TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS
3rd – 14th May
Not so long ago if anyone had asked us where the Turks and Caicos Islands were they would have most definitely been met with rather blank looks on our faces.To be quite honest we’d never even heard of this little group of Islands. As Liam says had someone told us that they were just north of Antarctica we probably would have believed them . So to put the record straight these remote islands lie around 350 miles to the north west of Puerto Rico and almost due north of The Dominican Republic . The seven Islands and numerous cays that make up the group are a diving mecca.
The capital, Cockburn Town, is situated on Grand Turk Island and this is where we completed our check–in formalities. Arriving at the anchorage we were greeted by the beautiful aqua waters and pure white sand beaches for which the Turks and Caicos are renowned. To date these are the most stunning aqua waters we’ve seen and as you would know from reading our blog we’ve seen our fair share of holiday brochure blue water since arriving in the Caribbean.
Once ashore it didn’t take us long to locate the customs office, mind you, we did walk past it the first time. We’re so used to seeing signs pointing the way but as you can see from the picture on the left and the one above the office looks more like a shed attached to a big garage. The customs officer was most polite and was gob smacked when we told her that we’d sailed from Australia and that we’d gone the long way via the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. Having two Aussie boats check-in on the same day,‘Remi De’ and GWTW was just too much for her. I guess the majority of her customers are from yachts that come down from the USA.
After completing our arrival paperwork we decided to move the two boats over to a small uninhabited island named Long Cay. There have been very few pilot books written about the T&C’s as when it comes to nautical charts, much of it still remains unsurveyed. Of the books that have been published, they warn of the many dangerous reefs that surround these islands and of the numerous coral heads that dot the seabed, sometimes lurking just a few inches below the water’s surface. Most of the time it is eyeball navigation and this is one place that is definitely NOT for the reef-phobic's of the cruising world. Staying focused and wearing polarized sunglasses is the name of the game here. Moving slowly through the reefs and keeping a good eye on the depth sounder as we went (it also helped having Remi De in front of us), we made our way across the shallows to our anchorage for the night. The water colour was so intoxicating that within half an hour of dropping the hook we were all in the water snorkeling around the bommies ( coral heads) and enjoying the warm-as-a-bath-water temps.
The little cay was just perfect for sundowners on the beach and Bruce and Remi made a wonderful father/daughter team as they piled driftwood together to make a beach bonfire. Needless to say the lure of the open fire saw us stay on the beach for a long time after the sun had disappeared beneath the horizon, all that was missing were the marshmallows to toast
The following day we headed back across the reef and over to Salt Cay where Liam and Bruce donned their scuba gear and hit the water for a wall dive. Most of the diving spots in the T& C’s are wall dives due to the immense depth, thousands of feet of water that surround these islands up to half a mile from the shoreline. Many free mooring balls are available throughout the islands for the purpose of diving so both boats picked one up. The balls are provided by the islands’ national park service and by using them we help preserve the fragile coral from being decimated by boats on the anchor. The walls, on the edges of the reefs, plunge down thousands of feet into the abyss , bit scary really, but the boys, undaunted by the drop off, descended to depths of around 100ft /30m. During their dive Bruce spotted a shark about 5ft long, which he thought had it’s head stuck in the wall. Liam reckons it was just having a snooze, but the story we girls were told was that Bruce grabbed the shark’s tail, gave it a good shake and pulled it out of the hole ! The fish in question then turned it’s head, took one look at it’s assailant and was off like a rocket, thankfully never to be seen again.
Having had good night’s sleep at Cotton cay and after Liam made a quick trip up the mast to tighten a loose light fitting (glad he took the camera up with him) we were off for a lovely downwind sail under spinnaker across the 22 mile Turks channel . Arriving at our destination in the early afternoon, Annie joined Liam and Bruce for a quick dive on the reef, sadly Annie’s regulator sprung a terminal leak so that was the end of her diving until the reg could be repaired. Where we had stopped for the night was just on the edge of the Caicos Banks, a 50 mile stretch of turquoise water with depths of between 10 – 15ft the entire way. If the light was good i.e. no cloud cover, we’d planned to traverse the banks following day.
Around 8am Remi De and GWTW very slowly and carefully tippy toed our way out of our anchorage, the depth was only 7ft, yikkes! With the light cloud cover starting to dissipate and the sun climbing higher everything look good for a safe passage across the banks. The author of one of our guide books says that this area of water, because of it’s incredible colour, can be seen from space, and it quite possibly is true. The water colour grew lighter and lighter and we nearly had to pinch ourselves to make sure that we weren’t dreaming. The contrast of the white sand seabed and the dark shadows of the coral heads made navigating the banks a piece of cake. Bruce and Remi were spotted sitting up on their first set of spreaders taking in the view while Toni took photos of them from the deck below. We’d set course for French Cay some 38 miles into the banks and stopped there for a spot of lunch and a snorkel before continuing on to West Caicos Island for the night. The transit of the Caicos Banks will probably become one of the most memorable passages of this years cruising season. Words just can’t describe how beautiful it was.
Having recently purchased an underwater camera, our stopover at French Cay seemed the perfect opportunity to give it a test run while we snorkeled. Still in the learning stages and quite unfamiliar with all the bells and whistles,the first few pictures weren’t all bad, just got to get the fish to stay still while i focus the camera.
We moved on to a few other lovely anchorages around West Caicos Island and did more snorkeling and diving over the next couple of days before arriving at the main tourist island of Providenciales. Here we took the Leeward Cut, a small passage through the reef and motored up the channel past sandbanks, wetlands and mangroves and anchored in the shallow waters outside a lovely near-deserted resort and a beautiful unfinished Leeward Marina.The anchorage here is classed as a hurricane hole so it is far removed from any swell and the added bonus is that it’s not too far from town. Our time in the T&C’s was coming to an end so together with Toni, Bruce and young Remi, we hired a car, did a whirlwind tour of the island, a bit of quick provisioning at the rather pricy IGA supermarket, and checked out with customs all in one afternoon. It is so laid back and accommodating here, that the local customs officer drove from his office on the south side of the island to the Turtle Cove Marina on the north side where he completed our check-out without even getting out of his car. He had pre stamped our clearance papers when he gave them to us before we’d filled them in!. That had to be fastest customs service we’ve encounted in any country so far.
As always, the time to leave these beautiful places comes around way too fast, but move on we must. More adventures lay ahead and with only 50 miles to sail across to the the Bahamas a new country and all new experiences are just around the corner.
Formalities: Check-In by dinghy at South Dock, Grand Turk. Fees : Check-In $15usd /Check-Out $15usd. Seven days free cruising without permit. After seven days permit will cost $75usd, valid for three months.
Provisions : Small supermarkets on most of the islands. Large IGA Supermarkets x 2, Rental cars, Hardware stores and Dive shops on Providenciales.
General : Lots of reefs so be cautious! Wall dives abound. Free mooring balls at dive sites when not in use by commercial craft.