Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Turks & Staycos

Well, we got quite lucky indeed on that Tuesday weather window I alluded to in my last post (Tues, Jan 30th). The high winds eased a little more and a little earlier than previously forecast, and the following cold front weakened and slowed more than previously forecast, giving us a nice little window to motorsail the 50nm from Mayaguana to Providenciales, Turks & Caicos ("Provo"). We had a beautiful full-moon night in decently big but wide-spaced rollers. We arrived at the Sandbore Channel onto Caicos Bank around midnight, Atlantic Standard Time - yep, we got to spring forward an hour on this passage. Normally you try to arrive at Sandbore Channel at daybreak, but because of the approaching front we decided to just go all the way to the Sapodilla Bay anchorage in the dark. The Sandbore Channel is not particularly shallow for most of its length and the few coral heads are said to be deep and accurately charted. I presume that was actually the case, or perhaps we just got lucky. In any event we were very happy to arrive safely and anchor by 2am.

Frontal passage the next morning brought high winds and some persistently rainy weather, which drenched us when we dinghied around the point to the South Dock customs house. Checking in was fairly painless, though we had to wait a few minutes for the official vet to show up. She was nice but businesslike, we were happy we had Piper's paperwork in order. As a newly minted expert in bringing a dog to the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos and Dominican Republic, I'll do a "how to" post on that subject soon. We visited Sea Otter to use their 3G internet to book a rental car, then I dinghied to shore and started walking down the nearby road in the vague direction of the airport - just as the skies opened up again, of course! I thumbed a ride and thankfully the fourth or fifth car stopped for me - I later learned that hitching is not nearly as prevalent on Provo as in the Bahamas. The tiny Daihatsu car was a pretty good deal, we booked a whole week for $127 plus taxes. This is a pretty big and populous island that really requires a car to get around - services are scattered and taxis are expensive. Everything's pretty expensive, for that matter, except apparently rental cars!

On Thursday morning we were called to rescue Sea Otter after their dinghy's outboard pull start cord snapped. That was my first time repairing one, it was pretty straightforward. Afterward Dane, Mack and Isla piled into the rental car with us and we drove six or seven miles east to the IGA Graceway grocery store. Wow, what a place! It's bigger and better than any grocery store we've seen in the Bahamas, even Maxwells in Marsh Harbor. Fantastic selection, super fresh produce. The prices are pretty similar to Maxwells, which is to say maybe 20-30% higher than the States but lower than the Bahamas' Out Islands. We did a shopping-cart load of reprovisioning as did Dane & Mack; we could have bought more but we'll be in the Dominican Republic soon, with far better prices. It was amazing we were able to stuff two shopping carts worth of groceries in our tiny clown car!

Right inside the entrance to Graceway is a Flow Wireless store, where I purchased a SIM card for our Wirie router. Only $5 for the SIM but $50 for 1 month/5 gigs of data - ouch! Suffice it to say we aren't downloading any movies on it.

Thursday night the five of us went to the weekly Fish Fry at the Bight Childrens Park on Grace Bay. Fantastic street food, flowing beer and cocktails, live music and dancing - it was a fun scene that had Isla staying up wayyy past her usual 5:30pm bed time. Of course, it rained briefly but heavily, chasing all under the shelter of the food tents.

Friday was a laundry, liquor reprovisioning, island exploring and boat cleaning day. It was really beautiful weather; Safara and several other boats in the anchorage took off for Luperon and I rather wished we could follow them. Chris Parker was warning it would be the last few days of good weather off the north coast of the DR for a long time - potentially the whole month of February! But our good cruiser friends Dan & Isabelle had already bought tickets to fly in the next day to spend Dawn's birthday with us, and it would have been a real jerk move to ditch them and head off to the DR. On Friday afternoon we had lunch at Da Conch Shack, in Blue Hills on the NW corner of the island. Good food and a really cool place. In the evening we worked on cleaning Windbird and giving our empty center diesel tank a really good scrubbing. We now have one completely guaranteed sludge-free tank and will be working on cleaning the other two soon.

Saturday morning was more boatwork, then picking up Dan & Isabelle from the airport in the afternoon. We got there a little early and stopped at Da Snack Spot on Old Airport Road for some amazingly good ribs, a full order with sides (enough food for two people) for only $14. Highly recommended, we just took Dane and Mack there today and they loved it. After we got Dan & Isabelle back to the boat, Sea Otter came over for happy hour. Somehow it was the first time in over a week of hanging out with them that they were on board Windbird, mainly due to the stormy weather and the difficulties of packing up a 9-month old with assorted accoutrements and ferrying all to a neighboring boat. Dane and Mack got on well with fellow Canadians Dan & Isabelle. Dawn made a fantastic dinner of Indian Butter Chicken and we talked and drank and laughed pretty late into the night. We sure enjoy being around Dan & Isabelle, and are quickly becoming friends with Dane, Mack & Isla as well.

