We were able to clear out from Sint Maarten the afternoon before leaving for Puerto Rico. This meant we were underway just on day-break. With sails up we clear the island and change tack to get onto the correct heading. Oh “B” the mainsheet traveller has jammed up. This will be interesting. We need this to move the main sail from the port to starboard tack and back !!! Something in the workings of it has failed !! After about five minutes Alec manages to get it to work, but with difficulty. It will need an overhaul very soon. Another job to add to the tech list which is now growing longer by the day it seems.
We have a lovely sail with eastly winds giving us a good push from the aft quarter. The seas are between 1-2 mts but this is something SHAMAL handles with ease and it is a comfortable ride. During the night we pass the British and US Virgin Islands out to our STBD side some 28nm away. We have an almost full moon which makes for a lovely night passage. The main and jib are still holding together, but, Alec is still adding a patch here and there to keep them together. Not long to go now before they will be replaced – just on a 1,000nm till we reach Stuart in Florida where the job will be done !!!!!! We also have the rod out again fishing, but all we are catching is the golden seaweed. This is becoming very frustrating.
We are now hearing the US Coast Guard on the radio. I suppose as Puerto Rico falls under US jurisdiction, they will become a familiar voice on the radio from now on. Puerto Rico sits in the northern Caribbean and came under US possession in 1898. Puerto Ricans have been US citizens since 1917. The Spanish name means ‘rich port’, that, we are not totally convinced about !!!
For the last 24nm we lost the wind so dropped the sails and motored in watching out for reefs, rocks and sandbars. By midday we are all tied up in Sunbay Marina, Fajardo, on the north eastern end of Puerto Rico. Not a wonderful spot as it is very shallow, even for us, to come in here. We visit the Marina Office to see what the check in procedures are. The staff here are lovely. They make phone calls for us and order a taxi as it is a bit of a hike to the customs office, and they advise us not to walk there, or even take the tender across the bay as the area is a little dubious. The poor taxi driver waits for over an hour for us as things move rather slowly in this office, but we come out with our U.S.A. Cruising Permit which is valid for one year, and is the main reason for our stop off here in Puerto Rico. So it was all worth the waiting. Next we need a chart to get us through the Turks and Caicos Islands which will be our next stop. Again the office girls phone around for us but alas to no avail. None can be found in the boat shops in this area.. Oh well we have everything on the chart plotter, but a paper chart would also be most helpful. We will be entering an area of lots of shallows and reefs. We will stay off shore till daylight in the deeper waters and negotiate our way in in daylight.
The next day we walk into the local village to find not much there. It is getting warmer now, summer is well and truly on its way. We decide to top up our diesel tanks and anchor out where it will be cooler. We will wait for a good weather window for our next leg. An American woman on the mono we were anchored next to comes over to say she remembers us from Marina di Ragusa – Sicily. It is Shanna and her husband Doug off “Hobnob”. Talk about a small world. As we end up in the bay for a couple of nights, we visit each others boats for drinks and a catch-up, which was great.
Friday 8th May – the winds are eastly at 18-20kts. Just perfect for our next leg, so by 06.30 we have upped anchor and are on our way. We have joined a radio network for this next leg which Shanna and Doug also participate in, of yachts returning to the States, where we call in twice a day and give our positions and see how everyone is going. Some, like us, will be stopping along the way.
This next leg is around 400nm. The wind is never above 30kts and seas around 2mts. There are some squalls about hence we sometimes have a reef in the main and jib, and sometimes are sailing under full sails. The seas here are the most spectacular sapphire blue, and with the waves having foaming white breaking tops it is a picture perfect sight. It is night as we are approaching Grand Turk and Alec says we need to slow down so as to arrive in the daylight. We drop the main sail and pull the jib in till we only have a third of it out – we are still doing between 5.5-6kts, and yes we do arrive before daylight, so hold out in the deeper waters till there is enough light to anchor. We drop anchor in 8mts of the most beautiful clean clear turquoise waters with a white sandy bottom at South Dock. This place is pristine.
Grand Turk and several smaller cays make up the Turk group which lie east of the Caicos Islands and are separated by a 22nm wide passage. This passage drops to 4,500 meters deep, and in this area the Atlantic Humpback Whales migrate here during the winter months from the New England coast, as it is their breeding grounds.
The Turks and Caicos were part of the Bahamas up until 1848. Today they remain part of the United Kingdom having previously been semi-autonomous. In 2009 Britain suspended the island’s government and constitution due to political corruption. 2012 saw new elections and today they are a self-governed colony of the UK.
