Grand Exuma Island, Bahamas to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida…The end of the season

May 21st – June 8th, 2014

Update as of November 20th, 2014.
We’re catching up now (sorry it took so long) on our end of season for 2014. We are currently getting ready to depart Ft. Lauderdale which will be sometime in December.
Our travels will take us back to the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal and up to Costa Rica where “Beach House” departed the West Coast of the America’s in 2009.
It is there that we will complete our sail around the world……

We departed Calabash anchorage at the northern end of Long Island Cay to head for our first stop in the central Bahamas – one of the major island groups – “The Exumas”. The sail was a quick 20+ miles with a beautiful following wind and we entered the very complex reef system just to the south of Georgetown and headed for what would be our base of operations – Stocking Island.

Stocking Island is an outer barrier island which runs just to the north of Georgetown which is the Capital of the Exumas. It had it’s own classic beach bar called the “Chat N’ Chill” which served the usual beers and burgers for the boats. There were lots of American and Canadian vessels enjoying the warm clear waters and beaches as we neared the end of the cruising season. June 1st would mark the end of when we’d be highly certain no early season hurricanes would be threatening.

Yet another Beach Burger  hang out!

Yet another Beach Burger hang out!

We stayed three nights, enjoyed a bit of sight seeing in Georgetown and generally hung out enjoying the beach vistas of Stocking Island. The island itself had a Yacht Club and two natural hurricane holes (protected areas for boats). I still think I’d rather not be here in a really threatening blow.

We picked our way through the sandy shoals toward the north for our planned day sail 40 miles up the chain to the northeast. Our night stop would be at Farmer’s Cay. On our way out of Stocking and our way into Great Guana Cay anchorage just north of the Farmer’s Cay cut, we brushed the sand with our daggerboards. The Bahamas in general are noted for their extremely long and shallow passages. (Aside: when I hauled the boat out of the water in Florida, I saw lots of bottom paint “sanded” off by the shallows of the Bahamas).

The currents reminded me a bit of the Tuamotos of the South Pacific and small standing waves could really get going while immense qualities of water moved from one side of the Exuma chain to the other. The get an idea of the terrain, see this link: http://www.worldmapfinder.com/Google_Earth.php?ID=/En/North_America/Bahamas/Exuma_District

The Exuma’s are the long chain extending some 120 miles in the central Bahamas. They are located just to the southeast of Nassau in the above map.

Our next stop and last on entering from the deep Exuma Sound would be at Staniel Cay – Big Majors spot.
This was a challenging entry in the current and a bit tricky to get anchored in a nice protected spot. We ended up across from the Staniel Bay Marina, just east of Thunderball Grotto. Thunder Ball Grotto was the site where the James Bond movie “Thunder Ball” was filmed. The grotto is an under water entry to a huge expansive and well lit cavern.The restaurant has lots of photos and memorabilia. It was a nice lunch and tour spot. One of the highlights was watching the fisherman clean their catch and throw the scraps off the pier where a dozen bull sharks were all waiting for their free meal.

Nikki, my "Bond Girl" right out of "Thunder Ball".  Do I feel like James Bond? Hey a guy can dream, right?....:-)

Nikki, my “Bond Girl” right out of “Thunder Ball”. Do I feel like James Bond? Hey a guy can dream, right?….:-)

 

Bull Sharks feeding on the fish clean - Staniel Cay, Exumas - Bahamas

Bull Sharks feeding on the fish clean – Staniel Cay, Exumas – Bahamas

 

We did the Thunder Ball Grotto swim and enjoyed this stop and anchorage. We’d heard about “Big Majors Spot” but couldn’t believe the story till we saw it for ourselves. What happens here is – a short dinghy ride from Thunder Ball Grotto – a large group of pigs are on the beach and swim out to your dinghy to be fed! No, we’re not kidding! This was hysterical and the photographic evidence is seen here:

When Pigs Swim

When Pigs Swim

 

Three Little Pigs - Big Majors Spot - Exumas, Bahamas

Three Little Pigs – Big Majors Spot – Exumas, Bahamas

 

Due to the very shallow western side of the chain, we’d do our first few days moving to the northeast on the “outside” in deep water. The “inside” is the huge area often seen as a beautiful turquoise from photos taken from the International Space Station. After a quiet night off Farmer’s moving first one way, then the other in the current, we again set off on the “outside” (East side) of the Exumas and headed for Warderick Wells Cay. This is the main area of the National Park and perhaps one of the most stunning anchorages in the entire Bahama’s.

It’s absolutely blue shades of water in a very narrow cut contrast sharply with the surrounding white sugar sand.

