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.


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.

2017 in review

With Christmas fast approaching it seems the right time for a further update and a little reflection on the year.

We spent a week on Grenada and it proved very useful.  First priority was to look at cars and we had been put in touch with “Short Man” by our builder Sky who suggested this was the man to help us find something suitable.  We speculated whether Short Man would prove to be short or actually very tall but, having finally tracked him down, it turned out that his name did describe him accurately!!  He showed us a couple of cars which we were very tempted by, and we also found one or two others through our own investigations.  After some debate however, and to the disappointment of both of us (and Short Man), we decided to park the car purchase (no pun intended) for fear of spending money we really needed to finance the house build, and to revisit this decision once we were clearer on how far our budget was going to stretch.

We visited all the building merchants and home stores we could find around and about St George’s and purchased quite a few items which would make living in our current small apartment a little easier.  We chose both interior and exterior floor tiles, which Sky has subsequently ordered and had delivered.  However we were unable to find any kitchen units or bathroom suites we were happy with.

We were happy to return to tranquil Carriacou after our action-packed week and came back on the ‘Amelia’ which is cheaper, but slower, than the ‘Osprey’ and is predominantly a cargo ship (in fact likely to be the ship on which our container eventually arrives on Carriacou).  We were amused that, just as we were leaving the harbour in St George’s, the ship had to turn around to allow a Flow employee to get his van, which he had somehow managed to leave on the quayside – more of Flow later.

Following our return we realised that we really needed to get back to the UK to purchase kitchens/bathrooms for both our house and the guest apartment sooner rather than later and arrange for them to be shipped over in our container.  As we were still without our own internet service I managed to speak to British Airways and changed our flights to mid December.

We had been led to believe by Flow that they would be able to install our broadband internet as soon as we got back from Grenada, but once back Flow told us that they were still having technical difficulties with their new service.  To cut a long story short, after a number of promises being broken, and Martin finally losing his temper with them, we finally got connected last week – ironically just a week before we come home.  However even that one week of being fully online has been extremely useful in allowing us to research many things we need to buy when we get home (and for me to write this blog in the comfort of our air-conditioned apartment!).  I just hope the service is still working when we get back!

The builders had achieved far more than Flow in our absence I am pleased to say, and have continued to do so since we got back – the pictures show how much progress has been made and we are now able to wander through the rooms of the bedroom and bathroom level and really start to imagine how it may feel to live there.  We even sat on the patio outside our bedroom on Saturday evening admiring the view and had our first beer in our new home.

We have also managed to get more clarity from the shippers and Sky on how to organise a container being loaded with our belongings in Birmingham and getting not only to Grenada but then on to Carriacou – I am sure when you have done it once it seems fairly straight-forward but until then it feels like a logistical nightmare.  Sky has been great and is going to organise the shipping over from Grenada using his contacts.  As he also wants to buy our container (more often these are just hired) it means we can leave it at the bottom of our hill and unload it in a more leisurely fashion than the three days generally allowed for within the hire cost.

Reflecting on the past 12 months we are amazed at how far we have come.  This time last year we were in the early stages of getting the necessary documents together to apply for our Alien Landholders Licence.  Since then we have successfully got the licence, bought the land, designed the house,  had a road built, appointed and put to work a builder, sold our house in the UK, bought our small flat in Lichfield, had a mad holiday in the US in the midst of everything else, moved and started to make a life for ourselves out here.  I am not sure how we have managed it on reflection but am very glad we did.  No doubt there are further trials, tribulations and tears ahead but hopefully excitement, laughter and a sense of achievement too.

So now, back to snowy England to catch up with family and friends over Christmas and then a busy time making all the necessary purchases prior to the container being shipped mid-February, around the same time as we plan to head back here.  Who knows what 2018 has in store – but that is all part of the fun and the adventure!

Merry Christmas to everyone – and good luck in 2018

Settling in

It’s around 5 weeks now since we arrived on Carriacou and we have been wrestling with the local phone and internet company FLOW since we arrived to get an internet connection installed at our small apartment. Despite numerous promises of “next week” we still are reliant on local bars for getting any connection to the wider world – but such is life on a small Caribbean island. We actually head over to Grenada for week on Monday so are hoping that FLOW will be ready to install us on our return – fingers crossed!

We have settled into our (very) small apartment fronting Tyrell Bay. Aside from the excitement of finally arriving back on our new home island and seeing the house build in person for the first time, I’ll gloss over the immediate trauma of arriving here which as now faded in the memory – suffice to say much cleaning took place (and a few tears were shed (by me, not Martin!), perhaps not helped by jet lag) before we felt comfortable unpacking and settling in. However we are now at home in our little place and whilst living together in one room can occasionally cause some angst, on the whole, life is good!

Progress with the build over the month we have now been on Carriacou is more easily illustrated by the picture series below than described in words and which takes us close to the first floor pour of concrete for the slab schedule for tomorrow (17th November). Martin has gone up to the site most days to make sure all is going to plan, usually late in the day when the men have knocked off, and it is marginally cooler. I tend to stay at home to grapple with sourcing ingredients and turning them into some sort of acceptable evening meal in my rather limited kitchen! Last week saw me make naan breads from source for the first time ever, to accompany our Friday night curry – and I was quite proud of the result!

Excitement has consisted of:
1) Arrival of blue barrels shipped out from England – the first 2 were predominantly Martin’s tools, so my excitement was greater at the arrival of the third given it contained such delights as more books, coffee, Yorkshire tea (other teas are available!!), hair dye (don’t talk to me about my hair) and various packet foods to make my nightly cooking marginally easier.
2) Fresh fish with food miles of approx 100 yards, provided by our good friend Boldo

3) All Saints night – a lovely occasion where families reunite from around the world at the gravesides of loved ones, and light candles, sprinkle rum, water and generally reconnect with one another. 1st November proved to be the perfect evening without wind or rain and the sight of the graveyard at the end of the evening lit by hundreds of candles and the sound of lots of families chatting away was magical. We were pleased to be able to light a candle for Barba at his graveside, where the stone will be laid at a later date. The evening was rounded off with traditional Big Drum music and dance.

4) Rufus – our local vegetable supplier, opening his new fashion emporium across the road from his vegetable stand!

Aside from these momentous events, we spend time reading, watching our very small tv to keep abreast of world events (when the tv decides to work!), swimming and drinking fairly copious quantities of rum!

Next week’s trip to Grenada should prove action packed with plans to see our solicitor, buy a car, look at emergency medical possibilities (not that we have any at the moment) and source kitchens and bathrooms to see if we can get these locally or need to ship them over from the UK.

We feel we have made some good steps at integrating ourselves into the community, and now know many more people – although names do escape us from time to time. Everyone greets us with a friendly wave.

So far there is merciful little evidence of any build up to Christmas other than the adverts we see on the tv which seem far removed from the life we are currently living!