Sunday, December 27, 2009

December 19-27 - Our Week Long Stay in Providencial

We have been at South Side Marina for over a week. On the 19th Chris (Kristi's son) and Ana (his fiancee) flew in from Miami to join us for a week. The following day, Diane and Kristi arrived. Knowing that six adults would be a tight fit on Lahaina Roads, I had checked into the availability of nearby hotel rooms. For the most part, Caicos caters to the "all inclusive" vacationers, making rooms very expensive. The typical room at one of these ocean front resorts starts at $400 per person per night and goes up from there. Naturally, that was out of the question.

Simon, the marina manager, came up with the solution. Unfortunately, his mother in England had passed away. He and his wife were leaving for England on the day Diane and Kristi were arriving. So when he offered me his 46' motor sailor for $50 a day, I jumped at it. With a 15'x15' aft stateroom, hot shower, full galley, TV and more, Diane and I would be very comfortable and yet remain close to Lahaina Roads.

A little about the islands. There are eight major islands in the Turks & Caicos chain. The Caicos Islands are comprised of West Caicos, Providenciales, North Caicos, Middle Caicos, East Caicos and South Caicos. The Turks Islands are Grand Turk (the capital) and Salt Cay. The marina where we're staying is on Providenciales.

Like so many Bahamian islands, also the Turks and Caicos believe that Columbus first made landfall on their islands. Generally, however, Ponce de Leon is given the credit for first sighting the islands. When listening to what language people speak, one can really understand the impact that the various powers have had on the T&C. For centuries, starting in the 1500's, the islands passed from Spanish, to French, and then to British control. The result is that you hear dialects with Spanish and French influence. But generally people speak English and we find them to be very friendly and polite people.
Also like the Bahamas, salt mining became the dominant industry in the T&C's after they were colonized in the 1600's. The reason the salt collectors were drawn here was because of the shallow waters. Good for them, but bad for sailing around the islands for us. Even with the number of islands, cays and the extensive barrier reef, they don't offer much in the way of cruising grounds and anchorages for visiting yachts. With Chris and Ana only with us for a week, and with the weather forecast including a mid-week storm, it didn't look like we could give Chris and Ana much of a taste of the island group. With that in mind, we decided to rent a car for the week. With the car we explored various areas of the island, but never got to any of the others.

On one of the days, we drove to the far north western part of the island, where we figured there would be some good snorkeling beaches and perhaps find surfing waves for Chris. The beach was rugged, with a little too much wind to snorkel. However, the barrier reef came in close to the beach with the surf breaking nearby. Chris was able to catch some waves, but the sets were confused and the area was pretty shallow. It wasn't long when he was back. But the beach combing was good. Lots of interesting looking shells and tide pools.

With Simon and Sharlyn gone, another cruising couple helped run the marina. Jack and Linda are a retired couple from Maryland and cruise with their dog, Skipper on New Attitude. Each evening at 5pm, the cruisers get together for happy hour under the marina's palapa. We've all been enjoying it so much that the happy "hour" has turned into two hours. On Christmas Eve, after an early happy hour and dinner, the eight of us headed to a beach restaurant called the Conch Shack. They had advertised it to be a night of "live" music. When we got there we found out that it was one guy with a guitar and a karaoke machine playing reggae music and other rock standards. Rum punch was the drink of the evening.

On another occasion we had lunch at the Conch Shack. The food we ordered consisted of a variety of conch dishes, including curries, soups and fried conch. It was very tasty but probably didn't help my cholesterol..

Christmas day was pretty uneventful. It's an odd feeling being in a tropical climate, walking around in shorts during Christmas. During the day we ventured out in the car and explored other local beaches. In the late afternoon, the six of us had a pot-luck dinner with Jack, Linda, Bob and Susie. It turned out wonderfully. We had turkey, ham, salad, potatoes, brownies, pie and ice cream.
There are a number of lakes in Provenciales. One near the marina is called Flamingo Lake. We had questioned some locals about flamingos, but they didn't seem to know about them. One day, as we were heading out of the marina, we spotted a group of flamingos standing near the shoreline. Fortunately, we were able to get close and observe these graceful pink birds for some time. One of them appeared to be doing a dance - it was hilarious to watch. Every so often, they would bury their heads underwater to dine on the algae, small insects and small shrimp that were probably present in the water. Apparently, these foods are rich in beta-carotene, which is what tints the flamingos' feathers pink. Seeing these wild flamingos was definitely a highlight of our stay.

Tonight is our last happy hour with our friends at South Side Marina. The time to depart is upon us. Chris and Ana are flying out today and we are making final preparations to leave early tomorrow morning. This includes calling for Customs & Immigration, topping fuel and water, last minute shopping and getting things put away on the boat. We first will sail to Long Cay and the following day sail to Big Sand Cay. There we'll await a good weather window for the ninety mile sail to the Dominican Republic.

We wish you all a happy holiday season and a very happy and healthy New Year.

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