Turks & Caicos: January 8-19, 2007

We departed Sumner Point Marina on Rum Cay at about 11 AM on 1/8/07, thinking we might cruise without stopping all the way down to the Turks and Caicos.   But the seas and winds did not subside as per their forecasts, and so after nearly 23 hours and 159 miles we decided to pause at Mayaguana, since we were passing by at just the right time for a careful approach through the coral heads to an anchorage.   The winds were still strong from the ESE, so we tucked in to Betsy Bay on the west side of the island.   Besides, the guide books advised an early-morning entry into Sandbore Channel at Provo in the Turks and Caicos, and that meant that we should stall and then do another overnight passage.   And so, we napped in the afternoon and then departed Mayaguana at 10:50 PM (1/9/07).   Heard lots of chatter on the VHF as we readied our departure.   Turned out a strung-out armada of sailboats were on their way to Provo, and were checking in with each other periodically.   They were mostly past us by the time we actually left, but by morning we had overtaken a few of them.   In any case, we were anchored in Sapodilla Bay on the morning of 1/10/07 with many of them.  The slower sailboats had to stop in Mayaguana where they had to wait a week for a weather window to finally get to Provo.

Rumor had it that Customs wanted to see all occupants of the vessels checking in, and so -- even though the guidebooks advised the standard procedure of "captain only"-- Barb and I both took our dinghy to shore and attempted to walk to the office.  That experience turned out to be prophetic of much of our stay in Provo.   First, the roads were in fairly bad shape, and poorly marked.  Second, the locals were quite friendly.   When we took a wrong turn and asked a lady for directions, she insisted on driving us to the office.  Past a guard house and through a gated fence, by the way.   No wonder we thought the office must be elsewhere.   Thirdly, the customs official was friendly and informal, and willing to overlook the fact that not only the captain had come to check in.   Fourthly, everything on the island is expensive.   The guide books said the customs fee was $5.  Nope.  $20, plus another $15 when we checked out.   The guidebooks said that after seven days, one must go to Customs and Immigration (at another office in town) and get a free cruising permit.   Nope.  If you stay past seven days, you must now pay $75.

It was blowing stink the day after we got to Provo, and stayed rainy and windy for days.   When it subsided a bit, we decided to venture in to town and explore a bit.   Taxis were said to be outrageously expensive, and so we decided use the recommended form of transportation there - hitchhiking.   Got picked up almost immediately by a stretch pickup truck.  The driver was from New Zealand, and had been working in Provo for a large construction company for about three years.   Saturdays they only work half-day, and so he was just leaving a road-building site when he passed our dinghy landing.  He said he had a little time, and insisted on showing us the island.   And so on our first real trip ashore we were treated to an extended tour of the Provo area, which turned out to be quite spread-out.  There is no real central downtown.  New construction occurring everywhere.  At the far eastern end of Provo, we were shown the new palace -- no other word is appropriate -- of the Deputy Minister (or some such -- in any case the alpha dog of the island), who although he only earns less that $100K a year, has amassed some $80 million dollars during his relatively brief tenure.)

The New Zealander dropped us off at the Tiki Hut Bar and Grill, where we had a delicious lunch.  We then caught a shuttle bus to the IGA, the best -- and quite good -- grocery store in town.   Backpacks loaded to bursting point, and additional sacks in hand, we asked the taxis outside of the grocery their fare to Sapodilla Bay, and were given costs ranging from $20 to $25.   We then attempted to hitch back to the boat, but now along the busy and new and 2-lanes-in-each-direction highway.  It took a while but eventually a mini-bus stopped.   Not clear if he has a regular route, or just functions mostly as a taxi.   In any case, he is far less expensive, and we hopped aboard to squeeze in among the locals.  

There were several sundowners on the vessels in the anchorage  -- too windy on shore -- and so we got to know most everyone.   The first party was on a gorgeous large aluminum sailboat: Magic Moment.  We were the only trawler in the anchorage, and most sailboats were too small to host a general get-together.  The second was on Tusen Takk II.   See pictures below.

