Archive for the 'Conch' Category

Addie’s Second Birthday

Sunday, March 12th, 2006

We celebrated Addie’s second birthday yesterday. While I can’t say this with certainty, I think she managed in two years to have a birthday that tops both Nancy and my combined 70+ years.

It started a month ago when we asked Addie what she wanted for her birthday. She said she wanted a cake. We reassured her we would get her a cake, and asked her what kind of present she wanted. She said, “cake.” (Funny  thing is she had the same reaction to the news of another sibbling - she said, “no…I want a cake.”)  Harry asked if she wanted a “Thomas” train or “Percy” train. Addie reiterated “I want a cake, a blue one, with sprinkles.”

In addition to a cake (yes, with blue icing and sprinkles), mom and dad wanted to do something special. We decided to take her on a boat ride to Gibbs Cay. Gibbs Cay is a small uninhabited island to the east of Grand Turk (see Google Earth map link on sidebar).

The day started with dad trying to tire-out Addie so she could catch an early nap and not have a melt-down during our birthday excursion. We went to the historic lighthouse on the north point of Grand Turk. It was buit in the 1850s to warn trading ships of the dangerous reef. Occasionally, the light would go out and ships would wreck. Human casualties from these lapses of light were minimal, but the economic losses were substantial. It just so happened that when the light went out, men were waiting on shore with boats to “help liberate” the valuables from the sinking ships.

Harry and Addie at the lighthouseHarry and Addie by the lighthouseHarry and Addie by the lighthouse
Well, we drove to the lighthouse, even walked a trail to the beach below. Despite Dad calling it a race back to the car, Addie had too much energy. No nap.  A second desperate attempt was made to encourage the nap with a car ride.  It resulted in an all-too-short ten-minute nap.  Still, Nancy was confident all would be ok in the end despite the lack of a nap.

We met our guests, the Johnsons (Joel, Stephanie, and daughters Kaya and Marin) , and our captain, Mr. Mackey, across the street from Oasis Divers on Duke Street. The kids were cackling on the boat as we bounced in the waves. I bounced Addie on my knee to exaggerate the motion, prompting her to exclaim, “Yeehaw cowboy!”

Half way between Grand Turk and Gibbs Cay, we stopped to dive for some conch. Mackey and Joel were pros at this, having done it numerous times. I decided to join them in the water with my mask, snorkel and fins. I didn’t expect much success on my part. I swam a bit and then saw some conch. My first reaction was to try to call Joel or Mackey over so they could get it. I looked around, but could not see them. I decided to dive down to see how close I could get. Turns-out it wasn’t too deep, and I made it to the surface with my first conch. While Nancy acknowledged my accomplishment, and Joel brought in three conch himself, the kids only cheer was “Go Mackey, Go Mackey!”  We had seven conch in all.  We were sure to be a bountiful conch salad.

A few minutes later, we arrived at our destination. It was unreal. Although topographically, it was not too dissimilar from Grand Turk, it was much more pristine. Besides, there is something neat about having an entire island to ourselves. For the three hours, the island belonged to the Eichlers, the Johnsons, and Captain Mackey. The kids had fun running around and exploring the shore.

Addie and Mom on Gibbs CayMom's belly with baby #3Addie on Gibbs CayKids Running on Gibbs Cay

For years, visitors have been feeding stingrays on the shore of Gibbs Cay. Today, the sound of our outboard motor was sufficient to trigger the Pavlovian response. Mackey began feeding the stingrays that greeted us, and soon we had five of these gentle creatures swimming around us in ankle-deep water. They bumped into out legs with their soft slippery wings. Touching their flesh felt like holding a juicy slice of mango. The name “Stingray” seems a bit too menacing for these animals. Apparently, the only way they can sting a person is if you bother them after they’ve burried themselves in the sand focusing on digesting the fish in their bellies. 

Stingray 3Stingray 2Stingray 1

[Watch a short VIDEO CLIP of the kids and rays]

The stingrays were soon joined by a couple of colorful trunkfish, a quick baracuda, and even a baby lemon shark. The kids were fascinated by the activity, seeing these animals up close, and touching the friendly stingrays.

