Friday 10 May, Turks & Caicos day 2: Lovely sail from Big Sand Cay to Grand Turk with a hitch hiker called Mahi-Mahi (our catch-of-the-day, grilled with avocado salad, all served with love).
Bit of a rocky-rolly night anchored next to Big Sand Cay. But we still seem to have managed to sleep 10 full hours! It’s lovely to wake to the crystal clear blue water and white beaches in front of us. After the last several weeks of being in “civilization” it’s also nice to be in the wilderness for once. We considered trying to go ashore to walk the pristine white beach, but the Atlantic swell from the north is rolling heavily up the beach and we see nowhere to land the dingy safely. We also try to fly the drone but again it refuses to calibrate its gyros with the boat rocking as it is.
As we hope all T&C water and beaches will be as pleasing to the eye, we decide to head off to Grand Turk to formally check-in, before we get caught loitering.
Anchor is up by 9:15 and within a couple of minutes we have main and genoa out on a close beam reach north towards Grand Turk. But first we will pass Salt Cay, a low triangular shaped island that used to have a big salt production business, up to 1964. Today it only has a handful of residents.
As we head north in the perfectly flat water in the lee of the reefs we chart our course exactly over and parallel to the drop-off. To our starboard the water is the lightest blue of just 9-10m deep and to our port side it’s a deep dark blue as the depth quickly drops to 1000m just 1km away… that’s a 45deg drop off slope. And it doesn’t end there, it keeps deepening to over 2000m. The Turks (and Caicos) are effectively 2500m high sea mountains with just their peaks above sea-level, and covered in reef.
It’s the most wonderful sail, to be flying along at 8kts in this environment. Oh! And there is no weed in the water, let’s get the fishing hook in. Our lure took a bit of a beating yesterday (or rather a bit of an eating!) when a fish bit 1/2 of it off without engaging the hook (clever fish eh?). Plus, after 3 weeks in the sun it has faded to a dull grey from its original bright pink. Still, we give it one last chance to catch us dinner before we retire it to the trash.
Once the line and lure are out I go to adjust our course a little, when already the reel goes buzzzzz. A fish… we have a fish! I lock the reel so it can’t take anymore line, then we work on slowing the boat down by furling away the genoa and easing the main. Still doing 5kts but better than 8.
The fish is a real fighter but eventually we reel it in. And yes, it’s certainly a prize. A beautiful mahi-mahi, bright blue on top and yellow underneath. Once on deck those colours disappear surprisingly quickly. As usual we let it die happy by squirting alcohol into its gills and leaving there to get drunk.
With the sails reset we are back up to speed and feeling very chuffed with ourselves. We wait till we are in the lee of Salt Cay before carrying out the gutting, head & tailing. Finally I get to use my new fish knife set. What a difference from our blunt kitchen knives. It’s a reasonable sized fish. We will clearly get 2 big meals out of it. Other than red snapper, mahi-mahi is our favorite blue water fish. Oana can’t wait to have it on dinner plates!
Salt Cay is, as expected, a low flat island with a few scatted houses above a white beach.
Once passed Salt Cay reef we are hard on the wind to get to South Harbour on Grand Turk. So nice to be flying upwind without plowing through waves for once. And in no time we are there putting the anchor into yet more clear blue water. Lots of tripper boats moored here and the beach is covered in deck chairs piled high. Then we realize that the large dock next to us is a cruise liner dock. So the beach and tripper boats must only be in action on invasion days. Luckily, today is not one of them! No cruise liner in port today.
Other than being a cruise liner terminal, another interesting fact about this place is that it used to be a USAF base specifically built to recover NASA astronauts after their capsules landed in the waters nearby. John-Glenn being the first. Since then the facility is handed over to the Turks & Caicos and is now the governing administration center.
Check-in is in a customs shed across a dusty yard at the end of the government dock, but there is nowhere to easily dock the dinghy. The concrete wharf is 3m high! We spot a ladder at its end, but the top 5-6 rungs are missing, so no climbing up there. Eventually we find another ladder, equally rusty but at least it has all its rungs to the top. How can they expect this to be a check-in dock and not be able to get ashore easily? I’m ashamed I’m in the UK.
