Thursday, April 15, 2010

Turks and Caicos

Lovely trip up to the Turks and Caicos although it took us a while to get into the rhythm of a crossing after so many weeks of lisland hopping. We kept our eyes peeled on the horizon the entire trip as Navidad Bank and the Silver Bank are a key mating ground of humpback whales and there are approximately 3000 in the area between January and March. In fact, our pilot stated that you would need to be extremely unlucky not to see whales at this time of year when crossing the banks. One small and curious whale came quite close to the boat and we saw another breeching several times. Amazing!

Our expectations of the T&C were a little different than reality. Arrived on Grand Turk and after careful analysis of the charts and our pilot book we dubiously anchored near the government dock. The surrounding area is a messy and industrial location next to absolutely stunning beaches and bright blue water. Took the dingy into shore and finally found the customs office in the back of a ramshackle warehouse in the middle of a incredible messy industrial-looking area. Everything was full of garbage and piles of broken building materials. As we stood in the cluttered little office the young and extremely informal but very friendly agent (who looked like he might be more comfortable in a garage band than a customs office) told us the mess all around was a result of Hurricane Francis (little seemed to have been done to tidy up since 2004). Taxied to the immigration and on to the grocery store. The whole island seems to be a rather sad place as the underlying natural structure of the island is gorgeous but everything looks downtrodden and broken.

On Salt Cay we found an absolute paradise beach, just as I had finished telling my parents the night before that we were tired of white sand and blue water (no we do not expect any sympathy). This, however was something special. We were the only boat that had ventured in through the reef inlet (a harrowing experience only to be attempted in bright daylight with the sun behind you so that you can clearly see the rocks). Took turns snorkelling on the reef and then continued in to the empty beach for a picnic. Seb erected a sun tent and we sat beside our own private natural pool and wandered about to marvel at the thousands of hermit crabs and colourful fish in the tide pools. This is paradise.

Carefully picked our way out of the reef the next morning after a very rolly and sleepless night and headed off towards South Caicos keeping our eyes peeled for more humpbacks.
South Caicos was an even greater surprise containing the most extreme and depressing poverty that we have seen to date. The fishermen on the wharf were very friendly and we were invited to look into the conch factory. This one room industry processes 1000 conch per day and ships them off to Miami, and this was the only industry visible on the island. Wandered around and stopped at an unmarked shop for an ice-cream and Macsen and Emma played with the local children, each amazed by the others hair. Overall, the island has stunningly beautiful nature but the streets are broken and the houses along them tumbling down, scrawny dogs sniff through piles of garbage and there is an overall mood of dejection and feeling that everyone has just given up.

The 50 nautical mile sail across the Caicos Banks is beautiful but nerve racking. Every pilot warns that this should never be done in winds higher than 15 knots and only with good daylight visibility. Understandable as in the flat waters we were travelling about 7 knots in depths of 2 meters (our draft is 1,90m). This shallow sand is speckled with coral heads that are not always exactly where the chart suggests. Fortunately, due to the incredibly clear blue of the water and the sandy bottom, the dark rocky or corally areas are easy to spot well ahead of time. It was am amazing and exhilarating experience, like sailing across a massive swimming pool. The water was so intense in colour that a white air plane flying overhead looked bright turquoise as the water was reflected off of its wings.

Arrived in Sapadillo Bay at 1330 and radioed in to the South-Side marina. Simon, the harbourmaster, gave us very detailed instructions with waypoints on how to get to an anchorage close to the marina and explained that we would have to wait until 1130 the next day to come into the marina itself with high tide. We followed the directions carefully but before long we were slogging through the sandy bottom and the depth sounder was registering depths down to 1,3m. Stukzitten. We thought back to the full moon of the evening before and realised that, of course, it was a spring tide, the highs are highest and the lows lowest. Our electronic charts were registering a deceptive (and erroneous!) 2,4 meter minimum! We threw out the anchor and Seb and I hopped into the water to look at the keel, strange to be standing next to your boat in the water. Rather than wait until morning, we waited until midnight and Simon and his wife, Charlyn very kindly talked us in through the rest of the uncharted shallows and met us at the dock. No damage done on the sandy bottom but we left a little more bottom paint than intended in the pristine waters.

The South-Side marina is located on Provo island, the most touristy (and wealthiest) island in the group. It is still, however, off the beaten track and as a result there is a tight community feel for all of the boaters that land there. Simon and Charlyn promote this feeling by holding informal gatherings to exchange stories every evening on the dock. Although tiny (and complicated to arrive) this is by far the cosiest marinas that we have stayed in. We stayed for two days to prepare for our trip to the US and felt like old friends when we left. Upon leaving the Turks and Caicos we provisioned for an indeterminate period of time. Our plan was to sail just North of the Bahamas and in towards the coast and as far north as we could until the weather forecast suggested that we head into land.

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