Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Turks & Caicos

Tuesday, May 17 – Friday, May 27, 2011

Author’s note: You may have noticed that our blog updates have been fewer and farther between, thanks to a recent lack of good internet connections. We’re running a good two weeks behind these days (e.g it’s nearly June 1st as I finish up the May 17th blog) as we scramble to get from the Bahamas to Luperon. Once settled in the DR, we hope to find more regular internet service…and become more regular in our blogging!

First of all, a very “Happy Birthday” to Stacy’s mom!

After arriving in Sapodilla Bay soon after sunrise, we managed to stay awake long enough to clear in at customs, walk up to a neighborhood market, and spend some time swimming in the bay. Cruiser karma worked yet again, as we met a terrific family renting one of the homes on the beach. Frank, Angela, and their kids and their partners, Kara, Dave, AJ, Ryan, Brianna, and Bret, were staying in a nearby house for a few days. They graciously invited us up to the house for a tour and drinks the afternoon that we arrived, and welcomed us again for dinner the following night. Frank had filled up a cooler full of meats, and we were completely spoiled by Kobe beef, grilled chicken, sausages, pork loin, burgers, and plenty of trimmings. We had a great time hearing all about AJ and Ryan's upcoming wedding, Kara and Dave's travels, and Brianna's study program in the Middle East. We were truly enchanted by such a warm, close-knit family, and hope we get to see them again someday!

Call us crazy, but the Turks and Caicos has us feeling a little unbalanced. It’s been a “bi-polar” few days for us, with some serious highs and lows. We started on a high, just happy to be here and not moving after our 48-hour trip from Conception. Our excitement was soon dashed when a birthday call to Stacy’s mom revealed that Grandpa had been badly burned in a kitchen accident and was going in for surgery (think ‘excised skin and skin grafts’). He’d finally been admitted into the top trauma/burn hospital in Seattle, and we knew he was surrounded by good people. Still, it was awful waiting for news and hoping he’d come through the surgery alright. He has a few more weeks of recovery ahead of him, but we’re so thankful that he’s in good hands with a terrific team of doctors…and family members!

Once we felt better about Grandpa’s status, we said a temporary goodbye to Storyville and Pa’La O’La and headed to West Caicos for some SCUBA diving. West Caicos is an uninhabited island 10 miles from Provo, and is famous for its wall that lies just a few hundred yards offshore. There are moorings installed at each site that are primarily for commercial dive operators, but cruising boats can use them for diving and even overnight mooring when they’re not being used by the locals. Between our SCUBA guide book and a local website, we found 13 potential dive sites along the five miles of coastline. A cruise down the western shore found only seven actual moorings, but we figured it would be plenty for a few days in the area. We overnighted at “Brandywine”, and made our first dive of the season Monday morning. Woo hoo! Stacy hung off the ladder while Rene got geared up, and was amazed by the fish life right under the boat: jacks, tuna, barracuda, and even a shark in the distance. And that was before we even got down to the reef! We planned to take it slowly since this was our first dive in over a year. Fortunately, diving is a lot like riding a bike – it all comes back to you fairly quickly. We soon found ourselves in sand at a depth of 50 feet, and spent the next half-hour over the reef in 60-70 feet. There were the usual suspects: angel fish, wrasse, cow fish, blue tangs, trumpets, and even the dreaded lion fish. We even had TWO reef sharks pass us a few times as they patrolled their kingdom. Scary? Yes. Gorgeous in their own way? You bet! We had a real treat on the way back to the boat, when a loggerhead turtle came up right next to us. It let us follow it as it looked for nibbles, and we were in such awe that we didn’t spot the monster barracuda until it was right on top of us. It’s hard to judge the size of something when it’s inches away from your face, but we’re pretty sure it was a 5+ footer. All we know is that its head was massive! We moved a half-mile down the shore to “White Face” for an afternoon dive, only to discover that our other two tanks had leaked since the last time we filled them. The result? About 60% full in one tank, and only 20% full in the other. Damn! Rather than spend another hour filling the tanks, we decided to have a short dive using the fullest tanks we had: one-third and two-thirds full. We saw huge angel fish, more groupers, file fish, tux fish, etc., and hated having to turn back after 20 minutes thanks to our air situation. We were so preoccupied with our air levels that we didn’t do a very good job navigating…meaning we wasted a few minutes trying to find the boat. We finally managed to get back, just in time for a late-afternoon rainstorm that lasted, on and off, for four hours. Enough of opening and closing hatches already!

