Beware the Salty Air

I come from Canada – the interior of Canada, the very driest part of Canada. While we do have oceans on three coasts, they are at least 1,000 miles away in every direction. If we did happen to have a day with a relative humidity of 30%, we were damp. Things like salt spray, salt mist, or salt air were all foreign concepts back in my Canada days. But even a landlubber like me can understand that getting your things wet is generally not good for them – a small step in understanding that getting things wet with salt water is probably worse.

*click for image credit

Since moving to a tropical island, now surrounded by water by far, far fewer than 1,000 miles, I have gained a whole new sense of just how pernicious salt water can be on your things. But it took me awhile to realize just how all-consuming the salt in the air can be. I don’t live on the beach, mind you. I can see the sea, yes, but I live far enough away that I would never choose to walk down there. Having some distance between me and the salty ocean, it simply never occurred to me that I would need to take special precautions because of this new environment. But the salt air has since made its point.

Take my stainless steel table, for example. I had it for several years in Canada (in a basement of all places), and it was fine. Now it’s covered with freckles. When I brought it down here to Nevis, I think it started rusting the day I unpacked it. It hadn’t even occurred to me that rust would be an issue. I thought the fact that it was “stainless steel” meant that rust stains just wouldn’t happen. Far too late, I was told that the term should more accurately be spelled “STAINS LESS”, with the emphasis on the space between those two words. I was also told that the word “stainless” is carelessly applied to many different products, apparently legally, and if you actually want to have something steel last when you live by the sea, you have to buy “MARINE-GRADE stainless steel”. Guess what you can’t buy in the middle of Canada, especially if you don’t know enough to ask for it?

Freckled table_WWLOR

We also brought down a Weber grill. Its big fancy hood is still shiny as can be, but the rest of it – no way. Even the front face, where the knobs are, is covered in rust. Why would anybody put different grades of stainless steel on the same unit? If the hood needs the best quality, why wouldn’t the rest of it need that too? Perhaps the warranties are written in the hopes that people won’t read them, or don’t keep the paperwork, or are too lazy to follow up, or maybe their writers also live far from the salt air.

Appliances are another issue. I don’t think I ever had a rusty appliance before I came to this island, nor do I recall doing anything in particular to actively prevent my appliances from rusting. Here, it’s a different story – one cannot avoid doing battle. The house we bought came “furnished”, as in the owners left pretty much everything in it. That included lots of rusty items of all sorts, and I immediately assumed that rust is just something you put up with here. It turns out, that’s not true. People who’ve been here for years have lots of advice, some of which even works. For example, many people spray WD40 on all their metal, every month, and then wipe it off. Some say they wax appliances with auto wax, starting when they are new and pristine, and they don’t ever get scruffy and rusty. Who knew? I’ve learned that the best way to choose a solution on a rock is to find somebody who has had the exact item you need for years, without problems, and follow that person’s advice.

Of course another solution could be to disguise your rust spots with lots of strategically placed fridge magnets. You could even find an artist who could incorporate the rust spots in a brand new design. Better yet, you could cultivate an inability to see rust, or even acknowledge it. Repeat after me: “That’s clean, it won’t poison me, it’s fine.” (I’m working on it…)

fridge magnets_WWLor

Having had more than enough problems with metal items since I arrived rock-side, I had a new thought – “Plastic must be the way to go.” After all, we’ve been told for decades that plastic lasts for 100+ years in landfills, so surely it should last on a shelf on a porch, out of the sun. You have to admit that a gallon ice cream pail is made of pretty study plastic – clearly, they made every attempt to make it rough and tumble, with no regard for overflowing landfills. So I gave it shot and stored some chemicals in an ice cream bucket. The chemicals were not in contact with the bucket, they were in their own separate bottles, but three years later, the bucket has several splits from its rim almost down to its base. So much for that solution. People who are trying to deal with the ridiculous amounts of plastic in landfills should study the seaside environment – maybe it would provide a clue.

More than forty years ago, I needed an extra light, and there was no store where I could buy such a thing, or even a place to buy lamp shades. So instead, I bought beer sieves – conical baskets about two feet long and eight inches across at the wide end. Africans put them pointy end down in barrels of beer swimming with taka taka (solid particles you’d rather not drink). The beer seeps into the inside of the cone, where it is nice and clear and ready to be scooped out with a gourd. The sieves became lamp shades by the simple expedient of removing some of the basket fibers to let the light shine through. I kinked each basket to make a more pleasing shape, wired them through an old papaw stock because it’s hollow, and presto: I had a chandelier.

beer sieve pic_WWLOR

The point of all this is that I still have that chandelier, in perfectly good condition, hanging on the same island porch where my steel has rusted and my plastic has disintegrated. Perhaps I’ve finally found the perfect island rust hack! Now, the only problem is figuring out where on earth can I find hand-made baskets of that quality – on this little rock, no less.

Ah, well. Who wants to do that much work nowadays? Go ahead, sea air – do your best. I’m fine with rust now. And if I one day get frustrated with it once again? I’ll buy a few more fridge magnets and call it a day.

