In the Turks and Caicos Islands – what a week!!

Thursday morning we were finally ready for sea – and visited immigration and customs followed by the marina office to pay our bill.   We were pleasantly surprised that they calculated our stay on the lower seven day price rather than the daily rate – saving us a $100. Thanks!   We asked for a 12 noon departure to avoid the swells running across the marina entrance that always form later in the afternoon. The Commandante came on board, issued our departure document, and by 12.15 we were motoring and beating into the waves as we left the marina. Goodbye DRWe quickly cleared the reef and turned towards our first waypoint hoisting the sails into 16 knots of breeze…. and we are absolutely smoking on a beam reach with waves hitting us side on. The motion wasn’t the most comfortable one but who cares – the sky is blue and the sea is bluer and we’re going fast…….   We were enjoying ourselves a lot….

Perfect sailing Waves breaking underneath us Breaking on the side of us

By 3pm we realised that we were going way too fast to arrive at our destination in daylight so reefed heavily to slow us down.   You can tell by this comment that we have finally turned our racing heads into cruising ones LOL.   At 6pm we went into shifts and I saw the sun go down – and of course a few ships to keep me company.

Sun going down

Richard then came on watch and at midnight, just before we changed over again, a huge wave broke on us which pushed our port rail underwater…. I was in bed at this point but quickly ended up on the floor….. Ouch!   At 1am the seas calmed down a bit and I had phosphorescence sparkling in our wake – and of course the obligatory cruise ship glow out at sea.   The rest of the night was quiet – with the occasional rogue wave showing us who was boss – and we made good albeit slow progress towards Grand Turk as the sun rose.

Sunrise at sea

We were both together in the cockpit – and then – WOW – Whales!!!   Broaching, playing, waving … an amazing sight.

Whale fun 1 Whale fun 2 Whale fun 3

We anchored on the south coast of Grand Turk at 9.00 on Friday morning – and fell in love with the colour of the water against a sandy beach backdrop.   Slightly ruined by the industrial landscape, the rusting hulk of a sunken ship and a dinghy dock that was too high, had a boat on it, and left us no option but to drag dink up the beach and keep fingers crossed he would still be there when we got back.   We cleared in easily – welcomed home to these UK islands – and returned to Morphie.

Checking into T&Cs Customs is in there somewhere Dead ship Not much of a dinghy dock! Morphie enjoying the colours of the sea

We didn’t want to stay in this anchorage – however beautiful the water was – so picked up the hook and by 2.45 pm we had eyeballed our way in through a reef system to anchor in Cockburn, the capital of Grand Turk.   We went ashore and found that the town, itself, was closed!   A few interesting old buildings, HM Prison and a lot of masonic lodges….and even the museum was closed.  But otherwise very little going on – we did find a small café that had internet so we had a couple of cold ones and checked out the weather.   Well, the weather was going to clock around on Saturday that would make this anchorage untenable so we need to leave in the morning.   Disappointed at this quick turnaround but, hey, we have the other islands to explore ahead of us.  We enjoyed the sunset and an early night to recover from the passage.

Sailing to Cockburn Town

Cockburn Town anchorage Cockburn Town 1 Cockburn Town 2 Cockburn Town 3 Cockburn Town 4 Cockburn Town 5 Grand Turk sunset

Saturday morning and we picked up our hook at 9.30 am – or we tried to.   The water is so clear I can see the bottom and I realised that we had picked up a cable with the anchor as we moved forward – checking the charts again and the cable is a high voltage one and not where it should be grrrrrr…….. decidedly not a great start to the day. Obviously it belonged to the Cable and Wireless Towers that loom over the town.

Cable and Wireless towers

Luckily it was shallow water – Richard jumped in, I let out more chain to give slack, he cleared the cable and I picked up the chain as quickly as possible to avoid getting caught on the second power cable sitting behind it – also not on the chart!   Then I had to stooge around to pick up Richard inside the reef and then we headed out. Phew….. We always knew this day would come – just very lucky that we were in shallow water.

We had a wonderful sail in 15 knots of breeze across to South Caicos – eyeballed our way into Cockburn Harbour and sat looking around in awe.   Think Anegada with beautiful clear water and you’ll get an idea of what I mean.   And, of course, we are the only boat in the anchorage.   Oh yes, and why do all rocks look like Brian the Snail???   We snorkelled our anchor – wary of more power cables – and all was well. We even had a couple of barracudas that kept us company as we swam around.   We did find a wreck of a boat about 200 feet behind us though….another hazard of these islands it would appear!

Stunning anchorage Snail rock Watching fish from the boat!

We went ashore – wandered the sleepy town – and came across a couple of scientists who run the marine biology school here.   We also wondered at the number of broken down abandoned properties littering the place.

South Caicos 3 South Caicos 1 South Caicos 2

On our trek we came across the ship’s bell from the Rhone steamship that sunk in a hurricane in the BVIs back in the day – a wreck that we have dived off of Salt Island. Apparently a South Caicos islander was involved in the salvage operation and was given the bell along with his pay.   What a small world eh?   It is a shame though – that something so significant – would end up living in a small tower attached to the church in this quiet and sleepy place.

