Thursday 9 May: Leaving Dominican Republic (with a scene) and Turks & Caicos day 1. But shhhh, we haven’t officially arrived today!
05:30 alarm, for two reasons. Firstly, we have 88miles to get to the closest of the Turks islands, Big Sand Cay, to which we want to arrive in daylight. Second, those damned customs, Army or whoever they were, said they would board the boat at 6am to issue our “departure documentation”. So at 5:45 we walk to their office. We’ll do it there, no need to have them on board. But as we arrive to the office they are already on their way to the boat, and say the office is closed and they have to come and inspect the boat. Only one of them wears the army uniform, the other two are dressed casual, one of which seems to be the boss and wears a hoodie – looking more like a thug than an official! We try to stop them walking all the way to the boat but they insist. “Protocol” they say. “My arse, it is!”, we think to ourselves.
They come onboard and get me to sign two departure documents, hand us our copy then casually say: “that will be US$25”. Ah-ha… as suspected, here we go. Immediately Oana launches into her prepared speech, barely taking a breath between sentences. First, what’s the $25 for? They don’t answer. Second, we will only give it if we get an official receipt. Of course, they have no receipt book. Third, why didn’t they give us the documents last evening, in office hours? The departure document is valid for 24 hours.
Oana then boldly tells them this is clear extortion (after all, she comes from Romania, where the officials could win the olympics for corruption!) The boss retorts strongly and Oana even stronger back. It becomes quite a shouting match, in each other’s face, fingers pointing. All in Spanish of course. Clearly they have met their match here. She also shows them an email to the authorities complaining about the $20 extortion from immigration last night, and tells them they will be the subject of her next email! Eventually they realize Oana is not backing down, even with threats of bringing the drugs agency on board to turn the boat upside down. Their last try is to say we cannot leave, to which Oana retorts “of course we can leave, we can go anytime we want to!” I’m sooo proud of her!
Of course it’s not the $25 that bothers us, it’s the principle of it all. We can’t stand extortion and corruption. And so far, we were never extorted in any of the previous islands. Cheated on the bills, yes. But not straight forward extortion.
They leave the boat empty handed. And surprisingly, just before the go, when Oana asks them if there’s anything else, they ask us if we need help with our lines! Ha ha … as if!
We then have a quick breakfast and decide it’s best to we get on our way before they have any other ideas for us. The wind is gently blowing us off the dock where we are moored side-on to, so departure is easy. Once outside the marina wall, the sails are up. But it’s only blowing 10-12knts and unfortunately an early morning offshore wind. Meaning it’s almost right behind us, so pretty useless in the easterly swell which has the sails and boom flogging all over the place. Only one thing to do, keep the engine on, to bring the apparent wind forward so we can motor-sail and have us pinned down against the swell. So we motor like this for an hour, making some water as we go, then the wind swings SE and fills in to its usual 15-18knts.
With the engine off we are happily doing 8kts in the right direction, on a nice broad reach with full mainsail and genoa. Wonderful. Perfect offwind sailing. And by midmorning the wind has freshened even more, plus lifted a little, and we are powering along at a very easy 9knts, eating up the miles. Looks like we will arrive at 5pm. Perfect.
The rhumline route takes us over the 4500m deep trench that separates Dominican Republic (Hispaniola island) and the extensive shallow water coral banks to the north: Silver Bank, North-East Breaker, Mouchoir Bank and Turks & Caicos. In the winter, migrating whales come to these banks to feed and breed. Sadly they have all left north for the summer by now.
We try fishing for a while. We get one bite (the reel goes: whizzzzzzz). But as soon as I start to reel in, its gone. With a sore mouth no doubt. Probably our speed didn’t help. And later, we get into sargassum seaweed so we give up.
3 hours away from Turks, we turn off our AIS. We have heard (noon site I think ) that the authorities here will fine you, per hour, for every hour you don’t check-in after arrival. Technically, if we only anchor next to Big Sand Cay, we have not “entered” the country. But we don’t want to risk it, so we will keep invisible for now, with AIS off, and officially arrive tomorrow once we get to Grand Turk, where the authorities are.
In the last hour before arrival we spot another yacht downwind of us, going in the opposite direction. We comment this is the first yacht we have seen sailing for many weeks. The last one was when we were cruising along the south coast of Puerto Rico, over 3 weeks ago. The season is definitely over, or just very few yachts sail in the vicinity of Dominican Republic.
5 miles out we spot the low island of Big Sand Cay. Small white cliffs, and as we get nearer we can see the light blue water around it. The bottom shelves up very quickly. 2km depth, 1km, then all of a sudden 13m! Wow, that is quite a drop-off. And at the same time the water turns a delicious aqua blue. We furl away the sails and motor the last 100m into anchor.
There is another boat anchored here, a catamaran, but we keep our distance as we are sure they would love to be alone in the special anchorage.
Well, the swell is not special, as it is working its way around the back of the island, disappointingly. But the island in front of us has the purest white sand we have seen, with the surf rolling high up the beach. Not much chance to land a dinghy here, we think. But maybe we can anchor it nearby and swim ashore. The island is designated as a bird sanctuary. And the air is full of chatting sea birds. Let’s hope they ate all the mosquitoes!
I dive on the anchor in the clearest water I have ever seen. Even clearer than the Med. Even at 5pm and the sun low, from the swim platform I can still see all the way to the anchor 30m in front of our bow and 6m depth… 50m of visibility. Can’t wait to see what it’s like in bright sunshine tomorrow.
We have late lunch with the early evening sun blasting us in the cockpit while the trade winds blow strongly through the open windscreen. All we can hear is the howling wind, the sea birds and the waves crashing on the windward side. Such is the peace of nature after what seems many weeks surrounded by human noises: traffic, music, power boats. Yes, we have arrived in the idyllic cays of Turks & Caicos. No security risk here, only the risk of bird poop!
Talking of which, after our early start, we are both pooped ourselves. It was a fantastic sail, fast and relatively smooth followed by a beautiful anchorage. Now let’s see if we can sleep in this rocking boat! After a celebratory set of caipirinha, shouldn’t be a problem 🙂