 

Warderick Wells Cay from "Boo Boo Hill"

Warderick Wells Cay from “Boo Boo Hill”

First, we accidentally had a “sheet” (line used for controlling a sail), find it’s way overboard and just as we were about to pick up our mooring, we lost our port engine! This has happened a few times over the years, but why is always at a critical moment?! We were in a fairly strong current and fortunately were able to get moored before we went up on the sand. Ah, the benefits of two engines!!! I was able to dive on the stuck line and fix it in short order once we were moored. We took the dinghy to the beach and did the short hike to “Boo Boo Hill”.
Boo Boo Hill is the top of the overlook where we could see both out to sea and the anchorage. It’s unique feature was the hundreds of carved and painted signs from boats over the years than left evidence of their arrival and departure.

 

Boo Boo Hill - Warderick Wells Cay

Boo Boo Hill – Warderick Wells Cay

We had a lovely stay but were anxious to keep moving north and this time we went “inside” (west) of the long chain of the Exuma Islands. We stopped in a really nice spot with moorings on the lee of Hawksbill Cay. This was a very long streach of white sand beaches with rocky outcroppings. It reminded me of some of the Yasawas of Fiji, and the parts of the central Tongan chain as well. We wish we’d spent a bit more time here, but did have a short swim and off we went to the northeast. We were sort of winging it here and thought we’d just find a night anchorage en route to our next stop in Highbourne Cay. We tried to anchor in Pelican’s creek out of the current off Norman’s Cay, but it was just too shallow! After a few scrapes with the sand, we tried to take a short cut as it was getting dark and go inside the reef just west of Norman’s. After getting into 3+ feet of water on too many occasions, we turned back and went further west. I did not want to find what being “on the hard” was like out here in the middle of nowhere. We made it to Highbourne Cay, just before dark where we anchored near our new Aussie (of Canadian heritage) friends Bob and Bev of “Icrius” in their Catana 42 Catamaran.

We tucked in for the night and went ashore the next morning to find out that the Marina was beaucoup expensive and wifi unavailable for anyone but hotel guests. We did have a lovely lunch ashore and decided that the next morning we’d take the boat over to Leaf and Allan’s Cays a few miles to the north. The attraction here is the local Iguana’s which come right down to the beach to be fed.

 

Allan & Leaf Cay Iguanas

Allan & Leaf Cay Iguanas

The anchorage was nice, but there was LOTS of current, so we took the hour long trip both ways back to Highbourne Cay the same day. The next morning, we’d set off on a very long day trip across the Exuma Bank and into the metropolis of Nassau in the Bahamas. This was about a 60 mile trip as we had to take a dog leg to the west to avoid some truly shallow and rocky parts of the bank. We’d end up at the end of the day in Atlantis Marina. This is the place that looks like Disneyland in the Bahamas. You see it advertised on television all the time.
Culture shock is an understatement. It really was like being at a cross between Las Vegas and Disneyland. We had full access to the property as guests of the marina. Restaurants, water slides, an aquarium and on and on. It was fun for a day or two, but after that? You really have to like long stays at Las Vegas and Disneyland to avoid the sensory overload we were hit with. As such, and to save about 50% on our remaining slip fees, we motored around the north of Paradise Island back to the main island of New Providence. Paradise (where Atlantis is), is a barrier island that separates and defines the big cruise ship harbor at the Port of Nassau. We enjoyed walking through old Nassau town with it’s very British feel on New Providence Island.

 

Hail Atlantis - Paradise Island, Nassau - Bahamas

Hail Atlantis – Paradise Island, Nassau – Bahamas

After about 5 days in Nassau and Paradise Island, we were ready to move on toward Florida and our last two stops in the Bahamas – Chubb Cay and North Bimini Island.
The 40 mile trip to Chubb was a long motor and we decided to stay in the anchorage rather than the marina as it would be quicker to move on the next morning as we had to leave around 5 am to make it to North Bimini. We went into the Marina with the dinghy and it was a large, very well protected, clean and new facility. However, it was extremely expensive and as such, was about 5% full! The folks at the local bar and restaurant were not particularly friendly, so we cut our visit short as we’d be leaving so early the next morning anyway.