Rene refilled the tanks the next morning, and we motored the quarter-mile to “Driveway”. “Driveway” is supposed to be one of the most popular sites in the area, so we waited until the commercial guys had all selected other moorings before grabbing it for ourselves. What a beautiful dive! We saw a tuna following a reef shark as we made our descent, and were soon following the reef at the top of the wall in 50-60 feet of water. We saw tons of electric blue creole wrasse, … (get fish guide). The highlights of the trip were a green moray eel that came partially out of its hole in the coral to watch us, followed by a tiny black and white juvenile drum fish. Rene would likely add our very curious companion, a six-foot reef shark, to the list of highlights. Stacy, not so much. The damn thing followed us the entire trip back to the boat, disappearing into the murk for a couple of minutes at a time before coming back to get in our faces. Rene managed to stay between it and Stacy the entire time (thanks, honey!), but Stace was scared…uhh, “poop-less”. Seriously, it was within three feet of Rene more than once! (Author’s note: Rene swears it never acted “twitchy”, or aggressive, but I’m not entirely convinced.) After 15-20 minutes of being followed by the dang thing, Stacy was more than ready to get back to the boat. We finally got aboard without incident and moved to “The Gully” after lunch for an afternoon dive. Stacy got into the water at the swim ladder and made a cursory glance around to see what was down there with her. Bad move! An 8-foot lemon shark was patrolling the area along the shore bottom, and it began heading towards the boat a few seconds later. Stacy got out and had Rene check on the shark; it had begun patrolling the bottom again. Stacy got back in, and the shark immediately made a bee-line for the boat. That was enough to put Stace in a panic, and she vetoed the dive. (Our good capitan was NOT pleased, but I just couldn’t do it!) Guess it was time to go back to Sapodilla Bay…

We’d also been keeping in touch with Pa’La O’La (and Storyville, by extension) via SSB radio. Each morning, Barbara and Stacy would talk to each other to catch up and talk about the latest plans for crossing. We agreed to move to South Caicos on Thursday to meet up with the others, and had heard that Saturday would offer a good weather window for the 23-mile crossing of the Columbus Passage (aka Turks and Caicos Passage) to Big Sand Cay. Big Sand Cay is 78 miles from Luperon, and is a much-used staging area for boats heading to the DR. You know what they say about “best laid plans”? Chris Parker’s forecast threw yet another monkey wrench into the works when he warned of 40-50kt squalls that threatened the area through Saturday and Sunday, followed by even more crummy weather the following week. Storyville decided to get out while they had a chance, and left Thursday morning for a nonstop jump to Luperon. Pa’La O’La decided to wait out the weather in South Caicos, and we debated leaving ourselves Friday morning vs. making some side trips with them until we all got another window. We got up at 6:30 Friday morning to listen to Chris Parker, who then managed to scare the bejesus out of us; heavy storms were coming our way starting Saturday night or Sunday, and there was a one in twenty chance that a tropical low would form south of Jamaica the following Wednesday. Bottom line, either leave for Luperon TODAY, or sit out some really crappy weather on the unprotected Turks & Caicos banks. (Did we mention that the crappy weather might prevent a Luperon jump for another 2-3 weeks?) Talk about a no-brainer! We headed into town with Barbara and Gary to check out at the immigration office, and made it back to the boat by 10am. After spending 45 minutes prepping the boat for the 20-hour trip to Luperon, we headed out of Cockburn Harbour and into the Columbus Passage. We saw a few storm clouds shortly after leaving the harbor, but managed to miss out on all but the tail end of a sprinkle. The waves flattened out after the first few hours in the Columbus Passage, and we had a relatively easy motor-sail (and even some real motor-off sailing) until well after sunset. The winds picked up in the wee hours of the morning courtesy of some major storm cells off to port, and we began to see 15-20kts, gusting to 25, by 3am. Stacy had to rouse Rene out of his sleep shift to help roll in the jib, and we spent the next hour trying – successfully, thank god! – to outrun the cells. Fifteen miles out, we began to smell the Dominican Republic – earthy, smoky scents on the winds – and we knew we were almost there.

We plan to stay in Luperon for the next five months, depending on how hurricane season goes. Once we get settled, we’ll try to find more regular internet service so we can update the blog more frequently. We have a feeling the DR will be quite an adventure. Til then!

Pictures: https://picasaweb.google.com/Rene.Foree/2011TurksCaicos?feat=directlink

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