Saturday, April 9, 2011

Turks & Caicos April 2011

Friday, April 1, 2011
Andy worked on smoothing out the anchor locker before pulling out at daybreak this morning and we had no problems pulling it up.  The 8 + hour crossing across the Caicos Passage from Mayagyana to the island of Providenciales in the Turks & Caicos was amazingly flat after a couple of hours underway.  We saw absolute nothing all day - no wildlife, no boats, only the horizon 360 degrees all around us.
Beautiful calm seas

Andy napped and I read Guidebooks on the Dominican Republic ...a ‘just in time’ ‘one step ahead of myself’ approach.   With Finally Fun on autopilot/navigation and in thousands of feet of water, I kept one eye ahead, but not the same vigilance one needs elsewhere. 

High winds (28+ knots) and waves are expected to come in early Monday morning through Tuesday.  Given that, we decided to anchor in Sapodilla Bay on the south side of Providenciales (Provo for short) till Sunday when we’ll go into the South Side Marina  to wait out the high winds.  This way, we can use our dingy to explore the island on Saturday before hunkering down in a marina during the ‘blow’. Staying in the marina will also provide an opportunity, we hope, to meet other boaters and to acquire some local knowledge about crossing the Caicos Bank on our way to the Dominican Republic.

We dropped the hook in a hurry about 3:15 PM in Sapodilla Bay, lowered the dingy in record time so Andy could get to the Government Dock at South Dock to clear us in before they closed at 4:00 on a Friday.  He returned winded, soaking wet from sweat and feeling like a heart attack about to happen.  The office was up a large hill, over a mile away.    After he got there, the officials told him he could have tied up at the commercial dock where the big freighters are and walk easily to the customs office right next to the dock!    One does NOT have to tie up to the dingy dock in Sapodilla Bay and take that long hike in the tropics! Poor Andy!

Saturday, April 2, 2011
A lazy day.  Andy is wiped out from lack of solid sleep over the past week and from his excursion yesterday.  It was great to lay around, reading on the flybridge with the wonderful breeze and beautiful water all around.  I jumped off the back of Finally Fun several times to cool off, then plopped back into the prone position, finishing my book.  We finally stirred ourselves enough to snorkel around the boat, checking the condition of the props, the zincs and the bottom paint.  Amazing, after all this time in the warmer Caribbean waters, we have virtually no growth on the bottom paint.  Compare that to needing the bottom scraped every few weeks while in Charleston waters in the marina.  Wonder what the difference is??? 

Once we get to the marina, we’ll find out how to best explore this island and if cruising to Cockburn Town on Grand Turk to see is really worth it. (Described as taking one “back a quarter of a century in atmosphere, vintage charm, etc)   There are 40 small islands and cays spread over 193 square miles here and I always get frustrated wishing I could see it ALL!

Turk Cactus - Photo courtesy of George on Earthling
In the Caicos,  Providenciales, North, Middle & South Caicos are the largest and in the Turks, just two islands, Grand Turk and Salt Cay are populated.  Turks was named after a cactus that grows on the island that produces a red top that looks just like a Turkish fez (round hat).  See the photo.   The origination of the name, Caicos, is uncertain.  Some say it was named by the Arawak indians or perhaps the name came from the coco plum tree, “cay icoco”.    These islands are a British crown colony, yet semi-autonomous from the UK.  Driving here is also on the left, as in the Bahamas.

Interestingly, the Turks & Caicos have some of the same issues as does the USA.  Its proximity to Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominica Republic) has attracted a substantial DR & Haitian migration - some legal, some not.  The illegals are landed at night on the Middle Caicos or other remote Cay and told they are in FLORIDA!!  No food, no water, none speak English, no money!  Many don’t make it in the boats, just as many fleeing Cubans don’t survive their trip over water to Florida alive either!

Coral heads under water next to our boat
The ocean waters around these islands are very very deep - from 15,000’ in the Atlantic to 12,000 between here & the Dominican Republic.  Close in, however, there are numerous reefs everywhere, including the Caicos Bank that are only a few feet deep.

