Sailing to Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos
Our sailing to Grand Turk trip from Puerto Rico was relatively uneventful. A Carnival Cruise ship passed us early on and we saw a few cargo ships but otherwise there was very little wild or human life as far as the eye could see.
If you want to read all the good details about our sailing to Grand Turk trip, please scroll down and keep reading. OR, watch my short video showcasing our arrival, some footage of the island and an awesome Pink Flamingo that we came across.
Aside from doing my 360 visual look every ten minutes I mostly had my head in the thriller book, ‘The Prettiest One,’ by James Hankins. It’s the first thriller I’ve read in years – perhaps over 20 years! I’m more of a non-fiction reader but any book that has the potential of helping me forget my seasickness is more than a book – it’s a possible remedy.
Needless to say I got through the book in two days and it definitely helped me to ignore my queasy feelings
During one of my night watches I surveyed the horizon under a full moon observing a 360-degree vision of dark pale gray water met with a dome of lighter pale gray. When checking the plotter no other boats were in the area.
Considering the deep Atlantic Ocean, the high pale gray sky and the lack of visual stimulus I found myself feeling very alone. With the bright moon only a scattering of stars could be seen so it was hard to even visualize other life forms being ‘out there.’
Eventually a plane that must have been over 30,000’ went past and I said in my thoughts…’that’s nice, I’m not alone!’
My feelings of loneliness reminded me of driving at night. Whenever I was on a single lane road I’d find comfort in following a car or having a car behind me. There was something reassuring knowing I wasn’t on the road alone. Whenever my unknown travel companion turned off the road I said ‘good bye’ as if I developed some sort of relationship with the other driver. When the driver went a different direction and I was alone, I’d seek out another companion to avoid feeling alone for too long.
Perhaps my night watch simply spurred on my childhood fear of being afraid of the dark?!
During the day I don’t seem to need an exterior travel companionship! Although, saying that, during the day I almost always have someone with me in the cockpit.
When approaching Grand Turk, my first impression was, ‘wow, it’s flat and dry.’ After seeing so many tropical Caribbean Islands with super green foliage and hills if not mountains, Grand Turk certainly provided a different sight.
Sailing along the coast we had to keep quite a distance between the boat and the shore due to low depths and an abundance of rocks. From our viewpoint, we could see the blue Atlantic Ocean met with a long sliver of white sand, low green trees and inconspicuous properties dotting the coast. Aside from one large apartment complex there was a row of homes near the main town with restaurants and small accommodations houses dotted along the coast.
The only landmark that really caught my eye was a ugly cellphone tower half way down the island
Upon arrival to Grand Turk our first job was to clear Customs. The pilot book we used explained that a Customs Office was located at the cruise ship pier located at the south end of the island.
After our welcoming party of eight dolphins, we anchored in sand just outside a rusted shipwreck and saw no signs of life other than a large commercial fishing boat anchoring. My husband, Simon, dropped the dingy and headed for one of the three docks hoping to find Customs.
Within a short time, Simon was back. No luck – everything on the Cruise Ship Dock was locked up!
We then called all three of the Turks and Caicos Customs phone numbers in the pilot book and none of them worked. Considering it was a Saturday we expected a bit of difficulty.
Simon and crewmember, Kyle, returned to the docks and tried a couple other docks. A lovely local man explained that he had a friend that work in the Customs Office and he’d drive Simon and Kyle into town. Simon thanked the man but explained he didn’t want to leave our daughter and me on the boat for too long and asked for another option.
Eventually the guys went to the Commercial Dock where the security guard called a Customs Official who drove over to clear us all in. After all was said and done the whole clearing process took ½ hour and it was very easy.
Simon and Kyle returned to the boat explaining that the area was dead!
They found a large complex called Margaritaville that offers food, a pool and shops but it’s only open when a cruise ship comes in. The security officer explained that the cruise ships dock at Grand Turk during the week only. Later on, another local explained that most of the cruise ship people stay at Margaritaville and only 100 or so venture into the town.
