Passage to the Turks and Caicos Islands

Trip Start Dec 09, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Turks and Caicos Isl.  , Providenciales,
Wednesday, April 27, 2011

We actually stayed in the Spanish Virgins longer than anticipated due to a weather pattern that prevented us from continuing northward - the winds were too light for sailing (but perfect for snorkeling the outer reefs at these islands). The winds finally became more favorable and we departed the Spanish Virgins at 6:00 am April 24th, bound for the Turks and Caicos Islands in mostly moderate winds aft of abeam.  This would be a non-stop passage of just over 400 nm that we estimated would take us between 50 and 60 hours. 

The early part of the passage included some terrific sailing, but early on the 26th, in lessening wind, it was apparent we could not make our intended destination on the north coast of Provo during daylight.  What's closer?  A glance at the charts revealed an easy answer and we changed course and destination to South Caicos, crossing the shallow Turks Bank as a shortcut.  This was a bit shorter distance and we estimated we could arrive before dark at an anchorage we had visited last year at remote Long Cay.  This turned out well and we arrived with ample daylight to spare and were settled on the hook in 8 feet of clear water over sugar sand at 5:15 pm.  This completed our longest double handed passage to date - 407 nm; 6.87 kts average speed (but no fish!).  Transiting the Turks Bank was straightforward – it’s smaller and a bit deeper than the Caicos Bank, but no less fascinating.

The next morning, April 27th, we departed Long Cay for French Cay - a very remote Nature Reserve on the south rim of the Caicos Bank.  This was a day sail of about 40 nm across the southern portion of the Caicos Bank and we had a terrific downwind run in wind of 15-25 kt over the clear, shallow water.  The Caicos Bank is one of our favorite places that we have crossed twice before.  Starfish counting was made too difficult on this trip due to the windier conditions - but we definitely saw more starfish than we saw other boats.  Since departing the Spanish Virgins we'd seen no other cruising yachts.  We've been alone.

We've been skunked so badly in the fishing department lately that we resorted to trolling on the shallow Caicos Bank - knowing full well that the only thing we'd likely catch would be barracuda which are very tasty but too risky to eat due to the potential for ciguatera poisoning.  But maybe there'd be a snapper or mackerel or permit showing up….  Sure enough, about a half hour after putting out the baits a 'cuda was hooked.  About an hour and 2 more 'cuda later Dave had had enough…  The last one was pretty big but had the good decency to get unhooked and slither down the transom steps all by itself.  That was our sign to quit.

Approaching tiny French Cay we finally spotted another boat - an old wreck on the reefs near the island (likely pushed there in a storm).  We anchored in the lee of the island for the night but not without some difficulty.  The bottom was less sand with more hard marl, making setting the anchor difficult.  On the third try we got the anchor to bite into some grassy sand and Dave dove on it to try to improve the hold - positioning the anchor upright by hand and having Donna back down the boat using the engines to try to get the anchor to bury.  Since there was nothing but open ocean behind us to drift into if the anchor slipped, we accepted a less-than-perfect anchor set and settled in for the night. 

The anchor held through ESE 25-30 kt winds all night so the next morning we felt confident leaving the boat to go ashore to explore this fascinating Nature Reserve.  A beautiful little island, it's home to one inoperable navigation beacon and thousands of nesting sea birds who didn’t seem especially delighted to see us.  We walked almost the whole circumference and located several more wrecks on the windward shore that the charts refer to as the "Haitian Fleet".
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