Sunday, April 27, 2008

Same old Same old.

I just noticed I had not posted anything here since Tuesday. We get busy, and time passes. So, although nothing really momentous or exciting has been happening since then, I will put up a few photos just so those good people who actually follow this blog will have an update.

Yes, I will start with a sunrise photo as I usually do when I am desperately scrambling for images to post:

We had four days during this past week when the seas were perfectly calm. The little piece of ocean here behind the house was almost glassy at times. The water got very clear. When the seas are calm it sometimes almost seems to disappear. We are looking forward to more of this weather as summer approaches. We hope we will be able to start taking more time to enjoy it.

Each day it seems we discuss taking the boat out, and then get caught up in one of our myriad projects and the next thing we know, it's too late.

This week there was one afternoon when we just couldn't stand it any more. We went to the marina determined to at least get the boat out for a quick ride. While we were at the marina, we ran into our old friend and former construction worker Romeo. Romeo did almost all the interior painting and a lot of of the other work on our home. He has been a good worker and friend for the past fourteen months. The dog misses him. We had not seen him at the house in two weeks, and were wondering what was going on. Now we know. He has started working full time for the Meridian Club on Pine Cay. He no longer works for our builder. We are now thinking that our house might just be the last one that this builder finishes. He is 72 years old, and has been talking about retirement. We are glad for him. He has become a good friend. He deserves to kick back, visit more with his children and grandchildren. Do more fishing. If he retires now it probably doesn't bode well for us getting a lot more support in finishing the house. Or someone to call if things break. And things do break. Especially in this climate. Maybe we're wrong about the retirement, but it's not looking that way. I guess it's a good thing we took such an active hand in building the place. We can handle it going forward. It's not like we have a choice, anyway.

We did run the boat out and down the coast line. We were checking for any new wrecked wooden sloops and looking for sources of good driftwood for some projects we have in mind. Somehow, we found ourselves all the way down to this part of the island. We took yet another photo of the house from the water:

It immediately becomes even more apparant from this angle how much we need some serious landscaping here. Big time. We also would not mind it if the builder removed that big blue Gradall from the yard. Of course that will make the sat dish and boat trailer even more obvious. I am thinking that might be a good place to try some papaya trees..

Except for that one afternoon's boat trip, we have pretty much been knocking items off our list one by one. And still the list grows. I thought these kinds of lists were supposed to get shorter...

I managed to find all the PVC pieces I needed to complete the plumbing for the new filtering system for the cistern water:

If you compare that to the last post, you can see some differences.
That was fun, actually. Playing with PVC piping is like having a Lego set for big boys. You get to cut pipe and figure out all the little couplings, elbows, and valves. And if you use enough PVC cleaner, primer, and glue in an enclosed pump room, your ears start ringing and you drool a little right before you walk into a concrete wall. That never seemed to happen with Legos. Well, wait a minute. Drooling. Walking into walls...I guess maybe it happened with the Legos, too. Come to think of it,I have been doing that all my life, it seems.

So now the cistern water gets pumped through several filters and then it gets zapped by a strong ultraviolet light in the last stage. (I guess for a microbe or bacteria, it would be an 'ultraviolent' light.) I am still waiting on another sediment pre-filter filter to install. I am sure I will be desperate enough for another photo to put up an updated image when I get that one in. It's on the way. I also took the opportunity while playing with the water supply to install a faucet ( "hose bib", here) so that I could drain the plumbing, pump water from one cistern to the other, and things like that. I guess all this obsessing with the plumbing is from all those years of me messing around with water as a career. Some things don't change much. Fifty years of building sand castles....and this is the best one yet.

I have really been getting interested in this whole cistern water thing. I am trying to come up with a design for a 'first flush' system. That would divert the initial rain water away from the cisterns, along with all the dust, bird poop, and other debris that builds up on the roof between rain storms. Then after a certain amount of rain has run through the pipes and its running clean, it should be channelled into the cistern. I have some ideas for that.

I had another idea which I think will be an improvement. In general, all of the cisterns here in the TCI work pretty much like this:

(This is, of course, a dramatization....there's not that much silt. It all settles out anyhow. And we are now double filtering and sterilizing it, too.)

It occurred to me that the freshest water in the cistern is the new stuff coming in. Its warmer than the water already in the cistern. So it would tend to stay at the top. Any dust that gets washed into the system settles out in the bottom of the cistern. So the stuff near the bottom is stratified. I had an idea that if I just changed the pickup pipe a little, it would be a good thing. So I drew this up and sent it to our architect for his thoughts. The new, improved, Gringo cistern drain design:

I figure the new fresh rainwater will force the older water at the bottom up the pipe and out the drain, taking some silt with it. Built this way, the drain pipe will act as a water barrier. It should keep ants, etc. from getting into the cistern in the first place. An air lock, sort of. Maybe it's a water lock, I don't know. But it will keep the clean cistern water from being exposed to the easy access of the standard design. And what kinds of things do I want to keep out of the cistern, you might ask? Oh, these guys, for starters:

Gotcha, didn't I? Hey, the tropics are not all fun and games you know. We got bugs. I realized later I didn't have anything for scale in the photo. But that one is about 2 inches long. About average for here. I have noticed that the roaches here are not very tough. You can beat one of them senseless with a sandal in a few minutes or so if you can stun it early and then keep after it.

The architect liked the drain idea, and told me he is going to start building cisterns this way from now on. Gringo-ized. I think with just a little basic engineering people could be drinking a lot cleaner water than they have been. Cheap fixes, too. I am going to add these to the two cisterns at the house.

And if you think THIS is boring....just wait until we start installing our sea-water well and reverse osmosis system to make our own fresh water from the ocean...

