Thursday, March 23, 2006 - Provo, Turks & Caicos
Around 4:45 PM I could stand it no longer and radioed Encantada and Fretless that we were leaving Mayaguana.
Winds were light from the southeast and we ambled along mostly under motor as the sun went down, trying to keep our speed under four knots so the sun would come up again before we reached the Turks & Caicos. A Coast Guard chopper made the rounds and checked each of our three boats from low altitude. Around 9:00 PM I shut down the engine and we sailed for the next seven hours, reefing and sometimes rolling up the jib entirely to keep from getting too far ahead of schedule. I watched an Owen Wilson movie called Big Bounce (didn't care for it) and later The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (he was better in that one) and then Bowling for Columbine (Owen Wilson was strangely absent from the latter). Annie managed to watch a single Michael Douglas film during her 1:00 to 4:00 AM watch.
Despite our efforts to sail slowly, we arrived at the Sandbore channel into Provo early, when the sunlight was glaring on the water directly ahead. I tried "sun-tacking" up the channel as Van Sant espouses but eventually just gave up and followed the fearless Encantada. Our fleet of three anchored at Sapodilla Bay by around 10:00 AM. Before the day was out we had been joined by Cliff and Deb on their Catalina 38 Watermark I and Chris, Eilene, and their two girls on the trimaran Pi Squared. We all dinghied over to South Dock, a commercial port, and cleared customs. Later we all tried to secure transportation to "town" (although the town in Provo is spread out all over the place) but failed miserably. I used the sat phone to call four or five car rental places but none had any cars to rent. Eventually Margie lined up a van to take us all in for shopping tomorrow morning. There are lots of things to see on Provo, but you must have wheels to get anywhere. Lacking a rental car, it's likely we will move another forty miles east across the Caicos Bank on Saturday and hole up in Cockburn Harbor in South Caicos for some strong winds that will follow a front passage here on Monday and Tuesday.
Photos: (1) Sam rides Encantada's bowsprit up the Sandbore Channel. (2) Cruisers gather on the beach at Sapodilla Bay. (3) at the top of the hill above Sapodilla Bay are several inscribed rocks, allegedly from shipwrecked sailors. This one reads, in part, "D. Herriott, 1884, Clp Taylor."
Friday, March 24, 2006 - Provo
The crews of Fretless, Encantada, Watermark I, and Seaductress successfully commandeered Flint's Taxi (VHF 6, 649-242-2240) for visits to Watkins Marine, Unicorn Bookstore, the Corner Cafe for lunch, and the IGA Supermarket. Once you get on the Leeward Highway strip, it's easy to catch a jitney (mini-van bus) that will take you places for $2.00/person, but Flint took us back and forth to Sapodilla Bay. In general, the stores here are much more like what you'd see in the states than the Bahamas, but about the same higher prices as the latter. Afterwards Annie, Laura, and I went to the beach to lay in the water and build sand castles. I think we'll be up and on our way early tomorrow across the banks for South Caicos. We were able to purchase an additional chart for the Dominican Republic today so when the post-frontal winds calm down next week, we'll probably be off for Luperon.
Saturday, March 25, 2006 - Cockburn Harbour, South Caicos
The fleet left Provo not long after dawn today and split along the various routes across the Caicos Banks, with Fretless and Encantada taking the Pearl Channel and Watermark and Seaductress taking the slightly longer, but allegedly deeper, Starfish Channel. You definitely had to keep a watch for coral heads because they would appear once in a while as you cruised through water depths that were typically 8-12 feet. Seaductress motorsailed most of the day, then took a direct route south of Six Hill Cays, turned off the engine, and sped ahead of the others into the deeper waters of the Turk Channel. We were the first into Cockburn Harbour and went immediately to the concrete fuel dock at Seaview Marine.
A fellow named Eddie, along with several bystanders, helped us tie up but there was some confusion about exactly when we might get fuel. People came and went, including a woman from Immigration, but we never knew exactly who was going to turn on the fuel pump. Sam and Cliff arrived with a small mountain of jerry jugs from their boats. It turned out that Eddie was the man to fuel us. By the time we had paid, the entire process had taken about two hours. Meanwhile, a former conch diver named Big Boy was helping me get gasoline, taking us to a store that had ice cream, etc. for which I gave him a few bucks. We thought he was going to return with some fresh-baked bread but then again, perhaps that'll be in the morning.
The interactive map shows our route through the Bahamas since Florida (upper left) and current location in South Caicos. Move your pointer slowly over route for dates on each stop. Our next destination, Luperon, is 100 miles southeast on the north coast of the Dominican Republic (lower right).
