Friday, April 13, 2018


We are docked at the Turtle Cove Marina, on The Bight of Grace Bay in Providenciales (map). Providenciales, locally shortened to "Provo," is the name of both the community and the island it inhabits, on the Caicos Bank. It is the northwesternmost  and most populous island of the Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI).

When last I posted, we were passing along the north coast of Crooked Island, and things were a bit smoother and also faster as we continued along to Acklins Island. But as soon as we passed the islands and made our turn towards the southern tip of the Plana Cays we were again in steep head seas, with lots of pitching and a loss of a half knot or so of forward way.

The Plana Cays are uninhabited and unlit, and even though we passed within a mile of the shore I could barely make out a land mass through my glasses. The moon had not yet risen, and all I could see were stars, a handful of lights on Acklins Island astern in the distance, and an offshore tug well to starboard steaming back from San Juan. Even this close to the cays, we were still in thousands of feet of water.

Our digs in Provo, as seen from the Magnolia. Vector is just right of center frame, and the reef is just below the horizon.

We changed watch between the Plana Cays and Mayaguana. Louise had the advantage of a little moonlight on her watch; moonlight considerably lessens the number of trips out onto the deck to scan the horizon. She also got a little Internet from Mayaguana as we passed, and I caught the last of it in the morning after waking up.

By midday the seas had lessened somewhat, and there was a steady improvement as we approached the Caicos Bank. By the time we crossed the territorial limit it looked like we could safely traverse the reef, and we opted to continue to the north side of Provo rather than circle around to come in on the bank. It's more protected there, and the water is prettier, but we would have no choice but to anchor, and the town is really on this side of the island.

Using all the resources available to us (while we still had Internet), we had selected a couple of marked anchorages inside the reef that could be safely navigated without use of a pilot. As we came in radio range, we made the mandatory call on the VHF to Provo Radio, who provides clearance to enter the country and the harbor.

Provo Radio took our details and asked for our destination, and when we gave them the anchorage they notified us we would need a permit to anchor from the Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs (DEMA). I presume this is because the anchorages within the reef on this side are all within the boundaries of the Princess Alexandra National Park. Nothing we had read to this point had warned us about this, including the comprehensive cruising guide in our chart book and the several anchorage markers on the Active Captain database.

To get the permit one calls a marina, and the marina put us in touch with the DEMA representative. He informed us that the permit would cost $100 and we would need to go to the marina to get it. Our plan to drop the hook for a night was falling apart in the last ten miles of our passage.

We always anchor after an overnight passage, even if our ultimate destination is a marina. This allows us to get some decent rest and sleep on a mostly unmoving and quiet boat before having to negotiate possibly tricky entrance channels and execute the most complex evolution we ever undergo: docking the boat. By contrast, dropping the anchor is a walk in the park. It also allows us to defer negotiating possibly shallow channels until the tide is favorable, if it is not upon arrival.

With the only uncomplicated anchoring being offshore and outside the protection of the reef, we instead accelerated our inquiry to the marina. While almost everything here in TCI is expensive, marina rates seem to be the one exception, with our guide saying this one was $1.05 per foot, with a discount for stays of a week. We had already contemplated taking a slip here so that we could offload the scooters to get around town, and also to be in the more protected basin during this unsettled weather.

By a complete accident of timing, we were arriving at the reef just an hour before high tide and an hour before the marina closed. They confirmed what we knew about the rates and that they had space, and we asked them to send the pilot boat out to escort us through the very tricky reef entrance. As it turned out we arrived a few minutes ahead of the pilot and had to circle offshore in the swell.

Following the pilot boat. You can't make out the breakers on the reef in this shot.

The transit through the reef was something of a nail-biting experience, starting with "surfing" the swell into the very narrow opening in the reef, which is immediately followed by a sharp turn to starboard. Our depth sounder indicated just seven feet of water at numerous spots, and this is at nearly high tide. At one point it registered six, which is our draft, but nothing touched and it's possible it was reading the top of some grass. The two men in the pilot boat kept a sharp eye on us the whole time and gave hand signals and radio instructions as needed.

We were at the dock and tied up a little after four with the Quarantine flag flying. I walked to the marina office with our papers and cleared us in with Immigration and then Customs. It was a painless process and we have a seven-day temporary permit for $50. If we stay longer we will need to buy the 90-day permit for $300. In the chaos of the day I forgot to ask about the scooters and I had to call Customs back the next day. They granted permission to offload them so long as we took them with us when we left.