So this week has been pretty mundane, again. The house still takes up almost all of our time. La Gringa has been working on software in her new home office and getting the house organized. She has all her computer stuff unpacked, and tried out two different web-cams to see if she could set one up as some of our blog readers have requested. One of the little cheapo cams we brought down from NJ with us didn't work at all, and the quality of the other one is crummy. We will look around for a better one.

I have been working on some carpentry projects in MY home "office" ( garage/workshop) such as another set of shelves for the pantry:

It's working out to be a very nice place for a workshop. Great views of the ocean. When I open the garage doors on each side, the trade winds blow right through. They take all the sanding dust etc. right out the door with them. Cool.

So that's a bit of a snapshot of what we have been up to this past week. We are expecting another flurry of construction activity, with (hopefully) hurricane shutters being installed over the sliding glass doors and maybe the landscapers getting started. By 'flurry' I actually mean some kind of discernable forward motion that we can time with a calendar. We are planning on getting a bunch of stuff planted. It should help enormously. The list includes buttonwood, mahogany, and sturdy, native palm trees. We are probably not going with the tall, spindly importe coconut palms that many ex-pats seem to like. Not on this piece of exposed, rocky coastline.

We have spent the past two months living here and watching the neighbors' expensive new coconut palms gently fraying in the breeze...

Yes, it's blowing 20 mph from the East again today.

And while not every sunset here is incredible, even the average ones are generally at least worth a photo.

Please note I am adding this to the post because I have already gotten some comments about this whole cistern idea. If you are not particularly interested in cistern ideas, you need read no further!)

For those of our readers who also live in areas where cisterns are used to trap and hold rainwater, I wanted to bounce this idea around. The problem, as you might know, is that in the weeks and months of dry times between rainy periods stuff builds up on the roof. It includes dust, bird poop, insect bits, and atmospheric fall-out that might include pesticides and lord knows what else. Our filtering setup will take this out of the cistern water before we use it, but I am after a way to keep it out of the cistern in the first place. Call it water quality control.

There are some companies building 'first flush' diverters. I won't go into all the details here, but basically what they do is let the first water that falls on the roof and washes down the dust etc. run off and not go into the cistern. I have found two Australian products that interest me. If you are interested in these, you can see them at:

and at:

Right now, I am leaning toward the first one, although I am sure either would work. I just like simplicity, and fewer moving parts and things to go out of whack. There is also some volume control in that one. There once was a US group making a similar product, but I have not been able to get an answer out
of them since Hurricane Katrina wiped out their facility in Louisiana two years ago. I suspect the Australians are more tuned into this kind of application, anyway. I do have one little problem in that the Ozzie diverters are in metric sizes, and of course all the PVC here is in inches. Hmm...

My situation is that I could add one of these diverters to each of our exposed sections of PVC between the rain gutters and the house wall. Our feed-in installations look like this:

and this:

We do not have access to the plumbing between the point where these go into the walls and exit in the cistern, which is the next place I can get to them: inside the cistern tanks.

If we wanted to install one at each feed-in, I would have to buy five diverters. That's not all that bad, except that they would look ugly. They would be potential head bangers. And they would dump dirty water on the patio, etc.

I am looking for a way to use them without the drawbacks. I thought that if I installed one on the outside of the cistern, and capped off what is normally the open end, it would look more like this:

The rain always starts slow, and it rains for several minutes before the roof stuff gets washed loose and down the gutters. This is the part I want to divert. I am thinking that if I just connected the inflow to the outflow, with a T fitting in the middle, a capped-off diverter would act like a close-off valve. It should let the dirty water all run right out the end of the pipe until it closed the valve. Then the water should back up and flow up and out the T-fittings on the top of the pipe inside the cistern. If need be, there could be several of these T fittings along that pipe. Trial and error, I guess.

Then when the diverter closed, of course, the scenario should look more like this:

Some additional advantages to this are that I would only have to buy two diverters, one for each cistern tank. I would put two new holes in the cistern wall for the outflow, because I do not want to stop up the two drains already there. I also want to be able to put the diverter end of the outflow a few inches lower than the inflow.

It looks to me like it should work, with some fine-tuning. This setup would also lend itself to being retrofittable to other people's existing cisterns. I think that for the most part, people just do not realize what they are drinking in their water. In addition to the stuff already mentioned, I should also point out the sodium (salt). Many people should not be ingesting sodium for heart and blood pressure issues, and it's in the very dust here.

This method would also rinse out the entire piping system each time it rained before diverting water into the cistern. If I installed the diverters on the in-feed pipes next to the gutters, dust that got into the piping in the walls would not be rinsed. It would go into the cistern. This would flush ALL the pipes. Diverting the silt would save people having to have their cisterns cleaned out as often, too.

I would welcome any ideas or comments on this. I ( of course!) think it's a good idea. I also think that this whole idea of cleaning up people's drinking water by installing first-flush diverters and filters to existing homes could justify a business, if I could find a local partner who was interested. I just need a sharp, motivated, local plumber to work with. And money and marketing, of course.

Any thoughts?


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Fumble fingers and fine feathered fiends

Dawn came around yet again this morning (which is almost always a good sign) and although I know I have fairly well saturated this blog with same old/same old sunrise and sunset photos, I thought this one at least merited an honorable mention:

I thought that was a pretty good one even by our increasingly lofty standards.

It was even worth me stumbling bleary-eyed and sleepy out onto the patio with a camera. I was dragging because we were up until almost 02:00 this morning. Jay (owner of Bottle Creek Lodge on North Caicos) flew back to the States for a visit today and he had an early flight. We had met Jay last year when we took our own boat over to Bottle Creek to check it out. And then once again this year when he kindly invited my son and I to fish the Winter Wahoo Rodeo tournament on his boat.

So, along with his two dogs, he needed a place to stay on Providenciales last night so he could make his early plane. He had called a few days ago asking if we knew any hotels on the island that would take dogs. Big dogs. Well, uh, no. We don't. But being the unusually kind-hearted souls that we are, we offered Jay and his dogs the guest room. We were not influenced in the least by his offer to buy rum and dinner. Well, I will just shorten this story right now by saying that somebody had the three dogs howling at the full moon by midnight thirty.