When we upped anchor in the dark, a series of events (my silly bad), led us to almost T-boning a dock pole. We did “bump” it, but fortunately at about 0.5 knots. As such, no harm, no foul….:-) We set off for North Bimini across the Bimini Bank for the 90 mile trip. Going across the Mackie Shoal was reminiscent of the Caicos Bank. We could see the bottom the entire way. It was rarely deeper than 15 feet. We entered the harbor at North Bimini and tied up to the end tie at Blue Water Marina. This was a good choice. We took a taxi ride the next morning up to the new resort and casino at “Resort World” and again were in deep culture shock. Day trips are run the 50 miles or so out of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale to this resort and casino which also has upmarket housing developments. It’s a real different feel than the island is used to. I hope it benefits them and doesn’t ruin the charm of yesteryear when Ernest Hemingway discovered this place as a world class fishing get a way. We went to visit the haunts of Hemingway on the south side of the island which were right across from Blue Water Marina. A few nights here were good enough and our next and last trip for the season would be across the famous Gulf Stream and into Ft. Lauderdale, Florida which would be our Summer home. The Gulf Stream is very similar to the Mozambique and Agulhas Currents off the southeast coast of Africa. Fortunately, not usually as strong. As we would be motoring across the key was to do so in a wind that did not have “N” in it. No northerly component to the wind means no seas get “walled” up and break nastily. The day was calm, evidence of the current was everywhere and as June had arrived, the thunderstorms of South Florida were in full regalia. We did see about 3.5-4 knots of current from the south briefly, but it was of no consequence in the very flat seas. As we approached Port Everglades, the lightening was a bit intimidating and the skies a bit ominous. We entered the outer harbor where Nikki’s mum had once arrived via cruise ship and “Beach House” was first in the USA. We had her shipped from Mallorca in the Spanish Ballerics of the Mediterranean to the US West Coast. Beach House stopped here which meant that at least “the boat” had actually crossed her own path around the world. It will take till next season to accomplish that “under sail”.

Ft. Lauderdale - 17th Street Bridge

Ft. Lauderdale – 17th Street Bridge

We had a very interesting season overall with some really great stops. We hope to update this again before we leave next season and let you know of our summer tales (Scott would learn to fly and get his pilots license and Nikki would have her first grandchild).

Stay tuned….the blogs will be coming faster again and we really do hope to get some photos up in galleries (maybe even a video or two?) before we leave in December.
Scott and Nikki

May 13th – 20th, 2014 (-4 on UTC)

Dear F&F, We had a fabulous time in the Turks and Caicos and if it works out, we’d come back next season. It was one of our favorite stops in the entire Eastern Caribbean.

All good things must move on and we were looking forward to arriving in the world famous Bahamas! We departed the convoluted pass at Turtle Cove Marina and had much better weather than the day we first arrived. The sail would be about 60 miles and we didn’t want to arrive too late as there was a long shallow passage into Mayaguana’s – Abraham’s Bay.

Nikki hoists the colors, Mayaguana, The Bahamas

Nikki hoists the colors, Mayaguana, The Bahamas

We arrived in a bit of a squall with two other boats at anchor in water that was an entire 1.7 to 2 meters (4 1/2 to 6 feet) deep. The anchorage was a bit exposed and as such, though we could have checked in at this very sparsely populated island – we decided to move on the next morning. We’d check in somewhere else along the trip.

The 37 foot, Prout Snowgoose Catamaran, “Snowball” left about an hour and half ahead of us and would be the boat we’d be chasing all day. The trip was about 65 miles and the wind was up! We had to make the decision on which side to pass the Plana Cays by and the winds made the choice for us….it would be north of them.

About 8 miles before we arrived at Attwood Harbour on Acklin’s Island, we passed “Snowball” who was flying no main and a spinnaker. Our spinnaker pole out to the windward side of the boat, really allows us to sail very downwind in blowy conditions. This saves wear and tear on the boat and crew as well as making the passage much more comfortable, faster and fun.

"Snowball" under Spinnaker en-route to Acklin's Island, The Bahamas

“Snowball” under Spinnaker en-route to Acklin’s Island, The Bahamas

When we arrived in Attwood Harbour, we were very cautious as the guide book made it sound like a difficult entry. Frankly, it was about as easy as they get in this part of the “reefy” world. No problem with me! The bay was almost a complete circle and not only extremely off the beaten path, but a VERY comfortable anchorage. Again, in about 6 feet of water.

About a half an hour after we were settled, “Snowball” anchored next to us and invited us over for a G&T! Paul and Tony were British chaps and Nikki loved the conversation. So did I, but as she says….”It’s cultural”…..:-)

Paul & Tony - Crooked Island Anchorage, The Bahamas

Paul & Tony – Crooked Island Anchorage, The Bahamas

We made fast friends, shared life stories and we’d both be sailing to Pitt’s Town Anchorage the next morning on the northeast corner of Crooked Island. We again had a really nice sail and some lovely views of the Little Bird Island Lighthouse. It has been abandoned for many years and we read of plans to make it a private “honeymoon” resort experience. Alas, like many of these projects, it has not yet come to pass!

