, and whispers outrageous promises and dirty threats to them. Of course they totally ignore him for the most part, unless they make the mistake of crawling to some place where he can reach them. Then they can no longer ignore him. And he's usually furious at being ignored by that time, but never mind. I don't want to go there.

But knowing the dog gets totally fixated on lizards, I took a razor and cut out some little lizard outlines in a roll of duct tape.

I stuck one of these on a sliding glass door. Another one high on a wall. Dooley went all goofy. I think he was totally astonished that lizards would have the unmitigated gall to invade his very fortress. Lizards running wild in Dooley's stronghold? Outrageous and unacceptable. He spent hours staring up at the duct tape lizards. Making threats. Promising treats and friendship one minute, and howling promises to shred them into giblets the next. You see why I worry about this dog? I stuck one of my fake lizards up on a piece of driftwood we pegged to the wall, and put the GoPro camera up above it to try to see if the video would be any fun.

The video isn't much good. The GoPro likes a lot of light and doesn't do well in low light conditions. I guess inside the house qualifies as low light. But to show you what a lizard might see if he deigned to look down, I did take one still frame from the video. Here's Dooley the Destroyer doing his Hannibal Lecter imitation for an audience of fake lizard...

Any lizard that could miss his intentions...... well... sayonara. He means what he says.

I just realized that this post has stretched out into one of the long ones. I'm not going to cut it up into two posts, because I want the next one to be nice blue water and fun stuff again.

That is, if Tropical Storm Maria doesn't come through here Monday and change our priorities for us. In the meantime, here's a recent sunset. One with gentle clouds, for a change.