Monday, August 3, 2015
L'Anse aux Epines House, a house I built in Grenada
The truth is I did the drawings, engineering, supervised all the construction, taught the locals new building methods and with the owners ready cash flow built this place in local record time.
I'am sharing the tale of this project here as a record for my kids to look back on to show what can be done with a basic education, ( I'am self taught from 9th grade on) common sense, hard work and a bit of money.
In my life time I have found all my jobs by face to face meetings. Most by chance, some by referrals from past jobs. Living on a sailboat and sailing to distant islands being on the move all the time gives me the ability to come across lots of different opportunities with my basic skills. As stated, I do not have a high school diploma, but I feel good common sense has been a good traight of mine. I can read so I'am always educating myself. The math I know is high school level. I'am good a geometry, accounting, and understanding that there are no short cuts with math.
My math skills have held me well in dealing with other peoples money. I think of their money as mine so keep meticulous records. Since I have worked my way up from the bottom I know how to make a dollar stretch a long ways.
I was taught by my Cuban grandfather that had immigrated to New York in the middle of the depression speaking no English this simple rule." Cristobal, you don't need to remember everything, you just need to know where the information is and how to use it." He found a job, raised his young sons, and going to night school received a Masters degree in engineering. An American success story.
I have added to this advice that I never lie if I don't know how to do something, but in my head if I know where the information is for this new project I will get back to you soon with info.
I had many years before worked for six months for a friend in the Florida keys building concrete houses. My job consisted of building plywood forms, laying in the steel work, pouring cement, stripping off the forms, and starting the whole process over. During this time period I helped build 6 buildings. I learned a lot about this building process during this time that I would carry over to this job.
This job came about by chance. I was hoisting my dinghy on deck in Prickely Bay in Grenada getting ready to sail north back home to the Bahamas. We were low on cruising funds. We had just crossed the Atlantic a month before from the Cape Verdes after a years sailing around the Atlantic islands. It was time to find a good job and to get our young girls into school again. They were doing Calvert home schooling but our oldest wanted to be part of the mainstream. She was 15 and wanted what all kids that age wanted, a life of her own.
Before the dinghy was stowed our friends Tim and Galye Evans yelled over from a big sloop that had anchored between us. The owner of the sloop wanted to talk to us about a job he had in mind.
I put he dinghy back in the water.
Hurricane Ivan had just destroyed about 50% of the houses in Grenada including his which we were anchored to the leeward of. It had been an old small bungalow that had originally not been built well to start with. It was a wreck. He wanted to build a new stronger and bigger place.
He did not want to deal with the locals at their pace and the way they would deal with costs and building standards. He wanted a hurricane proof new place, a huge pool, a replica sugar mill apartment
With its own pool and the new place would have a gym, and on and on.
When telling this to Tim and Gayle on his boat as they were visiting, Tim pointed over to the Hogfish and said, " Chris is the man you're looking for". He came over and we talked. I looked at his sketches of his vision. We argued about building standards. He wanted to save a bunch of the destroyed house. I explained my vision to do what he was looking for. After a couple of hours of back and forth he held out his hand and said he wanted me to build his house. We shook hands and struck a deal.
We really enjoyed our time In Grenada. This job took 1-1/2 years to do. Our oldest daughter Kalessin stayed for the first year going to school ashore with her sister. She then at 16 moved to Florida and went to high school there staying with a friend. We would catch up with her when this job was over.
After hurricane Ivan the place was pretty much bare. We rebuilt the dock first. 3 large Catana catamarans had flipped over three times crossing the bay to land on the original dock destroying it. Don Streets little "Iolair" ended its life there too. I have its bronze Wickham roller furler that I dove up hanging at my house. The winds had been so strong that the red clay tiles a mile across the windward valley were piled up against this house. Asphalt shingles were stuck 4" into the trees that were still standing like Ninga blades.
These are the sketches that the owner provided me with to start on the designing of the house.
He explained verbally what he wanted.
This is his land scaping vision.
I supervised all the trench digging with this JBC using my Plastimo hand bearing compass to get all my tangents. The 21 year old driver was from Guyana and had to dig all the trenches and move the dirt up the hill to be saved for use under the pool. He was fantastic moving this thing around like a one armed crab. The trenches took 2 weeks to dig.
The crew starting on the foundations. Because I had free run on how to design and build this place I just made sure everything was at the Dade County Code level or above. I put steel through every block and pored all the walls solid.
We had lumber stored every where as there was not much space on the top of the hill where the house sits. We were always moving stuff.
The bottom of the pools infinity edge.
The Sugar Mill started. That's Paul. He had chopped his brothers hand off a month before in an argument with a machete. He was a very quiet worker. 98% of the guys had zero body fat. Very fit and could work all day in the heat and sun. I'am used to it to but at times the sun over head was strong at 12 degrees latitude.
Sugar Mills first floor. This building has been rented non stop since it was built.