Sunday, March 26 - Cockburn Harbour
Looking at the forecasts, it was either go this morning to Luperon or stay here for several days waiting for another window. The consensus was that the current window was too short and we should stay here. So after school we took a walk around the island, which one cruising guide author (Pavlidis) describes as his favorite in the Turks & Caicos while another (Wilson) says is a place in a state of "tropical decay." We found Cockburn Harbour to be an arid mix of new construction next to ruined shells of old buildings, with dogs, donkeys and small horses left over the salt days roaming the streets. Most of the homes are quite modest but nearly all have gutters leading to covered cisterns in the yard which are often as large or larger than the houses themselves. On the east shore is the shell of a huge hotel complex that has been under construction for decades and looks abandoned, although I noticed laundry strung up there so evidently someone is living there. There is what looks like a much more modest hotel being built on the hill near the harbour entrance. For the time being, no tourists come to South Caicos and amenities such as restaurants and bars (at least as Americans know them) don't exist. Aside from activities related to fishing and a little bit of construction there isn't much work to be had. There are civic-minded signs on many corners, promoting education and reminding residents not to litter (but there is still a fair amount of trash blowing about). But the scenery is pretty and the people are friendly.
Later everyone gathered on Watermark I where Cliff and Debra hosted four hours of happy hour during which most of the world's problems were solved or at least postponed for a while.
Photos: (1) Robert Smith tells us via e-mail that this is sand milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis). Note the pods, which look like they are growing aliens. The house in the background dates to the 18th century but unfortunately doesn't look like it will last another one. (2) Sam shows Laura where he found a sea heart on the beach. Laura found one of her own a few minutes later. (3) Chris, Eileen (Pi Squared), Annie, Cliff, Debra (Watermark), and Mike (Fretless).
Tuesday, March 28 - Cockburn Harbour
Oh blue skies, where are you? We have been blessed with such excellent weather for months so it seems odd to be pinned down here under overcast skies and 20 knots of wind. The forecast tells us we will be here at least until Friday and quite likely a day or two longer.
Last night we all went over for dinner to the beautiful trimaran Pi Squared, the most high tech boat I've ever seen. Except for the hulls Chris designed her and engineered the entire boat. With around 50 feet of waterline in the main hull, a rotating 63 foot carbon fiber mast, and spectra stays, she is designed to race at 20-25 knots. With his wife and two daughters aboard, Chris usually just cruises at around 10-12 knots, although they averaged 17 on one passage. With her daggerboard and rudder kicked up, Pi Squared has anchored in as little as two feet of water.
Photo: Pi Squared is huge. I think I would keep my dinghy in the carport under the wings. Actually, there's room for a couple dozen dinghies.
Wednesday, March 29 - Cockburn Harbour
The sun is out today--so now it's hot! Guess I'm never satisfied. We went for another walk through town and I believe we have just about seen all of it now. Among the group there is concern that we may have to pay $50/person to get visas since we will be in the country longer than seven days. Of course, that $50 charge could just be a rumor. Guess we'll find out tomorrow.
Thursday, March 30 - Cockburn Harbour
After a two hour adventure of visiting three different offices in three different locations (Customs, then Immigration, then the Treasury, then Immigration again) our five boats paid the $50/person fee to extend our stay here. Mike discovered he could call his daughter from the phone inside the Seaview market, and we also found computers with Internet (a bit expensive, but there) next door and also at the public library near Customs. Later we went snorkeling just off the harbor entrance at Long Cay, tying off to a mooring buoy there, and enjoyed the water. There was lots of elkhorn coral and fish, which got bigger the closer one got to the deeper waters of the cut. Those with the courage to swim out there (it wasn't any of us from Seaductress) were rewarded by seeing a nurse shark and a huge leopard ray. Snorkeling here is excellent! Afterwards, Happy Hour--actually, these things are running anywhere from two to four hours--was on Encantada.
Photos: (1) The Residency sits on the hill guarding the harbour entrance. Pavidis writes in 2003 that this 18th century building houses a bed and breakfast, but for now the property has been abandoned. (2) These gates leading to nowhere seem to me to symbolize South Caicos. There was something there once, and probably will be again, but for now all you can see is an empty lot. The sign says, "Hole 7, Par 4."
Friday, March 31 - Cockburn Harbour
After not being able to hear Chris Parker's forecast due to poor radio conditions, we gathered on shore at 9:00 AM to visit Customs and find out when and how we should check out of the country. The answer was no sooner than 24 hours before leaving. Chris and I used the Internet at the Library for a while; others went to lunch at Loves Restaurant (yes, there are one or two restaurants, although you wouldn't immediately recognize them as such). In the afternoon most everyone dinghied over to Long Cay and hiked along its beautiful, rugged ridge, with the colors of the harbour on one side and the deep water of the Turks Passage to the other.
Photos: (1) Landing on Long Cay. There are supposed to be iguanas on the island but we saw only lizards. The anchorage is on the horizon to the left. (2) Looking north towards the harbour entrance with the town in the background. (3) The eastern face of Long Cay is an almost unbroken 40 foot cliff. (4) Laura had a good time on Long Cay playing with Helana and Margaret from Pi Squared.
