Turks and Caicos to the beginning of the Bahamas

Feb 19, 2017

-Ron O.

Turks and Caicos

We have arrived in the Bahamas just like Columbus did – only it’s 520 years later. We’ve come from the Turks and Caicos – Columbus  came from Spain. We are at  Mayaguana Island for now.
Abraham’s Bay is our first anchorage in this North Atlantic nation of 700 small islands and cays laying in a roughly north-west line more than 500 miles long. I’ll bet you don’t know the difference between a cay (Key in US English) and an island? I didn’t either. It’s not the size, but how it was formed: cays are made from loose sediment carried by ocean currents onto coral. A cay is still considered an island but not all islands are cays. Clear? We’ve anchored here to check into the country and find shelter from the winds created by a cold front way up in New England. The cycle of storms/fronts in the eastern US and Canada creates a somewhat predictable cycle of winds that repeats over a period of a week or two for much of the winter. The winds clock from north for a time, then from east then from south or sometimes west.  North winds can get very strong 30+knots, the east winds (trades) are usually 15-20knots and I haven’t figured the others yet. Where we anchor is based  on the wind strength and direction. It’s not a new concept to us, but the differences makes it feels new.   We rely heavily on the people, websites and SSB nets that have accurate weather predictions.
In Abraham’s Bay we are securely anchored, with two anchors down, in this largish bay as the wind howls through the rigging. The ocean waves don’t touch us because of the barrier reef that defines the outside edges of the bay. But, twice a day the tide rises over the tops of the reef and the ocean swell gets us and it becomes rolly for a few hours. Otherwise, in spite of the winds the water is relatively flat. I suspect we will be here three days because of weather.
There are only two “cuts” in the reef to get in, the east cut and the west cut. The east cut is maze like to navigate. Heart thumping navigation as the water depths go from over 6000 feet to under 10 feet in ¼ mile. We rely on our charts to be accurate but are also becoming expert at telling depths by judging different shades of blue , green and brown for rocks or coral.
The small village of Abraham Bay sits at the east end of Abraham Bay. The whole 26 mile long island has a population of 250 so the town is not large. The town is a handful of buildings. We briefly visited town by dinghy shortly after we arrived. At that time, the sky was blue, winds calm and water so clear it looked fake.


Looks like fake water at Abraham Bay before the winds

On the ride in, we also learned the hard way about Bahamian tides. We left the boat anchored in 10 feet of water, for the 1.5 mile trip to the town pier by dinghy. We ended up walking the last 100 yards, towing the dinghy ourselves as we plodded through the sand in about six inches of water toward the pier. There was not a person in sight. From the pier, a modest dirt road hinted at a direction toward town. It was about ½ mile into town. Town , as we saw it consisted of five buildings a cell tower and a tower from a small plane airport. All the buildings we saw were single story, each with few or no windows. An exception, the first building we saw, was a modern air-conditioned store front selling cell phones, SIM chips and cell time (all cell service in the Bahamas is via BTC). It was open and a woman, Marissa was inside. I guess when you live on an isolated island, communications is important. Marissa sold us the appropriate SIM chip for our unlocked phone along with data and talk time. If we were going to be on an anchored boat for three days , cell data and the internet would come in handy. Marissa also introduced us to her mother who lives next door. Marissa’s mom uses her home to serve food and run a small grocery. Marissa’s mom was having a small patio added to her home so people could sit after they ordered food. We got a wonderful fried chicken wings and french fries lunch with orange juice and a coke to drink. Abraham’s Bay has the look and feel of a lost place. Apparently, the US had a missile detection site here a few decade ago but not much of it remains. Supplies arrive every two weeks by mail boat. Can’t just drive down to the local Home depot if you forgot to pick up nails for your next project. On the other side of the road (from the BTC office) was the government immigration and customs office and we needed to check in to the country. The Bahamas, formally the Commonwealth of the Bahamas became independent of England in 1973. They drive on the left. On entering – the small room looked like a hundred other customs offices. A few square feet to stand and a thick, dark colored glass window separating us from the agent. The only method of communications was through a small slot cut into the window and counter. I could scarcely make out the young woman gesturing wildly with one hand while the other held her cell phone pressed to one ear. After a few minutes , she told the person on the other end to wait a minute and she turned to us. I told her we wanted to check into the country and pay the $300 for a cruising permit ; we had all the appropriate paperwork and passports with us. She (with some impatience ) told us only fisherman were being processed and we’d have to go to another port to check in. The next port is hundreds of miles away. Now, legally, a visiting sailor is not supposed to step off the boat onto land without legal clearance into the country, but that clearly wasn’t going to happen. In Jamaica and Cuba for example we needed to be verbally checked by a doctor then a immigration officer before leaving the boat and touching ground. The Bahamas were apparently going to be different. Although cultures and languages change with every country – it seems to be an almost universal truism that bureaucrats are the same worldwide. I guess our check-in will have to wait but it doesn’t make the attitude  any easier to take. After lunch and the immigration office Marissa drove us back to our dinghy and pointed to a dredged out channel to follow to avoid walking through the shallows before entering the deeper water. Day 3 We are finally going to sail the 36 miles to two small uninhabited cays with good snorkeling. There really isn’t any wind protection at the cays but the winds and swell are predicted to be light. Update: The open roadstead at the Cays was a bit too open for a comfortable night’s sleep and we spotted a person sitting and watching us from the brush at the edge of the beach so it was a quick stay. Apparently the cays are sometimes home to migrant/seasonal groups that collect the bark of one of the indigenous bushes to make the aperitif Campari.