This house design called for some very long open spans inside. 22' for some. I just engineered these huge box beams in plywood and using glue. All wood here is Green Heart from Guyana. When orderd at 2x12" that's the way it came. Very heavy. I ordered $189,000.00 US dollars worth with all dimensions listed. The order came in five 40' container boxes with all the planks Jammed in without any order. All had to be removed in one day, stacked and stickered to length. What a day that was, just brutal as this wood weighs a ton each. Three men to pick up one plank.
When all was done I had been shorted about $32,000.00 in wood. I faxed back what they had not sent but I had paid for. Amazingly the rest came on the next freight boat without a word. So much goes on here like this I beliveve they do this hopeing the rich foriener does not notice.
Looking down at the pool. It rains every day so stuff just grew all the time.
I design my floors to never move when walking on.
Second floor walls were 10' high inside.
The steel guy worked 10 hours a day with a helper to keep up with the project.
Victor a mason in the front porch
Pumping cement was always a challange as the pipes would always clog with a conch or some rock.
The pool bottom about ready to be filled in. The pool is the largest one in Grenada. It's ten feet deep.
Contains 135,000 gallons of water. I put in French drains all over the place. When filling in I compacted the dirt and watered it down for days to be as compact as possible. The floor of the pool took 112 yards of cement. This pour took 22 hours to do using all the local cement company's. I had floodlights, a food cart and changed the crew out on watches to get this all done with a wet edge. It's bottom and walls were 14" thick with Double rebar matting. No cracks in the entire project to date.
Dining area going together.
Upstairs rooms. Walls were sheeted in Hardie board planking
Always storing wood some where.
The owner wanted to build the second story on top of the old house. I said no as it was too weak.
When he left to fly back to Europe I dug out and built proper foundations, collums and support perimeter belts. So he had a new foundation inside the old one. He did not notice this till after the whole project was finished.
My main wood worker Etteane and me on Friday party day seeing who could stick their belly out the farthest. Etteane is from Dominica. He is a fantastic craftsman. I believe he was stoned smoking pot every day he worked for me. Most guys smoked pot all the time. We never had an accident during the entire build. But I had to keep pulling the pot plants that were growing from the seeds that were falling out of their joints.
Mr Rolle and I this trip catching up on old times. He is a master carpenter from Dominca. Does not drink or smoke. He worked building the house with his girl friend doing all the detail work, like all the stairs and scarf joints. Here we are this year with me hiring him to rip and cut rough teak for my current project redoing a teak deck on Wild Bird in Antigua. I sailed to Grenada to buy the teak and get Mr. Rolle to help me make up all the planking as he is as fussy as I am about details and he has all the big tools needed to do the job. When we were building this house I was flying back and forth to Miami to buy supplies. I could bring in everything without duty. Duty is so high there that most workers could not afford tools. I bought Mr. Rolle a table saw, joiner, thickness planer, chop saw and other hand tools. These are the tools we used to shape up the rough teak. All being used everyday but in like new condition. It's no big deal to sail 700 miles to get supplies and stuff done right.
L'Anse aux Epines house today.
I love this pool but with the trade winds blowing over it it loses 1/2" of water a day through evaporation.
The front drive way
Today with the owners latest boat.
Rachel a few months ago enjoying the morning where Victor the mason was a few years ago
Stairs going up to the five bedrooms. All wood is green heart and is all bunged.
Living room being cleaned by the house keeper. See all the collums I put in while the owner was gone to support the second story better.
All the beams are open and all finished bright
Owner wanted this bathroom set up. Floors are oak. Walls cypress.
8,500 feet of Italian marble throughout
Pool pump room.
Starting the hill climb looking up at the Sugar Mill
Marvin the grounds man. He worked for me as a general helper. When the house was finished I recommended him to stay on as the maintence man as he was 19 at the time and I could see that he was very bright and hard working. He's been there now 11 years. You can just see the Hogfish off to his right.
A dormer I installed five years ago on a trip down island to race and work. These let the heat out in the evenings. The house is very cool but the owners tend to lock all the doors at night as they worry about crime. The air can't flow so it gets hot. I like living on a sailboat as I have a moat around me at all times.
The porches are 7' wide
Cabana. Lots of slippery Italian marble tile about.
With so much rain in Grenada it's easy to landscape.
In the pools infinity edge I put a 4" ledge down 4' for your toes to hang onto. It's 10' deep here as the owner who is just to my right wanted to say he could float his 60' sloop in this pool.
I'am at the left in this picture. The mast you see comimg up in the middle of us is his 60' sloop. The mast is 85' tall.
During the build of this place I had at times men from Montserrat, Antigua, Dominica, Guyana, Cuba, Nevis, and many Grenadians all speaking their version of English. The deal I made to all my men was that if they stuck with the job till the end they would receive a 10% bonus in the amount of their wages for the project. They wanted to work 10 hours a day 7 days a week. They were used to the local way of the boss showing up in the morning for a bit and then disappearing the rest of the day. That left lots of time for slacking off.
