The Garden at Castaways

Having no money is always a good reason for not doing something costly however important it might seem. So it was with our garden.
A few rocks and some soil had been gathered from the surrounding hillside shortly after the house was finished and couple of tiny ‘make do’ flower beds created and planted up with some scruffy plants. But nothing more than this since funds were exhausted.
But we both like gardening so we planned on our return for the 2019/20 season to get something sorted for which we had found a modest budget of about £12K
Our brief experience with the make-shift garden and scruffy planting had showed us some things we needed to consider with the ‘garden proper’.
Firstly, the garden design had to kill the strong sea breeze in some way because while the house itself gave some protection, things we planted any distance away from the house got quickly battered by the wind which was occasionally very strong and gusty. This wind also picked up dust necessitating the back terrace be swept every day since a layer of fine sand was constantly being deposited onto everything outside.
Secondly, the design had to stop goats and sheep from wondering up the side of the house or coming up the precipitous slope at the back and gobbling up whatever got planted. This also applied to iguanas and manicou (opossum) we later found both of which were much harder to keep out.
Finally, we decided after going in our friends’ pool that a small plunge pool (or cocktail pool as they are sometimes called) would be a very welcome addition for cooling off and especially for drinking cocktails while watching the sun set out over the Caribbean Sea.
We set to and after a while (and a few arguments) we had a design. I planned to provide all the pool equipment from the UK and despite knowing nothing about pools, was planning to plumb it all together to save some money. Even with my involvement and the supply of all the pool equipment the quote for construction from Sky our builder seemed very expensive at £45,000. 
Driven by a need to cut the cost drastically, the garden was redesigned in a way that would enable me to undertake most of the work. This meant having fewer large raised concrete areas which were both expensive in materials and very labour intensive to cast.
A few more arguments later we had the new design. We were still in the UK at this stage so I set about educating myself in DIY pool construction and buying the things that would be needed.
The revised design also took greater account of the logistics of the project. All the materials had to come up the roadway slope at the side of the house and so the work needed to be scheduled to work backwards towards the top of this slope. Nothing could be delivered if the area immediately at the top of the slope was done first. Furthermore, as things progressed, less and less space would be available within the garden as a whole meaning that if a substantial delivery was necessary towards the end of the project there might not be space enough for a lorry or truck to offload materials and then turn around in order to go back down the slope (reversing down was definitely not a good idea).
As much as possible was decided before travelling back to Carriacou and the pool supplies of pump, filter, pipes, skimmer and mosaic tiles for the water line were all purchased and shipped off in barrels. Also we decided to buy a breaker hammer (pneumatic drill) for digging into the rocky ground since we didn’t know how available a digger might be to undertake this work. 