The islands are world famous for their fabulously beautiful water,  stunning beaches with powdery white sand, pristine reefs and world class diving. 

The usual scrub & marsh grass grows on the coral and limestone.  Unlike the Bahamas, there are some fairly large hills here, with green vegetation and very upscale houses perched about.  These islands are a stop for numerous migrating birds I’m told, but I’ve only seen 3 seagulls since arrival.  Flamingos & iguana are numerous here and I'd love to spot some.   The nearby banks are the winter breeding ground for the Atlantic humpback whale.  These whales migrate here every year to deliver their babies in the warm climate & warm waters.    They then depart in March, making the long trip back to  New England for the summer.  I am hoping we’ll spot some stragglers as we cross the Turk Passage on our way to the Dominican Republic this coming week.  

Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Sunset @ SouthSide Marina
We cruised into South Side Marina early Sunday on a high tide (one MUST wait for high tide to come in) using the excellent waypoints given us via VHF by Bob, the owner.  This is touted as 'THE place for cruisers".  Small, well protected, with floating docks and $75 a day + electric + 15 cents a gallon for water if you want it, we tied up tightly in anticipation of the blow to come.  Water is cheap here because it is produced by the city (vs being made by an individual marina, tiny island, etc.).  Elsewhere water has been anywhere from 30 to 50 cents a gallon.  I took advantage of the price and washed the boat thoroughly, removing all that salt stuck everywhere.  Bob took two of us to the local grocery store - a large, well stocked one.  I noticed, however, that the produce prices were cheaper in the small grocery in Georgetown!  A mango in Georgetown was $1 and here was $2.50!  go figure....

Kelly cutting hair

 Kelly, aboard one of the sailboats, Earthling, is a hair stylist by trade.  Five of us took her up on her offer to provide haircuts.  I don't know how she managed to give such great cuts -- on the bouncing floating dock in a wobbly lawn chair with the wind blowing about 20 knots, whipping our damp hair all over the place as she tried to grab it with her hand and keep the hair in one place while she applied the scissors.  She gave me one of the best haircuts I've had in a long time.  I'm thrilled!

The anticipated blow is stalling around us and we expect to be stuck here until at least Thursday now.  Last night the wind was really howling, surprising me as we are so well protected with a small mountain blocking much of it.  I'm glad we are not outside of this marina at anchor!   

April 8, 2011
Sure enough, the weather has held us here since April 3 - the usual high winds, rough seas, but looking like we can pull out tomorrow,  Saturday.  Couple that with the fact that our generator belt gave it up and repairing it was not a simple matter.  Seems the builder of Finally Fun did not use the standard Kohler generator belt for some reason.  His crew, instead, used a slightly off sized one and rearranged the generator parts to make it fit.  Proud that we had ordered the spare parts for the generator, Andy was beyond dismayed to find that the standard correct size belt for our model generator didn’t fit.  So, for three days we searched for the correct size, even having a guy supposedly bringing in some from the US - so sayth the same guy who ‘screwed’ up our car rental over and over...ah....Sharon, take a deep breath and remember Island Mentality.

Today, would you believe the CUSTOMS official offered up a helping hand, rolling up his sleeves and digging into the generator.   He’d had to extend our time on the island as we had only 7 days permission to be here and today was Day Seven.   He even drove off in search of parts for us which he found!   Amazing, he and Andy got it running!  We are most grateful, but now left wondering where and how we will get other belts to fit.   Bah.

I must say, however, that even though we’re spending $75 a day (which always drives me crazy to spend money to SIT) to be here in this marina due to winds and now the broken generator, we have thoroughly enjoyed being here.  There is such a great group of fun loving, adventurous folks weathered in here with us.

Two young couples, probably younger than our own children, aboard sail boats (Scott & Brittany aboard Rusmus and George & Kelly aboard Earthling) are beyond fun and delightful.  They’ve set out to explore the world with hardly any money and not too many worries.  These two boats met in Georgetown and were at anchor with us during one of our stops a while back.   