Remote Bird Island Lighthouse - Disused and planned for a Honeymoon Retreat Now that's unique.

Remote Bird Island Lighthouse – Disused and planned for a Honeymoon Retreat
Now that’s unique.

After we anchored at a relatively comfortable but open roadstead off Pitt’s Town, we had Paul and Tony over to “Beach House”. Nikki whipped up some pupu’s and drinks, we had conversation about the day’s sail and future plans. We said our farewells as they’d be off toward Cat Island the next day while we’d be headed to Long Island Cay. We hope to meet up again with them “somewhere out there”.

The next morning we started the engines as usual after I done my checks and upon accelerating the port engine, it made an awful squeak. I went below to have a look and guessed that the bearings on one of the two alternators must be bad? As such, we motored in light winds to our next destination with just the starboard engine. Yet another advantage of a twin screw catamaran!

When we arrived in Clarence Town Bay, Long Island, we went ashore to inquire about a mechanic to come have a look. Long Island is 80 miles long, but never more than a half mile wide!

Long Island, The Bahamas:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Island,_Bahamas

The next morning, Andrew Cartwright arrived at Flying Fish Marina and I dinghy-ied him out to the boat. Andrew’s family has been here forever and there are Cartwright’s scattered over the whole island.

Andrew had a look at the engine and at first thought it was just a loose belt. Upon further inspection, it turned out that our 24 volt alternator bracket had developed a crack in the weld where it attached to the side of the engine. He removed it, but told us there were only two welders on the island capable of fixing it. One of them was off island working on a British Telecom site; the other was off until Monday. We settled in for the weekend and took advantage of the time to rent a car and check in with customs up at the north end of the island.

The chap at customs was quite a character and tried to convince us he couldn’t check us in despite our having called ahead to one of his co-workers who said we could. He spent the better half of an hour trying to figure out who told us this and finally gave up and just checked us in. We drove back in intermittent driving rain storms, but had a great time exploring the island. We also stopped for a drink at the Santa Maria Resort where we’d next stop with the boat – about 50 miles up the coast. The resort was nice and we thought we might try dinner there when we moved up coast.

Andrew and Les fixed our port engine alternator bracket which cracked.

Andrew and Les fixed our port engine alternator bracket which cracked.

The next day we did some exploring in the bay at Clarence Town with the dinghy and walked along empty, protected white sand beaches which stretched for miles. We kept thinking that there are dozens of places that we could kite board if we really get good at it throughout the Bahama Islands. We eventually went ashore at Strachan Cay, one of the barrier islands that forms Clarence Town Bay. There was a single private home here. It seemed abandoned, but an ideal place to just “get away from it all”. We learned that the long time owner had passed away, but that his extended family comes down in the winter months. The beaches were sweet white sand, a true Robinson Crusoe get-away spot.

Miles of remote white sand beaches throughout the Bahamas.  Long Island,  Clarence Town Bay

Miles of remote white sand beaches throughout the Bahamas. Long Island, Clarence Town Bay

On Monday, we drove to Les Harding’s shop. He’s another famous and long time Long Island family scion and had him weld the bracket. Thirty dollars seemed a bargain. Back again the other way where we would have Andrew re-install the whole enchilada.

En-route, we stopped at the deepest “Blue Hole” in the world at “Dean’s Blue Hole”. This is a natural limestone sink hole which is about 150 wide but attains a depth of 202 meters (663 feet deep). Every November, there is a gathering of the world’s best free divers to try and set either personal bests or world’s records. Most of the world’s free diving records have been set here. This is a gorgeous natural setting, but has a mixed history. Several people who have tried to attain records have died including a few tourists who for unknown reasons have been lost here as well. Despite a somewhat checkered history, thousands of people swim in the warm calm waters without event every year. The setting is in a gorgeous protected cove at the edge of the sea.

WARNING!  Dean's Blue Hole.  The deepest limestone blue hole in the world.

WARNING! Dean’s Blue Hole. The deepest limestone blue hole in the world.

Dean's Blue Hole with diving platform.  Long Island, The Bahamas

Dean’s Blue Hole with diving platform. Long Island, The Bahamas

See link: http://school.verticalblue.net/deans-blue-hole/

Another very interesting site at this island is what are known as “Father Jerome Churches”. Father Jerome was an Anglican priest, trained as an architect who came to the Bahamas in 1908. He dedicated much of the rest of his life rebuilding churches in the Bahamas in a Greek Mediterranean style. Eventually converting to Catholicism, he rebuilt the Anglican and Catholic churches on Long Island as well as the famous “Hermitage” on Cat Island.

