Part 3 of 7: Running aground in Provo Caicos (USVI to North Carolina Trip)

After thoroughly enjoying Grand Turk we decided to leave the island at night so to arrive in Provo, Caicos the following morning. Rather than spend the evening sleeping we thought it made more sense to travel at night so to have more time exploring our next stop.

Just below are the video clips I took of Provo, Caicos. Watch the video and then continue below to read my full review of our stop in paradise.

Provo Caicos Video

Furthermore, Britican started to swing closer to a rocky patch and Simon, was getting increasingly uncomfortable

Throughout our stay in Grand Turk we kept diving down to ensure there was at least a couple feet of clearance under the keel. I still find it hard to believe that we anchored in the ‘Large Vessel Anchorage’ and still had depth concerns. Perhaps a 56’ monohaul is beyond ‘large’ for the area.

As we pulled up the anchor, and the boat lurched forward towards the shallows, I held my breath and prayed that we didn’t come across a large bolder or hit an elevated rock patch. As soon as we moved away from the 1 and 2 meter depths and out into the 100 meters I started to relax.

And it only took minutes before we once again started seeing depths of over 1000 meters

For dinner Kyle warmed up some defrosted Butternut Squash Coconut Soup with lentils that I made while in the British Virgin Islands. We had a lovely lunch on land and didn’t need a large meal for dinner. By 8:30pm all of us except Simon were in bed.

During my 2am to 5am watch the water was so calm. There was a total absence of wind. The moon was a little less than full and sea sparkled as the moonlight danced across the tiny swells. Having a flat journey I grabbed my laptop, put it in the cockpit and started typing about our experiences in Grand Turk.

To my amazement I typed for three hours straight and the time went by in a flash

I took a few breaks to survey the lights on the land, use my Skye Guide to determine a planet I noticed (it was Saturn) and I also noted a new smell. As we passed some marshy mangroves I sensed a musty odor that was unlike a smell I’ve smelled ever in the Caribbean.

Around 6am I woke Simon explaining that our final waypoint arrival was imminent. Kyle and Sienna were soon up ready to make our entrance into the Blue Haven Marina in Provo, Caicos.

Provo Caicos

The entrance to Blue Haven is marked by tall channel marker poles

It winded us from left to right and back again and seemed a mile long. Kyle and I stood at the bow of the boat ensuring to notify Simon of any large boulders. Based on our intelligence (pilot guide, RayMarine and Navionics Maps) the channel would be deep enough during high tide for us to make it in.

Provo Caicos

And then I felt us touch ground. And again. And again.

The delayed forward motion was very noticeable. The boat still went forward, but it was stunted for a second. Fortunately I was at the bow of the boat and yelled back to Simon that we were simply skimming the sand ripples. We all held our breath and Simon yelled out, we’re getting deeper again. After rounding another curve the marina came into view and I visualized being safely tied up and wandering around new lands.

Simon backed us in, two attendants helped us with the lines and within a few minutes we had the sail cover on, the boat cleaned up and were all checking out our surroundings.

Provo Caicos

To say that the marina grounds were amazing is an understatement

As we wandered towards the marina office, we noted lovely patches of white sand peppered with wicker sofas and navy blue patterned pillows, double sized hammocks and manicured walkways. Everywhere I looked my eye were met with beautifully maintained tropical trees and colorful shrubs all lining the most beautiful turquoise waterway I’ve ever seen!

We stopped off at the marina office where Simon showed us the incredible bathrooms. These bathrooms rank up there with Grand Harbour Marina in Malta and Nanny Cay Marina in the BVI. They are spacious, clean, have excellent water pressure, warm water AND they are air-conditioned!

Thereafter we walked past the Salt Bar restaurant, outdoor pool table, sand beach volleyball court, huge lawn chess set and over to the infinity pool that simply made my eyes smile.

Provo Caicos

Beyond the infinity pool, with a water bar, was a lovely beach, swim area and a massive sea trampoline

Through the marina hotel lobby across the parking lot you could also find a high-end convenience store serving coffee, hot food, groceries, beer and wine. And next door a Spa!

I treated myself to a pedicure and not only was the result fantastic but I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with the woman about her history on the island (she was from Hati), the difference between modern countries (like USA and UK) versus island life and the role of a parent.

Aside from enjoying the Spa, the four of us used the pool, enjoyed some cocktails, ate at the Salt Bar (I recommend any of the burgers – they’re exceptional) and spent hours in the bathroom.