For anyone who wants to spend a family holiday in a peaceful, laid-back part of these islands, away from the crowds and traffic of the Grace Bay resorts, without spending a fortune at one of the pamper palaces, I couldn't think of a better spot than Bottle Creek Lodge. You can fish, kayak, snorkel, beachcomb, and just relax. There is not a resort on each side of you. If you are the kind of person who would rather spend a week barefooted than spend a day shopping for shoes then you should check it out. (Hint: you would have about a zero percent chance of having a beer with Bruce Willis on Parrot Cay, but would stand about a hundred percent chance of having Sandy's homemade pizza with the Govenor of the TCI and his family at Bottle Creek Lodge tonight.)

Meanwhile, things continue to progress slowly at the house. Yesterday the sat TV guys were here again, hacking a trench into the ground, running cables, and attaching all that high tech looking receiver stuff to the dish. I don't know what kind of signal we are going to get from this thing yet, but if the orientation of it this morning is any indication, the Sci Fi channel should be coming in anyhow:

(Since the installation costs are 'over the moon' for this system, I thought the photo was appropriate.)

I have been spending a lot of time looking at water-related issues. We have cistern storage for about 20,000 gallons, which comes from rain water and from desalinated sea water which we buy by the truck load. A couple days ago we finally received a new component that I had ordered on the internet. I managed to stumble my way through the whole customs clearance thing yet one more time, hauled the box home, and opened it up. And there in all it's glory lay our new whole house water filtration system:

Along with easy installation and maintenance instructions, of course. Covering several totally different models. Written in Canadian.

Well I wasted no time in finding a space for this on the pump room wall. Made me almost wish I owned a jackhammer.

The next major step should have been hooking it up with a whole hardware store worth of little expensive PVC fittings. That's another story. But first, there was this little intermediate thing to do. The first stage of the filter is a sediment trap to take all the particles out of the water. I have another filter on the way, to take gravel sized dust out of the water before it gets to the fine filter. The middle cannister is a carbon filter to take chemical impurities out and improve taste. The last blue thingy there is a UV lamp chamber. It exposes the twice-filtered water to intense ultraviolet light to kill a big list of various microbes and bacteria and other extremely small critters that might have made their way through the other filters. If you are a nasty little bug, that "Door Number 3" is supposed to really ruin your day. This then leaves us with dust, chemicals, and bugs filtered out of our house water. All part of the master plan. So far. Sounds good, anyway.

Well, the system is shipped with the UV lamp and a clear, quartz sleeve in separate containers to protect them from shipping damage. Those are the two cardboard tubes in the first photo. The instructions were plain. The glass is special. With glass, "special" actually means expensive and fragile. They told me that part, about it being fragile. It is basically a large test-tube looking thing about two feet long into which the UV light is located. The approved method is to grease it up with silicon lube, and slowly, gently, with a slight twisting motion, push it up into a couple of o-rings in a fitting. Then you dangle the uv light down inside it from the top. This keeps it waterproof, you see. The intact glass tube is critical to the water-tight integrity and operation of the system. Essentially, it plugs a hole.

I understood the instructions. I recognized the fragile nature of this glass tube. I smeared 0-ring grease on it, lined it up carefully, and gently began to push it up into the fitting with what I certainly thought should have been just the right slight twisting motion. ('Slight' is such an..... ambiguous word) And promptly broke off about two inches of the end of it. Shattered it, actually.

After the echoing wails of despair and self-recrimination subsided I got back online to see how quickly I could get a spare sent down. "Well" I was told via email, "don't feel bad. Everybody breaks these things. It's almost normal". Oh gosh. Now I feel better. Maybe a little better. But in any case, YES I can order a replacement, for only $65 US from the Canadian supplier. Now, here comes the part about living on a remote tropical island..

A $65 glass tube weighing less than a pound will cost about $150 to ship with Fed Ex ( shudder) or slightly less with an airfreight company. Then there is a 30% import duty, and we can pay another $100 or so to have a pro clear it, or spend about two to two and a half hours of my own time clearing it. And two trips to the other end of town. Always at least two. All this will take a week, almost guaranteed. So to replace the $65 part my fumble fingers broke would cost us about a week's waiting time, and about $335. cleared, or only about $235 and a half day of my time with Customs if I clear it myself. Ouch. (That should teach me to be more careful. But it probaby won't. Nothing else has, yet.)

I decided to try something else, first. Maybe this will be useful info to someone else with a similar problem. I took my trusty Dremel tool (love those things) and one of the thin abrasive cutting discs that come with it. I set it at about 10,000 rpm, and very, very carefully worked it lightly around and around and around the broken end of the glass tube. ("Oh yeah" you might rightfully say, "NOW the big oaf decides to be careful with the thing..")

After about two hours of this, it finally paid off. I hope.

Yep, I was able to cut off the shattered glass. The broken piece is on the right, with that nasty looking shard (don't you love that word...'Shard!'? Makes me look for someplace to use 'Egads!') sticking out. The now shortened, but newly unbroken tube is on the left. Oh, of course I used duct tape around it to give me a straight line for the cut. And to restrain any flying razor sharp jugular-seeking shards should this whole experiment fail. Sometimes they do fail, you know. Often. I don't know if it did any good, but I always feel like I am accomplishing something technical when I start out with duct tape. I think it's an addendum to the Law of the Sea, or something. I didn't get any flying shards at least. Egads, that could have been ghastly.

Grinding the cut end smooth was easy. And you can bet your bippy I was pretty careful at this point. I have a lot of time invested in this thing by now. And it will give me no more second chances. It begrudged me this one. So as soon as I finish this blog post, I am going to go see if I can get it all together and make it work. (Now where was that paragraph about the 'slight twisting motion', again?)

