Thursday, February 27, 2014

February 20-24 - A GREAT Surprise

We - the horses, the dogs and I - got a great surprise on Thursday: Elaine came home for a totally unexpected weekend visit! Wow! Words cannot describe how wonderful it was to have her here.

Elaine, our friend Dunja, who is a horsewoman from Switzerland, and Marie spent a lot of time with and on the horses and on the beach.

In spite of all the time with the horses, she and I got to spend a lot of time together, just the two of us.

Monday I took Elaine to San Juan to catch her flight back to St. Lucia. Her visit will make the rest of her absence much much easier to deal with.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

February 19th - Kite surfing, wind surfing and surfing

In spite of typical winter howling winds, I haven't been down to photograph the kite surfers at Shacks for while. The timing just seems off: There are a lot of kite surfers out mid-afternoon but even on days I don't work the light at that time of day is flat and uninteresting. I prefer to shoot later in the afternoon when the light is more interesting but if there are waves, that's also a great time to shoot at Wilderness. Plus, I only have three afternoons a week to go out. There is that whole Ola Lola thing you know.

On Wednesday I decided to mosey on down to Shacks and see what was shaking. Among other things I hoped to get photos of our friend Jose, a wind surfer who is here from Switzerland.

The kite surfers were cool (as always) but on this day the wind surfers stole the show. There are four or five semi-pro wind surfers from France staying at Shacks. They put on quite a show for the camera. It was fun trying to capture both kite surfers and wind surfers in the same picture.

At some point I decided this might also be a good day to try an afternoon session at Wilderness so I grabbed my gear and made a mad dash for Wilderness. Wow! Two images from that session really stand out:

These are my favorites but there are lots more great images from both sessions on our website, Check 'em out!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

February 18th - a Yola on the Beach

(I'm guessing by now everybody north of Key West is pretty tired of being reminded of how long winter is lasting so I'm dropping the "xth Day of Winter.")

A yola came ashore late Sunday night or early Monday morning.I've written before about the human tragedy these boats represent. There are those who insist it's mostly gang-bangers, criminals and drug-runners who brave the crossing from the Dominican Republic across the Mona Passage. Others are people who paid huge dollars to try to get away from the DR to a "better" life in Puerto Rico. (It seems to me this is a ridiculously inefficient , inconsistent and unreliable way to move drugs.) Regardless of who is making the trip, it is dangerous. There are no guarantees the "boat people" - good guys or bad - will make to shore. There are no guarantees they will avoid capture if they do make it to shore.

These boats bring environmental tragedy as well. Usually the boats are just rammed through the reef regardless of damage to either reef or boat. After all, these are disposable, single-use boats. The debris from the "passengers" - clothing, plastic water bottles, food and food wrappers - are left on the beach, eventually to wash out to sea. No one has any responsibility for cleaning up the mess.

 For reasons unexplained and inexplicable, Customs and Border Protection (formerly Border Patrol, now reconfigured and renamed as part of the post 9/11 creation of the Department of Homeland Security) won't let anyone touch or take the boats. They are just left on the beach. Usually someone eventually sets fire to the boat, sending fumes form burning fiberglass into the atmosphere. The burned-out hulk is left to the wind and waves, eventually washing down the beach and breaking up, leaving chunks of fiberglass imbedded in the reef.

This particular boat didn't end that way. Someone dragged it up on the dune and set fire to it. I could see the flames from the boat and the resulting brushfire from our window. In the middle of the night the fire department went roaring across our neighbors' field to put it out.

Now it's a ugly melted hulk draped over the top of the dune. It will be interesting to watch what happens to it in the coming months.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

February 16th - the 56th Day of Winter

Molten liquid silver moonlight pours across the cobalt blue velvet sea. Turn the other way and a sliver of pink separates the blue-black of the ocean from the blue-black of the sky.

We kept swiveling around in our saddles, trying to see both directions at once, not wanting miss any of the constant tiny changes in the light.

This morning Marie and our friend Dunja, visiting from Switzerland, went on a predawn moonlight beach ride. At 5:30 am we were in the corral, tacking up the horses. By 6:00 we were riding on the beach, riding into the first tiny slivers of dawn color with the nearly full moon behind us. We really did swivel to look first one way then the other. Each direction was amazing, different.

Some days, some moments are just magical. This was one of them.

There are no picture (it was dark!) except the ones in my head. I hope they will be there forever.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

February 15th - the 55th Day of Winter

It continues to be a very "dry" season for surf. Usually winter storms in the north drive waves south to us. Not this year. I think it's because the storm tracks are so weird. This last storm, instead of coming out of Canada, sweeping across the Upper Midwest, the Northeast and out to seas, swept across the South then turned north and moved up along the East Coast. What? That's just crazy!

So despite the brutal winter our family and friends in the north are having, it's been a pretty crappy winter for surf here. Judging by the pictures from Pipeline in Hawaii, it looks like the Pacific is getting the good surf this year.