Once we had completed our check in formalities, which resulted in a couple of hot, tired dusty people wandering around looking somewhat lost, and being picked up by a lovely couple who run a hotel on the island, and being deposited outside the customs “shed”, we returned to SHAMAL and moved her up the island to anchor off Cockburn Town, the capital of the Turks and Caicos. There is nothing big or sophisticated about this place. Just two parallel streets running along the beach, the odd bank, a post office and a couple of shops, a church, and some colonial-era houses, give the place a real rustic charm. Cruise Ships do come into South Dock and one arrived the same time as us, but we missed the crowds thank-goodness. It has become a very popular stop off, and a $60 million Cruise Centre has been built with duty free shopping, a huge swimming pool – can’t see why as the most beautiful beach is right next door, plus snorkel and dive trips etc.
The following morning we go shore and set off to find the museum to read up on the history of the Turks, which is said to be the first place in the Caribbean that Christopher Columbus made landfall. Also it is the place where the astronaut John Glen splashed back to earth in his Mercury Spacecraft. Just our luck, the museum was closed that day !!! Still we found a supermarket and a place for a coffee with Wifi after walking around taking in the sites.
We decided to cross the Caicos Passage that afternoon again wanting to arrive in daylight into Cockburn Harbour on South Caicos. We have another lovely sail and drop anchor in 3mts of again clear waters. This place looks quite dead. Just the odd fishing boat about and one other yacht anchored in the harbour, without a mast – they must have a story to tell. Also just to the north of the harbour up on the reef is a mono stuck hard and fast lying on its side. A very sad site indeed, and quite recently run aground.
Ashore the next day we are off to find the “Seaview Marina” to see if they have charts. This is a one stop shop. It reminded me of a local country store from the 1950’s. Just delightful. It sold EVERYTHING. Fuel, gas, oils, lubricants,spare parts, food items from fresh through to frozen and everything in between. Hardware products, fishing gear, cards, books, children's beach toys, and YES, CHARTS. So we purchased the last chart of what we thought was the Caicos Banks – beautifully wrapped in and sealed in cellophane. We made the mistake of not opening it. Later when we did open it up it only covered the area around Providencials – the island we were heading for – not the Bank it's self.
We chose to cross the Bank rather than take the longer route around the outside. One of the routes across the bank is called the Pearl Route, and this is the one we chose. The area is dotted in reefs and rocks. Again it was well marked out on our chart plotter. It is approximately a 50nm trip with average depths between 1.8 to 3.8 mts. You need to cross it in good daylight with the sun behind you. As we started a little later in the morning we decided to spend a night out on the bank which is recommended as a night passage would only be foolhardy. The crossing is quite a unique experience, and the anchorage in just over 3mts of water in the middle of no-where quite surreal. Here we are sitting out with no land in sight. The wind had picked up to 18kts with small white caps, but it was so warm that before dinner we went for a swim. By morning it was flat calm again with clouds dotting the skies. They reflect the stunning aquamarine waters on their undersides. As we continue on I take my position up front again to help steer Alec around the rocks and coral heads. Occasionally I am steering us around what turns out to be cloud shadows, but better to be safe than sorry!!! During the morning we have first one, then two large dolphins join us for over an hour, swimming along with us in the shallow waters.
Later the clouds start to build and by the time we drop anchor in Sapodilla Bay on the south side of Providenciales – called Provo for short, a good old thunder storm has built. We then get 20 minutes of really heavy rain. The Germans on the boat next to us all hop out with their soap and shampoo to take a fresh water free shower !!
We move SHAMAL from the southern side of the island around to the northern side the following morning, passing through the narrow entrance in the reef at Seller’s Cut, and anchoring just inside. We take the tender ashore to make arrangements to move the boat into Turtle Cove Marina the following day. The marina is situated in a natural lagoon and is totally protected from wave and surge action. The other great thing about the marina is that we will be able to check out from here as the customs and immigration officers come down to the marina.
Providenciales, Provo. About two-thirds of the population of the Turks and Caicos live here. The North Coast is the up-market side of the island with hotels, apartments and private mansions spread along the beautiful shore-line. Most amenities can be found here on the island, but distance between things can be quite far. Out came our bikes again and off we set to explore the place. From where the boat is parked it is a seven mile ride to the eastern end of the Island where another marina is situated. We head on out. It is hot – around 36 degrees c. We are peddling along the main, and only, highway, Alec well in front of me, when one of the locals stops beside him and says, “Hey Man, slow down, you left your lady way behind !”. Then a little later a van pulls over and offers to take us to the marina as he is going the same way. Thank goodness !!!!!! We just had to ride all the way back again.
We spend four days here making new friends and exploring the area. There are beautiful beaches, those lovely aquamarine waters, marine parks and historical sites to see. It was here that we finally got to have our first conch meal. A large shell fish that is harvested throughout the Caribbean and found on most menus. We had it lightly grilled and it was delicious. Finally it is time to move on again. Monday 18th May sees us once more departing another gorgeous Island, hoisting our sails in a perfect 15-17kt breeze, and this time heading directly for Florida.
Till next time we will sign out
Love to you all from
The Admiral and The Commander