Thursday, August 28, 2014

August is almost gone

Here it is, already August 28th!  Where does the time go?  We finally have some relief from the weeks of windy weather that blew the sargassum seaweed ashore, although piles of sargassum linger.
Lovely, calm sea in the view looking north from our dock.
The calm weather was helpful for getting the next batch of lumber boated over.  As usual, Dennis and I are consumed by the construction process.
And our cabana as viewed from the dock.  The siding is up on the 2 gable ends of the addition.
We are making slow, but tangible, progress.
A closer view with the scaffolding moved to the inside to start on the interior roofing trusses.
A view of the north side of the addition.
Getting the first of the 5 interior roofing trusses up was a big milestone.
The first of the interior trusses is now complete.  It was a challenge to install because the west gable-end truss is not parallel to the remaining trusses.  Tricky measurements were needed.  The next ones should be easier ...
You can just make out the nylon lines that were strung to keep everything lined up right.
And here is the view from the back showing the west wall with the back door and windows.  The windowless wall is where the electrical inverter will be housed.
Like Dennis and me, Max takes a keen interest in the construction.  Every evening she makes her inspection of the day's progress.
Max on the job.
 It is tough and tiring work.
Exhausted by her efforts, Max takes a little break, still keeping one eye open.  Sort of.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Sargassum Invasion

Near the horizon, an olive green mass more than a mile long floats, drifting languidly from north to south.  A moment later the languidness is put to lie as the south tip of the mass makes landfall on our beach.  The Sargassum has arrived.  This happens periodically every year, but this particular Sargassum landfall is part of an impressive invasion that has the entire coast of Belize mainland and cayes covered with the brown alga.  
The Sargassum is closing in.  All day long a seemingly endless line of Sargassum floated in. 
Some has washed up and much more is headed in.
 The next day there were mounds of it on the beach and floating next to the shore.
Sargassum floating next to the shore.
A thick blanket has mounded up, especially to the south of our dock where it is a couple of feet deep on shore. 
Not quite as much to the north of the dock.
This Sargassum is from the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean.  The Sargasso Sea is a very cool thing/place - it is where baby sea turtles spend their growing up years as do European and American eels.  Every now and then the ocean currents change up a little bit and push some of the Sargassum to the south where it is picked up in other currents and pushed through the Anegada, Mona, and Windward Passages of the Caribbean Islands into the Caribbean Sea.  Once in the Caribbean, some of it gets taken up to the Gulf of Mexico and gets deposited on beaches in Mexico, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, while some it heads to Belize and Honduras.  Texas A&M University has an informative website devoted to tracking Sargassum drifts.  I found of lot of this information there in addition to the Wikipedia links below.
Most of the Sargassum that has washed up on our beach seems to be S. fluitans, but there may be some S. natans mixed in with it.
There are several species of Sargassum and the 2 of them from the Sargasso Sea are holopelagic, meaning that they float on ocean waters for their entire life cycle.  Other species of Sargassum that grow attached to rocks and corals are not normally found in the Sargasso Sea.
Besides the olive green-colored Sargassum, there are also greener wide blades of turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum) and some narrower blades of another sea grass in the mix that washed up.  The darker reddish brown stuff is Sargassum that has dried out.  There are also some other seaweeds in there that I haven't identified yet - like the clumps of roundish leaves about halfway down the right side of the photo.
Sea grasses, as opposed to the algal seaweeds, are vascular plants.  There are 3 recorded seagrasses in Belize namely, turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum) manatee seagrass (Syringodium filiforme), duckweed (Halodule spp.).  We have large beds of turtle grass along the very shallow water just off our beach.  And we often see manatees grazing the beds of seagrasses about 100 feet off shore in water that is about 10-15 ft deep.  Almost every day dead seagrass blades wash up on the sand.  We normally get that raked up and composted.  This big invasion of Sargassum will take us longer to deal with, but we are gradually getting it raked up.  Beats shoveling snow!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Construction, Coffee, and Constrictor

Just a short post today with, you guessed it, construction, coffee, and constrictor updates.

The crew have been hard at work on the roofing trusses.  The trusses have a fairly complicated design so that a large central space is left unobstructed for a nice sized loft.  
The view of the whole place from the dock.  You can see that roof of the addition is quite a bit higher than the original cabana and that roof line is almost perpendicular to the original.
Instead of a central "king post", there are 2 "queen posts" spaced eleven feet apart for a good sized open area in the loft.  The horizontal tension piece is about 8 feet from what will be the floor of the loft.  From this view, you can easily see how irregular the sides of the hexagonal floor plan are.  There is also a good view of the black-painted iron plates that we had fabricated to secure the joints in the trusses.  The plates are 5.5 inches wide and are bolted through using 1/2 inch threaded rod cut to length.
A view of the partially assembled west side gable end truss from the inside.  The trusses pre-assembled on the ground, disassembled, and then re-assembled in place. The central beam has been finished and is protected from the sun and rain by tarps.
Our friend and neighbor, Craig Pearlman, loaned us his scaffolding.  It makes this work much easier and safer.  This is the riskiest bit - securing the top of the truss with the ground 30 feet below.  That is Tiger at the top with Pascal holding the foot board in place and Derwin keeping the truss board at the right angle.
The hardest part is done and that is the stopping point for the day.
Another view of the heart-stopping view open space where Tiger was reaching up to fasten the top of the truss. A good place to stop until everyone is fresh.
Speaking of fresh - one of the things I like to have here in the heat is a nice glass of iced coffee sweetened Vietnamese-style with sweetened condensed milk.  The beautiful glass cup is one of a set my sister gave me.  They are really glasses that folks use in the middle east for hot tea.  They are perfect for iced coffee, though, just the right size.
Mmmmmm ... iced coffee.
Last night when Dennis went out to turn off the generator, he was surprised to see this tiny boa constrictor climbing up the veranda stair rail.  I was able to get a few flash photos of it before Dennis took it out to a noni bush.  The baluster the boa is leaning against is only 2 inches wide - the snake is smaller than the diameter of my little finger and is about 2.5 ft long.  Very pretty.
Last, but not least, the constrictor.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Rails and Posts and Beams

