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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
I thought designing a house and then organising getting it built on a far away island was going to be the trickiest part of this project but I am beginning to realise I am wrong.
The task of thinking of, and then procuring everything needed to equip and also furnish such a house in the tropics and putting these things together to ship them is vastly more difficult.
Some of the things for our new house we already have from our previous house and these things are currently in storage ready to ship …but it has been six months since we last saw them and we don’t remember a lot of what we lovingly packed up at that time.
But due to the limited availability of many things where we intend to live and the somewhat limited choice of many goods on Carriacou we need to ship virtually everything we are going to need. Trying to think of everything you might need is very challenging, except of course that we need to equip not just one residence but both our new house and also the adjoining holiday flat. And all the things we decide to purchase need to ‘hang together’ with a coordinated look, style, flair and practicality that befits the quality of accommodation we are trying to achieve and appeal to the guests we are hoping to attract.
But we won’t know if all the things we are purchasing will hang together or even fit into the rooms they are destined to occupy until we get them on to site a few months from now after shipping them 4000 miles.
Additionally, we don’t know how much we can safely afford to spend on all this ‘gear’ because until we ship it we won’t accurately know the cost of getting it to Carriacou or the import duty the authorities will try and extract from us.
So in light of the enormity of this task I’m trying to be very Caribbean about everything and just convince myself it will all happen in the end …somehow.