Otherwise, things continue as things do. La Gringa has learned the fine art of using a squeegee on big glass doors. They had built up a pretty good layer of dust, and salt spray residue from some of the winter storms. They splash waves on the rocks, and the wind blows some of it up here. But La Gringa managed to get them back to a mirror finish. We chose this solar reflective glass, and from the outside it works exactly like one-way glass. SO much like a mirror, in fact, that the doors have attracted the attention of some of the native birds. We have six sets of one-way glass in which to watch this new local entertainment.

First, they swoop down to examine what they obviously think is another bird staring back at them:

(that was shot through a screen door inside the mirrored glass)

We have seen a behaviour pattern develope. They start out by landing on some vantage point a safe distance away from their reflection. The backs of our patio chairs seem to be an acceptable combined observation perch and latrine. They appear to be trying to figure out who this other bird is that they have never seen before. They strut, and preen, and do that bird thing with first one eye and then the other, trying for some kind of response. Apparently the "other bird" does not have the proper password, or something, because eventually they decide to get beak to beak with the rude intruder, and they hop down off the perch to get closer:

Remember, all he sees is his own reflection. And obviously, something about it offends him because shortly thereafter he flies into a feathered fit. He breaks off all attempts at civil conversation with his reflection, literally flies into a rage and starts pecking and kicking at the glass:

This goes on for a few minutes, after which the bird flies off to ponder this fierce looking and mysterious intruder who never says a word and mocks his every move....

And then he comes back for another angle....never knowing that calculating eyes with an evil intent are watching his every move...from behind the one-way glass like a bad cop in a crime movie.

"Yeah, they all sing......sooner or later...." or

"Opposable thumbs! If I only had opposable thumbs, I could open this door and we could settle this nonsense right now...."

Or maybe it's "WHY isn't this bird afraid of me? Is he stupid? Does he know who I am???" He's never gotten that close to a bird before...and it's really annoying him.

And other than these mundane snippets, life continues. We have watched our third full moon now while living here, reflecting off the increasingly calmer water as winter fades away:

(This is one of those times when I really wish we had a camera with more lens. I just cannot do this justice with the small pocket digitals.)

And we are falling into a local rhythm with the winds, the sea, and the birds. We watch traffic in and out of the boatyard. This is almost always interesting to us, being 'boat people'. Oh...speaking of 'boat people', we also have a nice place to watch the TCI's Marine Police patrol as they leave harbor every evening just before sundown. They spend about twelve hours per night, seven days a week, in all kinds of weather patrolling the Caicos Bank. They are looking for little wooden sloops full of desperate, illegal Haitians trying to make landfall here. And we watch them return from their patrols every morning after first light as the deep blues of darkness are changing into the brilliance of another tropical day:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Day of the Jackhammer

I don't really have anything new to report on here. But it's a cloudy, overcast day and I have been snapping a few photos and figured, what the heck, post 'em.

The weather has turned. We have had two days of overcast skies, and (for us) cool temperatures. It was in the mid 70's today for example. That feels on the chilly side to us. This morning the sunrise was totally obscured by clouds, It wasn't until mid morning that we saw any sun at all, and that was heavily filtered.

Of course we took the opportunity to tell the dog that it looked like there was going to be thunder...

He kept a pretty close eye on the clouds for a while. But alas, no electrical storms. Yet. IF there had been a flash of lightning and a thunder boom, I would be repairing a screen door instead of writing this.
Here's another photo of the sunlight hitting the water, after just barely peeking through a momentary rift in the cloud cover:

This is such a great location for these kinds of ocean shots. We are going to have to get a better camera, especially with the electrical storm season approaching.

We are hoping this is marking the beginning of 'rainy season'. We could use the water. On that front, I have been doing a lot of research on Reverse Osmosis desalination systems. We have a pretty good suppy of seawater here. If we could generate a good supply of fresh water from that we could turn this little hilltop into an oasis. Repair some of the damage the construction has done.

Work on the house was going at a good clip early in the week. They actually did not run out of momentum until Wednesday. Monday morning we had plumbers here to hook up the utility sink down in the garage. Finally. But, as in so many things, it did not go as planned. No one could figure out where the existing pipes were connected. The plumber that was here a year ago when the foundation was poured is long gone. So....they started digging. Up next to the outside shower.

Yes, another trench dug through the compacted and re-compacted driveway. I cannot imagine what we would be going through if we had gone ahead and had it paved when we thought they were all finished. Then down at the garage itself there was a search initialized to find out where the existing pipes might lead. As in so many things here, it involves an electric jackhammer. Surgeons have their scalpels. Artists have their brushes. This is the land of the jackhammer.

Oh, and of course it also required taking a pickaxe to the previously smooth dirt in front of the entrance. I don't think there was this much digging involved in the search for Jimmy Hoffa.

While three plumbers with a pickaxe and jackhammer assaulted the south face of our garage, a truck arrived with the sat dish antenna. This thing is huge. I had drawn what I thought an eight foot diameter antenna would look like in the previous post. I was wrong. It's bigger than that. I am starting to worry about there being some kind of communication breakdown. We just want to receive signals from a satellite. We don't want to get involved in searching for extraterrestrial life or tracking missiles.

In any case, now the dish is sitting on the post. And the entire contraption is about ten or twelve feet high. I kid you not.

I have been thinking of ways to lessen the visual impact of this ugly doodad. Thinking maybe I could paint it sky-blue, and stencil a palm tree on it. Or a cactus outline. Well, if after all this we don't get good reception, there is definitely something wrong with the program. I wouldn't be surprised if astronauts on the space station could see this from orbit. Maybe we can rent it to NASA.

The solar collector for the hot water system was finally turned around and installed in the correct orientation:

And then we discovered late in the day (after the plumbers had left of course) that the hot water outlet from it apparently goes nowhere. And guess who did the original pipe installation back when they poured the foundation.. Yep. Same guy who ran the pipes to nowhere down at the garage. I hate to admit it, but I see more jackhammers in our near future.

