Back to Turks and Caicos for a Short Cruise

Natalia and I landed in Providenciales on Friday April 9 after an uneventful journey that started, early that day, in Washington DC. We had checked-in a heavy-duty bag with the drone and electronics, and a new dinghy.  Yes, a new dinghy, a 9 ft Newport with hard floors.  At the end, the old couldn’t be repaired and we had to have one for our short cruise. Both the drone and the dinghy arrived safely. After retrieving them we went through migration and customs with no problem and then walked to the parking lot to get our rental car and drive to South Side marina. Simple in comparison to Georgetown-Bahamas.

Antares was waiting in her slip, all dressed-up, with her teak recently varnished and her top sides clean and shiny (the damage caused by the anchor had been repaired). Here again, what a difference meeting her at this marina instead of the boat yard in Georgetown. The only, visible, problem was the dodger.  Richard’s repairs hadn’t hold.

We did some cleaning and unpacked. By 5 pm we were sitting at Bob’s bar enjoying the views, Natalia with a glass of white wine and myself with a glass of Gordons gin to which Julian added a splash of tonic. I recognized and introduced Natalia to a few people (regulars) I had met during my last visit.  Bob, of course, was there.  We also met a couple from Canada who has been cruising in the Caribbean for the last 12 years. They planted in me the idea of heading south-east to Grenada instead of Jamaica, which was supposed to be my next destination. We ordered two more drinks and then drove to Mango Reef for dinner. Bob recommended he place and we thank him. I recommend the place as well. Nice ambiance, excellent service, good food, and an eclectic list of wines.

During the next two days we provisioned and prepared the boat for our cruise. Shopping in Providenciales is very different from shopping in the Exumas.  As the Canadian couple told us the previous day, “the problem here is that there are too many choices.” Saturday morning Natalia had made an inventory of the provisions left in Antares that had not expired. Other than some pasta, rice, coffee, and spices, there was not much. Plus, some mice seem to have visited Antares and feasted on cookies and dry beef. So, at the supermarket we got enough food for one week, including vegetables and fruit, and some cleaning supplies. We also found a good cellar/liquor store where we bought champagne, wine, gin, brandy, and vodka!  As for the boat, there was not much to do.  The big project was unpacking the dinghy, installing the floors and inflating. The tender ended up been shorter and fatter than the old one and we named it Harper, like one of our dogs. To test it we went to a beach near-by and we were quite pleased with its performance. It has plenty of room for 4 people and the inflatable “keel” makes for a smooth ride. Other, small, jobs included: checking the engine and fluids, running the outboard, testing the generator, installing the wheel and wind-vane, installing the sat-phone and checking the electronic charts. Bottom line, we didn’t work very hard. We had plenty of time to relax, read, nap, enjoy Bob’s bar, and socialize.  We met other sailors who were staying at the marina for a couple of days.  A couple from France, a couple from Washington state, and a long-term live-aboard who was a sort of mentor/advisor to the Washington couple. They all came over to Antares for drinks on Saturday night.  And drinks we had, probably too many as we discovered the next day.

On Monday we left at high tide. It was mid afternoon so we anchored not far from the entrance to the marina; the same spot were I had anchored with Richard back in December.  The french couple in their red, steel, boat joined us one hour later. They swam to Antares bringing a bottle of white wine that they asked we put on the fridge.  They were supposed to come for dinner later that night but it didn’t happen.  Family affairs. Instead, soon after sunset, Natalia spotted their dingy drifting away towards the beach. We quickly grabbed our head lamps and boarded Harper. We motored towards the dingy, captured the fugitive, and brought it back to its owners. Antoine was there at the stern of his boat wondering how it had happened, how was the dingy able to scape? Back in Antares we cooked dinner for just the two of us while zipping red wine. We ate in the cockpit under planets, black holes and stars. After a movie about a world controlled by vampires who are running out of human blood and need to invent a substitute (at least for the masses who can’t afford the real thing), we went to bed.