The pool
Back in Carriacou we agonised over how deep to set the pool into the ground. Having the perimeter flush with ground level would mean both having to dig it deeper into the rocky ground and would also leave the pool susceptible to getting debris such as dust and leaves blown in. On the other hand having the pool sitting too high out of the ground meant we wouldn’t easily be able to look out over it to the nice view beyond when sitting on the covered terrace.
The overall size in terms of depth, length and width was also a headache. We’d been told if you are going to the trouble of doing a pool you should ‘make it big’. But this took a lot available water from the cistern to fill it. Plus to circulate the water correctly a bigger more expensive pump would be needed with a greater running cost. And whatever pool finish we chose, tiles or diamond brite, more would be required.
The pool was only really intended for two people or maybe four and only to dip into as opposed to swim around in so we settled on 7 feet x 9 feet and 5 feet deep which would take about 1200 gallons (5% of our full cistern capacity). Various dimensions were debated like how high the water should come when sat inside on the submerged bench and the level and number of internal steps required since we would not be having a ladder type access.
But before anything could happen the existing sparse garden site had to be prepared. This meant gathering up the existing rocks, gravel and soil into piles around the edge of the garden and out of the way of the main work. This material would be used later. But the most important preparation  involved levelling the ground which was about 2 to 3 feet higher at the right side than the left. Thought was also given to how rain would flow away from the almost flat garden area during the torrential tropical downpours that sometimes happen.
We made contact with Maxwell who is the main man on Carriacou if you need a digger, tractor, bulldozer, bobcat or backhoe loader. He had been responsible for the preparation of the site prior to building the house. By chance we also happened across Clarky and Shorn who were general builders and who gave us a very good price for constructing the pool in collaboration with me.
With Maxwell’s son Denzel at the controls of the backhoe loader the garden levelling and pool excavation commenced on October 16. There was a break in the proceedings around lunchtime when a hydraulic hose ruptured so Denzel had to disappear for an hour and half to repair it. When he returned with the mended hose he also had an electric pump since one of the digger’s tyres was slowly going down such is the quality of the greatly-used machinery here.
Nevertheless, by the end of the day we had a level garden and, more importantly, a large hole dug.
Next day a rebar frame was created and a base cast inside the hole. From this point progress was brisk and within 5 days we had a completed pool having the feed and return pipework largely contained within the thickness of the wall, a skimmer cast into one corner, benches and steps all ready for me to tile and plumb.
A chinese puzzle of pipes, and lots of tiling later we had something we hoped would contain water without leaking. As it happened, when the pool was filled, the water level did go down slowly by an inch over a day so there must have been a small leak somewhere but we got some leak sealer stuff (uncreatively called ‘Leak Sealer’) from Grenada which sorted it out after two doses.

The rest of the garden
With pool looking oddly bereft with nothing around it we set to creating the pergola and trying to decide a finish for the sun deck that would join the two. Initially this deck was to be tiled since flat natural stone was hard to find on Carriacou. But this meant the surface would need to be perfectly flat to receive the tiles and suitable tiles were expensive. So we settled on casting random slabs of concrete to look like giant crazy paving which could be textured and then coloured to look a bit like natural stone and to tone in with the tiles used around the edge of the pool.
With the pergola complete and the deck in progress, Brian White our garden expert organised a load of topsoil to be delivered along with some spikey plants he called ‘pines’. These were to be planted along the edge to discourage sheep and goats entering the garden. Using rocks, a central bed was created and planted up. There were not enough pines to go along the length of the edge so they were interspersed with bougainvillea. Sadly these just tempted the animals we were trying to exclude and they mostly got eaten until dug up later for hospitalisation. Logs were added to the edge and an area were grass was intended to grow. Despite copious watering this steadfastly refused to take hold so the grass may be replaced in the fullness of time.
The final phase was the wind break wall at the top of the slope which had an entry gateway and a raised vegetable growing bed. All the materials for this wall along with sufficient gravel for a ground covering had to be delivered ahead of the wall being built since once constructed no vehicles would be able to enter the garden any longer.

Cleared garden area
Liz pretending to drive the digger while Denzel was away getting a hydraulic hose repaired
Pool hole ready to cast base
Pool construction under way
Pool as completed by the builders
Tiling and plumbing by me
Filling the finished pool
Pergola and deck almost complete
After the soil arrived
Main bed planted up with materials behind for the wind break wall
Wall under construction
Wall completed with raised vegetable growing bed in front
Current state of the garden April 2020
Happy users

The end is in sight

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, we are now at a point that is not so much the beginning of the end but more the end of the beginning.

The house build is entering the final phase with Sky having virtually concluded what he was contracted to do and me taking over to finish my part of the work.

Main kitchen being fitted

One of the showers

My work is fitting the kitchens and bathrooms including all the plumbing and electrics throughout the house. Much of this has already taken place in parallel with Sky’s work and we currently await inspection from Grenlec and installation of the electric meter to swap power from Sky’s temporary supply.

There have been things like tables and chairs we brought over from England to be given a coat of paint in a more Caribbean colour. There has also been masses of flat-pack assembly which Liz has mainly done, becoming an expert in the mysteries of IKEA’s international pictorial instructions and a dab-hand with an electric screwdriver. Along with unwrapping and hanging the numerous internal doors we shipped this has resulted in a huge amount of packing and cardboard waste. Sadly Carriacou has not yet latched onto the international effort to recycle so instead of this all going to the local landfill at Dumfries we chose to burn it.

