Turks & Caicos to Puerto Rico

Turks&Caicos To Puerto Rico

To Turks & Caicos



By 5 we at our anchorage, sort of in the Lee of Jamaica Well Point near the Southern tip of Aklins Island. When I backed up on the anchor (engine astern at 2500rpm to ensure the anchor sets well into the bottom) we moved a way before it held. I wasn't happy and our swim over the anchor in 3.8m of water showed why, the anchor was barely buried. When I dived down I found only a thin layer of sand over rock. We must relocate. About 200m further out from shore we anchored again. This time we pulled up on the anchor much better but the swim and check showed only a little more sand. There was no wind forecast and we had almost 50m of chain out so decided it should be OK. It is always lovely to have a swim, sundowners and dinner in a deserted anchorage.




Next days forecast was for 10 to 13kn winds from the East, we will be right into it, and so it was. We sailed the first couple of hours South then by 10am we were rounding Castle Island and straight into short sharp seas caused by current with us and wind against. Within half an hour we were out of the current's effects and settling into the 120nm trip to Caicos Island with Ednbal banging into the head on sea. Most of the time we were only making 4.5kn. Never the less out went the fishing line again and before long Sasha was hauling in another big Mahi Mahi. She got it to the transom but I was not too well organised and before I could get it on board the line snapped at the trace swivel and we lost fish along with lure. Dam! Well never give up, on with another lure and out again. A few hours later another Mahi Mahi. This time flung into the cockpit. Maybe not such a good idea as the fish through itself all over the cockpit floor splashing blood absolutely everywhere. What a mess but nothing a few buckets of salt water and a bit of a scrub didn't fix. By the time I separated fillets, head and the frame or skeleton we had enough fish for 12 meals for the both of us! The poor old freezer had a hard time with all that stacked in. Through the fairly uneventful night we took turns in sleeping and by day break could just make out West Caicos Island. After swinging past the Southern tip we turned North to sail the last 10 miles over the 4m deep bank to our anchorage Saphadilla Bay and the South Dock point of entry where we could clear customs, catching a mutton snapper on the way. We decided to stay on board and go ashore to clear customs in the morning. It was a beautiful evening, Pina Colada sundowners and Mahi Mahi fish frames on the barbie.




Caicos customs was in the small shipping terminal at South Dock. The Turks and Caicos Islands are a British Territory so I used my UK passport, not that I think it made any difference. The fee, just 20 US dollars. Small problem, we had Bahamian dollars and Euros, no good I am afraid so off to “downtown” to find a bank. It was about 5 miles to down town and no public transport so hitch hike again - no problem. At the first bank we came to we joined the cue, only 22 people in front with 3 tellers serving. Eventually we got to talk to someone, change Bahamian dollars, no way. Oh great. Ah well take some USD out of the ATM. Uh uh, error came up on the screen “unable to communicate”. I guessed Australia was just too far away. About half a mile up the road was another bank, another equally long cue and again the response, will not change Bahamian dollars. This time I was not so easily put off and spoke to the supervisor saying I had taken the money out of the same bank in the Bahamas and surely they should exchange. She asked how much I had, only $120. Off she went and returned with USD120, end of story. The ATM also worked so by the time we left we were all cashed up! By the time we had looked around for a grocery store, without any luck, and  hitched a ride back and paid our $20 debt the day was about shot.




We needed fuel, gas (propane) and groceries so decided on Wednesday to relocate to a small marina, the Caicos Marine and Shipyard a further 7 miles East. Here also was Caribbean Marine and Diesel, the local agents of our Northern Lights generator, who could take a look at the oil leak. It was blowing 20kn Easterly again so it took a couple of hours bashing into the chop while dodging coral bombies. I radioed ahead, they could tie us up alongside the police boat and once the police boat left we could bet fuel - should do the trick. Caicos Marine Shipyard turned out to be a wharf about 150m long with boats tied alongside with only a couple of pens (slips). Once the police boat left we got fuel and decided to hire a car for the day to ensure we got the rest of our supplies. We found the Island, about 21 miles by 7 miles to be almost one big construction site. Buildings, especially luxury condos and resorts going up everywhere. Unlike the Bahamas, projects were being completed and the feel was quite a lot more cosmopolitan but still very much Island living and Island time. The main road down the length of the island, Leeward Highway is a two lane, double white line road, the likes of which we has not seen since Florida. There was Club Med, Meridian and many other resort chains operating.  The weather was looking promising for us to continue our trip the next day but by the time we had everything done it was midday Thursday, to late to attempt to cross the 40nm  Caicos Bank to the South East. It must be done in daylight to see the coral bombies in the mostly 2.5 to 4m deep water. Lucky we were late. That night we had real squall that started with a rude wet (the hatch was open above the bed) awakening at 3am. Thunder, lightening, wind gusts of at least 40kn from varying directions, one minute East, the next North West and torrential rain through to about 7.30. Locals told us it was an unusually violent storm, much better to be tied up in a protected marina than to be out in the ocean!