I mentioned in the last post that when I returned from Colorado, Dennis and the crew had gotten the rails up along the stairs and around the deck on the existing cabana.  As you can see in the next photos, they did a great job!
The rail around the landing at the top of the stairs.
The rail around the deck.  It is good not to have to worry about getting too close to the edge!
You can see the new wood decking is a fresher color than the old.  This is one of the things about building in Belize - they ran out of the decking and we had to wait about a year, due to the major flooding last fall, to finish the deck.  And even after it was available, the width was slightly different than what we had first.  sigh ...  So it even after it weathers in to the same color, it will still not match.
The rail as seen from the ground.  I am quite pleased with how it turned out.  Now I can also see that the concrete needs to be pressure cleaned and painted.  It's always something!
Now for the new construction project - we are finally to the stage of getting the 4 huge support posts and central beam in place.
The set up for pulling the 8x8 inch x 10ft posts up to the main level.  There is the post at the foot of the "ramp".
Dennis, Derwin, and Tiger get the rope fixed to one end of the post.
Richard and Paschal hoisting the post up the ramp with ropes.
Paschal and Derwin moving the second of the four posts.  These posts are of Santa Maria tropical hardwood that is native to Belize.  It is similar to white oak in weight but is nearly as hard as maple.
The posts that will be positioned at opposite walls.  They had to be cut at an angle due the walls not being parallel.
The end of the post was shaped so that it fits over the floor joists and rests on the concrete column below.  Here the guys are lifting it into place.
The 3 central pieces of the beam rest on a tongue in the post.  
It took several days for the 4 posts to be shaped, fitted into place, and secured once they were plumb.  Then came the construction of the beam that rests on the 4 posts, spanning the addition from front to back.  The 25 ft long beam is made of 5 layers of wood.  The 3 central layers are 2x10 inch Santa Maria and each outer layer is 2x12 inch Santa Maria.  The 3 central pieces were installed first.
The top of the beam is level with the top of the walls.   
The outer layer of Santa Maria has been installed on the beam.
The outer layer of the Santa Maria is getting a smooth finish since it will be exposed in the finished room.
This side of the beam is awaiting the final layer of Santa Maria.  Here you can see the tongue that central layers rest on with the outer layer on the far side being 2 inches wider and covering the tongue.
In the midst of all this construction, Dennis had cataract surgery in Belize City.  He has a wonderful ophthalmologist, Dr. David Hoy, who did an excellent job with the surgery. He even corrected an astigmatism at the same time.  This required 2 overnight trips to the city; one for the surgery and another for the 2 week checkup.  We flew up for the surgery, but drove for the check up.  Both times we stayed at Villa Boscardi B&B.  We highly recommend it for staying in the city.  It is lovely, clean, and in a convenient and safe neighborhood.  Check them out on Trip Advisor.

Next up will be the construction and installation of the roof trusses which is currently in progress.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Highlights from Colorado

It has been a busy and interesting summer so far.  I got to visit family in Colorado for 2 weeks toward the end of June.  Some of the highlights from the trip are shown below.
view from near my sister's place close to Livermore, CO.  Yes, that is snow just visible on the mountain tops near the center of the photo.
Late afternoon.
Cool clouds.
Most (maybe all?) of the pines are Ponderosa Pines.
Ponderosa pine bark, up close.  It smells like vanilla caramel.
Rufous Hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) at the feeder.  The immature male has the first of his red throat feathers.
A more mature male.
They were not shy birds, making it easy to get photos as they came to the feeders.
Handsome fellow
That flash of iridescence is definitely eyecatching.
Hummingbirds were not the only ones at the feeders ...
chipmunk!
The chippers went for peanuts, too.
As did the resident Stellars jay.
Out in the meadow, we spotted the nest of a lark sparrow.  The sparrow itself flew off as we approached, otherwise we would never have seen the nest on the ground. I did manage some photos to get a good ID of the bird with its conspicuous spot on the breast.
Scorpionweed (Phacelia) flowers were a nice surprise.
The blue larkspurs were intensely, well, blue.  Some areas were just covered with them.
Prickly poppies were around and being visited by bees, beetles, and flies.
Last year's Miner's Candle was attractive to this small butterfly.  I don't have the butterfly ID - please leave a comment if you know what it is.
Mule deer (just look at the size of the ears to see where they get their name) came quite close to the house.
The 3 males were starting to grow their antlers, which are still in velvet.
My nephew patiently lured the mountain chickadee to the table using peanut fragments. 
closer ...
will he take it?  Not today, but he did the next day!
My nephew, a nascent conceptual artist, with his "set up" of rocks with crystals.  Not quite so obvious in this photo, but he arranged them with a fine eye for size, shape, and color. It won't be long before I will be saying "I knew him when ..."
I had a great trip spending time with my siblings and their families.  While I was gone, Dennis and the construction crew finished the deck and the railing around our cabana and work continued on the addition.  A construction update will follow soon.