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Val Zacharias

About Val Zacharias

Val and her husband Bob retired to Nevis (the small relative of St. Kitts, in the Leeward Islands) in January 2013. They often sit on their porch and smile and say, “This was a good decision.” – though never on those days they have to spend dealing with Revenue Canada. Val is unable to do nothing, so she spends her time doing stained glass, making vases and hangings out of palm fibre, playing bridge, and having a go at baby golf (there are 10 tees and 2 greens). That’s when she’s not fixing things (like the automatic gates that keep out the cattle, sheep, and goats), killing cockroaches with a hammer (because otherwise they get up and walk away), and collecting/trying out all possible remedies for insect bites (many of which somehow appear when there have been no insects in sight). Her dad used to say that in Northern Canada, the mosquitos may be too big to go through the screens, but they bring their little ones along and shove them through the holes, where they grow up and wreak havoc inside. Val has found the same to be true here.

The grocery stores are interesting. They only occasionally have prunes, for instance, but filo (Val thought it was phyllo) dough is readily available. That requires work, though, so it stays on the shelves.

Val has found that the key to living on Nevis is to start all conversations with, “Good morning, good morning, how are you?” and to actually be interested in the answer. People are very friendly and amazingly helpful. The 22 months they have spent on Nevis feels like a nice long summer so far – one nice long summer.

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10 thoughts on “Beware the Salty Air

  1. I also have a wonderful collection of fridge magnets, though some of them are rusting too! 🙂 Love your Dad’s skeeter theory in your bio!! Thank you for the laughs this am!

  2. Very good and true. I had an old cell “flip phone” that was totally encrusted in salt. It worked though ! When I finally traded it in back in the states the sales man got quite a laugh .

  3. Great post, Val. I can totally relate. We lived on the beach for one year, and while we enjoyed the view, listening to the ocean sounds at night and having ready access to the water anytime, we learned a rusty lesson! We purchased a metal glider for the porch, the finish was baked enamel and supposedly the metal would not rust with this finish. After one year on the porch, the glider was ridiculously rusty. The cute white patio tables we thought so charming started showing rust within a month. All my porch plants died from the salt spray. Valuable lessons, all.

    Even though we’ve moved “inland” now, if I purchase anything metal that will live outside, I spray on a coat of Rust-Oleum or just take my chances!

    Loved the chandelier!! So creative!

  4. I use Turtle Wax on my appliances (car wax). My washer shows a little rust where I missed in the application.
    My stainless steel kitchen chairs are also pitting. Shared sympathy.
    One of the interesting things that happened is during a hurricane here, we had moved our vehicles away from any trees that might fall.
    In the middle of the storm we see headlights pointing into the house. We freaked out because who would be driving in this storm!
    The salt spray made a connection to the battery, and turned on the headlights.
    So, now we disconnect the batteries.

  5. Yeah, a lot of my fridge magnet collection rusted, plus colors faded from others, and they never even got direct sunlight…now ruined. PLUS where they were on the side of the fridge, the enamel came off when I removed the magnet. So, another salty air lesson: only use magnets to COVER rust spots. Do not put them on a new unrusty fridge. Great article! Haven’t seen this pervasive island problem addressed here before.

  6. I live in Nevis also, and on the beach. Yes, everything rusts here, but in our case, my husband will sand things if he can catch them in time and spray paint them with rustoleum paint. But it will have to be done again:-) We were remodeling the home he grew up in, built in the late 40’s and brought in all new appliances, stainless steel, yes….I started seeing small rust spots on the fridge and oven. A friend told me to clean them good with CIF and then polish with stainless steel cleaner polish. It worked fantastic, except for one spot on the oven. Cannot get rid of that:-( I learned quickly, no metal curtain rods, unless he cut a steel post and painted it for me. He grew up here, so if anyone can be creative and find a way to make things work, he can do it. Great chandelier!

  7. Hi Val,

    I agree with all the praise about your chandelier. It is great! (as for sea salt, well, I guess we should all try drying quarts of sea water, putting a few tablespoons of the dried salt in pretty transparent bags, selling each bag for $10.00 and calling it something like Carib Sel du Sea:guaranteed to not rust food.

    I was also struck by where you bio. says you can be found “making vases and hangings out of palm fibre”. I have been writing a novel for my family and friends which takes place in the 18th century on an island like one of ours .( I live in Virgin Gorda).I want to have the people make and/or eat lots of things from palm trees. Would you please please give me a brief description or link to one of how my characters could make a vase or hanging out of palm fibre? Or could I phone you and speak with you?Do you ever come to VG?We live there from August until February and have for almost 20 years.
    I don’t think I can leave my e-mail here but if you ask Chrissann and tell her I gave permission ( in fact, I will tell her in advance that I give her permission to tell you my e-mail), you could e-mail me your response.

    It is interesting, isn’t it, just what that is different, we eventually get used to or don’t even notice, and which differences, even after many years, can still bother us?


  8. In Dominica we have underground volcanic fumeroles in the mountains leaking sulfur gas as well as salty air blowing off the sea! I grew up in the North and was taught to believe that if you took care of your things they would last forever. Ha! Decay is inevitable in the tropics. It’s just the nature of the place.

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