The Rhone's Ships Bell Final resting place for the bell

And, of course, Richard couldn’t help himself but to ring it but we also said a silent prayer to all the people that perished on the Rhone.   I had visions of islanders rushing out to see what the noise was all about but no-one stirred apart from an old grisly looking dog who loved Richard scratching his ears…..

Richard couldn't resist Richard's friend

Going back towards Morphie, Richard took me to the worst bar I have ever been in….   A complete dive and I think we were tolerated by the locals – the barmaid was wearing very little clothes so Richard was happy and one local guy made good conversation.   Suffice to say we only stayed for one drink!   There was no internet available anywhere on the island so we were not able to catch up with any weather updates…..

Dodgiest bar ever!

Sunset in South Caicos

Back on board we had a quiet night after Richard fixed the shower sump pump which had burnt out…..

Sunday morning and we picked up our anchor – no diving operation here in South Caicos which is what we were hoping for – and so we had decided to spend the night on the Caicos banks.   The Caicos banks are 60 by 50 miles of beautiful azure blue shallow water peppered with coral heads which have to be spotted by eyeball navigation. We made our way into the banks and were amazed – this is so so beautiful and better than we could ever have imagined. There is no wind at all so everything is flat calm and serene….   We were having a great time – and the wind wasn’t supposed to pick up until the following morning when we would approach the island of Providenciales – known as Provo. But of course our weather forecast was a day old by now which we found out later….

Motoring across the Caicos Banks Wow! Look at that water

At 3.30 pm the wind stared kicking in – and the water started to chop….   We checked our charts and we can’t make Provo before dark because of the long routing we had deliberately taken – so we have to make the most of it and spend the night.   But it wasn’t going to be the beautiful romantic snorkelling and dining experience under the stars that we had planned!   Well, the wind continued to build above 20 knots and the chop was turning nasty…. We had dropped quite a lot of chain already but decided to throw it all out – so 200 feet of chain in 10 feet of water should keep us safe.   Just before sunset a fishing boat came by to check we were OK – they were running for cover as the forecast had indicated very strong winds overnight and they didn’t think we should stay on the banks…..

Checking we're OK

We radioed Provo Radio to seek advice and were given an alternative anchorage inside a reef behind a rock on the edge of the banks – but we would have to do this in the dark and what about those coral heads???

Sunset in the choppy waters

So we decided to stay put and settled down for the night on our sofas as the forepeak was too noisy as Morphie continuously bashed into larger and larger waves with many breaking green water over the bow.   At 2am there was an almighty bang – and the snubber has gone… There is no choice but to jury rig another as the anchor windlass would not cope with the strain of this mad night – so Richard is on the bow of the boat in the dark doing it while taking a dip every now and again as Morphie rode the waves. This was the only time I was scared really – because in these conditions I would never be able to get him back if he fell overboard – but he was harnessed up and wearing a lifejacket so wasn’t really in danger….   Job done and we carried on riding out the horrible conditions – with every bang and thump sounding like Neptune was taking a sledgehammer to our hull.   Finally the sun came up – thankfully!

Sunrise over the banks

We quickly changed our passage plan to take us back out to deep water to get away from the chop and started to pick up the anchor – it is my turn to take a dip this time with the bow rising and falling into the waves and also to try to stop taking on water into the anchor locker. The anchor came up surprisingly easily however it was badly damaged – check out the new shape!   To bend solid steel like this gives you an idea of the conditions we were thankful to come through….   Were we in danger really? Probably not – but so many things could easily have gone wrong….   Just thankful Morphie is such a strong boat… she looked after just fine.

What's left of our anchor snubber Bent anchor Bent anchor 2

We quickly entered deep water – cold, miserable and very wet – but had a great sail in 28 knots of breeze although you can tell by the photos that both of us were pretty keen to get to our next destination.

Are we there yet Cold and wet!

We then re-entered the banks via the shipping channel as we couldn’t eyeball in these conditions and made our way to Sapodilla Bay.   We dropped the hook – and it dragged – so we dropped it again…and it dragged again.   Clearly the new shape is affecting its ability to dig in – so I stooged around while Richard swapped it out for our spare.   All done – dropped the hook – and it dragged.   The Danforth anchor is really designed for hard sand and we are trying to get a set in putty-like mud and grass so not really surprised.   Thankfully on our second attempt we got a set and we set up the anchor alarms and sat in the cockpit for a little while.  When we were confident we were OK for the night – still with the wind blowing old boots but at least in a more protected place – we broke open the beer and I cooked toad in the hole as a celebratory meal.

Approaching Providenciales Sunset over Provo

This morning – Tuesday – and we moved around to Southside Marina, a very basic setup – but at least somewhere we can tie up to while we get our anchor repaired / replaced and another snubber purchased….   The weather forecast is also not looking conducive to run to the Bahamas any time soon with a number of fronts on their way – and we haven’t really explored or gone diving yet. The Turks and Caicos have a pretty strict regime – you get 7 days for $100 entry / exit – and if you want to stay longer then the cruising permit is $300 so we might have to bite the bullet and pay that.   But we have a couple of days yet to work it all out. Right now we just want to relax and take a deep breath!

Bye for now