Sunday, Feb 4th was Dawn's 40th birthday! We began the day with Mimosas and Mexican Breakfast, then packed up the car and headed up to Grace Beach. We found a nice little spot to snorkel off the beach at Coral Gardens, hung out on the beach for a bit, then convinced Dawn to go parasailing for her first time - a birthday present from me. Isabelle went with her (it was one that can handle up to 3 people at a time) and they both really loved it despite initial nerves. Afterward we had a light lunch at "Somewhere...", a beach bar and restaurant with really tasty food. Later in the afternoon we hung out for a bit on Sapodilla Beach and then on board Windbird, and piled all seven of us (!!!) into our tiny car for a short and uproarious ride to Bugaloo Restaurant in the nearby settlement of Five Cays. It's a really cool place on the water with a pretty and atmospheric patio with live trees growing right through the tables! There was a rake and scrape band playing, and Dawn thought it was a perfect evening to cap a pretty special birthday.

Monday and Tuesday were originally forecast to be pretty calm days (and a potential window to the DR if we left Dan & Isabelle early). Monday actually would have been doable but Tuesday was fairly windy and would have been even moreso along the north coast of the DR, a trend that will continue and intensify for the remainder of the week and next weekend. It was becoming apparent we wouldn't make it to the DR before I had to fly to Atlanta for training on Feb 13-15. So I ended up picking up a 4-day Santiago Chile trip on the 9th-12th to make a little extra money and get some currency before heading to the simulator for training. Chris Parker thinks there's a pretty promising window developing for the Feb 16-17 timeframe; hopefully we can make that. We really didn't want to stay in the Turks and Caicos for three weeks - Luperon is where we wanted to idle the boat a while and travel by land. Essentially we got "behind schedule" and eventually weather-bound thanks to our two-week delay leaving the Bahamas to get Piper's paperwork in order.

Monday we took Windbird into South Side Marina which required going in just before high tide. It's a skinny route but the water was easily readable and the shallowest bit we saw was 6.9' (we touch at exactly 6.0' on our depth sounder). We used our one night stay at the marina (only $50) to give the batteries a really good charge, top off on good RO water, put 65 gallons of diesel in our now-sparkling-clean center fuel tank, download a bunch of movies on their fast wifi, and play a few rousing rounds of Bocce at Bob's Bar. After exiting at high tide on Tuesday we stopped at the Five Cays area for snorkeling, but the water vis turned out to be absolutely horrible - like less than six feet. Apparently visibility improves markedly around the world-famous dive sites where the Caicos Bank falls away into the depths of the Atlantic. Oh well - up anchor and back to Sapodilla Bay, which has really grown on us. It's not a terribly protected anchorage unless you have a shoal-draft boat, but it's comfortable enough in prevailing NE-E and rolly but safe in southeasterlies. The beach is a really nice one with lots of room for Piper to run and play; it's public but not terribly crowded, with really friendly people  (most of it is lined by private vacation villas rented out by the week). We've made friends with a couple of the local vendors, especially an older lady named Anna, and Piper has been playing with two remarkably good-natured stray dogs that local residents look after. I suggested that we put the boat back in South Side Marina during my absence, but Dawn has decided she'd rather stay on the hook in Sapodilla Bay, close to the Sea Otter crew. The winds are supposed to be steady and NE through ESE the entire time.

Today Dan & Isabelle flew out to Fort Lauderdale, where they'll be test-sailing the new Leopard 45 and 50 catamarans that they are considering buying in the near future. The rest of the day was an exercise in bureaucratic shuffling to get immigration extentions for Dawn, Dane, Mack and Isla (I don't need one since I'm flying out before my stay expires). When we originally checked in, we were only given 10 days. To secure an extension we went to one office to get the forms, another office a mile away to get approval, back to the original office to get an invoice for the $50/person fee, then to the Treasury Department to pay, and finally back to the second office to get the actual extension. In the middle of all that we had lunch at The Snack Spot with a roving customs official to get cruising permits ($300) to replace our original 7-day Temporary Import. Staying in Provo was stacking up to be pretty expensive! But in a really happy turn of events, the customs official was really cool and understood our situation completely; he apparently has leeway to not require a cruising permit in cases where boaters aren't actually cruising but are just waiting for weather or repairs to leave. So that saved Dane and I $300 each.

After all that bureaucracy we were all quite thirsty, so we headed over to Turks Head Brewery for a brewery tour and to sample some of their tasty beers - highly recommended. After that I dropped everyone off at Sapodilla Bay, returned the rental car to Dollar, and got a ride back. Dawn and I had a quiet evening alone on Windbird, and tomorrow I'll be preparing to leave. My flight out is on Friday afternoon; my flight to Santiago leaves that evening. I haven't been at work since Dec 28th, and as always it'll be a little strange going from my shaggy carefree sailor role to my well-groomed airline pilot role. After this, though, I hopefully won't have to go back to work until sometime in April.

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