They had never had a boss like me though. The house site was a two mile walk for them to get to in and out of after a 1-2 hour local bus ride from the other side of the island.The local contractors let their men find their way to the work sites.
I picked up everyone at the two mile bus drop off site and drove them all back and forth each morning and evening starting at 6:30 in the morning and ending at 6:00. So they saw me first and last. I explained to them that in order to get 10 hours of pay they had to work 10 hours but at a nice even pace. All the work I delegated everyday to each crew I knew from my own experience what and how long it would take. So I never asked more than what could really be done. This they picked up on real fast. I also explained and showed them many new ways to build things that were much faster than what they had been doing. This they liked as they learned stuff that they could apply to their own houses. Most West Indians want to work but will try and drag out a job with the idea that it will last longer if it takes longer. This system I had to change. I did it by example of showing them how to nail up a stud wall 55' long in one day as opposed to the week and a half they would have taken. I hired everyone that asked for a job explaining that they had 3 days to prove their worth. I also gave everyone a raise after the first week if they could do what they claimed. When they got better more raises. If they were seen slacking off I fired them. In no time at all I was seen as being fair and hard working. I got a good crew of 20 guys moving along enjoying seeing this house going together so fast and built like no other in strength and details. The other local builders saw this too. I started to get offers to build more houses.
At any time I would have my core crew of about 30 men working with at times another 15-20 subcontractors doing electric, plumbing , rock work , etc with me having to oversee all they were doing to stick to my standards.
There was every shade of black, brown, redish brown, chocolate and tan working. To these guys if you were the blackest black and were a Rastafarian from Jamacia or Dominica you were the coolest guy. Then it was all about shades of black and brown. So when saying to me to " Go don a speak dat dark skinned mon"
What ? They are all dark skinned. Not really when you look about. Lots of shades going on. They said I was a red skinned man between us but when an official came to see the boss they always said," He da White guy over der" pointing at me.
West Indians do not want to work alone so will always pair up with a friend so they can talk. They talk continually. Most all do not want to be put in charge at all even for more pay. So you have to get them sorted out into working groups and give them a doable goal with the alpha guy telling the other guys that they were not doing it right or to hurry up. They became leaders with out knowing or asking. Then you can leave them to it and go on to the next group and project. This has worked well for me in building boats too.
At times during a pour with 8 guys yelling at each other in their own local version of English with most of them not understanding each other I would step in and yell " Please speak the Queens English!"
They all in their youth went to British schools so can speak clear English if they want. But it's not so cool so most just go on with their local version of talking like a Jamaican. " Ah boss, de Conch be stuck in de hose, wa to do?"
It was a daily challange to keep things moving along at a good steady pace. Most foreigners that get to the island that are used to first world order look at everything down here as chaos. I look and see a way to try and steer and control this chaos. To survive you have to be able to punt, kick and weave every day like its a soccer game. No day will be alike or unfold as you planned and hoped for the day before. It will pour rain for two hours, then be hot as hell with no wind, the pump you need for the days pour is broken, the crane you can hire has no dump bucket but his rival company does, so how to make it all happen.
Knowing the local mind set and customs helps. You have to greet everyone with a good morning or good afternoon before going on about business. You have to find out where all your main suppliers hang out so when they are supposed to show up you instead track them down and make sure they know you want them and get them to come to the job site. They want the job but most are in no hurry to do the work. Paying your bills right after the job is done does wonders. Now they know you mean business. Don't ever give money in advance. You buy the materials on your own and when so much is done then you pay. The going pay rate for the top carpenters was $ 45.00 a day, $30.00 for masons and $25.00 for laborers. It has not gone up much since then.
Looking back I still cannot belive that I was offered this job with only Tim and Gayles reference after only a few minutes conversation. Such is boating life. The owner is a very successful Irishman that was very frugal with his money. In the end I built the place at a cost fully furnished for $138.00 US a square ft. I got everything in duty free because the Chinnese were building a new Cricket stadium for the Grenadians for the up coming world Cricket match to be played there. The island needed hotel rooms. I counted up 11 bedrooms and bathrooms so that it fell into the hotel act and enabled me to save about $400,000 in duty. They never came out to count up the rooms or inspect the building for code. The third world has lots of loop holes you can wiggle through.
When rachel and I sailed into Prickely bay this winter the owner had just left to go to his other houses in St. Bart's. He graciously offered the place to us to use while we were there. Tim and Gayle were sailing back there after ten years absence in their new Boat Wild Bird. They had not seen the place since I started the project.
Along with them and other new friends we had some great parties around the pool looking out over the bay and our sailboats at anchor below over the next few days.
This project has been one of many that I have taken on or been a part of in our sailing travels about the Atlantic basin. I have never been lacking for a job or work while sailing. That's why I carry so many tools with me and need a vessel that can carry this load. You to can do the same thing if you have basic work skills, energy and good common sense.
The world is waiting, let's get going