Turks & Caicos Islands, May 15-25, 2000
The Turks and Caicos Islands, or TCI as the Belongers (natives) call them, are absolutely beautiful. We anchored in Sapodilla Bay, on the south side of Providenciales ("Provo"). We got here from Grand Turk by sailing across the Caicos Banks. The Banks were such a unique experience, it's hard to describe, but we'll try.
The Caicos Banks are some 40-50 miles across, roughly round. They're bordered on their top half (northwest to north to northeast) by the various Caicos islands (W. Caicos, Provo, N. Caicos, etc.) and by reefs and to the south by some smaller islands (cays). The waters surrounding the Banks are extremely deep -- over 8000' in some places, but the Banks themselves are only 6-12' deep. Most of the area is unexplored, but there are known pathways across, following compass bearings but with absolutely no marks, to enable you stay in water over 10' deep. Even so, we needed to keep a constant lookout at the bow, to signal the helmsman to turn right or left to dodge the coral heads.
After we entered the Banks, E. Caicos soon dropped out of sight. It was amazing to us to be out of sight of land but in such shallow water! The water is crystal clear, and varies from a shade of pale green to aquamarine; it's perfectly clear, but the bright white sand below it gives the color a strange pearly or opalescent quality. It is so brilliant that the bottoms of the clouds look pale green and the terns' wings have green undersides from the water's reflection. Absolutely amazingly gorgeous.
Because there's coral all about, we only sailed when the sun was high, and anchored for the night in the middle of nowhere -- another strange experience. Before continuing in the morning, we snorkeled over to a small reef, maybe 10 feet across, which harbored dozens of fish and at least 6 lobsters. Rob actually caught one of the lobsters, but upon our return to Akka we discovered that there's a general ban on non-Belongers taking lobster, so we threw it back.
Coming into Sapodilla Bay, we thought we had good visual bearings on a point of land, and were rather taken aback when we ran aground in what was supposed to be 10' of water. Fortunately, the grounding was in sand, which here is the consistency of powder, and did no harm. We kept stubbornly trying to make our way into the bay, explaining away discrepancies in sights and depths, until we finally consulted our GPS and realized we were one bay too far east! Duh. We used our sails to get off the sand bank, made it to the right bay, and have been peacefully at anchor here since Tuesday, May 16th.
We remembered Provo from our visit here some 15 years ago. It was lovely but desolate then -- poor, no paved roads, goats running free, with the Belongers anticipating that wealth was around the corner. Well, wealth has arrived. The main roads (only) are paved and the goats are gone, replaced by Club Med, the Sandals, and various other upscale resort hotels and condo/villas. There's construction everywhere, and a great sense of optimism and enthusiasm abounds. The scenery remains spectacular and the diving and fishing (on those walls where the water gets so deep) is said to be the best in the world. We took a boat tour to Water Island, just off of Provo, to see the native iguana colony there. The T&C species is unique and is protected from all of the development elsewhere, thank goodness. Although tourists aren't supposed to feed them, the iguanas clearly have gotten used to handouts, and scuttle over to the walkways to seek handouts. They are also territorial. Iguana fights are like cat fights -- all hissing argument and little encounter.
Of course, as the old adage says, cruising is defined as sailing from exotic port to exotic port, repairing your boat. We decided to do some preventative maintenance, replacing a too-thin wire from the alternator with a more substantial one. In trying to remove the wire from the alternator, we broke off the bolt. No alternator = no electricity = no refrigeration = no computer or cell phone. Ah, but there is a backup alternator. So we removed the main one, a job that we've gotten altogether too proficient at, figuring we could run everything from the secondary one. Wrong! We neglected the fact that the belts that went around the main alternator also ran the water pump, so we overheated the engine. After some initial panic and a night of worry that we'd really screwed up, we got a shop to replace the alternator bolt, refilled the engine with coolant, and are able to run again, restoring computer, phone and refrigerator power.
Of course, the main alternator still doesn't work. And when we get done fixing things, we can begin installing the satellite communications system. And the stereo. And ... .