Sunday, April 2 - Cockburn Harbour
Saturday morning I talked with Chris Parker via SSB, who advised going ahead to Luperon that day. Pi Squared took that advice and left in the afternoon, whereas the rest of us decided to wait until Monday to see the seas would calm down a bit more. Later we did some great snorkeling over by Long Cay at a beautiful shallow water reef. This morning I got a message from Pi Squared saying they had a good sail, just a bit bouncy, and no problems entering the harbour.
Although we're still waiting for a loaf of bread from Big Boy (I'm starting to doubt he will show since it's been over a week), we're more than ready to move on. The current plan is to meet on the dock before 8:00 tomorrow morning, visit customs to get checked out, and head for Great Sand Cay (22 miles) and then very likely onward to Luperon (77 miles further). We plan to arrive around 7:00 AM Tuesday morning.
Tuesday, April 4 - Great Sand Cay, T&C
The flotilla left South Caicos around 9:00 Monday morning, motorsailing into five foot confused seas. Seaductress was running the watermaker and charging batteries, so unlike the others we never shut down the engine. Around 1:00 PM we arrived at the anchorage of uninhabited Great Sand Cay, very beautiful with its crescent beach and clear blue water. Watermark, Encantada and (eventually...just kidding, Mike!) Fretless also arrived and dropped anchor. While the others were spending the night, Annie and I had decided to continue on to Luperon and pulled up anchor at 4:00 PM. Twenty minutes later we were back at anchor, having broken the foil that goes up the mast for the furling main by stupidly trying to put the sail up while going downwind. With help from Annie I went up the mast, brought down the broken section to cut it off cleanly, then went back up to reinstall it. In all, we lost only about two inches of the foil.
The anchorage was quite rolly last night, so we didn't sleep particularly well, but perhaps that will lend itself towards an afternoon nap. We'll leave (again) this afternoon and should be in Luperon in the Dominican Republic sometime Wednesday morning.
Photo: Reinstalling the section of formerly broken foil.
Wednesday, April 5 - Luperon, Dominican Republic
We had a nice crossing from Great Sand to Luperon, with about six foot swells that calmed overnight and a few showers that we dodged around. We sailed about half the distance and motored the rest because I was concerned that our batteries were not charging properly. The regulator thinks the batteries are fully charged but the Xantrex meter still shows a deficit, so something--either the meter, the alternator, the regulator, or the batteries themselves--is out of whack. Or I suppose it could be me that's crazy.
Arriving at the entrance waypoint, Encantada arranged for Mike from Seacomber to come out in his dinghy and guide our four boats (plus a catamaran that was also entering) into the harbour. Mike provides this service without asking for compensation and we certainly owe him a beer or two. In fact, everyone here is very friendly; another fellow in a dinghy pointed us to a good spot to anchor. The lush mountains of the Dominican Republic are a dramatic change from the desert islands of the Turks & Caicos. The water here in the harbour is muddy and looks remarkably similar to what we used to see in Tennessee. We understand that about twenty boats left southbound yesterday, but there are still well over a hundred still here. We even heard the old expert himself, Bruce Van Sant, on the twice-weekly cruisers net this morning on channel 68.
Photo: Luperon Harbour looking east from the Marina Luperon Yacht Club restaurant.
Clearing in was fairly complicated, which is apparently typical for tropical waters. First the Commandancia or Navy port captain came aboard with a translator and checked our passports, boat documentation, and clearance from South Caicos. The translator politely told us that some folks liked to tip the Commandancia but it was entirely up to us (we gave him $20, which I had heard was typical).
Then we dinghied into the long government dock and visited the Immigration office, where one person collected a harbour fee ($11) and another official in an office stamped our passports and shocked us with a bill for $700 (fortunately, the latter was in DR Pesos, which came to $25 US). Then a third fellow gave us three tourists cards ($30), which the official in the office then stamped and deposited in a locked bin. Finally, late this afternoon officials from the Department of Agriculture visited us on the boat to check for animals or banned produce, collecting a total of $20 for those certifications. So the final tab for clearing in, including the optional $20 tip, was $106, about what we had been told to expect.
We took a short walk around town and experienced the exact opposite of our sleepy week in South Caicos. The town of Luperon is alive with people, motorcycles, music, and the occasional rooster. It's a fascinating place, not unlike a Mexican border town. On our way back to the boat we stopped at the new Luperon Marina Yacht Club and enjoyed a cold 24 ounce bottle of El Presidente beer and a 7-Up in their very posh open-air restaurant, which overlooks the anchorage from atop a steep hill. The prices here are very cheap compared to the Bahamas and Caicos, the harbor is very well protected, and it's easy to see why so many cruisers end up in Luperon.
Photos: (1) Duarte Street in Luperon, with Steve's Place at white car. It's rare for the street to be this empty--must be during the afternoon siesta. (2) The Luperon Yacht Club Marina has a beautiful restaurant/bar on top of a steep hill overlooking the anchorage.
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