This picture is from a little tiny set of pictures of a tiny set of waves at Middles this morning.

Friday, February 14, 2014

February 14 - the 54th Day of Winter

Happy Birthday to our amazing son Jason!

Happy Valentine's Day to mi dushi in St. Lucia.

And I hope the rest of the world has a wonderful day!

Monday, February 10, 2014

February 10 - the 50th Day of Winter

Nothing but blue below

Yesterday we finally dove a site we've been wanting to dive for quite a while - The Wall in Rincon.

The Wall is just due west off the beach south of the pueblo of Rincon. The only parking is on the street but it's a short direct walk to the beach and into the water. It's a shore dive for sure but it is a lo-o-o-ng swim out, perhaps as long as a quarter of a mile. Just before the edge of The Wall the drop (descent) is to about 65 feet. Then over the edge where the next stop is something over 100 feet. Apparently, that next stop is a shelf. Beyond that? Who knows? We were told a technical diver friend of ours has been down off the shelf to 300 feet and wasn't at the bottom.

If you drop from the surface at just the right spot, as you near the bottom, you're greeted by a sight that's a bit unnerving:

a coffin on the bottom. It's not really a coffin. It's a coffin-shaped cement monument. The plaque on the top reads: "To those who lost their lives at sea, may they rest in peace." Still creepy though.

The views up the wall

and down

are amazing.

There are more photos from this dive on the Wall on our Flickr page. (Hint: the best photos are there. These are teasers.)

We definitely want to go back to the Wall. Lots lots lots more exploring to do!

Saturday, February 08, 2014

February 9 - the 49th Day of Winter

That's Marie on Zip up on top of the dune between Bajura and Jobos. I kinda like the "Old West with palm trees" look of this picture.

We took an morning ride on the beach this morning.

My friends in the Frozen Frigid North accuse me of posting pictures like this to harass them, to rub in how crappy the weather is there and how wonderful it is here. 

Honestly - that's not true, that's not why I post them I post these photos to give my shivering friends hope, to remind them there are warmer times coming. Their usual response to this is " BULLS**T!"

Friday, February 07, 2014

February 7 - the 48th Day of Winter

Happy birthday, Marti! We miss you beyond words.

Today is the 82nd anniversary of her coming into this world.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

February 5 and 6 - the 46th and 47 Days of Winter

Proof (as if those in the Frozen North especially needed it) that there is no more "normal" weather.

This is Steps Beach, otherwise known as Tres Palmas in Rincon, PR. In a "normal" year this would be packed with surfers surfing 4-6 foot or better waves. This year? "Tres" is flat, summer lake flat. The crowds (including me) are snorkeling, not surfing.

That's kind of cool for me though. Elaine and I snorkeled Steps once before, last summer. Because it is so flat, I've gone back two days in a row. The reef here is amazing! I thought we had some incredible elkhorn coral here on "our" reef at Shacks (actually we do). But it is nothing like Steps. At Steps the coral just goes on and on and on.

"Over the last 10,000 years, elkhorn coral has been one of the three most important Caribbean corals contributing to reef growth and development and providing essential fish habitat.

" Elkhorn coral was formerly the dominant species in shallow water (3 ft-16 ft (1-5 m) deep) throughout the Caribbean and on the Florida Reef Tract, forming extensive, densely aggregated thickets (stands) in areas of heavy surf.

"Critical Habitat
NMFS designated critical habitat for elkhorn and staghorn corals in November 2008 in four areas:
  • Florida
  • Puerto Rico
  • St. John/ St. Thomas
  • St. Croix"
 In some areas estimates range from 75% to as high as 90-95% loss of elkhorn coral populations.


That information make this stand of elkhorn coral all the more amazing. Fortunately, it is protected in a Marine Reserve area. I wish we could get Reserve status for our reef at Shacks!

I shot a lot of video of the Steps reef over the last couple of days. I've started editing in to something vaguely coherent. I'll let you know when it's available. 

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

February 4 - the 45th Day of Winter

(with apologies to family and friends in the frozen North)

Ho-hum - another discover scuba dive at Crashboat, this time with Christine and Courtney's friend Karianne and a couple from Peru (by way of New York). Alex skipped out on this group photo so it's just Karianne and Andrea.

I love going along with Darryl on discover dives. They are always a little bit different. Sometimes the new divers struggle (Karianne did a bit). Other times they take right to the water (Alex and Andrea seemed to be comfortable almost from the get-go).

By the end of this dive, all three newbies were comfortable enough to look at stuff on their own.

Both types, those who struggle but then get it and those who get it right away, are fun in different ways. Part of why I enjoy these dive so much is I get to share in that joy of discovery, the sense of accomplishment. It's to come out of the water and hear someone say, "that's the coolest thing I've ever done!"

As if I had something to do with it.

By the way - winter is half over.

