March 27, 2019

A stopover in Turks and Caicos Islands

Cruising the Bahamas for nearly 12 weeks was a dream come true; while we battled a decent amount of weather and wind during our months there, we enjoyed our travels so much and were sad to leave the crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches and pastel painted settlements behind - but it was time to make our way further south toward the Caribbean.

Our nearly three-month trek through the Bahamas

After staging ourselves in Calabash Bay, Long Island, Bahamas for a night, we weighed anchor just after midnight on Monday, March 12 for the 215 nm sail southeast to the Turks and Caicos Islands. This would be our longest passage aboard Borealis yet. We had favorable conditions for the sail, with 3-4 foot seas, but lighter winds, so we mostly motorsailed the upwind course to keep our speed since our weather window was short.

For the most part, the trip south was uneventful. During the day, we took 3-hour shift watches at the helm, read and listened to music, fished (but only caught seaweed), and took showers on deck while the sun set on the horizon.

After landing our 60-inch wahoo fish recently,
Nick figured it was time to bone up our actual fishing knowledge

On our second morning at sea, a tired Sara came up with a towel unknowingly stuck
in her life jacket like a Superman cape 
With a new moon in the sky, we had very little light during our two nights of sailing, although we were kept company by small flying fish that frequently appeared on deck. We try to throw them back overboard as soon as we spot them as they seem to develop rigamortis quite quickly! :)

After 35 hours underway, we arrived in the Turks and Caicos Islands - TCI for short - just after the sun rose on Wednesday, March 14. TCI is comprised of 40 islands, eight of which are inhabited.

Like the Bahamas, the TCI islands are low lying, shallow and have turquoise waters and white sandy beaches. We arrived to Providenciales (or Provo), the most populated and commercially developed of the islands.

Cruisers heading towards the Carribean typically approach Provo from the south, but with few well-protected anchorages and weather on its way, a stop into a marina was necessary for us. Borealis is too deep to get into the marinas along the south coast, so we approached from the north; the downside of a north approach is that when we left to head south we needed to backtrack into ocean waters and around half the island to the Caicos Bank.

Entering into Provo, we needed to navigate through a narrow cut in the reef - Stubbs Cut - and around numerous shallow areas and coral heads. We made a reservation with Turtle Cove Marina - our first marina stay since North Carolina (hooray for hot land showers) - which provided a pilot boat to help direct us through the reef and into the cove.

A reef separates the deeper, dark blue waters from the shallower, brighter blue coastline

Our guide boat through the reef and corals
The marina provided Customs and Immigration services, so a short while after docking, Nick had us checked into the country, and we were able to step ashore and explore. TCI offers two clearing in options: a 7-day cruising permit for $50 (it’s the same price to check out of TCI) or a 30-day permit for $350 (and $50 to check out). We opted for the shorter and less expensive 7-day permit, so we had a limited amount of time to explore the island and get ready for our next hop south.

The town of Provo (both the island and main settlement are named Provo) is a well-known vacation destination popular among tourists, with never-ending shopping, supermarkets, restaurants and beach excursions. Walking through the bustling downtown resort area was overwhelming after months spent in the quiet settlements of the Bahamas.

The island is spread out, so a car or scooter is necessary. Since weather often dictates the timing of our arrival into new places, we hadn't made a car reservation, and it was busy spring break two wheels it was! After a good nights rest from our passage, we rented the scooter for two days from Scooter Bob's, located right around the corner from the marina. Thankfully, Nick has a motorcycle license and we owned a Vespa scooter in Washington, D.C., so other than driving on the left side of the road and navigating two lane roundabouts (there are no traffic lights), getting around was without trouble.

Provo has several amazing grocery stores, the largest we'd seen since leaving the states. We absolutely had to visit Graceway Gourmet and Graceway IGA supermarkets, where the selection and prices were great compared to the Bahamas. We also made a visit to Walkin Marine (a great marine store) and to Turks Head Brewery, the only locally brewed beer, for some pints and locally brewed Tradewinds rum.

Each week in Provo, there is a Thursday night fish fry, with food and drink vendors, music, and tables of local wares for sale.

We had so much fun meeting up with fellow cruisers Kaitie and Cody on S/V Zoe, who are headed toward the Panama Canal and the South Pacific. Nick and Kaitie were even cajoled into playing saw instruments.

During our time in Provo, we also snorkeled a large coral reef just off the point at Smiths Reef (where Sara came in contact with a jellyfish or fire coral and had a stinging hot foot for a night), walked along the 7-mile stretch of Grace Bay beach, and hiked the shoreline and beach of Northwest Point.

After several days of exploring Provo, a weather window opened for a few days ahead, and so we spent a day getting ourselves and the boat ready to leave TCI, including stocking the fridge with fresh produce, filling the boat with diesel fuel, and checking out of the country with Customs and Immigration (meaning no more trips ashore!).

On Monday, March 18 we sailed around the island to Taylor Bay, nearby Sapodilla Bay, a well known and fairly protected anchorage on the south side of Provo.

The following morning, we sailed 15 nm south to French Cay, a small bight of protected land along the west side of the Caicos Bank where we staged at anchor for one night, and had a heck of a time anchoring.

Since we started sailing four years ago, we've spent the vast majority of our time out sailing at anchor, and our oversized Mantus anchor reliably sets on the first attempt 99 percent of the time...except at French Cay. The sea bed there was rocky, weedy and likely limestone covered in a thin layer of stand, so it took almost an hour and four attempts (and three dives from Nick on the anchor) before we finally located a good holding spot and had the anchor dug deep enough into the sand to sleep comfortably that night!

Zig-zagging around French Cay to find a good anchoring spot
The following day, Friday, March 20 at 12 noon, we departed on a 120 nm sail to Luperon, Dominican Republic.

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