We arrive at the customs office at 1pm only to find it’s lunch time for another hour. So we sit in the shade and wait. Sometime after 2pm the customs lady arrives and doesn’t seem too friendly. Certainly doesn’t have a sense of humor. She just thrusts multiple forms at us and leaves us to them. We finally manage to break the ice with her when we ask about cruise liners here and she finally starts to engage in conversation. Apparently they usually have a cruise liner dock once per day. Sometimes they even have 2 docked and one at anchor. Just where do all the offloaded tourists go to, we wonder. The beach must be mobbed and the tripper boats very busy.
Once finished with customs we are told to wait for Immigration to arrive. While waiting another yacht crew from “Sea Cloud” come in. They are stopping for just one night on their passage from Puerto Rico to Bahamas. Just one night? To get a nice dinner then leave again. Obviously they dont have the cooking skills of Oana on board!
Finally the immigration guy arrives and he is equally humorless. What is it with customs and immigration officials? Does the power go to their heads in these jobs or are they specially selected due to their unique social skills? Lighten up guys, we’re all human!
After two hours in the freezing office we are glad to be out in the heat again. And it takes us just minutes to get aboard, pull the anchor, genoa out and sail off. We are heading 3 miles north to the main town of Cockburn.
Once there we weave our way through the reef and anchor in 4m of water right in front of the white beach. From the boat the buildings look pretty and authentic, just as the pilot outlined. But before we head ashore, there is half a Mahi-Mahi to be eaten, and we are starving!
After lunch, which was delicious as expected, we head ashore in the dinghy. Through the binoculars we spotted a pier with what looks like a lower dock, perfect for dinghies. So off we chug (“chug-chug” is all we get out of our new 6HP engine!).
But once close to the dock we get a surprise. Firstly, the lower dock is not so low. Secondly, the “step up” to the main pier is about 1.5m with no ladder or steps (and Oana has a dress on!). And thirdly, there are no boards on the top of the dock!
With some persuasion (more like threatening, that plan-B would be a beach landing!), Oana climbs from the dinghy up to the first level with her dress tied up around her waist – quite a sight! But I dare not giggle. Then, balancing like Nadia Comaneci on the high bar, she gets herself next to the upper level which is at her neck height. “See, I told you, no way can I get up there, even with my dress clear above my panties”.
But at that moment, to the rescue comes a Haitian worker with a very short rusty ladder which he places for Oana to climb up. Brilliant, problem solved! Dinghy tied, I follow Oana up too.
There are several Haitian and Dominican workers there, replacing the boarding on the pier. We joke with them to let us know when they have finished so we can return to get our dinghy safely. Hmmm, return, that will be interesting in the dark.
Once on dry land we walk north along Front Street of Cockburn Town. The sun is low in the western sky and the colours are wonderful on the many old and colorful buildings. The place certainly has charm. But while authentic, most of the buildings are in poor shape. It could be like George Town in Bermuda if everything was renovated. You really get a feel like you are back 50 or 100 years.
Going the other way on Front Street we come across a row of the cutest cottages with white fences and lovely gardens. The locals whom we meet are all very polite and friendly, very much like Anguilla. Another island that is still fully British.
We end up in Osprey Beach Hotel for a beer and internet. We could see their WiFi from Cloudy Bay, so we went in to get the password. And we find ourselves sitting at the next table to the three Americans from Sea Cloud yacht. It’s certainly a very small town.
Like the resident humans, the resident mosquitos are equally friendly and we start to get eaten alive. Haven’t had mosquitos this bad in quite a while. Other residents of the town are numerous stray dogs. After being attacked by a pack of dogs in Bahamas, we are quite wary.
Back at the pier we gingerly get across all the rotten and missing boards and manage to clamber down the rusty ladder and into the dinghy. Not so bad after all. But tomorrow we vouch to do a beach landing. Much simpler and safer other than getting sandy feet. Hoped that with the WiFi password we can do a bit of blog updates, but didn’t work. So we relax for the remainder of the evening with that lovely breeze blowing through the boat and finally get to bed by midnight – our usual time.