We are getting to know the present plumbers fairly well. Not by design, but by circumstances. They have been here a lot. That outside shower plumbing, for example, has now been dug into at least four times. After watching them dig, and hammer, and scratch their heads for a couple hours on this little garage utility sink project I told them to forget the old pipes. We had water run to the garage. They just needed to tie it in. So I suggested they just jackhammer a new hole in the wall, run new pipes, cut the old ones off, and hook it up. They liked that idea. It saved them time. It saved them work. It was an excuse to use a jackhammer. They like jackhammers.

I have a dangerous little habit of making up my own temporary names for people when I don't know their correct names. This plumber always wears a distinctive straw hat when he is here. It's unusual, in that most people wear the standard issue baseball type caps. So..during one of the three or four times he had to come out and knock holes in the new tiles to repair some plumbing fixture I referred to him as Foghat. You know, sorta after the rock/blues band. And the name stuck. And La Gringa reprimanded me several times, but I just did not know the man's name. I am pretty sure he never heard of Foghat. I am willing to bet he has never seen fog.

So, yesterday, La Gringa finally came out and asked him his name, knowing that I am not very good with people and would probably never get around to it. ( I still have a problem calling the electrican Sugar.) Anyhow, back to the plumber..He told us his name is Jessica. I don't know how it is spelled, but that is how it is pronounced. Jessica. Somehow, I am thinking that I will still be referring to him as Foghat.

Jessica hooking up my new workshop utility sink. La Gringa has great hopes that I will at least have clean hands when I come up to the house from the shop.
That is not my final workbench setup. I have not had time to get back to finishing that. I have been too busy building things on the temporary bench setup. So it's all still a shambles. Isn't it ironic how often temporary solutions become permanent fixtures.

Today we had no work going on, so I was finally able to finish the first set of pantry shelves. I guess this is my first official small project in the new unfinished workshop. Using a moving blanket, and pressing the trusty old Samurai Sherpa into service I hauled it up the mountainside..

And with La Gringa's help I managed to shoehorn the shelving into the space it was intended to fit. I found I was a little rusty, after years of no woodworking. I had forgotten to allow for the door trim, so I had to remove that and re-install it. But I think it didn't go too badly for a "shakedown" first project.

Second project: build another one. It will just be a slightly higher quality mirror image of this one. I made some rookie errors in this one. I assumed all 2x4's were the same dimensions. They are not. And we already have projects stretching out for a long time to come. It's a good thing I like butchering wood. After I cautioned La Gringa against leaning up against the exposed wiring in the circuit breaker/main power box, she informed me that my workshop project priority just changed. It is now to cut a temporary cover to protect her from the exposed house mains. She's kinda funny about electricity, come to find out. Her and the dog both. Go figure.

Yesterday La Gringa came down to the workshop to tell me to take a look at the ocean. Off in the distance there was a squall line moving in from the North. Over about a quarter of an hour, we watched three small waterspouts. They would form and last a few minutes, and then collapse for a while. Then they would reform. By the time we thought to take photos, the best of the show was over. We only had the little pocket Olympus with us, and it doesn't do well in low light, or in telephoto mode. So the photos are not that great. But perhaps you can make out the bumps under the cloud. These were the tops of the water spouts:

The middle one was just reaching down to the ocean in that picture. Not being able to get the photo we wanted here at least prompted me to dig out the better camera and make sure it's charged. We are still digging through cardboard boxes a lot, two months after moving in. But we should be able to get better photos when this happens again.

The view remains ambiguous this morning. Too early to tell if it's going to be sunny or cloudy again, but on the whole, I would actually not rather be in Philadelphia.

If these calm wind conditions continue, we just might go out for a conch diving trip. It's been too long. I would also settle for a nice electrical storm. It's fun to watch the dog panic.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


I have been trying not to start every one of these snippets out with a sunset photo, but there's a reason for this one:

See that upright post thing just to the left of center there on the edge of the driveway? That's a galvanized steel pipe. Earlier this week the satellite TV installation crew finally got started. While I was preoccupied with trying to fix the garage doors, two guys worked a big part of the day in the hot sun. With pickaxe and shovel, they scraped, chipped, and chopped out a two foot deep hole in the limestone. They built a wooden form and hand-mixed two bags of concrete to pour around the base of it. They got it exactly vertical. They did a good job. Then they left for the day.
Well, that evening, just at sunset, when La Gringa and I stepped out front to fire up the charcoal grill and watch the sunset, we got that image, above, of the intended new sat dish antenna location. Yep. Right in the middle of one of our favorite views.

And they don't just use the small three foot sort of sat dish down here. No sir. To get a good signal here you need an eight foot diameter dish. It's one of them big suckers.

We discussed the situation at length as we watched the sun disappear behind the gray metal pipe. We imagined an eight foot fiberglass dish attached to the top of the pipe. The sunset did not get any better with the pipe in it. We know how hard it was to excavate that hole with hand tools in a limestone hilltop. We did not want to have to tell the guys that we wanted it taken down. We even discussed whether we really need a television. We have gotten along just fine without one for almost two months. We have commonly gotten through days or even weeks without turning on a television even when we could. We talked about just using their new pipe for a flagpole.

But what we finally had to admit is that we don't even want a flagpole in that spot. We really don't want anything between us and our view of the ocean.

But we do want a television. we need to be able to keep in touch with what's going on in the world. We enjoy the odd movie, well, not exactly the odd movies. What I meant to say was that sometimes we like to watch a movie. Or more likely Discovery Channel. We watch "Tropical Update" religiously during hurricane season. We even considered, briefly, whether or not an 8 foot diameter dish on that pole would be all that much of an eyesore. It would be in the view from the front door, and from the kitchen window. So I blocked out about an eight foot dish sort of area on a recent photo taken from our front steps, just to be sure we really could not live with it there. It would look kinda like this:

And yeah, we really couldn't live with it there. I mean, I like technology as much as the next guy...but this....well this was not going to improve anything about this view. And what else do we have up here, really. It's all about the ocean views. And the sunsets.