Monday, February 03, 2014

February 3 - the 44th Day of Winter

Many travelers use review sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp to find information about hotels, restaurants, etc.

But beware, both as a poster/contributor and as a reader. These sites are no always what they seem or what they purport to be.

Take Yelp for example. Of course, Yelp is in business to make money. So for between $350 and $2200 per month, you can have ads on Yelp that show up above all the other reviews. Okay, they gotta make money. But did you know Yelp has a review purgatory? They have what they call "not recommended reviews" that don't show up in the review list. Somewhere Yelp has an algorithm that somehow decides "this review should not be seen." We have at least two excellent reviews that are in purgatory, no reason, no explanation, no way to get them out.

Until last week, we were very well reviewed on TripAdvisor. In fact we were the number two ranked restaurant in Isabela. Now we don't even exist on TripAdvisor.

For reasons that passeth all understanding, the machines at TripAdvisor shutdown our page and merged all of our reviews with the breakfast club's. In the 1s-and-0s eyes of TripAdvisor, we are now one business. There is no one to email to complain. There are no telephone numbers to call. There are no people. I can't even get in the "management center" to protest without sending them documentation that I am an owner of - the breakfast club! Which of course I cannot do because I am not an owner of the breakfast club.

So, as I said before, beware. You may not be reading all the reviews. You may see something you think is a review but in fact it is a paid-for ad. A fine, well-reviewed restaurant may not exist on a site, despite having hundreds of reviews. A review you post may never show up on a page.

These sites remind me of the credit reporting agencies: lots of power and absolutely no accountability.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

February 2 - the 43rd Day of Winter

Happy Ground Hog Day!

Well, maybe not so happy. The ground hog saw his shadow which means six more weeks of what has already been a brutal winter in the north. Sorry about that.

Looks like there's plenty of winter left to get yourself down to Puerto Rico.

Just sayin'...

It's also Super Bowl Sunday. Ola Lola's is hosting Another Annual Not a Super Bowl Party. No big screen TV. Nos screaming and yelling about touchdowns made or not made or officials' calls good or bad. Just fabulous food, great drinks, amazing company and always intelligent witty conversation.  Stop by if you're in the neighborhood.

January 28 - the 38th Day of Winter

Ho-hum - another surf session. This time it was a late afternoon session at Wilderness.

I really like shooting late in the day at Wilderness this time of year. I love it when I can catch the sunlight shining through the water making it translucent like ice or glass. And I love the backlit spray.

If the surfer is in the right position, I can get this beautiful sculpting edge light.


Changing directions and looking more directly toward the setting sun, I get silhouettes bathed in this amazing golden light.

So many moods in one photo session. I love it.

January 27 - the 37th Day of Winter

While this swell is not as big as predicted, it's hanging around a bit. So this morning I went to Surfers Beach for a surf photo session. I like this one of a long -boarder coming off the lip of the wave. Usually that's a short-board move.

As usual, you can see more of our surf photos on our website,

January 25 - the 35th Day of Winter

(this is the first of a bunch of "catch-up" posts)

As one of my surfer friends said, "It's a pretty slow season when everybody gets excited about a head-high swell."

We got a little surf bump, not as big as the surf sites were predicting but enough to get all the surf-starved surfers excited and out taking advantage of it. I managed to get out for an early start. My reward for getting out early? I got photos of two friends I almost never get photos of.

Local surf legend Mike Shand is an early surfer. He usually has his surf session in before there is enough light for me to shoot. Frequently we pass each other, Mike done and coming out and me just getting to the beach. But on this day he surfed late and I got there early.

Tim Cannon is another 0-Dark-30 surfer. Tim usually gets in the water in the dark. I managed to catch a few photos of his last wave of the day, just before the sun came up.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

February 1 - the 42nd Day of Winter

The surf flattened out on the west side so Darryl and I dove at Natural. The seascapes at Natural are just beautiful.

It was an amazing dive. As we descended on the reef, the very first thing we saw was a turtle.

We saw a number of queen angelfish. A couple of years ago we rarely saw queen angels at Natural. I'm happy to say they are becoming more common. This dive we saw at least three different ones. At one point we were swimming with a big queen angelfish and two French angels. Truly amazing!

But that's not the best part of the dive!

About halfway through, just as we were turning to head back, we heard whales singing. I can't describe what that's like 60 feet underwater. Because water is denser than air, sound travels much faster, four times faster than in air. Our ears don't pick up the tiny differences in sound in the water the way they do in air so it's more difficult to tell where sound is coming from. The result is your head is surrounded by the sound. There we were, swimming along, surrounded by whale-song.

The bad part about listening to whales singing when you're underwater (there is a bad part?????) is I don't want to breathe. When you breathe with SCUBA gear, you sound a lot like Darth Vader. When the whales are singing, I don't want to listen to my own Darth Vader sounds. I want to hear the whales! The number one rule of SCUBA diving is "Don't hold your breath!" Well, maybe just for a  second.