The next order of business was preparing the conch we caught. Mackey got down to business “knocking” the conch. This process starts with breaking a grape-sized hole in the shell using a small hammer. Then, he inserted a knife into the hole to cut the tendon connecting the animal to its shell. A quick pull, and the bare naked conch was in the bucket. He cleaned them up, cut them up, and added the lime, tomato, onion and pepper we brought, and voila - fresh conch salad (ceviche).  I’ve never tasted anything finer or fresher. Delicious!
Conch on the beachMackey knocking conch 1Mackey knocking conch 2Mackey knocking conch 3Knocked Conch - soon to be salad

Fun was had by all. We ate, we drank, we were merry. On the way back, Nancy and I agreed it was a near-perfect day. We wondered how different a birthday Addie would have had back in Virginia. 

Snacking on Gibbs CayMarin hitting the bottleThe Gibbs Cay Crew

I know there will be moments when I will get too frustrated with Grand Turk. I fear there will be mishaps where I will question if we made a bad decision coming here in the first place. It’s important to remember days like this because it exemplifies so many aspects as to why coming to Grand Turk was a great idea. And, while it will never be all good or all bad, I want to hang on to this memory to balance-out potential negative expeirences down the road.

As for our little girl… she struggled to stay awake on the boatride home.  Her eyes grew too heavy.  Mackey enjoyed watching her fight her sleep to the bitter end. She finally hit the recline button right back into mom’s arms.  We smiled over our little girl and her big day that finally wore her out. The rest of us were satisifed we had a complete and wonderful day. But Addie still had something left on her list.

Happy Birthday AddieAddie finally got her cake


Happy second birthday, Addie.

A Conch Farm?

Tuesday, February 14th, 2006

Ok, so many of you have asked what the heck I’m doing out here, aside from my leisure time. I am working on a project to develop an area on the east coast of Grand Turk called Materson’s Point (see Google Earth links to the right). We plan to develop three businesses on this site: (a) commercial conch farm, (b) tourism destination, and (c) condominuim. Let me explain…

Conch FarmQueen Conch

Let’s start with the basic question of what is conch (pronounced “konk”)? It is a marine gastropod classified as Strombus Gigas [see them in action]. Conch meat, shells, and even pearls have been harvested in the wild so aggressively that it is now an endagered species.

Over twenty years ago, Chuck Hesse decided that while tuna was marketed as “chicken of the sea,” the analogy didn’t really fit since tuna sit as carnivorous predators near the top of the food chain. He thought the herbivore conch more closely resembled cows, chickens, sheep in this regard and set out to farm them commercially at the world’s only commercial conch farm in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands. Chuck and his company is helping us open a second conch farm in Grand Turk. Listen to Chuck’s recent feature on NPR.

Tourism Destination

In 2003, 3,800 people lived on Grand Turk, and 3,700 people visited the island. 2006 marks the completion of Carnival Corporation’s $50 million cruise terminal in Grand Turk. In its first twelve months of operation, the number of visitors passing through this terminal from one of its dozen cruise lines (or competing cruise lines) could easily eclipse 300,000. We are building a destination for some of these people to visit while on Grand Turk. It will feature attractions based around conch and the history and culture of the Turks and Caicos as well as activities that highlight the natural beatuty of the site. I’m sure I’ll elaborate more on this in later posts.


We are also planning to partner with a company to build a condominium on the property as well. It’s a nice spot on the east coast, with 50-feet of elevation and views of the ocean studded with surrounding cays (small uninhabited islands). We figure people who live or stay here will like taking advantage of some of the facilities at the tourism site (e.g., steps to the secluded beach, restaurant / bar, watersports, etc.) This part of the project is still in a very early stage.

For those of you wondering how I got this job, it’s a long story that I hope to explain in another post. The short version is Nancy wanted a beach house. While taking a trip to look at houses, we discussed how if we wanted to do something crazy with our lives (and have our children learn in US schools) it was either now (while the kids are still young) or 20 years from now (when they’re in college). This conch farming thing started as a joke, but I persisted, and it eventually led to a job offer that was better than expected. There were too many weird coincidences along the way for me to drop it. Although I have no background in tourism, condominuiums, or mariculture, I convinced them that my business development, project management, business planning, and general management skilld could still apply.
So here I am … the conch cowboy. That’s all for now. Gotta head to the pasture and rustle me up some conch.