To learn more about Father Jerome Churches on Long Island: http://www.yachtingmagazine.com/article/Picnicking-with-Father-Jerome   Father Jerome Churches of Long Island. This is the St. Peter and St. Paul Church.

Father Jerome Churches of Long Island.

This is the St. Peter and St. Paul Church. See Link: http:/shanepinder.com/blog/2008/11/14/sts-peter-and-paul-catholic-church-clarence-town-long-island/

The Hermitage on Cat Island – see link: http://www.greenwoodbeachresort.com/english/churches.htm

The people on Long Island were, like the Turks and Caicos, some of the friendliest folks we’d met anywhere in the Eastern Caribbean. Andrew got us put together in a few hours after our return and we were off the next morning for Calabash Bay, the site of Santa Maria Resort. The sail was quite brisk and we took in a reef with the staysail in some wild squalls and wind shifts as we sailed the 50 miles north to the top of the island.

Along the way, we crossed the Tropic of Cancer. This is the latitude line (running East and West) that is the limit of the Sun’s northward annual trek. If you dropped a “plumb bob” from the Sun to the Earth, this is as far north as it gets on June 21st or 22nd every year. This is the Summer Solstice; the longest day of the year and marks the official beginning of Summer in the Northern Hemisphere.

Tropic of Cancer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropic_of_Cancer

We pulled into the tricky reef entrance at Calabash Bay, anchoring yet again in very skinny water. We did a “wet landing” with the dinghy on a lovely sandy beach. I wanted to give Nikki the night off from her Galley duties and we had a nice meal at the Santa Maria Resort. The resort mostly caters to Bone fisherman.

If you’re not familiar with Bone Fishing, check this link out: http://www.patientangler.com/blog/view/9248

Calabash Bay, Santa Maria Resort.  Long Island, The Bahamas

Calabash Bay, Santa Maria Resort. Long Island, The Bahamas

Bone Fishing is quite the craze amongst the catch and release crowd. The fish are great fighters, caught on light tackle like trout, but totally un-eatible!…:-)

Needless to say, as Summer is rapidly approaching (as well as Hurricane Season!) ….it’s getting HOT, HOT, HOT here in the Northern Caribbean Sea. Our next stop would be one of the great cruising grounds of the Bahamas – Grand Exuma Island.

The water was Turquoise....most everywhere!

The water was Turquoise….most everywhere!

Stand by, much more really soon!

Scott and Nikki

April 29th – May 13th, 2014 (-4 on UTC)

Dear F&F,
We departed San Juan for what would be our only multi-day sail of the season; most unusual! The weather was perfect and we had a full mainsail and reacher on a starboard tack for the expected 48 hour trip. As the day progressed, the winds picked up and just before sunset we saw a large power boat 10 miles ahead of us on a reciprocal course. It was a 210 footer going 20 knots. No worries and we spotted her a half mile to our west as she passed. Then I heard a radio call to us  (by name!) from “Lady M”. It turns out that this was to be a stunning small world story!

Friends Chris and Geoff (who Nikki and I had met in Colundra north of Brisbane two years ago) were crewing on this mega yacht and helping take the boat to Mallorca – for them a 7 day trip! They saw our boat name on the AIS and knew immediately it was us. They were heading to San Juan to fuel up and then would head across the Atlantic. We have been in email communication for several years, met once and now were literally passing ships in the (almost) night. We chatted briefly and said we’d continue to keep in touch via email. Their sailboat is on the US East Coast and they may head to Europe upon their return from the delivery. It doesn’t get any smaller world than this…

The sail was non eventful and the weather cooperative. We would have done the 385 miles a bit faster, but as Grand Turk was a low lying island and had lots of reefs, we felt this would be a better approached at first light. As such, we kept a single reef and no headsail up our last night as to slow down and arrive around 8-9 am.

Grand Turk geographically is much like Barbuda in the Leeward Islands including a large interior lagoon. A member of the Rockefeller Family tried to dredge and keep open it’s shallow and narrow entrance to make a marina, but the project has been abandoned. Like many places in the Caribbean, the global financial crisis took it’s toll. We would see lots of evidence of this throughout the Turks and Caicos Islands.

