03 April 2013 | Mouchoir Bank (Atlantic Ocean) and South Caicos, Turks & Caicos Islands
So it's 9:44 PM, Derek is asleep on the couch and I'm on my first night watch headed in open water to the Dominican Republic (DR). I figured rather than start falling asleep at the helm as I stare aimlessly into the night that I would be productive and type up a blog post (it also helps me stay awake; yes its only 9:44 but we were up at 5:30 AM today (I'll explain that later)). If all goes well, I'll be able to post this update via the satellite phone later tonight or in the morning (photos will have to wait till we have wifi at the marina).
Unlike the overnight sail we had on our way to the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), we don't have any moon tonight, so it is pretty black out. Luckily there is a clear sky and lots and lots of stars. There's just enough starlight to keep an eye on the single black bird that's flying around the boat tonight; I think he's drafting us and taking rests on the deck when he gets tired...he already scared the crap out of me though! I was looking toward the horizon, focusing on lights in the distance and he flew right next to my head! There seems to be a pattern with these overnight sails and animals flying at my head leaving me screeching and Derek jumping to see what's the matter... (if you look closely in the night time photo, the bird is sitting on the tip of the bow!)
I'm still mesmerized by the sight of the evening sky from the middle of nowhere...It's amazing what a starry night looks like when you're far offshore - it is simply beautiful - you can spend hours just watching the stars twinkle and if you're lucky you might even catch a falling star or meteor. Other than watching the stars, I glance every few minutes at the chartplotter to check course and watch the radar for other boats. We haven't seen anyone since leaving the Turks and Caicos, but I picked up a blip on the radar about 20 minutes ago and can now see the mast light of a fellow traveler...they seem to be headed northwest, back towards TCI - it's a light wind tonight and too bad for us, we're headed upwind at 60 degrees, but since the wind is so light we've had to ride with the motors on in order to keep making good progress. We decided to launch today from South Caicos since we saw a lull in the wind for about 12 hours forecasted this afternoon into tomorrow morning. Travelling what they call the windward passage, notoriously, windy, rough and with winds against you, boats must take every opportunity to move east, whether winds are northerly, westerly or no/light wind at all. So, with a light wind it in today's forecast (about 10 kts) off we went at about 2 PM on the 110 nautical mile trip from South Caicos to Puerto Plata (Ocean World) in the DR. We wanted to arrive in the morning light, so we planned an overnight sail around the wind which should put us at Ocean World around 6 AM tomorrow...we'll wait offshore until the sun comes up before heading into the harbor...we've got long motor-sail ahead of us 'till then!
Well, I guess I should back up a bit too and give you a synopsis of our time in TCI....
Being Good Friday, we didn't even attempt to head into Provo after arrival...instead we packed up again and headed across Caicos bank to the eastern part of the TCI. We left a little later than planned and had to make a stop at Six Hill Cays to anchor as we couldn't make it all the way to South Caicos before nightfall and you do not want to cross the bank at night - there are plenty of scattered, uncharted coral heads which would be absolutely no fun to ground a hull on. The wind and swell were opposing, so we anchored on the south side of the cays to escape the winds...it took three tries but we finally got the hook set. The anchor alarm only went off a few times due to wind shifts and current, fortunately no boat slip all night.
We pulled up anchor in the AM and finished the trek to South Caicos. We arrived midday and hurried into town for some food and to check out the area. Being Easter weekend, we knew we only had the rest of Saturday where things would be open. We went for a ten mile walk around to the Northeastern side of the island where we checked out the beach and a new hotel that's being built (it is huge!). We came upon a bunch of teenagers partying at a local beach BBQ spot near some homes that must have been destroyed by a hurricane recently. We chatted with the adolescent islanders for a bit, but we left them to their hormones and moved on in search of food.
We stopped at the Ocean Club for a great lunch/dinner and even took a pizza to go! Everyone in S. Caicos is super friendly and they all want to build up the local economy and spread the word about the beautiful waters, diving, fishing, etc. We met some great people along the way like Norman, Randy, Anthony and "Juice" and plan to visit on our way back so we can explore some more and get some diving in - after all it is the third largest reef in the northern hemisphere (I think). Our encounter with Randy was especially memorable as he has travelled back to South Caicos after 20 years in Miami. He is amazed that the electronic age has reached his hometown (computers, tablets, cell phones), but he is disappointed that locals don't band together to build the local economy and make it attractive for tourists. He hopes to organize the community and wishes people would stop only looking out for themselves. Oh by the way, Randy was also trying to figure out which Batman movie to watch that night. I should also mention that Randy's brother Anthony was knawing on what looked like a small tree branch. I had to ask what it was and in true kind islander form, he ran inside to grab a machete where he sliced it up in to pieces so we could try raw sugar cane for the first time! It came from the DR actually and was extremely tasty.
