By admin ~ June 30th, 2011. Filed under: Destinations.
Cruisers venturing off the beaten path will be rewarded with
uncrowded vistas, abundant fishing and diving adventures.By Sara Lewis
Cruising frontiers are ever expanding as favorite anchorages become more crowded and seekers of solitude sail on to more distant shores. If you’ve cruised the Bahamas for the last few years, you have seen the pattern of gathering spots changing as cruising yachtsmen with greater navigational skills and self-sufficiency have plotted routes taking them past the traditional hubs to less-frequented destinations.
Beyond the Bahamas’ horizon to the southeast, the Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI) long have been a rest and replenishment stop for vessels moving back and forth to the Caribbean. Now, more than ever, this island group with its tropical climate and aquamarine waters is enticing yachtsmen as a cruising destination, a place to linger rather than just making a brief pit stop.
If you look at a chart, you will see that the TCI are just a geographical extension of the Bahamas archipelago of coral islands dropped on a shallow turquoise bank and surrounded by indigo ocean. Politically, the islands were part of the Bahamas colony until the Great Bahamas Hurricane of 1874 wreaked havoc on them, and they became dependencies of the British Crown Colony of Jamaica. In 1962, the TCI became a British Crown Colony in their own right.
If you are considering venturing forth from the Bahamas to find a new cruising frontier in the TCI, first, do the math. It can be a long and thorny path and you may find you don’t have the time or desire to cruise that far. On the other hand, the jump from Abraham’s Bay, Mayaguana, at the southeastern edge of the Bahamas chain to either West Caicos or Providenciales’ Northwest Point is less than 50 nautical miles—just a day hop for many vessels.
That said, what lies beyond these TCI entry points in the way of anchorages, marinas, provisions, services, and facilities? A variety of choices, as you will see.
Let’s take the easier access route first—the Sandbore Channel at West Caicos, which will bring you into the Caicos Bank, an area of shallows bordered on the north and east by the Caicos Islands and on the south by a loose series of reefs that drop instantly into ocean depths. The route from the Sandbore Channel is straightforward to Sapodilla Bay on the south side of the island of Providenciales (called “Provo” for short). Although Sapodilla Bay is open to the west and south, it does provide minimal protection from the shallow sand of the Caicos Bank. This is a good place to drop anchor while you take a short hike to clear Customs at the government’s South Dock and get oriented to the area.
There are two choices for marinas on Provo’s bank-side. South Side Marina is a focal point for many cruisers. The friendly marina staff provides a daily cruisers’ net with a weather report and gives courtesy rides to the grocery store. Caicos Marina and Shipyard, farther east, offers full marine services and repairs as well as haul-out, plus a chandlery and small restaurant. Both marinas provide fuel, ice, laundry, WiFi internet access, courier service, and a dinghy landing. Their staffs also can arrange car rentals.
Since the island makes a long stretch from east to west, services and facilities are quite spread out along the 14 miles of the Leeward Highway, the main artery. It’s necessary to have a car to get to many of the island’s attractions or to get anything done. (Keep in mind that the locals drive on the left, Bahamas-style.)
Now, let’s backtrack in case you prefer to jump off from Mayaguana to Northwest Point and connect to the north shore of Provo. (The weather may help you make this choice.) The island itself is bounded on the north by an almost continuous reef, which creates the beautiful Bight and Grace Bay. There are three main cuts through which you can enter, but your choices inside are rather limited. Currently, the Leeward Marina on the east side of Leeward Going Through is closed. Sellars Cut will lead you to the buoyed, circuitous route into Turtle Cove Marina. You can clear Customs from Turtle Cove, which has a great location and full onsite amenities, including fuel, mechanical assistance, restaurant, hotel and dive facility, but its docks are in need of a bit of a facelift.
In settled weather, with good water-reading conditions, you can explore the beautiful waters of the reef-sheltered Bight, but it is not recommended for an overnight anchorage as there is a constant surge from the nearby ocean and breaking waves in any kind of northerly.
The proximity of the ocean and the gamefish that haunt its depths make Provo a favorite destination for long-range anglers. For those who don’t have time to make the voyage, there is a fleet of sportfishing boats on the island that are available for charter. Each year, the Caicos Classic Annual Release Tournament draws an international crowd. The 2011 edition is scheduled for July 8-13 (for more information, visit caicosclassic.com).
The TCI are also a diving hotspot with one of the most extensive coral reef systems in the world, as well as dramatic wall drop-offs. Large areas offshore have been set aside as national parks, and there are a number of operators who provide guided dives.
You may be so captivated by the beauty of the Turks & Caicos’ sparkling, clear water and the exquisite hues of blue that you want to bring family and friends to join you there. The soon-to-be-expanded jetport serves numerous airlines with frequent flights in and out. There are many hotels and resorts, particularly on Grace Bay; some all-inclusive and others very exclusive.
During your cruise to the area, time permitting, you won’t want to miss the other islands of the Caicos group and also, in settled weather, take a cruise over to Grand Turk, capital of the TCI, with its distinctive lighthouse, as well as the rest of the Turks group to the east. There is much to see and do in this country that lives up to its motto: “Beautiful by Nature, Clean by Choice.”