Provo Caicos

During the first day on the island we chilled out around the pool and the second day we rented a car to explore the island

Waking to a rainy start of the day, it was actually nice to sit in a car. At first Kyle sat in the drivers seat while we waited for Simon but Kyle’s confidence waned the more he thought about driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. In Turks and Caicos drivers drive on the British side of the road.

Simon became the driver and Kyle opted for navigational instructor.

I think it would be fair to say that we saw every road on Provo, Caicos and that’s not due to intention. The map Kyle was using was a tourist map and didn’t depict the roads very well. When we ended up at ‘Departures’ at the Provo, Caicos airport Simon and I started questioning Kyle’s abilities.

After the airport we ended up in a junkyard where we had to dodge roosters and chickens and pray the transmission didn’t scrape along the potholed dirt road.

The few hours of driving around gave us a good feel for the island

By far it was a modern island with modern shops and facilities. I noticed a couple gyms, a yoga studio, many strip malls or complexes, a few grocery stores and restaurants.

In the main touristy area there were a variety of duty free stores and restaurants. We stopped at Danny Buoy’s restaurant and had what felt like an all-American bad food festival. We ordered nachos, potatoes skins, fried pickles and chicken wings. While I ate everything I moo’d like a cow but afterwards my body asked me when it was going to have access to a thing called vegetables!

Provo Caicos

The rain finally broke so we drove to Grace Beach, which is continuously ranked either number one or number two in the world for best beaches. The waves were mammoth so I admired the sea from a beach chair! We entered the beach through the a resort and to my surprise the attendants didn’t kick us off the beach chairs!

There were very few people on the beach so I think there was no need to ask us to leave

Simon, Kyle and Sienna had a sand sculpture contest. Themes included a sand castle, donut, turtle and footprint.

After Grace Bay we got in touch with some family members of friends of ours. Two sailing seasons ago, we met the owners of sailing vessel ‘Why Knot’ and quickly became very close. After spending two years sailing the Aegean and Ionian Sea with them we said our goodbyes and promised we’d visit their family in Turks & Caicos when we made it there…

Provo Caicos

So, Tanya and Gary said they’d meet us at the marina with their two lovely boys

The plan was to have a drink and then go to a restaurant to get to know each other. Our daughter, Sienna, quickly hit it off with the boys and they played with the lawn sized chess set while the adults swapped stories.

Just over three years ago Tanya and Gary decided to leave South Africa in search of a better quality of life. With an uncle in Caicos who had a business already started they moved over to help him expand. Tanya drives a semi-submersible submarine and Gary started out doing speedboat excursions. Now Gary has established himself as a photographer and video expert helping estate agents showcase some of the most expensive properties for sale.

When asking Tanya and Gary if they had any regrets, they quickly responded with a solid ‘no.’ They explained that their quality of life was excellent. The one thing they mentioned (and everyone else I spoke with) was that it’s extremely expensive to live in Turks and Caicos. After we went for a shop before returning the car we found out for ourselves!

Provo Caicos

Our evening with Tanya and Gary was fantastic

As we ate dinner in a veranda overlooking an inland waterway with islands we laughed, told stories and simply enjoyed each other’s company. The children played on the beach where they caught a jellyfish and a sea cucumber!

Before parting ways we invited the family over to our boat the following night for a couple drinks knowing our time in Provo was soon coming to an end.

Our third day in Provo was decision day regarding our next port of call

Simon and Kyle spent hours pouring over the pilot books and looking at maps. Eventually they came up with a plan to stop at four different spots in the Bahamas before getting to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. When discussing the passage plan I could detect a foreboding energy.

Provo Caicos

After some discussion and research a few things popped up as potential concerns and issues. To start, the cost to enter the Bahamas was $300. I didn’t mind paying the fee if we’d be able to see a good chunk of the area. Simon explained that the places for us to anchor or get into a marina were far and few between. Furthermore every area seemed to have potential depth issues. Considering that we hit bottom on our way into Provo I didn’t want to sail for four to five days constantly working about running aground. And then when Kyle brought up the fact that we’d have to sail against the Gulf Stream – going against a current of 4 to 5 mph – we all looked at each other and asked, ‘what are our other options?’