As we arrive in a new country, we hoist their national courtesy flag and our "Q Flag" which requests customs clearance. - South Dock, Grand Turk, - Turks and Caicos Islands

As we arrive in a new country, we hoist their national courtesy flag and our “Q Flag” which requests customs clearance. – South Dock, Grand Turk, – Turks and Caicos Islands

We anchored off South Dock which turned out to be a cruise ship dock. The place went from absolutely empty to South Beach (Florida) in one hour as a cruise ship arrived just after we did. They even have a Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville” restaurant here – open only on cruise ship days. We went ashore and after a bit of a hunt found customs and immigration. The two gals were in charge and a bit officious, but the guys who did the paper work were a delight.

We found the people of the Turks and Caicos to be perhaps the friendliest in the Eastern Caribbean. Just uniformly so throughout the entire group. We moved to Cockburn Town, the main town which was only a backtrack of a few miles. The anchorage was quite shallow and we could only get within 250 yards of the beach. The town dock was under repair as well so it would be a “wet landing” (one where we have to get at least a little wet to get ashore). The waters around these islands go from VERY deep to VERY shallow in the space of a less than a quarter mile. We were anchored in 8 feet of water and less than 300 yards seaward of us, it was over 2,500 feet deep.

After we cleared customs we were completely wowed by the water color. South Dock - Grand Turk

After we cleared customs we were completely wowed by the water color. The hose in the foreground is offloading diesel fuel to shoreside storage tanks from a freighter at the dock where I took this photo. South Dock – Grand Turk

Grand Turk seems an odd name for this island but it made sense once we heard the story. There is a cactus that is native to the island called the Grand Turk. It is green and shaped like a small watermelon standing up on it’s end. The interesting feature is that it has a red crown shaped hat like a Turkish “Fez”, with what appears to be a green tassel coming out of the top. Hence the name of this island given by the Spanish in the days of Columbus.

The Caicos Islands, 25 miles to the north are politically part of the group but somewhat distinct. We did a walk about town (which didn’t take very long) and found the most helpful, friendly folk anywhere. I would recommend a cruiser stop in this group just for the warm friendly smiles if for no other reason. After a recovery day and a bit of wait for the weather, we had new friends Bev and Bob aboard “Icaros” anchor nearby. We’d met them recently on Culebrita in the Spanish Virgins. Bev and Bob met in Pharmacy school in Canada, but emigrated to Australia and fly the Aussie flag aboard their Catana 43 Catamaran. We had a few drinks and puu puu’s and became acquainted sharing stories of our mutual voyages and reminiscence of Townsville which Nikki and I had been to in 2012. As it turns out, we’d meet them again in Highbourne Cays in the Exumas – Bahamas.

No Shoes, No Shirts, No... No Big Deal!...:-)  As close as we could anchor with the town dock under repair and the dinghy in the foreground. A typical "wet landing".

No Shoes, No Shirts, No Shorts – No Problem…:-) As close as we could anchor  “Beach House” (in the background) with the town dock under repair and the dinghy in the foreground. A typical “wet landing”.

Bev and Bob went off to Salt Cay, a nearby island for a night and we headed for South Caicos which was a nice 3 hour sail to yet another “Cockburn”; this time Cockburn Harbour. We wanted to try a trip across the Caicos Bank, which would be a unique experience to us. First, you want to do it when the weather is calm, so the water is clearest and get the view of one of the world’s largest natural swimming pools. The Caicos Bank is approximately 50 miles long, by 30 miles wide! The water is rarely deeper than 20 feet and if you take the right path, it’s mostly 7-12 feet and a flat white sandy bottom. This would be a delightful trip if it worked out.

We were contacted upon our arrival at South Caicos by James who is the dive safety officer from the SFS Marine Research Center. He was most helpful in getting us anchored in a good spot. The harbor was open to the prevailing winds with depths of only 12 feet at most. It was also very small and had lots of current. We ended up anchoring in the lee of Long Cay, a few hundred yards opposite the main port. Main port is relative term as there are only a few hundred people that live in the area.

At Long Cay, the depths were only 4+ feet under the hulls, but the conditions were nice. The sand reflecting off the bottom was an amazing visual and the water so clear that it looked like we were floating above the bottom. We took the dinghy across the way and the marine institute which was a mostly college aged group, explained to us what their duties were. The students come from about 20 different countries and participate in various marine biology groups which involve doing underwater measurements, fish counts and reef assessments. As such, they do a lot of diving. They all looked pretty relaxed and seemed to be having a great academic experience….:-)

In our brief time here, Nikki and I went for a walk about the outlying areas of town. We saw the Boiling Hole at the salt ponds and the Pink Flamingos which migrate between Florida and South America. For whatever reason, the birds were attracted to the old commercial salt ponds where lots of precipitated sea salt is still in some abundance.