The Turks and Caicos are a world-famous dive destination, and so we couldn't imagine spending some time here and not diving.   We booked a two-tank dive with Provo Turtle Divers, and were told to be at their Turtle Cove office at 8 AM.   So we called our mini-bus operator the night before, and arranged to be picked up at the beach used for landing dinghies from the anchorage.   On the morning of the dive, just as I was getting into the dinghy, I saw him arrive and flash his lights, and then leave.  Yikes.  Will we get to the dive shop in time?   Frantic attempts to get a satellite phone connection to ask him to come back and pick us up.   Finally get through, and we are told that it will be 30 minutes before he can get there.   Barb tells him that won't work for us -- we must be to the dive office before that.   He reluctantly agrees to come in 15, and then takes over 45 to get there.   During that time we considered calling a taxi but didn't want to stand up the nice mini-bus driver.  When the bus arrives it is nearly full, and the driver keeps turning off on side roads to drop folks off and pick others up -- including kids heading for school -- so he apparently has a regular set of customers.   The mini-bus is often full to the bursting, and we have taken up valuable space with our dive bags.   Finally we are headed in the right direction and arrive at the dive office just in time to sign the appropriate releases and jump aboard the dive bus that will take us to the dive boat on the south end of Provo.   We had a 50-minute fast boat ride out to West Caicos, where we dove at two different wall locations.   The dives were good -- especially the first.   But you know what?   We've seen as many fish on the reefs off Boynton Beach, FL, and we've seen more alive and spectacular walls off Bonaire.   And in keeping with my comment earlier about Provo costs:  the dives were expensive.

We stayed a time in Provo for two distinct reasons:  the weather and the name.  We felt we ought to spend some time in a place so famous, and we couldn't leave anyway because of the weather.   In the end, perhaps the best part about our visit was the friends we made in the anchorage.  As it happened, the weather improved and our 7-day permit expired at the same time.   And so it was that on the morning of 1/17/07, we and five other vessels left Provo and crossed over the bank to Long Cay.   Two continued on and reached Luperon on the morning of 1/18/07, and four of us tucked in behind the southern end of Long Cay.  With winds favorable for sailing, but not particularly friendly for our trawler, two of those four left for Luperon mid-afternoon on 1/18/07.   We heard them chatting on VHF several hours later, and they had just sighted whale spouts.  We talked to them on the SSB the next morning as they were arriving in Luperon and they reported a very rough night with numerous squalls.  Sure made us glad we waited one more day for better weather.

And better weather, it definitely was.   We, and the remaining sailboat, Magic Moment, had a very nice cruise on the afternoon/night of 1/19-20.   We caught a Skipjack Tuna late afternoon.   The stabilizers did a tremendous job of countering the rollers coming in almost directly from our port side.   We didn't even get any salt spray on our windows.   We left about 2 PM, which turned out to be too early, since we would have been able to cruise at normal speeds, had we not been timing our arrival for dawn at Luperon.   As it was, we needed to go slow all night long, and had to slow WAY down for the last several hours.  We still had to make several circles outside the approach while we waited for the sun to come up.

Since we and Magic Moment were expected, we were hailed on the VHF even before we were visible to the anchorage.   Soon, since the original hailer was joined by others, the airwaves were filled with advice as we entered the harbor.   Recommendation for others headed this way:  use Van Sant's description for entering the harbor, and ignore all of the confusing and contradictory advice you may receive from other sources and/or the VHF.   But after you get into the harbor and are preparing to anchor, pay close attention to the VHF advice, since there are several shallow areas within the anchorage area itself that are not on the charts.

Luperon promises to be a fascinating place to spend some time.   But for that account, gentle readers, you must await our next edition.

Sailboat next to us had five kids on board, and needed quite a laundry day

Provo Turtle Dive bus

Provo Turtle Dive boat

Surface interval on dive

Sapodillo Bay as seen from our passing dive boat (note TT II)

Minx Cat -- we cruised w/ last year -- now live aboard in Provo

Blowing conk at sundowner party on TT II in Sapodillo Bay

Other guests at sundowner party

... and more

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Roger from Uma and Opa got some drinking water from us

Alchemy crossing Caicos bank on way to Luperon, Dominican Republic

Roger from Oma and Opa giving us a conch-cleaning lesson

Oma and Opa leaving Long Cay for Luperon

Skipjack Tuna caught on trip from Long Cay to Luperon

Lotta meat on this short tuna!

Flag courtesy of ITA's Flags of All Countries used with permission.