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Building Our Beach House


We don't yet have a home of our own on Middle Caicos but we're working on it. It's happening on Island Time so progress will be slow to report. Almost four years after we discovered Middle Caicos, we began construction in 2002. Our beachhouse will be a two story concrete block house with a two bedroom, two bath living space above and a garage and storage on the ground floor.


Clearing and Storage
We were issued our Building Permit in September of 2002. The first task was to clear the site and excavate for the cistern. After a hectic summer of long days at my job, I took a week off to layout the site and supervise the clearing. Then, on our next trip, I began learning some basic lessons in construction on Middle Caicos. I placed my first order for lumber and had it shipped on the Dale Marie before our arrival. A few days later we had our first building, a storage shed.


Clearing and Excavation
Clearing and Excavation
Sun 12:02 PM Sep 8, 2002
 
I tried to compromise between getting the clearing done quickly and preserving as much of the existing site as possible. The operator of the bulldozer is tempted to knock everything flat. After leveling the site and filling in some older excavation that was in the wrong place, he quickly dug a hole for the cistern.


Building our Shed
Building our Shed
Sun 02:43 PM Dec 29, 2002
 
I plan to do much of our construction myself, hiring local help when I can be there to supervise. All of my materials will have to be shipped over from Provo so my first project was to build a shed to keep my cement and lumber dry and secure.


Beach Shack
Beach Shack
Mon 04:07 PM Dec 30, 2002
 
It's just a shack on the beach but it feels like such a big step. This is where I store cement, rebar and lumber between trips to the island to do construction. Cement can be a challenge to manage. It's difficult to transport to Middle Caicos so it's best to bring plenty. On the other hand, it can't be stored indefinitely since it absorbs moisture from the air.

I had temporary power installed at the shed so I can use power tools on the site.


Our View, Someday
Our View, Someday
Thu 08:45 AM Jan 2, 2003
 
With construction begun on our beach house, we climb to the porch of a neighboring house to imagine what the view will be like. The house will sit on the nearest edge of the cleared area. The pile of dirt at left was pushed out of the cistern excavation. The shed will store cement, rebar and other materials until the house is enclosed.


Beginning the Cistern
Construction of the house itself began with the construction of the cistern. The cistern is a water tank which will store up to 20000 gallons of rainwater collected from the roof. The cistern also forms the foundation for one corner of the house and the top will be the kitchen floor. I made my longest trip to the island for this part of the project, spending more than 3 weeks there.


Building Materials from Provo
Building Materials from Provo
Tue 02:38 PM Jun 24, 2003
 
Sand is the only building material readily available on Middle Caicos. All you need it do is pile it in the open for a few months so the rain rinses the salt out. Everything else has to be shipped in from elsewhere. The growth and development on nearby Provo sustains a substantial infrastructure so most materials come from there. I hired Clay Arthur's Grand Caicos, a converted Navy landing craft, and loaded it with more than 87,000 pounds of rock, cement, lumber and rebar.


A Short Trip to the Hardware Store
A Short Trip to the Hardware Store
Tue 04:41 PM Jun 24, 2003
 
The Grand Caicos, loaded with 40 tons of building materials, took four hours to travel 40 miles by sea from Provo to Middle Caicos. We left Provo three hours late and kept our speed up to make our landing before sunset. As we rounded North Caicos and came into the wind and waves from the open Atlantic, the waves broke over the bow.

Unloading this shipment took a day and a half on Middle, most of it done by hand. The cement is the most difficult to unload. Each bag is loaded by hand into the bucket of a front-end loader, then by hand again from the bucket onto a flatbed truck. At the building site, the truck is unloaded by hand into the storage shed. All of this handling leads to numerous broken bags. Loose cement is saved by whatever means you can improvise - dumped into garbage bags or piled on scraps of tar paper.


Simple Tools
Simple Tools
Tue 02:19 PM Jul 8, 2003
 
It's best to count on simple tools when building on Middle Caicos. On my cistern-building trip, I also had temporary electrical power supplied to my shed so I can use power tools. But sometimes there's no substitute for muscle power. Here, my son and I are bending 5/8 inch rebar to reinforce the cistern walls.


Mixing Concrete
Mixing Concrete
Fri 08:35 AM Jul 4, 2003
 
Concrete is mixed by hand or a gas-powered mixer such as this one. Rock, sand and cement are brought by bulk to the construction site and measured into the mixer by the bag or bucket. A typical mix uses a sack of cement to 4 buckets each of sand and rock (equivalent to a 1:2.5:2.5 mix by volume).


Pouring the Cistern Floor
Pouring the Cistern Floor
Fri 08:42 AM Jul 4, 2003
 
Our cistern floor is a slab 16 feet wide by 21 feet long resting on compacted sand. I hired a crew of 3 to help my son and I pour the 9 yards of concrete. Since the floor was below ground, it was a relatively easy pour. The concrete was carried by wheelbarrow on an elevated ramp which we moved around the floor.


Forming the Cistern Wall
Forming the Cistern Wall
Tue 11:20 AM Jul 8, 2003
 
The cistern walls are 8 inch thick poured concrete. I built the form from the outside in so that we had a flat, solid surface to work on. That meant we also had to plan ahead and stage materials for the inside before we closed off the outside.


Cistern Wall Reinforcement
Cistern Wall Reinforcement
Thu 05:39 PM Jul 10, 2003
 
Concrete is strong in compression but weak in tension. In other words, it can carry a lot of weight but will crack if pulled on. To carry the tension load, concrete is reinforced with steel rod known as rebar. A cistern full of water is a very heavy structure which requires 5/8 inch rebar on a 10 inch grid.