Pink Flamingos - South Caicos Island Salt Ponds. Many of the buildings here including the ones in the background were abandoned during the GFC in 2008.

Pink Flamingos – South Caicos Island Salt Ponds. Many of the buildings here including the ones in the background were abandoned during the GFC in 2008.

 

Sand reflecting off the "Gin Clear" water of the Caicos Bank - Long Cay, Cockburn Harbour - South Caicos Island

Sand reflecting off the “Gin Clear” water of the Caicos Bank – Long Cay, Cockburn Harbour – South Caicos Island

The next morning, we upped anchor early and headed to the first way point to cross the Caicos Bank. It was a perfect day for the trip; the seas calm and very little wind. As it was a long way, we’d have to motor it to get across on the same day. However, the marine guidebook said, that if it was calm, you could anchor anywhere on the bank in great holding sand – even for an overnight. A unique experience would be had, completely out of sight of land; anchored in shallow water – effectively in the middle of the ocean. As it was, we’d planned on a lunch stop somewhere out in the middle where we anchored for an hour and had a lovely snorkel. Nikki enjoyed the many starfish and shells we could easily find in the less than 10 foot depths.

Amongst the many things that Astronauts remark on from space are man made and natural features of the Earth as seen from outer space. The Caicos Banks ranks third on their list of most impressive natural sites. If memory serves, the Grand Canyon was first. The white sand is highly reflective and surrounded by only a few low lying islands and deep cobalt blue water with depths to over 5000 feet! We really enjoyed this trip and remarked about it in our daily position report that we issued from the center of the bank.

Were 20 miles from the nearest land. The water is 10 feet deep. It's like world's largest swimming pool.  Caicos Bank, Caicos Islands

Were 20 miles from the nearest land. The water is 10 feet deep. It’s like world’s largest swimming pool. Caicos Bank, Caicos Islands

Some of our followers are with us almost daily and receive our position reports live as we move from place to place. Most of you are content to wait for the ship’s blog, which is not often published “in real time” as the position reports always are.

We arrived at the small port of Sapodilla on the south side of “Provo” (nickname for the main island of Providenciales) in the north of the Caicos Islands. We took a quick trip ashore there the next morning to see an area of rocks inscribed with the names of shipwrecked sailors. Some of these went back into the 1600’s!

Our planned destination for the day was Turtle Cove Marina in the main town of “Provo” and it was less than 4 miles away as the crow flies, but alas – we aren’t crows. It would be 30 mile trip around the island and it’s reefs. The entrance to Turtle Cove is quite daunting. Just as we arrived, we had a 30 knot squall rain hard on us and completely, but briefly, obscured our sight of the reef. Next, there is the shallow reefs which are narrow and winding with so so marked navigational buoys. Finally, there is the turn into the marina’s entrance which has sand banks on either side. The banks were both visually blocking my seeing the water to either side of the boat as we entered. That gives you an idea of how narrow it is. The channel perhaps 80 feet wide with shoals all along it. It had a sharp bend to the right and then a 270 degree turn to the left like a life sized question mark shape as you entered. Add the current and wind to this and it was a bit exciting. For those of you South Pacific sailors, think of Vuda Point Marina, Fiji but twice as long with the above mentioned twists! All of this after a mile and a half of narrow reef channel.

The narrow shallow entrance (here we're departing) from Turtle Cove Marina - Turks and Caicos Islands

The narrow shallow entrance (here we’re departing) from Turtle Cove Marina – Turks and Caicos Islands

We docked along a nice side tie and the marina was not particularly busy. The staff was friendly and the marina had some nice restaurants and would be a good base to explore the island from. While we were here, we got a hire car so we could have mobility. Also, we both wanted to try KITE BOARDING!

Provo has a perfect beach to learn to kiteboard along it’s southeastern shore – Long Bay Cay Beach. We contacted Wayne and his lovely girlfriend, Caroline who was down from Canada taking a bit of time off her duties as an anesthesiologist. Caroline did the appointments via email and we arranged to do what they called a “kite mudder’ lesson the next morning. The features which make this beach perfect for learning are: Less than chest deep water for over one square mile! Flat sandy bottom with no reefs. Steady trade winds blowing at a slight angle toward the shore and of course, 82 degree (28 deg C) water temperatures. Also, there are no real obstructions on the beach to interfere with launching and recovering the big kites.