It fell to me to inform the installers that....this just wouldn't do. I felt bad about it, but well, there it is. They were not happy, of course, but they showed up the next day (after the concrete had set good and hard) and with the help of our builder's big blue machine they managed to knock the whole thing loose:

They put a strap on it and lifted it out of the hole, concrete and all. As a side note; I was very interested in how well the poured concrete adhered to the bare limestone. Excellent adhesion. Tenacious to dislodge. Bad news for the satellite installers in this case, but good news for the house.

Romeo drove the now uprooted installation to a new location, out of the line of sight between us and any part of the ocean.

And the sat tv team started over. But this time they had to chip away a couple hundred pounds of concrete from the pole, before they once again took pickaxe and shovel to the limestone. It took them all day to move this thing. It's now installed in it's new location up the hill from us, and although I think sat dishes are ugly no matter where they are installed...

We think we can live with it up there. (yes of course the trash will get cleaned up and landscaped. Well, the trash won't get landscaped...) I am wondering if it's okay to paint the back of these things. Sky blue, perhaps?)

Anyhow, you gotta admit, an eight foot dish on the pole there is not nearly as much the visual equivalent of a dental drill as it would have been in the other location. We cannot even see this dish location from most of the house. We minimized our exposure to this view when we designed it, realizing that eventually someone would be building up the hill from us. They can look down on our new sat dish. We don't have to see it.

This week life has been hectic. Again. On the day of the sat dish installation we had a total of six guys here working on various parts of the house. We managed to get the garage doors going up and down mechanically. Oh, the electric openers don't work, but being able to manually open the doors is a big step forward. There are adjustments to the automatic openers, and I will get around to troubleshooting those eventually. If I can find the manual for them. But in the meantime, I can finally get some things done in the future workshop, now that I can open it up to the sea breezes blowing through. Nice place to work.

Today is Sunday. For the first time in weeks, we had nice weather and a day without subcontractors all at the same time. So we decided to walk away from the homeowner projects and just go fishing. We grabbed a couple rods, some lures, the dog, and headed for the marina. We fueled up the boat, said hello to Duran and Chad, and headed out.

The fishing was slow but it felt so good to be on the boat again that we really didn't mind that. We did not get totally skunked but we did come home empty handed. We managed to hook up with a small barracuda and a small Amberjack. But we don't eat either of those fish and so after getting them on board I threw them back. They were fun to catch.

Of course one member of the family was highly critical of our decision to throw the fish back. Dooley the Demented Dog does not believe in releasing any fish for any reason. He had to personally inspect the barracuda and give it a couple bites for good measure.

He went right for the barracuda's throat. Maybe he was a lawyer in a previous life. ( I meant the Jack Russell Terrier's previous life, not the barracuda's.)

A little while later La Gringa hauled in a small Jack. And of course the dog was still pretty worked up thinking about the barracuda we threw back, so he really went mental over the much livelier jack..

Couldn't quite reach it...

Though he tried his best, La Gringa kept it just out of reach of his teeth:

He growled. He barked. He made loud and sinister sounding threats in a language I don't understand. Then he suddenly got one of his famous ideas, and decided he needed to get closer to the fish:

(look at his feet. You think he's excited?)

Oh yes, he will get right up on the gunwale of the boat out in the deep blue ocean, if he thinks he can get close enough to bite a fish:

So we had to let him at least be able to say he bit it:

We did not want him to hurt it, because we were throwing it back. (I kinda like that photo. Clear skies. Blue water. Late afternoon sun sparkling on the waves. Cuddly little domestic lapdog pet gone bloodthirsty and feral...)

After that the fishing slowed back down to nothing. We still enjoyed the day. We saw a huge turtle swimming around on the surface but did not get close enough for a photo. So we headed back to the house and back to our never-ending list of things that need to be fixed, painted, installed, moved, removed, adjusted, dusted or just cursed at. Tomorrow morning we are expecting our guys from the builder to be here. We are expecting a plumber to be here. We are expecting our architect to drop by to sort out some issues. And we are hoping the hurricane shutters arrived this weekend. And I got word that the water filtering and UV system I ordered from the USA is here and waiting for me to clear it through customs. We have a lot to do over the next few days and the weather is forecast to be perfect for boating. We haven't given up all hope of getting back on the water this week by any means. Construction-associated workers generally pretty much get thin and vanish by around 4:00, and we still have daylight until after 7:00...

I have started doing a few things in the still unfinished workshop. It's really fun for me to unpack tools I haven't seen or used in years. Kind of like Christmas. I am getting reacquainted with saws and sanders and chisels. As a warm-up project, I am building two racks of shelving for the pantry. I've managed to get the first one together from framing lumber and plywood, and even got it half painted this morning (before we decided to chuck it and go fishing):

Hey, that's not bad for a Sunday morning. I am a little rusty on the woodworking, but it's just like riding a bicycle. Meaning, I guess, that if you let your attention wander eventually you are going to run into something and bleed. Hey, for some of us, BandAids are shop tools, also.

I hope to get this shelf set finished and installed tomorrow. Then I get to build another one just like it for the other side of the pantry. I should be friends with the new table saw by then.

These shelves should take care of a lot of storage requirements. I always wanted a decent sized pantry, they never seem to be big enough. Hopefully, this one should be able to handle cases of tuna fish, dog food, coffee and beer. The four basic food groups and now we have room to hoard them in respectable quantities on those rare occasions when the supermarket has the brands we like.