Easter Sunday was low key, we just chilled on the boat with wifi and a book. It was overcast until late afternoon, so we didn't venture out to explore until 5 PM via dinghy. We checked out a neighboring island and a sunken boat in about one foot of water! I hard boiled some eggs for Easter and we had hoped to eat the rest of our sushi, but realized we were out of soy sauce! Guess sushi will wait til tomorrow when the store is open.
Monday proved to be a little more exciting...we slept in and noticed two other boats had arrived the night before. After a quick stop in town to pick up bread and soy sauce, we decided to dinghy over to the other boats to see if anyone else was sailing south. The first boat was a beautiful blue 55' monohull with two very nice English women on board. We chatted with them for a few, but they were headed to the north shore of TCI - they were anchored near the harbor entrance and we started taking on waves while sitting in our dinghy along side their boat since the swell. After I took a huge wave soaking my left side, we released our painter (rope on the front of the dinghy) and drifted away while saying our "goodbyes" and "safe sails." We next dinghied over to an aluminum hulled sailboat with a German flag. The captain and first mate promptly invited us aboard and next thing we knew we were four beers deep with our new German friends Andrea and Georg (Hans-Georg). They had just come from the DR and the Caribbean and were headed to the Bahamas. We exchanged tips about where to go and what islands and activities not to miss. We even exchanged courtesy flags as I didn't' have a DR flag and they were missing a Bahamas flag - I definitely got the best part of that deal as their DR flag was in perfect condition while our Bahamian courtesy flag was more like a half-flag. It has been hoisted on board for so long, including our trips to the Abaco and Bimini last year that literally half of the flag had worn away in the wind...it wasn't just faded, it was actually missing!
Before we departed "Muscat" (their boat), we invited Andrea and Georg over to share the rest of our tuna sushi. As promised, they arrived 30 minutes later and we shared a rum and coke while D finished preparing the sushi. I have absolutely no idea what we talked about all night, but before we knew it, it was dark out, we had devoured all the sushi, polished of a bottle of rum and were snacking on cheese and crackers...and next thing we were on PayPal transferring $160 from Georg's business to our PayPal account - see they didn't have Bahamas charts and we didn't need ours anymore - yep, believe it or not, I sold my paper charts! Haha. Not to worry, I already have new ones on order being shipped to FL where I'll pick them up when I fly home in a week or so for work.
Needless to say, we made some great new friends, totally unexpected and unfortunately we were only able to share one day together, but it was memorable and we'll definitely find a way to visit them again...maybe even in Berlin at some point! Georg says he's thinking of trading in the mono for a catamaran soon, so perhaps we'll sail together cat with cat soon!
We had no problems falling asleep, especially since we'd been anchored in the harbor for a few days safe and sound with no anchor alarms; while the wind was due to shift direction, we didn't think much about it while drifting into a deep sleep preparing for our overnight sail on Tuesday. When you live on a boat and sleep in different harbors regularly, you start to learn (or obsess about in D's case) every creak and noise, especially when at anchor. With your eyes closed, you often speculate the origin of a new sound...this is what happened at about 5:30 AM on Tuesday. A new light "knocking" at the starboard stern woke both Derek and I, still hazy from the night before. We
first thought it was a wave lapping under the hull, but it was so different than we'd heard before...we finally got up to check it out. Sure enough, the wind had shifted and we'd spun with our stern to the north...into the shallows of the harbor. After about an hour, after the sun began to rise we fully confirmed that we'd ended up in water too shallow for out 3.5' draft - ugh - grounded! We tried pulling in the anchor to see if we could move into the deeper water, but it was too late - SP wouldn't budge! D jumped in and confirmed our speculation; it's not a good feeling to see your husband standing in water up to his waist next to your boat! As D walked, yes walked, around the boat, we realized we were on a shoal with the bow still in deep enough water and the stern in the shallows. The creaking and clanking continued as the tide was still going out! I think I watched Derek cringe every moan the boat let out. A catamaran sits on her keels when out of the water, so we figured we'd be okay but the sound was not comforting. The worst was the rudders as the tide continued to lower, the rudders would lift then fall back on their bearings making a large clank - it took a while to realize it was the sound of releasing pressure not adding pressure, which at least gave us some comfort that we weren't in danger of damaging our rudders or sail drives. We added another line from the mast winch to the anchor chain to help pull the bow down and the stern up - adding a turn or two on the winch as the tide lowers, providing more downward pull and hopefully forward pull once the tide starts rising again...we are patiently awaiting 8:43 AM!
In order to turn our time on the ground into something productive, D walked around with a scraper in hand and cleaned the growth off the hull, which should make us faster during our next sail!
It sure is an eerie, weird, abnormal feeling to sit with a 5 degree angle across the boat (the port keel was on higher ground than the starboard) and have a total lack of peaceful drifting while aboard in the middle of an anchorage! But, sure enough, after several hours, Soul Purpose slowly started to float again, moaning just as much on the way up as she did on the way down! As soon as she was ready, we hauled up Soul's anchor and set sail for the Dominican! While the unintentional time on the ground delayed us an hour, it actually worked out better for arrival in the DR...never a dull moment!