In this photo, you can also see SnapTies protruding from the outer form wall. These are a wire rod with plastic cones spaced 8 inches apart. This system simplifies the construction of wall forms.


Cistern Wall Inside Form
Cistern Wall Inside Form
Fri 01:13 PM Jul 11, 2003
 
As the inner wall form was completed, the entire form became stiffer and stronger. We were lucky to have a steady breeze which kept the inside of the form bearable in spite of the summer sun. At midday, the sun was directly overhead and there was no shade at all inside the form.


Completed Cistern Form
Completed Cistern Form
Sun 12:12 PM Jul 13, 2003
 
The completed cistern form was an amazingly strong structure. In fact, it was probably better braced than it needed to be. One advantage of the slow methods used to pour concrete on Middle Caicos is that the concrete at the bottom of the form begins to harden before the top of the form is filled with wet concrete.


Hand-Poured Concrete
Hand-Poured Concrete
Mon 07:06 AM Jul 14, 2003
 
The cistern walls were filled with 13 cubic yards of concrete, all poured by bucket. While it was a tedious process, it was the most reliable and affordable method available. Wet concrete was carried by wheelbarrow from the mixer to the side of the wall form. One man filled each bucket and passed it to another man that lifted it to the top of the wall. At the top another man dumped the bucket of concrete into the hollow form. This process was repeated 1300 times over a 10 hour period.

To make the step of pouring concrete into the wall quicker and more accurate, I built several plywood chutes to funnel the concrete into the narrow space between the forms.


Concrete Crew
Concrete Crew
Mon 04:37 PM Jul 14, 2003
 
This was my crew for the day long cistern wall pour and they performed better than I could have imagined. They included a 71 year old taxi driver and his 17 year old grandson, the local bar tender and two temporary laborers from Haiti. In the front row are Vila and Charles. In the center row are Ricardo, Zeno, Gordo, Denly and Rudolph. In the back are myself, Hedley and my son, Rick.


Three Weeks of Work
Three Weeks of Work
Wed 09:36 AM Jul 16, 2003
 
At the end of my second major construction trip, the building site showed great progress. The cistern forms stayed in place for a few weeks and were removed by local labor. The lumber went into the shed to be reused for the next step - 3 more feet of cistern wall and a top.


Completing the Cistern
In October, 2003, I returned by myself to finish the cistern that I began with the help of my family the previous summer. With some experience behind me, I was able to plan this trip with more confidence. The plan was to add 4 feet of wall on top of the existing walls and a suspended slab floor to cap the cistern. To simplify things, I built the form for both as one structure and poured the whole thing in one day.


Two Thirds of a Cistern
Two Thirds of a Cistern
Sat 01:33 PM Oct 18, 2003
 
When I returned to Middle Caicos in October, 2003, I finally got to see the results of the prior summer's work. I left the forms in place to be removed by Ernest Forbes and his crew after the concrete was cured.


Forming the Upper Walls
Forming the Upper Walls
Mon 02:51 PM Oct 20, 2003
 
The form for finishing the cistern began with a 2x4 ring nailed around the inside of the lower walls. Even though we were using hardened cut nails, the strength of the concrete was evident. Vertical 2x4s, also nailed to the walls, provided vertical support.


Beam to Support the Cistern Top
Beam to Support the Cistern Top
Tue 01:21 PM Oct 21, 2003
 
The top of the cistern will weigh over 20,000 pounds and need to be well supported until the concrete hardens and cures. The form for the top, therefore, is essentially a temporary floor. To support the center of this form, I used a large timber given to me by another builder.


Temporary Roof
Temporary Roof
Wed 05:17 PM Oct 22, 2003
 
The temporary floor which supports the cistern top is framed with 2x4 joists on 16 inch centers. Because the concrete will weigh over 20000 lbs, I put in plenty of supports. The center is supported by a 3x9 inch beam on three steel jacks, Then ends of the joist hang on the plywood wall forms. Finally, there are two 4x4 posts on each joist at midspan.


Trap Door Form
Trap Door Form
Mon 03:44 PM Oct 27, 2003
 
A 3/4 inch plywood deck covers the temporary joists to form the bottom surface of the cistern top. The decking was cut in half so that the sheets could be removed from inside the cistern through the 21 inch by 27 inch trap door.


Concrete Bucket Brigade
Concrete Bucket Brigade
Thu 10:40 AM Oct 30, 2003
 
The upper walls and the top were all poured in a single day and took about 13 yards of concrete to fill. I hired a crew of 12 to finish the job in about 8 hours. This pour when more quickly than the wall pour of the same amount of concrete. That may have been because there were just a few more people on the job or because we had a more efficient bucket brigade passing buckets up to the top.


Finishing the Kitchen Floor
Finishing the Kitchen Floor
Thu 12:30 PM Oct 30, 2003
 
The top fo the cistern will also be part of the floor for the second floor living area, mostly in the kitchen. This meant that we took extra care to make the top surface smooth and level.


View from the Kitchen Window
View from the Kitchen Window
Sat 11:12 AM Nov 1, 2003
 
The cistern top is also the kitchen floor so the kitchen plumbing had to go in before the concrete was poured. The pipes are where the sink will be so this view is about what we'll see from the kitchen window.


Finally the Cistern is Complete
Finally the Cistern is Complete
Sat 02:29 PM Nov 1, 2003
 
The cistern is now 9 feet above the surrounding terrain and defines the level of the second floor. The next step is to build a utility room on the south side (in front in this view) then the garage to the east.


Our Lot from the Air
Our Lot from the Air
Sun 11:31 AM Nov 2, 2003
 
At the end of the October 2003 trip trip to finish the cistern I asked the pilot to fly over the site on the way home. Our cistern is near the center of the photo. The beach is at upper right.


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