We had been prepared to grill something for dinner in the anchorage, but after adding two hours and the hair-raising reef transit to our passage, and another half hour clearing in, we just stumbled across the parking lot to the Mango Reef restaurant for dinner, which was quite good. We washed it down with drafts from the local Turks Head Brewery.

The festively lit Mango Reef bar and restaurant, on the marina property.

Wednesday we did ... nothing. It always takes us a day to recuperate from overnight passages, especially uncomfortable ones. We tidied up the boat a bit and surfed the Internet on the marina's rather limited WiFi. We did not even offload the scooters. We did leave the compound, though, walking down the block to upscale Italian restaurant Baci, which overlooks the marina from the island side.

While the TCI is geologically and perhaps even geographically an extension of the out islands of the Bahamas chain, culturally and economically it is a world apart. Restaurants here, while having a distinctly tropical flair and a generous proportion of al fresco seating, could easily be mistaken for restaurants in, say, Miami, with western menus and ingredients. And there is no shortage of them, with four restaurants just within walking distance of the marina.

Yesterday we offloaded the scooters, and I spent some time getting them prepped for use after a month sitting on deck. Our plan was to ride into "town," by which I mean the main tourist district of Grace Bay, in the afternoon and then have dinner someplace there. By the time we were ready to leave, though, storm clouds had rolled in and rain was threatening, and we opted instead to again walk to dinner, at the Shark Bite Grill right next door to Baci.

Having missed our chance yesterday, this morning we rolled out fairly early to explore Grace Bay. We proceeded carefully, as it takes some time for the brain to fully register driving on the opposite side of the road, especially on two wheels. We made it as far as Rickie's Flamingo Cafe, on the beach past the main tourist district.

We arrived before opening time and walked out to the beach. I had read a tip on Trip Advisor about an obscure massage shack on the beach next to Rickie's, and we eventually found the proprietor. I booked a massage for tomorrow morning; at $65 for an hour it is less than half the going rate at the numerous resort spas dotting the island.

Returning back through town we pulled into the luxurious Seven Stars resort, perhaps the grand dame of Provo beach resorts, and after being waved through the gate we found our way to the restaurant for a sumptuous buffet breakfast. Afterwards we walked around the resort to see what $490 per night buys you here. The grounds are beautiful and I am sure the service is impeccable, but we were happy to return to our $47 per night marina slip, less than a tenth the price, and counted ourselves fortunate to have escaped with a bill of $30pp for breakfast.

Louise on the immaculately groomed grounds of the Seven Stars. The difference in water color between the pool and the bay behind it is subtle.

We made that our big meal of the day, and this evening we walked up the hill to the Magnolia Wine Bar and Restaurant for cocktails and a light bite on the deck in their bar, with a sweeping view over the marina and out to the bay and reef beyond.

We were the only transient boat when we arrived, but Thursday the somewhat famous Bumfuzzle pulled in, and today the enormous live-aboard dive boat Aggressor II is at the dock for their turn-around. The marina is still recovering from the effects of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and there is ongoing construction and repair all around us.

We booked our slip for the full week, since it will be at least that long for the weather to pass, and that got us the reduced rate of 90 cents per foot per night. Power here is 60 cents per kWh but we arrived with full batteries and we've been able to get by without air conditioning thus far. When Tuesday rolls around we will have to decide if we can move along to another country, or if we will need to buy a TCI cruising permit. That would give us time to cruise the other islands on the Caicos Banks, and possibly stop in Grand Turk and Salt Cay before moving on.

The next leg is a big question mark. From here we can proceed to the north coast of the Dominican Republic, or we can bypass the DR and go straight to Puerto Rico. Either of those options has us on the very dicey northern route across the Mona Passage. Alternatively we can steam some 350 miles around the western end of Hispaniola, where we can make no stops in Haiti due to insurance restrictions, to make the south coast of the DR for a more comfortable ride to Puerto Rico. We'll be gathering weather information and cruising advice over the next few days before making a decision.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Share your comments on this post! We currently allow anyone to comment without registering. If you choose to use the "anonymous" option, please add your name or nickname to the bottom of your comment, within the main comment box. Getting feedback signed simply "anonymous" is kind of like having strangers shout things at us on the street: a bit disconcerting. Thanks!