Things That Go Bump in the Night

In preparing for our trip to the Turks and Caicos, Betty and I read everything we could get our hands on – Passages South The Thornless Path to Windward by Bruce Van Sant (the bible for weather and cruising directions from the U.S. through the Bahamas to the Caribbean),  A Cruising Guide to: The Southern Bahamas (which includes the Turks and Caicos) by Stephen Pavlidis and Waterway Guide’s Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.  

Bruce Van Sant explains that with the trade winds being out of the east and south east, if you catch the back end of a front clocking around, you can ride it south east without bashing into the waves and trade winds.  So, that was our plan.

We subscribe to a weather forecaster, Chris Parker, while we are in The Bahamas and when we travel offshore in the spring and fall.  For an extra $55, Chris has a special personal service – we give him type of vessel, when and where we would like to go and he gives us vessel-specific weather forecast and routing advice for waypoints every 12 hours of our route.   Betty also downloaded our waypoints in Buoyweather and printed off their forecast.  In addition, our friend, Gregg, was watching the weather for us and gave us the thumbs up.

George Town is know as “Chicken Harbor”.  Many who were bound for the Caribbean found their first passage after George Town rather unpleasant and returned to venture no farther southeast.  Weather and timing make all the difference.  Once past George Town, except for the occasional settlement, you are in the Bahamian boondocks and on your own.

With the weather in our favorite, we headed out of George Town on Tuesday afternoon, to cross to the north end of Long Island.  We anchored in Calabash Bay to wait for the wind to start clocking around.  At 2 am, it clocked from the SE to the SW.  By 4 am, I woke Betty and we pulled anchor, leaving Calabash Bay an hour ahead of our schedule.   In the dark, we headed around Cape Santa Maria, the north end of Long Island.

When we travel offshore, we have our ocean PFD’s with strobe light and whistle attached, laying on the floor by the helm seat.  The ditch bag is out and readily available.  Betty has a life raft on the boat deck at the ready.  We also have the dingy ready in case with need it – the battery is on, keys in the ignition and the three cable tie-downs have quick release pulls attached.  All of the fenders (bumpers) have been braided to the boat deck railing, so in case of a man overboard, we can yank on the end of the line and they will come free to be thrown overboard.  Lamps are put down on the floor, picture frames laid face down, dish cabinet doors locked down and dishtowels stuffed among all the pots and pans to keep them from rattling.  We collect koozies from everywhere we travel and place all drinking glasses and glass bottles in them to keep from rattling into each other.  We had everything cleaned up nice and neat.

We had two friends, Mike Warren and Larry Polster, who knew our schedule – route, waypoints and time expected at each waypoint.  When we reached each waypoint, we set off SPOT to send a email message of GPS location and that we were OK.  If they did not receive SPOT in a timely manner, they were to call out the troops.  In this part of the world, not quite sure who would come…

To get to the Turks and Caicos, we had three deep water passages to cross, similar to the Gulf Stream.  First was the Crooked Island Passage, then Mayaguana Passage, and finally the Caicos Passage.  At our first waypoint, Booby Rock, off of Clarencetown, Long Island, we were 40 minutes early.

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Then we headed across the Crooked Island Passage.  The 2-4′ seas were on our beam, but the stabilizers were doing their job and our ride was pretty good.  As we came up to Crooked Island, Bird Rock Lighthouse was off in the distance.  The lighthouse was built in 1876, out of Crooked Island stone.  When it was electrified, the 19th century machinery and museum-quality Fresnel lenses were destroyed.  The Bahamas Defence Force tried to get Bird Rock Light working, but despite success in the beginning, it failed.  Having survived over a century, the lighthouse is deteriorating and no longer works.

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At 7:21 pm, we made our second waypoint 69 minutes early, NE Aklins Island.  As dusk turned into night, we headed across the Mayaguana Passage.  At each turn, we expected the winds and waves to be on our port stern quarter, but they seemed to clock with us, continuing to stay on our beam.  The wind and waves picked up and LILI’s stabilizers worked all the harder to keep us from rolling.

During the night, Betty and I take three hour watches.  While one is at the helm, the other is trying to get some sleep.  During the night, the radio was quiet, no one was chattering.  We did pass a total of five freighters, but none closer than five miles off.

At 1:35 am we made our third waypoint, 85 minutes early to Devil’s Point Mayaguana.  For a bit we had some relief from the wind/waves as we went around the bottom of Mayaguana, but as we started across the Mayaguana Passage, the wind increased, 25-30 knots and waves were 5-7 footers every seven seconds, still on our beam.  Now it seemed like LILI’s stabilizers were screaming, as they tried to keep us from rolling!   We could hear bumps during the night of stuff moving around in the saloon with all the rolling from side to side, but nothing major.  Just before dawn, there was a crash and glass braking – a vase had tumbled over and hit the floor.  That was the first thing broken in all of LILI’s offshore travels.  Once the sun came up, a look down below from the pilothouse showed a bit of a different picture, Betty’s normally immaculate saloon was a mess!

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Our last waypoint was Sandbore Channel, as we came onto the Caicos Bank.  We arrived at 9:50 am on Thursday, April 10th, ten minutes early.  Every boat in Turks and Caicos waters is required to call into Provo Radio, while they track their course on radar.  As we came onto the bank, we radioed in on channel 74.  A friendly voice welcomed us to the Turks and Caicos, as they took down all our information.  From there we made our way to the marina, arriving just outside at noon.  It was low tide and too shallow for LILI’s 5′ draft to make it in the channel, so we dropped the anchor to wait.  It gave us time to get the boat straightened up and put back together.  We each got a shower and a well deserved nap.  Anchor came up at 4:30 pm and by 6 pm, we were tied up at South Side Marina in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos and had cleared Customs and Immigration.  We had made it!!!

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