Scott assisting in Kite Launch

Scott assisting in Kite Launch – Long Bay Cay Beach – Provo, Turks and Caicos Islands

As we had steady 17-23 knot trade winds in stable weather, this was a bonus as well. No big wind shifts or squalls to bother with. The first thing to learn is how to fly a kite. These are between 8-17 square meters in surface area (30-60 square feet). Your weight matters in combination with how much wind you have to decide which kite to use. First was the trainer kite, but as we knew how to sail, we didn’t have to stay in that very long. Next, we added the board. That’s when it gets a bit wild. You have to “think” about the kite and the board not only to get started, but once up, both skills have to be used at once. Herein lies the challenge! It took me till day three to get up on the board with any success. That was about lesson hour 6. On my final day, I was getting up pretty well, but still wouldn’t say I was at all accomplished. Nikki did one day of lessons and after another primer will be ready to give it a go getting up on the board. Our time with Wayne, Caroline and instructors Alex and Nick with perhaps one of the highlights of the season. We’d recommend the Turks and Caicos Kiteboard school to anyone who wants to give it a go!

 

Nikki learning to "Fly a Kite".....:-)

Nikki learning to “Fly a Kite”…..:-)

 

First time successfully up on the board!

First time successfully up on the board!

 

About lesson hour 6. I finally got the hang of it....sort of....:-)

About lesson hour 6. I finally got the hang of it….sort of….:-)  The water is 3 feet deep here for over a square mile!

 

Form matters in this skill and you can see I'm still a bit new to it all.  It was really thrilling to speed along the water with my own private "motor boat in the sky".

Form matters in this skill and you can see I’m still a bit new to it all. It was really thrilling to speed along the water with my own private “motor boat in the sky”.

 

Nikki, Alex (instructor) and Scott after our kiteboarding lesson.  We'll do this again!...

Nikki, Alex (instructor) and Scott after our kiteboarding lesson. We’ll do this again!…

 

Nikki and I decided we’d also try a dive at Turks and Caicos as it’s considered one of the premier diving islands in the Caribbean. We did a two tank “wall dive” and it was really quite nice. We went with Dive Provo (a very well known dive outfitter) and it was a fun day. We also saw the Turks and Caicos Aggressor (live aboard dive boat) when we were off the very up-market and exclusive Aman Resort on the northwest side of the island. When we returned to Turtle Cove that evening, we had the Turks and Caicos Aggressor docked right next to us. We didn’t know it, but this was their “homebase”. They do week long dive trips throughout the group. The divers live aboard and are off dock for most of the week. Cindy and I had done similar trips in the South Pacific on the Solomon Islands, the Galapagos Islands and also our honeymoon in Palau aboard the “Palau Aggressor”. We asked for and were given a lovely tour of the boat as I wanted Nikki to see what a live aboard dive boat was like.

Diving on the northwest side of Provo with "Dive Provo" at "The Crack". A deep cut in the wall that starts at 50 feet and drops to several thousand feet.

Diving on the northwest side of Provo with “Dive Provo” at “The Crack”. A deep cut in the wall that starts at 50 feet and drops to several thousand feet.

As Nikki had read about the Aman Resort and wanted to try to drive up to the lighthouse on the northwest of the island (always one of her favorites!), we took our car and just went on an island junket. We found some lovely secluded beaches, but as we didn’t have a four wheel drive vehicle, prudence dictated that we not drive up to the lighthouse. Instead, we took a flyer to see if we could get into the Aman Resort. After the guard called in, they said yes (we didn’t have a reservation) where we were met by our lovely guide. She gave us a tour of the hotel grounds, told us where we could and couldn’t go (very exclusive!) and left us at the bar. The place was gorgeous and the rates were 2,000 USD to 15,000 USD/night depending on your accommodations. Most all the rooms were private beach villas and we saw about 10 guests. They had a wonderful library, infinity pool and lovely restaurant. We opted for the bar!

Our personal bartender (no one else was at the bar!..:-) was Aris from the Philippines. He explained to us about the hotel and it’s sister properties around the world and that there were lots of Filipino employees at the hotel. He made us the BEST Mojito’s EVER and gave us the recipe! Just to give you an idea…. Nikki and I each had one and then asked to split another. 60.00 USD! Actually, he sort of gave us each a second one but didn’t charge us for four, only three!…ssshhh! I left him a nice tip. We really enjoyed our few hours in the true lap of luxurious surroundings and our fun time with Arias at the bar.

We departed back to the hotel and reflected on what a wonderful time we’d had in the Turks and Caicos, how nice the people were and the fabulous water world of diving and kite boarding! We did some last minute shopping (there were two very nice markets!) and then got ready to continue the adventure off to our next and second to last destination for this season – The Bahamas.

Stay tuned, we’ve the Bahamas to go before our season ends in South Florida!

Scott and Nikki