With no restaurant options, we decided to up anchor and motor over to the large vessel anchoring area on front of the town.
Anchoring in Grand Turk was our scariest anchoring experience to date!
Looking at the depths and rocks on the charts and plotter we found a spot that ranged from 2.5 to 4 meters with rocks on either side. The sea goes from 1000’ to 20’ to 3’ in a very short space. There’s a massive ledge that leads to rocky terrain mixed with clear sand patches.
Our first two attempts failed as we tried to anchor on a small rock bed. Both times we dragged. After surveying the charts we noticed a sandy patch further inland however if our swing went too wide, we’d be in danger of hitting bottom.
Slowly Simon inched us up to the turquoise sand bottomed water constantly watching the depth. I held my breath!
The anchor went down, easily set hard into the sand and we put out 30 meters (90’) of chain to ensure we were far enough back to avoid hitting bottom on low tide. Once the chain was out and we verified the anchor was set, Simon jumped into the water to survey the space under the keel.
Simon popped up and said, ‘let’s put out 10 more meters as we only have 2’ under the keel and if we go back a bit further there’s more depth.’
Considering we were the only boat along the whole coast we didn’t worry too much about putting out a lot of chain. Kyle and I let out more and then we prayed that the wind would hold its course and keep us in the same spot.
Feeling seasick from the swell having spent 2 1/2 days rocking back and forth I was ready to get off the boat and enjoy a beverage and nice meal.
Simon lowered the dingy and we all climbed aboard to seek out land, food and drink
From the boat Grand Turk appeared to have several jetties or docks lining the coast. Upon closer inspection, all of them were in a total state of disrepair. Not one jetty had cleats or anything a dingy could tie to. Most were concrete slabs providing no slats or places to feed a rope through. Perhaps hurricanes or bad weather has destroyed them all?! We followed the coast down until we found a restaurant with a place to tie the dingy up on the beach.
Simon and Kyle pulled the dingy up the sand and we tied it to the railing of the restaurant! In most instances the beach was too long for us to pull the dingy to a tree or post. Fortunately this one restaurant had a break wall with a safety railing.
As luck would have it, the food at the restaurant was excellent!
Kyle and I enjoyed blackened Grouper and I have to say it’s one of the best fish dishes I’ve ever had. The fish was cooked perfectly, the seasoning was not overbearing and the sides of salad and baked potato were perfect. Our daughter Sienna had Shrimp Pasta and I was fortunate to get the shrimp – again, cooked to perfection.
At the end of the meal all our plates were empty.
In addition to enjoying our meals, the wine and WIFI were great too. The waitresses were fantastic and the locals all asked us how were doing and whether we liked the island or not. One woman said ,‘if you have any problems, you let me know because it’s very important to us that you enjoy your visit’.
While leaving the restaurant we noticed a golf cart hire option. Our plan was to get up the next morning, do our routine stuff (clean, fix things, etc.) and then head back to land to explore the island.
The following day, after a lovely nights sleep, we all woke and went for a snorkel
Right under the boat we found loads of lovely silver fish with yellow stripes. Some of them were almost 1 ½’ – we threw bread in the water while we were snorkeling and the fish swarmed around our heads. I felt as if I was in an aquarium. The fish certainly had no fear of us.
We found one Stingray, two Barracuda’s (with teeth showing!), several long fish around 3” with a 2” needle at the end of their nose – and on the nose was a big red ball. There were loads of blue, yellow and orange fish. It was great to just jump off the boat and enjoy our sea friends below us.
On another snorkel at the same location, Kyle found a stingray and Simon and Sienna came across a baby nurse shark – about 3” long.
After our snorkel we headed onto land once again
We tried to find another place to bring the dingy up but the restaurant seemed like our only option. We could have beached the boat anywhere but with the tides we didn’t know how far to bring it up nor did we necessarily have to strength to carry it too far.
It’s one thing to neglect locking a dingy and it’s another to not secure it to something on land!