Packaging bonfire

Other work will be longer term such as the landscaping with steps, paths, gates and fences to put in place along with planting shrubs and trees. Returning our surroundings to the lovely green hillside it was from the baron building site it has recently become will take a while but at least everything grows quickly in the tropics.

But the real work of turning the building into a viable business by promoting the rental apartment to holiday makers looking for ‘a taste of the real Caribbean away from the tourists’ has to now begin in earnest.

We are starting to work on our website, with suitably enticing pictures to attract guests, and as we shall be living in the apartment initially we can ensure the accommodation works for visitors on every level.

Amelia (Boaty)

The Amelia (AKA Boaty McBoatface) is the main cargo boat for Carriacou. Small stuff arrives along with the passengers on the daily Osprey, but anything seriously big or heavy arrives on the twice weekly Amelia which takes around four hours from mainland Grenada (about half the speed of the Osprey ferry).

Last week our container arrived which was extremely exciting to unload it and have all our things along with the stuff we had purchased to finish and kit out the main house and the holiday flat.

My bicycle was among the stuff shipped so I’m now on two wheels when I do my daily and sometimes twice daily trips to the house.

Last Saturday our galvanised metal roofing panels arrived which a team from Grenada are fitting this week.

There are a huge number of colours to choose from and most people here seem to like something bright like red or blue, but we wanted the house the blend in with the hillside so we have picked a greyish green.

Sadly the green we’ve ended up with is rather brighter than the one we chose despite allegedly having the same name.

Such is life that sometimes you just have to concede and chill, it’s still a roof.


Attaching a roof to resist a hurricane

My return to Carriacou to do my work on the house coincided with the last part of the roof beam being cast. This enabled me to see first hand how the roof rafters are fixed into the concrete to create a very substantial structure. For those nerdy enough to be interested, the pictures below and the explanation show how to make a roof that can withstand any hurricane …with luck.

First small notches are cut into the top of alternate roof rafters (just visible in centre rafter in pic 1 below) into this notch specially made iron straps (shown in pic 2) are slotted.

The legs of these straps are combined with the reinforced concrete ring beam effectively holding down the rafters into the beam against the intense uplift forces experienced during very high winds. The shuttering to contain the poured concrete for this beam is shown in the early stage of construction under the notched rafter in pic 1

Once cast, and the shuttering removed, it looks like the finished beam  in pic 3 which will get rendered to make it look much nicer.

And onto the next phase

With the departure of our container bound for Carriacou, the ‘buy everything you might need’ phase of this adventure has concluded to be continued with the ‘use all this stuff to make a place people want to stay’ phase.

There is, of course, a little-talked-about intervening phase called ‘let’s pay lots of money to the Grenadian government for them allowing us the privilege of putting all our nice stuff in their country’ …but the less said about that the better.

The container contains hopefully everything we will need and all this stuff will hopefully arrive undamaged. There is boring stuff like toilets, basins, wardrobes, kitchen units, cookers, fridges, lights, solar panels, etc with all the associated bits like cables, pipes, taps and switches. There are also slightly nicer, more interesting things, like a new sofa bed, recliners, bedding, and towels that hopefully work together reflecting a suitably tropical colour scheme that befits the location.

And lastly there are the odd  few quirky items being things we know we can’t buy locally like Fray Bentos pies and a decent tin opener.

This part of the story would not be complete without huge thanks to Craig, Mani, Karen and all the other magnificent staff at Access Self Storage in Erdington who have obliged us with small favours, been accommodating enough to sign for on our behalf, and look after, numerous deliveries, they have also shown interest and enthusiasm in this mad adventure of ours and generally looked after us.

The best place in the world to store your stuff

The start of a roof

Sky has sent us the some pictures showing that the roof is starting to take shape and it is making the whole house look like ….well a house.