Bob, the owner of South Side Marina (yes, on the South side of Provo) goes out of his way to enable cruisers to have a wonderful time.  He hosts a 7:30 am cruiser’s net with weather; has the daily 5:00 PM Happy Hour that goes for hours, hosts BBQs with ice cream for dessert and helps with any needs!  Sitting under his gazebo in the breeze, telling stories, swapping information and  laughing a lot has been great.
Under the Gazebo @ SouthSide Marina

The Happy Hour has been an opportunity for the cruisers to get creative and that they do, cooking up crab balls, fresh conch fritters, native foods and on and on to share!   No one has cooked a single dinner since arrival here... way too much food at Happy Hour!   After sunset we’ve been moving the party aboard Equinox, a 55’ Katy Krogen (Ron & Karyn) for movie night with popcorn and more! 

Andy & I finally got a car rented, (the car was actually named - BONEHEAD!)  touring the

island with Brittany & Scott from the sailboat, Rasmus, snapping lots of pictures along the way.  There is not much here unless you are off on a dive boat, but we enjoyed poking around some shops, exploring some of the beaches and just looking about.   It's been too rough to dink around even or to snorkel.  

The highlight of our day was the Conch Shack for a late lunch on the beach.  We hung out with the man cracking up all the conch - doesn’t get any fresher than that - he pulls them out of the holding pens built in the water!  Wack with a hammer and slice with the knife and out comes the huge conch!  Learned something - there is this thing that looks like a clear piece of spaghetti he pulls out - the pistol.  He swallows it like a bird swallowing a worm. I'll try about anything, but I passed on swallowing that!

Andy & Sharon @ The Conch Shack, Provo

Conch in the water waiting to be someone's dinner

Slicing thru the conch to cut the conch animal inside loose from the shell

Pulling out the large conch from its' shell

Eating the 'pistol'
We also stopped at a Conch Farm, where conch are raised for market.  It was interesting and the only one of its kind anywhere.

Conch Farm

These scientists are trying to learn a lot about the conch and how to increase productivity, expanding the market for their purchase. 

Conch Farm pens raising conch

Hurricane Destruction Here!

The weather has improved.   We plan to depart this marina tomorrow about 1:00 PM (high tide - very necessary).   We’ll be crossing the Caicos Bank to Big Sand Cay in the Turks before making the passage to the Dominican Republic.  The Caicos Bank is a near circular reef-fringed atoll about 60 nautical miles wide. Depths range from 20 feet to 0 at mean low tide.  Much of the area has never been surveyed.  With the advent of the new Far Bahamas FIFTH Edition w/ Turks & Caicos just published, we are confident in their waypoints and with a careful eye on the tides and weather, will cross here, rather than go around the North side of the island and down in the deeper Atlantic.

Friday, April 9, 2011
We obtained our Departure Paperwork from Customers ($23 to clear out) with ease.  Finally OFF, with lots of hugs & waves from all our new friends, at nearly high tide in order to get out of the marina.  We were excited to be underway again.   Given that Finally Fun has a magnet under her that causes us to run aground (grin), we decided to be prudent, changing our route slightly to avoid the very shallow middle of the Caicos Bank.   Three hours to French Cay, a tiny dot of an island at the edge of the Bank was our anchorage for the evening.  We then planned to head a short distance across the Atlantic, turning back into the Caicos Bank, spending the next night at Big Sand Cay at the southern edge of the Bank before making the long passage to the Dominican Republic.

A beautiful few hours cruising through the most aqua colored water I’ve ever seen.  No way Crayola Crayons can duplicate these hues!  I keep saying that and it keeps getting more and more spectacular!  The puffy white clouds in the bright blue sky even pick up the aqua color along their bottoms - amazing sight!  I saw two sharks (perhaps nurse sharks?) swimming beside us and later one dolphin followed in our wake for a brief time and absolutely nothing else.  If my eyes were better, I’d swear I could count the sand ripples and the blades of seaweed on the bottom it was so clear!

