Saturday, May 21, 2011

Goodbye, Georgetown…Hello, Out Islands! Or Make That Luperon…Nope. How About Turks and Caicos?

Thursday, May 12, 2011 – Monday, May 16, 2011

Amazing…we’ve finally done it. We’ve actually left Georgetown! We pulled up anchor in Red Shanks before 7am, and joined Storyville and Pa’La O’La for the 40-mile trip to Conception Island. We had virtually no wind, which made for a smooth ride on the motor – once we got out of the choppy, rolly, confused seas prior to the inlet. As expected, we had a very seasick kitty in the first hour, but he zonked out once we were left to the widely-spaced swells of the Atlantic.

We also – finally – tried our hand at fishing during a crossing. We picked up a plastic yo-yo in Georgetown, and fixed it with a green and yellow lure to hang about 50 feet behind the boat. Three hours later, we hadn’t gotten a nibble, but we heard shouts of “fish on the line” over the VHF from Pa’La O’La – they got a three-foot mahi mahi – and “we got one” (make that a two-foot mackerel) from Storyville. Oh, well, as much as we hoped to hook something ourselves, we were just happy get to share in the spoils – in the form of a fantastic grilled mahi dinner aboard Pa’La O’La that night! We made great time to Conception, and were an hour from our anchorage when a huge line of squalls stopped us in our tracks. We debated trying to outrun the storm, and finally agreed that the best option would be to drop the sails and do doughnuts until the front passed. As LA would say, “that’s what Plato would do!” After an hour, we finally managed to find a hole between three cells and made a quick dash to the anchorage. We could hear other boats reporting a three-foot swell coming into the anchorage, and knew it would be a rolly night. Oh, well…at least we were out of Georgetown!

We spent Friday exploring the highlights of Conception Island: hiking to the Atlantic side to beachcomb and admire the views, dinghying south around the point to watch the turtles swim through the mangroves, and snorkeling over the many coral heads north of the anchorage. Thanks to a sleep-deprived night caused by the swells, we also learned how to make a “swell bridle”, courtesy of Bruce Van Sant’s Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South. The idea is to tie a line from your anchor rode to your stern, thus forcing your boat to point into the swells instead of into the wind (much preferred since the wind-driven waves were negligible). The bridle worked wonders, and we expect to make use of it as we go further south into the Caribbean.

Saturday morning we all woke up for the 6:30am Chris Parker SSB broadcast, assuming we’d get one more forecast under our belts before making the 20-mile trip to Rum Cay. Rum Cay is described as one of the most beautiful islands in the entire Bahamas chain, and we were really excited to go. We knew we probably wouldn’t have time to SCUBA like we initially intended (damn dinghy outboard!), but at least we’d get to see the island. From there, we figured we’d make a few day-hops to Clarence Town, Little Harbour, Landrail Point, Attwood Harbour, Mayaguana, and finally the Turks and Caicos before jumping to our final destination of Luperon in the Dominican Republic. A nice, leisurely trip, right? Not so fast… Pa’La O’La spoke to Chris to get an extended forecast for our southbound jaunt, and the weather guru told us that we needed to get to Luperon by Tuesday or risk not having another weather window open up for at least a couple of weeks. WHAT?!? Damn you, Chris Parker! Okay, not really. Obviously it wasn’t Chris’s fault that Mother Nature was throwing us a curve ball. And we DID have the option of hanging out in the Bahamas for the foreseeable future and hoping that maybe Chris was wrong. Unfortunately, Chris tends to be right more often than not – which explains why so many cruisers have relied on his weather advice for years. So where did that leave us? After a 20-minute VHF conference between the three boats (one punctuated by shell-shocked silence as much as actual conversation), we agreed to make a mad dash to Luperon. No Rum Cay, no leisurely pace down to the Turks & Caicos. Fast and furious, baby! By leaving Saturday morning and going non-stop to Mayaguana, we figured to cover the 120-ish miles in about 24 hours. Giving ourselves a few hours to sleep, we’d then leave Sunday evening for the 50+ mile trip to the Turks and Caicos Bank, arriving just after sunrise so as not to traverse the shallow, coral head-dotted bank in the dark. We’d continue across the bank, trying to reach to Big Sand Cay – 60 miles away in the south-eastern T&C – by nightfall. Big Sand Cay is the usual jumping-off point to Luperon, 80 miles further south. The hitch? Mr. Van Sant, the Bahamas-to-DR cruising guru, recommends making the passage at night and arriving in Luperon just after sunrise to avoid the strong trade winds (and accompanying big waves) that increase throughout the day. So unless we made phenomenal speed across the T&C Bank, we could forget about stopping for a few ZZZZ’s at Big Sand Cay. Bottom line, with the exception of a cat nap in Mayaguana, we’d be making a nonstop run from Conception to Luperon. Whoopee!

So…how did things REALLY turn out? As usual, not quite according to plan. One of our buddy boats heard a knocking noise coming from the engine as we passed Rum Cay, making us wonder if we’d end the big jump before we’d even begun. After some troubleshooting, the engine seemed to be okay, but everyone agreed that running it too hard all the way to Luperon wasn’t a good idea. We ended up making less boat speed than anticipated (Van Sant always recommends adding a 20% padding to any schedule; smart guy!), and started talking about our options. Given the unusually calm sea state, we agreed to try to get as far south as possible. Still, doing 4-4.5 knots meant it took over 32 hours to get to Mayaguana, and close to 48 hours of non-stop motor-sailing (including a few hours of perfect 6-knot REAL sailing) to reach Provo in the T&C. By the time we reached Mayaguana, we were seriously looking for the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. The real question: would we keep going for another 48 hours (or more) to reach Luperon, or would we stop in Provo and explore the Turks and Caicos until another weather window opened up? The boats were split in their preferences. Storyville was anxious to reach the DR while we still had good weather, while Pa’La O’La wanted to stick with Van Sant’s recommendation to reach Luperon by 8am BEFORE the trade winds picked up. (A good choice; another friend of ours recently made this same trip and said he got himself into trouble every time he didn’t follow Van Sant’s tried and true advice.) There was no way we could reach Luperon before mid-afternoon on Tuesday (day #4) at our current pace, so Barbara and Gary decided they would drop the hook and wait for another window once we reached Provo. And us? We were willing to go all the way to Luperon if the weather and group consensus said so, but we weren’t sure we’d make it before our lack of sleep started resulting in poor judgment calls and Veracruz-like hallucinations. Besides, looking at all the dive sites flagged on the T&C chart really got our mouths watering. We needed a dive fix!

We finally told the others that we were taking a break once we got to Provo. Two boats down, one to go… Troy and Deana held out on the Luperon plan for a few more hours, but finally decided to join the party and see what the Turks and Caicos had to offer. We arrived at Sandbore Channel soon after sunrise and worked our way through the coral heads to Sapodilla Bay. Customs, Immigration, and a nap are all on the agenda – not necessarily in that order. And who knows? As the T&C are a British Crown Colony, maybe we’ll even find a good pub along the way. Cheers!


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