It is exciting to see the incredible progress the builders are making but also a bit frustrating that we are not there at the moment to see it in person. But I shall be heading back to Carriacou in two weeks to start my portion of the building work this being the plumbing, electrics and the fitting out of the bathrooms and kitchens.

The pictures show that the columns around the outdoor deck area (seen in the foreground) are yet to be cast. This is because the roof rafters will be encased in the concrete ring beam to make the roof much stronger and more hurricane resistant …not that many hurricanes strike Grenada fortunately.

So while we’ve been back in the UK, Liz and I have accumulated just about everything we think we will need for both our place and the holiday flat. This is rather fortunate because there is no more room left in either of our two storage very large units at Access Self Storage in Erdington and also this portion of the overall project budget is pretty much ‘blown’.

One new consideration that has been made while we have been in the UK pondering the sunnier and warmer climes far away is the use of solar energy. This sounds like an obvious thing to look at in a place with so much sunshine, but solar panels and also the leisure batteries needed to store the energy they make for the night time are far less efficient at high temperatures. Nonetheless, I’m confident that two panels measuring one metre by two metres will be enough to drive various essential electrical items, especially the water pump. This means we can still draw water from the cistern to run the taps during a power cut which is useful.

What’s afoot?

As Sky starts our roof today, one of the best things about our new house is that it is being built totally using feet and inches without a single millimetre anywhere in sight.

When I inadvertently said to Sky that I needed 3.2 metres between the kitchen walls to accommodate a number of 600mm kitchen units he immediately responded to ask: “Would 127 inches be okay?”

Being ‘of a certain age’ I am, and always have been, far more comfortable using imperial measures and can guess an inch with great accuracy.

In the UK there was always a tension around the conflicting systems and ridiculous inconsistency. Go into a timber merchant and ask for ‘two by one’ and universally it will refer to two inch by one inch pine that is planed with a square edge (PSE). How stupid then that if you request some two by one you’ll be asked how many metres do you want?

Heavens above!

The heavens in Carriacou are so different.

The sun sets descending almost vertically behind the horizon and darkness follows each sunset very quickly with very little twilight.

You’ll find a half moon instead of looking like a letter D will rise on its front or its back like a soup bowl or a bowler hat and will invert as it passes immediately overhead, setting completely the other way up.

Orion and the other constellations you know well are almost indistinguishable from the background noise of so many million other stars you never knew were there.

And the blackness of the night, with so little light pollution, means the tiniest shooting stars are revealed streaking across the sky and the full splendour of the Milky Way stands out boldly like a moonlit ribbon of cloud.

In memory of Barba

This Lord’s Prayer was cut from a piece of thin wood by my great grandfather who made it for my mother when she was a small girl.

Mom died over ten years ago and since I’m not religious it seems wasted in my family so I thought it might be nice to donate it to the Anglican Church in Harvey Vale, Carriacou.

This is where our friend Barba who sold us the land on Carriacou is buried and it is a community where they remain very religious.

I’ve had a teeny plaque made to stick on the bottom of the frame.

I’m sure my mother would be happy for it to be donated in memory of someone who made a big impact on the lives of me and Liz and also within the island community where he lived.

I just hope it survives the 4000 mile journey in our shipping container.

Red v Blue

On the 29th of January Sky will have finished the blockwork on the second floor and will commence construction of the roof.
Within a couple of days the main roof members of the new roof will be in place and tradition on Carriacou dictates that for the duration of the roofing that a red flag is flown from the roof apex. The unfurling of this flag will coincide with a rare ‘blue moon’ being the second full moon within a calendar month.
As any football supporter knows Blue Moon is the song of Manchester City and as such a red flag to a City supporter like Liz my wife is like a red rag to a bull.
Accordingly, we have convinced Sky to fly a City flag above the traditional red flag so are now in the process of trying to secure getting one to be couriered urgently to Sky.
Watch this space for photographic evidence hopefully of a blue flag flying high.