The only excitement for the day was the fact that Andy had opened a couple of ports (windows in the bow) a few days ago.  Yup, forgot to close them.  I always do a walk through before departure checking to be certain all is secure.  This time, however, we departed suddenly, 30 minutes ahead of schedule, so I was racing about.  Seems the guys on the dock had said to him, “Well, we will go to lunch after you depart.”  Not wanting to hold them up, he got a big Move It Up stick to me and off we went.  About 30 minutes underway, I noticed the splashes on the rug in the V Berth cabin and found the issue.  Soaked our thick bedspread, left 2 inches of water in the cabinet under the V Berth, soaking large containers of oatmeal, napkins and cereal boxes.  Water was running down the teak walls and pooling water under the mattress.  We’d splurged on good mattresses, so there was no harm done to the underside or sides as it is some kind of ‘plastic’ and the top was protected by the thick coverlet.  Lots of cleaning up while I bounced about in that bow of the boat!

Shortly after dropping the hook we were greeted by a huge POLICE boat - the Turks equivalent of our US Coast Guard.  About 10 gentlemen peered into our boat, asking the usual questions:  “Where did you come from?  Where are you going?  Anyone on board other than you two? “ No problems and we were glad they knew we were there overnight.

Later in the afternoon, George & Kelly, aboard the sailboat Earthling, dropped the hook near us and rowed over with dinner for four!
  I did, however, fear for their safety as they rowed back to their boat in the dark and pitching waves!  All ended well.....great to be young and strong!   They, along with Rasmus, will be along the same route as us but as sailboats - they wlll shortly be far behind us.  I’m certain our paths will cross again and again as we all explore the Caribbean islands. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011
Early out of French Cay, we dropped the hook at Big Sand Cay about 2:30.    The cruise over was uneventful (always a good thing) as we cruised into the navy blue waters of the 15,000 to 20,000 foot deep Turk Island Passage between the Caicos and the Turk Islands.   I so wanted to see a whale in the deep deep Passage we traversed to get to Big Sand Cay as this is the water in which Humpback whales migrate back to the northern USA in March.   I was hoping for some stragglers but no such luck.

Big Sand Cay
 However, my disappointment was short lived as I took one look at the curving white beach 
and the usual spectacular aqua water.  I sweet talked tired Andy into helping me quickly lower the dink to go exploring and swimming. 

Phew, the water right up to the beach was pretty deep before a little shelf started.  We struggled with the dingy in the rocking surf due to the sudden shelf making the water so shallow,  slamming us about.  Obviously, our skill set was off.  We couldn’t get the dink secure.  It kept beaching itself and then slamming back into the water.   Andy wasn’t happy, fearful the dink would pull out of the anchor we were trying to set.  We agreed he would go back to the boat with the dink and read and I’d call him on the portable VHF radio when I was ready to return.

Ah, loved the walk along the Atlantic side of the beach in total solitude.  All rocks and ledges and no sand, it was an interested place to poke about in, snapping pictures and hoping to find the motherlode of sea glass.  None found. I was very disgusted to see a vast amount of trash on this island on the Atlantic Ocean side.  Obviously, some people think when they drop stuff into the water, it just 'goes away'.  NOT!  It ends up polluting something!  Remember the skeleton of the large sperm whale that swallowed the plastic bag? 


More Trash!

Fish Choke on this Junk!

See bird on right side
Joke was on me, however, when I spotted an enormous bleached white tree lying on the shore, with a large bird perched on one branch.

Bird on the left branch

 Odd, the closer I got, the bird still did not move. Weird - the bird looked just like a DUCK.  Curious - how did a DUCK get all the way here????  Snapping pictures, expecting this duck to take off at any moment, I finally decided maybe this duck was sick.
  Right up on the duck, I started laughing.  Someone with a good sense of humor had nailed a wooded mallard duck decoy onto the driftwood tree! 

I also spied one big black fish, about 1 1/2 to 2 feet long feeding among the rocks on the shore.  This fish would literally stand on its’ head, tail and fin straight up, totally out of the water, flapping as the fish gobbled up something (algae?) stuck on the bottom. 
Fish standing on its' head feeding
 I watched for about 15 minutes as I strolled along, keeping up with the feeding fish.

My Taxi - Andy on his way

I finally gave it up, hiking back to the pretty beach side for a swim before hailing Andy for a ride back to the boat. 