Simon found an atoll or deserted reef one days sail away from Provo called Hogsty Reef. The reef was 40 miles from any land, was 7 miles long and 2 miles wide with ample room to anchor. It’s not on Google maps on the map view but you can find it on the satellite view.

The idea of sailing to a deserted location sounded exciting

Looking at maps and areal images of Hogsty Reef we noted several ship wrecks, amazing blue water and two patches of land. The area looked amazing.

It didn’t take long to come to a unanimous decision to anchor at Hogsty Reef. The plan was to stay a couple days at the reef and then sail three to four days straight up to Ft Lauderdale benefiting from the Gulf Stream current.

A decision was made to leave Blue Haven Marina at midnight that night exiting at high tide

I felt okay about the plan. I was excited about Hogsty but not about the passage up to Ft Lauderdale. Ever since we left the American Virgin Islands I felt slightly seasick. Even when I put a Scopamine patch on my leg I didn’t feel great.

My belief is that so many things are psychological. Considering that I’m feeling conflicted about taking my home to my homeland I’m more negative about my seasickness than usual. For the most part I can shake it off a bit…but on this trip I’m feeling more stressed than usual. Read: Conflict! What happens when you take your sailboat home to your homeland?

Also…I wasn’t keen on leaving the marina in the dark

Considering we hit ground on the way in I wanted to have the use of my eye’s to get us out! I kept my fears quiet and simply started to prepare for a long time away from civilization. Knowing that there’d be no restaurants or grocery stores for five days at most I went to work cooking some food to freeze.

I made beef stew in the slow cooker, Spanish rice with olives, bacon, green and jalapeño peppers and tomatoes. Additionally, I made my easy cabbage and ground beef slop – it’s so easy and just so tasty while sailing.

Simon and Kyle prepared the boat, chased after Immigration and Customs to get sign out

And around 5pm Tanya, Gary and the children arrived for our last time together. They brought a roast chicken and beans and rice from the store. I made some bruschetta, herbal dip and opened a tub of hummus with some veggie sticks and crackers.

Provo Caicos

The children walked over to fishing boat to see them prepare the fish for market and the adults once again enjoyed a lovely evening of telling stories and sharing laughs. It was such a shame we had to leave them!

Around 9:30 we said goodbye to our friends and started to prepare the boat for a 24 hour sail to Hogsty Reef. Just as I was messaging my mom about our departure a message come through FaceBook from David Wheatley, a contributor to my VHF Messages Book and weather specialist.

To my dismay the message contained information about a tropical storm forming in the Atlantic with potential to cross our path!

My stomach instantly turned. I read the message out to Simon and Kyle and we all jumped onto the Internet reading as much as we could about the storm. After some discussion we decided to wait until morning to determine what the storm was going to do.

I took all the chicken left over on the carcasses and put it in bowl to make chicken salad the following day. After that, I hit the sack.

Provo Caicos

In the morning we woke and quickly looked at the weather forecasts

Fortunately everything indicated that the storm was going to head north rather than south or west, hitting Georgia and North Carolina rather then southern Florida. At the time of reading the report, the National Hurricane Centre still hadn’t issued a formal warning.

We decided to have one final lunch at the Salt Bar while waiting for high tide and around noon we said our goodbyes to Blue Haven Marina on Provo, Caicos. I took the opportunity to use the excellent WIFI to download a couple more thrillers from Amazon Kindle.

As you can image we all wondered if we’d hit bottom at the same point in the channel.

Sure enough we felt the keel drag along the sand – at least this time we expected it

Once we were in the deeper waters we pulled up our main, unfurled our genoa and headed towards Hogsty Reef.



Part 2 of 7: Sailing to Grand Turk (USVI to North Carolina Trip)

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.

sailing to Grand Turk

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.

Sailing to Grand Turk

Our guest, Kyle, taking down the US flag and putting up the Turks & Caicos flag.

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.

Sailing to Grand Turk

Britican on the Horizon – we were the only boat there!

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.

Sailing to Grand Turk

Touching Grand Turk for the first time

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.

Sailing to Grand Turk

The view from the restaurant

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.

Sailing to Grand Turk

Simon figuring out the passage from Grand Turk to Provo, Caicos

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

Sailing to Grand Turk

From as far as we could see not one person was on the beach!

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.

Sailing to Grand Turk

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.

Sailing to Grand Turk

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.

Sailing to Grand Turk

Simon taking Kyle and me back to the boat

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

A house we passed on our walk

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.