The plan for the next leg was to sail from Caicos straight to Puerto Rico and San Juan about 400nm roughly south East, 3 to 4 days at sea depending on weather. The fall back was to cut more to the South the Dominican Republic and the port of Luperon only about 160nm. From Luperon we could make day sails along the northern coast of the Dominican Republic (commonly known as DR) and cross the Mona Passage to Puerto Rico. We were not fussed about seeing the DR as we could do so next season when we planned to spend more time in the Caribbean. The added incentive was that friends made in Manjack Cay, Gigi and Lulu, were in San Juan and we wanted to catch up with them again.




To Puerto Rico


It was an early start Friday, up at 5 to get everything finally packed and prepared for 4 days at sea and pulling away from the dock at 7am. By this time it was just light enough to see the coral bombies as we headed out of the Caicos Marina channel for the first part of the trip, 40 miles across the Caicos bank, initially in depths of only 2 to 4m. We had heard that you couldn't even use autopilot as you needed to be at the wheel all the time to dodge bombies. Thankfully we did not find it so bad at all, the last trip down the Bight of Aklins had been far more demanding. Of course it helped that we had left on the rising and near high, tide. Our navigator's course took us about South East (130 degrees)  to exit the bank North of Ambigris Cay and out into the ocean to the next way point another 30 odd miles just South of Big Sandy Cay, part of the Turks Island group. The forecast was for Southerly winds 10 to 15kn swinging West then North over the next couple of days, just perfect for us as our rhumb line would be pretty constantly 130 degrees give or take a couple to dodge an Island and some shallow banks. As with most things that sound to good to be true, they usually aren't. Instead of swing West the wind swung more East to, by the time we had crossed the bank, motor sailing, to South East and dropped to just a few knots. We decided to stop for the night in the Big Sandy Cay anchorage and see what the next day gave. By 6:30 we were anchored in 5m of water and in for a swim. What magnificent clear water on a pure white sand bottom that almost consumed the anchor and chain. This was the clearest water we had seen, believing a number of time previously that “it could just not get better than this” then finding somewhere else that did. Big Sandy Cay is a 2 mile by about 1/2 mile uninhabited Island in the middle of the ocean so no matter where the swell comes from it is always a bit rocky and rollie at anchor. Sasha cooked pizza for dinner, using dough she made during the day for the base. Washed down with a little red on a balmy clear evening after a lovely swim in a beautiful bay with only 3 other vessels, surely it could not get better than this!




By 5:30 Saturday morning we were heading out to continue to Puerto Rico still with almost no wind. Apparently the weather forecast modules were getting very confused by the possible formation of a hurricane strength low between the mid north US coast and Bermuda. Our area was now more likely to have light variable wind for the next few days, hope we have enough fuel to motor all the way, should do! Given the varying weather models predictions for the next few days (the US navy one had 40kn winds North of Puerto Rico Monday, just as we get there) the navigator's course takes just South of Mouchoir Bank and between Silver Bank and the Dominican Republic so that if weather deteriorates we could head down to the Dominican Republic, if not, just continue to San Juan, Puerto Rico.




