On March 21st we left the Dominican Republic heading towards the Turks and Caicos archipelago.
Although a longer route, we decided to pass through the Silver Bank, that is a vast area of shallow water where whales gather to breed on their way to the North. We arrived there early in the morning anxious to encounter the humpback whales, but – there is always a but, the weather did not help us. We read on a book that you must be very unlucky not to see any whale in this period, and we were among those few unlucky people. It was raining and waves were up to 3 meters, drastically limiting the visibility. Actually we could sketch a pair of them by their sprays, and at a far distance one jumping out of the water, but overall it was a disillusion. Instead of spending the whole day on the bank as originally planned, we decided to continue immediately toward Grand Turk, where we arrived in the morning of the 23rd.
We anchored just in front of the custom office, in the south part of Gravenor Bay – a beautiful long white sand beach with crystal clear waters. After clearing in we went by dinghy to Cockburn Town, about 2 miles north. The city has a long line of houses facing the seaside with several salt ponds on the back side. Salt production was the main income of the island till the 19th century; in fact, to maximize the salt concentration and to limit the rainfall, producers did cut most of the trees of the island. These ponds are now a nesting area for many species of birds.
The day after we went back to the city for some provisioning and decided to walk; we tried, without much conviction, to hitch hike. What a surprise when the first car going by stopped and gave us a ride to the city. We were equally lucky on the way back as well as in the afternoon when we decided to return to downtown given it was so easy! This way we met very nice and friendly people, a police woman, a fisherman, a carpenter, etc., who were curious to know our story.
Grand Turk is a popular stop for cruise ships; since it is a fairly small island with few touristic attractions, the cruise companies built a “Cruise Center” close by the ship dock, hosting a large swimming pool, several duty free shops, restaurants and bars, as well as hundreds beach chairs lined up on the small beach in front of the center.
The following day we headed to South Caicos passing through Salt Cay – a small island bordered by long white sand beaches, which unfortunately we could not visit as the wind and waves were unfavorable for anchoring.
We arrived at South Caicos in the early afternoon and anchored in front of Cockburn Harbour, the “capital” and only city of the island.
The major activity in the island is fishing, with a particular focus on lobsters; in fact there are a couple of conservation factories which export to North America.
While walking on the main road of Cockburn Harbour, we were stopped by a lady – the custom officer of the island – who, together with her daughter, kindly gave us an orientation ride of the village, and dropped us at the premises of the only hotel in the island. From there we walked to one of the salt ponds that are also present in this island. The highlights here were the “hole”, where the water from the ocean entered the pond through a natural underground channel, as well as a group of pink and grey flamingos resting at sunset.
The next morning we wished to visit Bell Sound, a large bay of very shallow and crystal clear waters, located in the north part of the island – though we should have walked about 4 miles. We then tried to hitch hike again and immediately a pick up truck stopped and gave us a ride. On the way back we were picked up by a very distinct British guy who flew in from Providenciales to give a lecture on Human Rights at the local schools.
We also visited the School for Field studies – a very nice structure funded by a few US universities – where students spend a 3 months period carrying out small biomarine projects, such as surveying and tagging sharks present in the island.
On the 29th we left South Caicos and headed to Big Ambergris. This is a privately owned island, surrounded by a vast shallow water area full of starfishes of different colors and sizes. We dinghied and walked up to the beach where we sketched a pink flamingo just a few meters from us that patiently waited until we took a hundreds pictures of it.
Ambergris is a very special little island with crystal clear waters. There is only a very small marina difficult to reach for boats drafting 2 meters or more.
Since the wind was raising favorably to our course, at 7pm we set sails toward Cuba.