So, while things are still very much under construction, we are slowly starting to see some progress. With a little luck, we might have some better boating and tropical blue water and maybe fishing photos to post in the next day or so. We are pretty tired of house photos, and I am sure everyone else is as well.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Still blowing

The rains finally slacked off yesterday morning. There were a few parting squalls before the skies cleared to a haze. But the wind kicked up to almost 30 mph. This is the normally calm Caicos Bank across the road, where our new neighbors are trying to keep their new palm trees in the ground. They are propped against the prevailing winds (the palm trees, I meant. Not the neighbors. I don't know what they are propped against):

Checking the weather forecast, I saw we are expecting twelve foot seas. It was not a "lets drop it all and go fishing" day, No sir. On days like this we do get some entertainment watching other boats coming out of the calm marina into a suddenly evil and nasty chop. Nothing like that first splash of sea water in the face to wake you up.

With the intermittent showers still around and the wind howling, I decided to just spend another day knocking small chores off this seemingly endless move. (So, a fair warning here, this post is just about handyman repair stuff. No tropical scenes, no colorful sea life. Just one of our typically boring days, lately.)

We have had a microwave oven sitting in a cardboard box in the middle of the dining area for, oh, something like six hundred years. Since way before we moved in. Yesterday I took it out of the carton for the first time to have a look at it. I was thinking maybe there was something wrong with it. A reason people have avoided installing it. Perhaps it had bad breath. Or an attitude.

Nope. Nothing wrong with it. An apparantly healthy, new, microwave.
We had actually gotten accustomed to it sitting there. We walked around it fifty times a day without a second thought. A variety of construction workers have been walking around it for months. "Install the microwave" has been on every punchlist we have generated this year. Every other appliance is in, and fully functional (pending some fine tuning here and there. Mostly trim work).

The new microwave in it's carboard box had become somewhat of an unofficial piece of furniture. A convenient place to park other stuff that does not yet have a home of it's own. The usual clutter. Stacks of books seemed to like it, for example, and they'd gather there often.

It doubled as a table or workbench at times. For some reason, it just never got installed. We even became inured to the reminder of what we once considered a conspicuously annoying empty spot above the cooktop. We had always envisioned a microwave there.

Well, we planned for it. We paid for it. And there it was, sitting on the floor. We just needed for it to be up there. On the wall. Blinking its little LED clock display of 12:00 every time the power fails, just like all the other appliances do. Something to use to warm tortillas and pastrami. Reheat things. Make popcorn. Defrost hot dogs. You know....all that microwave stuff.

It only had to move about twelve feet from where it has been to where it needed to be. And up five feet vertically from the floor to the wall. (That's the simple version of that.)

It waited on the floor for a long time for the cabinet guy to build cabinets. Back in '07, I think it was. Then it waited for the electrician to install an outlet. For the past couple months it has been waiting because.....well....I don't really know why it has been waiting. Probably because I specified that it be vented outside the house, which I gather is unusual here. Despite the fact that outside is the preferred place to be venting things, as far as I am concerned. It's the exhaust for the stovetop, too. Or it is intended to be.

Now that I think about it, every microwave I have seen for quite some time has been set up to recirculate the steam and odors, and blow it back into the room. I am not sure why. Convenience, I suppose. Or maybe people just don't think about it. Perhaps microwave salesmen and installers just fail to mention that these things come ready to be vented outside. Certainly nobody here seemed to realize that it was possible.

They sure do now, though. I am sure the builders people dread seeing me show up with that "WHY ISN'T ANYBODY VENTING THE MICROWAVE???" expression on my face.

In any case, I decided we had suffered without a microwave for long enough. It did not look like our builder was going to get to it before it became an obsolete antique, so yesterday I took the job on.

Armed with a cordless drill, a 2" hole saw ( that %&*$#@ red thing in the drill), wood bits, a masonry bit, a jig saw, hardened masonry bolts, screwdriver, square, level, installation manual, operation manual, a cutting template....

...adhesive tape, a socket wrench to turn the bolts, a pencil...this is one of those jobs where you get to put pencil marks on the walls. I don't know why that gives me a little thrill. Must be some psychological reminder of when I was a kid and forbidden to write on walls. I didn't get away with it then, as I recall.

I drilled and cut a whole bunch of holes in the new cabinet. New cypress wood shavings. Expensive shavings.

That's a unsettling feeling, isn't it. The first time you take a power tool to something new. It's like this little nagging "Ah oh...what have I forgotten?" twinge. Trying to remember to measure three times and cut once...or is it cut once and then measure....It actually wasn't that difficult. Good experience.

First step is to attach a metal bracket to the wall behind the oven location. When I first started bolting things to concrete walls I was a little nervous. I am familiar with wood-framed houses. What we call conventional framing in the US. 2x4 or 2x6 studs on 16 inch centers. Well, this is all concrete block. Once you get used to working with it, it's not too bad. Just drill a hole with a masonry bit where you want the bolt, then use a power driver or wrench to crank in a hardened blue bolt. It's real solid. I think I now prefer it to hanging stuff on hollow drywall.

Then it was just a matter of taping the template upside down to the bottom of the cabinet above the cooktop, drilling three holes, marking and cutting out a rectangle with a jig saw, and using a hole saw to cut a hole for the power cord. I started out trying to do the contortionist routine,standing on a step ladder,bent over backwards trying to drill and cut upward, with sawdust gently wafting down and sticking to my eyeballs. After a few minutes of that, I ended up taking the entire cabinet off the wall and performing this surgery with it sitting on the kitchen floor. Got a little more complicated than I anticipated. However I now know a lot more than I previously did about these multi-adjustable cabinet door hinges.