Considering our dingy is brand new I was not going to take the chance of having the tide take it to sea
So…once again, we enjoyed a meal at the same restaurant again. We all had sandwiches and they were divine. Sienna used the pool while Simon looked at charts and downloaded any maps we needed. Kyle and I checked out Facebook and I answered some emails.
Feeling concerned about the wind changing and our swing radius expanding, we decided we’d have to pass on the golf cart expedition and get moving to our next location. Furthermore, strong winds were forecasted and our need to find a safe berth or anchorage was high.
Right behind the restaurant was a small grocery store where I grabbed some tomatoes, a cabbage, broccoli, cereal, some soft drinks and some ice cream. Kyle and I gave the goods to Simon and Sienna who took them back to the boat. Meanwhile, Kyle and I took the opportunity to at least walk into the town and see as much of the land as we could by foot.
I couldn’t help feel like I was walking through a ghost town
There was not one person on the beach, many houses where abandoned and several shut up with ‘For Sale’ signs on them. We happened upon one house that reportedly had a ghost and it didn’t surprise me.
Either the town shuts up on a Sunday, the month of May is quiet or Grand Turk simply isn’t a busy place!
Interestingly, however, many of the houses along the front street had plaques explaining what the property was used for, who built it and who the owners were. Grand Turk is known for producing sea salt so many property owners had something to do with the salt beds.
As we progressed into town, we came across an old prison – one that operates as a museum
Unfortunately it wasn’t open. We also found a pink flamingo in the salt beds in addition to some other really amazing looking birds.
The town itself consisted of a bus station, gas station, several small shacks offering food, barber services and so forth. We went into the grocery store and found a lovely selection of fruits, vegetables and dried goods. Everything was quite costly but that’s what I’d expect considering the location of the island.
What bowled me over about Grand Turk, however, were the people
During our walk every single person or group of locals all yelled out, ‘Hi Guys!’ with a friendly wave. The men at the bus stop yelled across the street to us. A group of eight young men on a porch said, ‘hey, how are you guys doing?’ A man driving his car while drinking what looked like a glass of scotch or brandy, yelled out the window, ‘Hey – how’s it going?’ While passing the one person on the whole stretch of the island taking a sea bath, he noticed us and yelled up from his swim, ‘Hi guys!’
Even when Kyle and I went to the beach to be collected by Simon, a man rushed up to introduce himself and helped us get in our dinghy. A young boy also jumped in the water to help steady the boat as Kyle and I jumped in.
I felt as if the kindness offered by the local people was 100% genuine
Not once were we approached to buy something. I didn’t see anything touristy. Heck, during our evening meal at the restaurant one woman offered to buy our table a drink to welcome us to the island.
On our visit I didn’t see any large hotels or lavish tourist offerings. Many places along the coast offered small inconspicuous bed and breakfast type offerings. During our walk we did come across three dive shops within ¼ of a mile, so diving on Grand Turks is sure to be popular.
So…for our first visit to an island outside the Caribbean I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Sailing to Grand Turk Tips
- Anchoring near the Cruise Line Pier is your best bet unless you have a small keel. Our keel is 2.5 meters and we really struggled in the large vessel anchoring zone.
- Be prepared to hoist your dingy up the beach or go to a restaurant to tie it onto the rail! I suppose another option is to anchor it?!
- The mooring buoys are all for dive boats. You can use them but if a dive boat comes you have to get off it immediately. We pulled up one of the buoys and half the strands were broke on the eyelet rope. I dropped it immediately deeming it totally unsafe.
- There is a Digicel on the island (to buy a SIM) in addition to restaurants with good WIFI.
- Both the grocery stores we went in had quite a selection of food. We stocked up on meat and dried goods before we arrived in the Virgin Islands. If you’re making our way from the south to the north and have a large freezer I suggest getting meat in Antigua (Grocery store: Epicurean) or Anguilla (Grocery store: Best Buy) before getting to the Virgin Islands and then up to Turks, Caicos and the Bahamas. When you get to Florida food becomes less expensive. OR…there’s a massive Wallmart in Puerto Rico where you can seriously stock up. It’s about a 1.5 miles away from the San Juan Bay Marina.