For virtually the whole trip we have the wind, all be it only a few knots, about 20 degrees off the port bow and 0.2 to 0.5 of a knot of current against us. On Sunday morning when we are North of Samana on Eastern Dominican Republic, we start to become concerned about fuel. It looks like we will be motoring the whole way with barely enough wind to even tack into. The calculations start. First my rough estimated then Sasha's precise mathematics. We check fuel levels and decide, as much as anything as a check of gauges, to transfer all the fuel in the two auxiliary tanks into the main tank. One problem is the port auxiliary tank is only just over 3/4 full. When I tried to fill the two auxiliary tanks that share a common fill hose and a common breather, the port tank filled the fuel would spurt out of the breather unless I continued to fill (the starboard tank) very, very slowly. I will have to separate the breathers. So we figure 11 gallons in the port tank and 8 in the starboard. Since the port tank is normally for the generator I do not want to empty it completely in case we need to run the generator so we transfer about 18 gallons, via the electric transfer pump I put in for the purpose, to the main tank which takes it from 1/4 to 3/4 full. Its capacity is 37 gallons, so things equate OK. Now, based on maintaining the same rate of progress, burning fuel at the same rate and with own 5 gallon jerry can still full we should make it to San Juan, just. Sasha checks out other ports on the West and North West of Puerto Rico for possible alternative “point of entry” (customs) and  refuelling stops. She creates alternative routes to Punta Agujereada and Arecibo, just in case, but we maintain course for San Juan, with scheduled arrival time of 16:30 Monday. Then at about 03:00 it all changes. The light breeze, under 5kn shifts to the starboard beam and as we pass by the Mona Passage (sea between Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico) the current changes to be with us. Before long our SOG (speed over ground) increases from 5.9kn to over 7kn. By 9am, only 25 miles from the anchorage I tip in 4 gallons from the jerry can, leaving a gallon for the generator just in case and we have about 20% in the main tank, should be no problem.




Late morning we finally get some wind (from the squall) to sail about 10kn off the port beam, at last we rest the engine.



We make the anchorage entrance at 1:30 but stooge around under sail for an hour or so while I run the generator and make water. By mid afternoon we are inside San Juan harbour passing the magnificent fortresses, built over 300 years ago, to guard the entrance. There is the main fort on the entrance point as well as huge, several metres thick, wall around the original city, now called “Old San Juan”. 




Off to the East is of the main harbour is an anchorage outside of San Juan Bay Marina. We cruise down the marina pens and we Lulu and Gigi on board Roi Solei, great to catch up with them again.



The anchorage has a ship wharf to the North, with a huge cruise liner tied up, and the domestic small aircraft airport on the Southern side with a skyscraper city to the East. It is pretty noisy to say the least as planes take off straight over us.



Just before to leave for the next cruise, they excercise the Life Raft Rescue Procedure.



The cruise ship is 14 levels high but we see a bigger one, 17 levels along the wharf a couple of hundred metres away a few days later.



After a while it becomes a procession of cruise ships, generally staying overnight, at one stage there were three in port at the same time.  Each has several thousand people so you imagine the tourist trade!



We are anchored roughly in the middle, ship wharf on one side and runway on the other, in 10 metres of water so have over 50m of chain out on the anchor. In the early hours of one morning I woke to a huge rumbling sound and scrambled outside to investigate. There was a huge container ship being “parked” by two tugs on the wharf less than 100m from Ednbal. As the tugs pushed the ship alongside the water turbulence from the propeller of one of them pushed Ednbal hard on the anchor chain in the opposite direction. Apart from the fact that it was 3am it was all very intriguing, Sasha slept on!


It was great to catch up with Gigi and Lulu. They had some engine trouble very soon after leaving the Abacos in the Bahamas for Columbia and decided to go to Puerto Rico instead where they have some family and there are good repair facilities. As it turned out it was nothing serious but they did some other repair work and had some items delivered. Over a few quiet drinks and a couple of meals we chatted about plans.




We had planned to head down the Caribbean island chain, spending very little time as we planned to visit next year, to Trinidad for the hurricane season then West to Central America. They were planning to head straight to Central America, island off the Columbian coast. This made a lot of sense, going with the prevailing wind instead of trying to find “weather windows” to almost beat into it. We warmed to the idea of a 900 mile sail, with trade winds off the aft quarter, sailing in the company of Gigi and Lulu on Rio Solei. Sasha researched the charts we would need and we ordered 10 as well as one of the new wide area electronic charts that cover the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico and Cuba. As the days went by we became increasingly sure that this was the way to go.




As usual when we are in “civilisation” there is a whole heap of things to do, we can call family, sort out email, finances, things to buy both locally and over the net, install, fix, etc etc. It all takes time. After numerous phone calls and emails the local Northern Lights representative arranges a mechanic and in very short time he replaces the “O” ring inside the raw water pump housing and the generator oil leak is no more.