27 February 2007 | Turks and Caicos
We left Caicos Marina and Shipyard late morning and followed one of the Police boats out of the channel. The marina entrance is a little narrow for us and I wouldn't want to meet anyone going the other way. The Police boat slowly plied the waters outside the marina, generally following the three red marker buoys. Once past the last buoy, in a luxurious 10 feet of water, they hit it and disappeared into the sun on their way to French Cay. Just our destination, so we followed their wake.
We planned to take the day crossing the Caicos Banks with a lunch stop at French Cay. Ambergris Cays anchorage was our overnight target and seemed to have good protection from the light east wind we expected.
All of the charts and guides for the Caicos Banks give routes across the banks between various waypoints but none of them dare to say this is a safe route for x draft. Instead they all say visual navigation required in good daylight. This really limits the distance you can go and puts a lot of fatigue on a short crew. There's keeping a good watch and then there's crossing the banks reading the water the whole way.
Hideko ended up on the bow three times this trip; leaving the marina, approaching and leaving French Cay and working into the Ambergris anchorage. Since we had the experience of entering the marina, leaving was not as bad. French Cay was also ok on the approach from Provo but we didn't anchor as planned due to our late arrival (noon). Instead I had the bright idea to explore uncharted territory, cutting the corner back to our route southeast to Ambergris. It was all sand but it got down to five foot something. Close but no cigar. We had to back out and try two or three channels before we found a way through. Probably would have been faster to use the published route but at least we got some water reading practice.
Approaching Ambergris is not too bad but there are several rocky areas along the way. About a mile out of the Ambergris anchorage there is a reef running east to west across the entire route. Depth goes from 21 feet to 8 instantly. We slowed down and crept across in 8 feet of water. In retrospect I would go around even though it would be a hike. I am pretty sure that some parts of that reef are quite a bit less than 8 feet at low water.
Van Sant recommends staying right between the islands when selecting a spot in 12 feet. We had lots of light and decided to creep in a bit closer. Our main motivation was a new jetty not on any of our charts that reached a mile out into the anchorage from the little spit just south of the north point of Big Ambergris. The jetty is an odd looking affair and there is a big ship mooring (don't hit that!) smack in the middle of the recommended anchorage. The problem with anchoring in closer is that there's great sand in 8 feet of water but there are big coral heads everywhere with maybe 3-5 feet of water over them.
We dropped the Rocna in some sand with light grass and then backed down toward the closest head. Van Sant's Gentlemen's Guide to Passages South recommends this technique for setting up for a dinner dive. Unfortunately, as far as we could determine the TCI doesn't allow spear fishing. It was great to be able to watch the reef from the back porch and at night we watched some Caribbean Squid swim around the boat in their odd way.