I got up first and prepared coffee. It is one of the great pleasures of life in a boat. Preparing and drinking coffee in the morning.  I use a french press made out of stainless steel.  Three, full, big spoons of coffee for 4 cups of water.  I give sufficient time to the molecules of hot water to interact with the particles of grinned coffee beans before I push the plunger.  I then fill with coffee 1/3 of my orange, also stainless steal, travel mug and add 2% milk.  It takes me one hour to drink the content while reading the press, reading and writing e-mails, and/or downloading and studying weather-files.  Natalia doesn’t always have coffee, sometimes, like that day, she prefers tea.  We were in no rush to leave so we took our time getting ready.  It must have been 10:30 when I finally retrieved the anchor and motored south west, with Natalia at the helm, past the coral heads lying to the east side of Bay Cay.  There we turned upwind, hoisted the main sail with one reef, unrolled the genoa with another, set course towards French Cay (180 degrees magnetic), and engaged Constancia the wind-vane.  We were closed hauled on a port tack with the wind blowing from the South East at 15-20 Knots. I was lazy and, instead of hoisting Harper on board and stowing it under the boom as I always do, I decided to tow it. This was a mistake. We lost at least a couple of knots of speed.  Then again, we were not in a hurry so we just didn’t think about it.  Antares was handling the small waves with grace, the shadows of her sails disturbing the, irreplicable, emerald color of the shallow waters, bringing the tonalities that emerge when clouds filter the sun light and the sea bed projects its coral heads. I lied down.  I read.  I checked the course. I sat down in the cockpit without saying much.  I wondered. It was 1:30 when we saw land and 2:30 when we dropped the anchor in 7 feet of water. We were close to a catamaran that we had seen approach the cay from the west.  It was the only boat out there until the french couple arrived a couple of hours later.

French cay is flat and very small with a surface of only 9 hectares.  Once the center of operations for buccaneer Francoise L’Olonnois, it is now a natural reserve.  The cay is inhabited by birds. You can see brown noddies, terns and gulls by the hundreds.  We didn’t dare to invade their land and stayed at the beach; white sand, shells and fossils, an old wooden boat in eternal rest.  We walked, snorkeled for a bit, and then at sunset headed back to the boat for drinks and dinner.  This time the French couple joined us.  I grilled the last of our two Branzinos. Exquisite. We talked for a while about their journey. They bought the boat planning to go in a long sailing trip (love at first site), he worked on her for 6 months non-stop, she had a regular job and was generating income, eventually she quit (she wasn’t happy with her job anyways), and they left France in October 2017.  They crossed the Atlantic, arrived to Bahamas, eventually made it to Cuba, and now they were on their way to San Martin.  From there the plan is to sail back to France. I could sense that the initial excitement about the adventure was starting to fade, at least within her. Life on a boat is not easy, particularly when you are on a budget.  In their case, a series of events had lead them to lose their outboard (they had to row), and they were cruising with no fridge and with a limited number of electronics (no VHF, no e-mail). She was not happy about it. She also anxious about her career.  After finishing the bottle of wine they had brought the previous night, we opened a couple more.  We had a late night again.  In fact, they stayed over but when we woke up they were gone.

The next two days Antares stayed at anchor and we switched to rest mode. Not having phone signal helped.  Hours went by reading, snorkeling, napping, sunbathing, preparing food and eating, having drinks at sunset, and then watching before going to bed. One night we finally opened the fois gras and the duck cassoulet that I had brought with me for the passage from Bahamas to Turks and Caicos.  We ate it with potatoes fried in the fat of the duck. Not very healthy but very tasty.  The anchorage was a bit rolly so we slept in the main cabin, in the double bunk, instead of the V berth.

Wednesday I flew the drone over the cay and got some great footage; the Atlantic to the south the banks to the north. Birds flying undisturbed by the foreign object that was filming them, others hatching their eggs, waiting for food.  Antares at anchor along side a new boat that had come. The sun falling in the west. Unfortunately, on Thursday, in the second take-off from Antares’ bow, the drone landed in the water.  It all happened in seconds. All my fault, my lack of experience. The drone touched the life line, lost control, fell and then sank. I grabbed my snorkeling mask and jumped to the rescue.  I found the drone resting at the bottom, as if ready to take-off.  I brought it back to the surface and handed it to Natalia who started drying it, but it was too late. Not only the drone was gone but also the footage.   I hadn’t downloaded the videos/pictures from the previous day and the sim card was fried. I new that the right way to launch a drone from a boat is to hold it in your hands outside the rigging and then send the take-off command.  Not sure why I didn’t do it that way.  The poor drone had a short life, a good portion of which was spent in captivity in Georgetown.  A sad story.

Friday we sailed back to the main island in starboard tack with the wind just aft of the beam at 15-20 Kt.  With Harper on board we were doing 7-8 Knots. It took us only two hours to reach the anchorage outside the marina. We spent the afternoon reading. There were no other boats. Bob was checking on us from his bar.  Soon the night was upon us; our last night at anchor. The wind had picked up, often blowing in the mid 20s, so it was a noisy, not very comfortable, night. The next day we entered the marina early in the morning with the high tide.  We spent the day cleaning, packing, and preparing Antares for another period of solitude. The last day is always sad. To compensate we had dinner at Magnolia, an Italian restaurant at the top of a hill overlooking the Atlantic. Also recommended, for special occasions.

And that was it.  Sunday, we left the marina at 6am.


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