  Ugh, I decided I would not let the damp oatmeal go to waste, so I started making oatmeal cookies and oatmeal bars, grossly underestimating the time that would take.  Andy was long snoring before I turned in, exhausted.


  1. Next time you find an animal that doesn't move, you could put the flash on it to see if it night. But don't go out there at night! Getting in the water looks fun, go snorkeling a lot. You guys need to start going fishing! Try para-sailing.

  2. Is it weird to sleep on the boat when it's rocking? Was the conch spicy? Mrs. Sharon, have you ever fallen off the boat? What type of fish do you catch? Who drove the rental car? Was it cool seeing that big 'ole fish eating? That was deep water!

  3. How did Mrs. Kelly do hair with the strong wind blowing? How does conch taste? I've never eaten it. If you get hurt, where is the hospital? Do you radio ahead and tell them you are coming? Why do you have to pay to leave a place? What kind of car was the rental (Bonehead), we didn't recognize the emblem. What if the boat sinks? We are curious about pooping on the boat, Mrs. Lea is filling us in. How many people can fit on the boat? Is it comfy to sleep on the boat?

  4. The oatmeal cookies sound tasty...guess you didn't have to add any salt to the batter!

  5. Do you get bored? Could you see the bottom of the ocean? I've been to Bermuda and could see the bottom there.

  6. Hello All! Let me answer your questions as best I can, starting with Carlos: You are right - I need to fish MORE. Para-sailing scares me, so I'll keep my feet in the water and not in the AIR!
    Billy: I like the boat rocking a bit while I sleep. It is like being in a cradle, rocking like a baby. When it is rough, however, it gets so rolly you feel like you need to hold on all night! Conch is pretty taste-less. It is tough and chewy so before cooking it, you must pound it flatter with a hammer or somelike like that. Then, cut it in small bite sized pieces and cook with lots of spices, or vegatables, etc. Conch is often spicy because people put a lot of onion and peppers in it! Sometimes they just beat it and fry it with salt so that isn't spicy. Nope, so far I have not fallen of this boat!! Neither has Andy! We have caught Black Fin Tuna, Bonita, and a couple other tunas while underway with the lines out of the back of the real skill needed. I then cut them up on the back of the bouncing boat. That was hard! Andy drove the rental car and I kept telling him which side to drive on as it is different over here.
    Allan: Kelly is a good hairdresser and she just held on tight to the piece of hair that she was trying to cut while the rest blew all around. If we get hurt or start to sink - that is a scary thing because we could be very very far from land and help. if it is really bad, the United States Coast Guard or the Water police in other countries will try to get to you to help you, even with a helicopter. i hope we never need to find out! I keep a big first aid kit on board with lots of things in it like packs of stuff that would stop bleeding and that kind of thing. Andy & I took a CPR course before we started out. If we start to sink, we do have pumps on board that will start pumping out the water. But if the water is coming in FASTER than the pumps can get it OUT, we will be in trouble. We use a special radio, called a VHF that the Coast Guard and Water police can hear and so can other boaters who might be able to come to your aid as cellphones are usually not able to work as far out as we are. That Bonehead (how funny it had a name) was some kind of car from Japan or Korea. It is not sold in the US. I forget what it was exactly. As to pooping on the boat -- our toilets work like yours at home except we flush with a pedal at the bottom of it. The waste then goes into a special waste tank (remember it is called BLACK water - meaning not sanitary, very bad) where it stays until we pump it out at a marina, using a special suction hose that sucks it out into a waste tank that goes into the sewers. The tank on the boat does not smell - just like at your house. We can also pump the waste water/poop directly overboard via a special pump. We are allowed to do that if we are more than 3 miles off the coast - in the ocean. The thinking is that the ocean will take care of it. I prefer to use the marina pumps to keep the environment clean. Imagine if every person just dumped it in the oceans. Someday, it will catch up to us as pollution! A lot of people can be on the boat but we can only sleep 6 comfortably. Two in the master bedroom; 2 on a pull out couch and two in the Vberth bed. We can sleep outside, up top on the flybridge couchs also - that would be two more if they wanted to be outside. The beds are comfortable - pretty much just like at home except we rock sometimes.