I am laughing now, thinking about that little phrase that snuck into this story just now. The bit about "using a hole saw to cut a hole for the power cord". Yes, THAT part. I'm gonna tell you why I am laughing, and I realize this is somewhat of a departure from our normal sort of blog post format here. An aside, as it were. A trip off the path. A bit of local life, I guess you could say.
Anyhow, getting to the point where I could type that specific phrase about the hole saw ....took something like four hours out of the day. My cheap two-inch hole saw was dull from the one and only time I used it last fall to install a fuel gauge on the boat. Cheap metal. So, while being unreasonably asked to last through a second job, the hole saw's set screw sheared off a third of the way through the job. "Gosh!" says I. "Oh dang!" and stuff like that.

After taking it down to the future workshop at Base Camp to see if I could fix it, I discovered the little allen head set screw had totally jammed and the end of it was splayed out like a smashed rivet head. Spun on the hardened drill. Useless. Couldn't turn it. So, with the project on hold I drove to the hardware store. Leaving the kitchen in some disarray. A trip to the hardware store is 7 miles of dirt and rocky road, made even more interesting by new washed out potholes of varying depths left by the rainstorms, and then another three miles of pavement, always an adventure in itself. Just to buy another cheap two-inch hole saw. Ah, but they did not have any more two inch diameter  hole saws of the same type. Popular item, I guess. Or more likely people buy them a half dozen at a time to be sure they can get a job done. SO, I decided to buy a quality 2 inch hole saw, which they DID have in stock at several times times the price of the Chinese one.

But, you see, the quality hole saw uses a different arbor than the cheap hole saw. In fact, the quality arbor alone costs four times what the entire cheap hole saw with arbor costs. So, doing the math, a quality hole saw with arbor does indeed cost something like eight times the price of the cheaper setup...But that's immaterial, because, friends and neighbors...

they did not have any of the quality arbors for the quality hole saw

At this point, I was thinking I could just burn a hole in the cabinet with a propane torch...or perhaps use an axe..but thinking it over I realized I would forever be explaining that burnt spot where the cabinet used to be. Or why there was a large hole chopped in it. La Gringa would be peeved, in either case.... Then I noticed that what they did have in stock was a 2 1/4" cheap hole saw, which had the same arbor as the one that stripped out. So I came up with the idea of buying the odd sized cheap hole saw that I did not want nor need in order to scavage the arbor from it for the cheap, dull, saw that I already had. This making sense so far?

So I did that. I bought the wrong sized cheap hole saw with the right sized cheap arbor, and took it back to the garage. I used a Dremel tool ( love those things) with the little flat carbide cutting disk to sharpen all the teeth on the old but right sized cheap hole saw. Took about a half hour to get it right. There's a lot of teeth, and they point in different directions. I now know a whole lot more about sharpening saw teeth. I then installed the new cheap arbor on the newly sharpened old cheap saw, and....then I could proceed with the microwave installation. (Remember the microwave?)

This is common in a climate like this, I have found. The first part of any little job seems to be to get the tools working again. Need to use a pair of pliers? Step One will usually be to find something to spray on the pliers to get them working. And a rag to clean the oil and rust off of them...then you can get back to the reason you needed them. It's true, you know. Rust Never Sleeps.

Somehow, someway, when I got it all back together, it all fit. And it works!

So, microwave is off the floor and working just fine. One less thing for me to complain about. I still have to work out the details of venting it outside though. It seems nothing like a "3 1/2" x 10" rectangular to 6" round adapter" has ever been seen in the TCI. It's difficult to describe one even with a drawing to point to. I need to find a good sheet metal man, or make my own I guess.

After installing the microwave ( the last of our appliances to become operational) I was on a little problem-solving binge , and before I could stop myself I had hung a mirror La Gringa has been wanting on the wall for a month. Man, I was moving right along now. Drill in one hand, masonry screws in the other, I was getting in the groove. Developing that thousand-millimeter stare of a home handyman on a mission....

Flushed with pride of accomplishment after the microwave and mirror installations, I rapelled down the driveway to Base Camp ( the garage) to see what else I could get done. I still had battery life lin the power drill and daylight on the horizon. On the way, I noticed that in just two days of intermittent rain, the run off has already started eating a riverbed into our compacted limestone driveway. This dry gulch was a micro Class II rapids yesterday during the rain.

Well, we knew it was going to happen. Even though we were assured otherwise. We just did not think it would happen this fast. Especially since we were assured otherwise. I think "pave the driveway" just moved up a notch on the priority list. Before the rest of the driveway decides to head toward town.

So, while La Gringa was out shopping for patio furniture I managed to install two sets ladder hangers and a tool hanger thingy on the garage wall:

Three more things off the garage floor. I am getting closer and closer to my dream of an actual workshop. I just need to find homes for all the stuff piled on the benches I built. The stuff was piled on the benches to save it from the floods. Well, you know that story.

Oh, La Gringa returned from shopping, and she had been to our old favorite "Krazy Bargains" looking for patio furniture. She did not find any patio furniture, but she DID manage to find probably the only two woodworking-style sliding adjustable bench vises on the island:

Massive things, compared to the smaller ones I am accustomed to in previous workshops. I think the Pakistani's at Krazy Bargains have probably had them in stock for several years. I bet they were astonished to sell them. I am really happy to have them, though, and I am really looking forward to getting these fitted to the benches. Just the thing for clamping stuff that needs working on. And we have LOTS of stuff that needs clamping and working on. Oh boy.
And yeah, they were made in China. I just hope it's not the same company over there that makes hole saws. (They seem to have lost their edge....nyuk nyuk..)

So, that was how our Wednesday went. Just a mundane day, working our way though all the little details involved in moving into an uncompleted house. Sound like fun?

Oh, we are still looking for a name for the house. In lieu of an actual street address. La Gringa came up with one that both of us like pretty well so far:

"The Back Side". That's what a lot of people call the boat route from here to the other islands over the Banks. The other route, between the islands and the reef is the "Front Side" I had liked "The Other Side" and "The Far Side" as names, but both are registered trademarks . The Back Side has room for some humor in it, a few word play games. So far, we like the name.