Further north, like in Georgetown, the Bahamas will be filled with people on jet skies, people pouring off cruise ships and small anchorages with of hundred sailboats along with organized domino and poker evenings. It might be fun for a few weeks but it’s not the kind of environment either of us like for a steady diet. So we’ll enjoy these outer islands (if there is a weather break) while we get through the northern Bahamas reasonably quickly. I have to admit we found places in Mexico with lots of sailboats and  organized activities we enjoyed. In fact it was bit addicting. La Cruz in Baja California where you could join a music group or gather with people interested in writing or take birding walks or … A mini community with daily weather and chit chat over the VHF every morning . The “net” was the place for newcomers to talk about themselves or arrange with people that were flying back to the States to deliver mail or pick up a part. Very home like, very comfortable.  It’s fun for a while. But we’ve met  people that stay in La Cruz, Mexico or  Shelter Bay, Panama for years.

I like places that I find different. Places like Georgetown on Great Exuma Island has fancy grocery stores , organized activities , a daily VHF net and a large comfortable anchorage. There are people to meet and things to do, but one reason to travel is to experience cultures other than our own and places like Georgetown sounds a lot like Portland or Miami.

The last few countries we’ve visited contrasted more than they were similar. It’s true, they’ve all been Island Nations but the similarities stop there. The Turks and Caicos is quite a contrast to Cuba and Jamaica before it. Turks and Caicos had many excellent restaurants, ATM machines everywhere, international banks and the Caribbean equivalent of Home Depot and Whole Foods. Very expensive homes are built along the pristine waters almost eliminating access except at a very few points. Land Rovers are as common as Toyota. Contrast the opulence of Turks and Caicos to culturally rich but economically poor Jamaica or for a really wild comparison to Cuba with the odd mix of dictatorship and communism with some very poor people but no (or few) rich people. We had a great time at all these places, especially meeting people (note: taxi drivers are some of the easiest people to meet and a great way to get introduced to other locals).  The emotional reward comes from the places that are different. Day 5,6,7 The weather again. We’ve had to move two more times because the anchorages were not comfortable for the  winds forecast. Little Harbor on Long Island, Bahamas looks like a place to rest for a few days.

Day 8 Stuck on boat in Little Harbor because of winds but met Greg who was a well-spring of information about cruising the Bahamas. He also had an extra ten pounds of fresh Mahi Mahi that he shared.  When it’s really windy it’s hard to get the dinghy to shore.

Day 9

Walk from Little Harbor before the wall starts

Wonderful walk at little Harbor. A dirt road leads from the beach back to a village called Rose (Rose’s Settlement) . It was a two mile walk each way but interesting. Much of the walk had a rock wall lining both sides of the road. Long Island was one of the places Loyalists from the US revolutionary war fled  after England lost; with their slaves to make plantations of cotton, livestock and salt.

Loyalist plantation wall built by slaves about 1790


The wall we were walking next to had been built by slaves more than 225 years before, a sad reminder of another era. Slavery was abolished in the Bahamas in 1834.  But you can still feel the sweat from the people as they built these two mile long walls out of the local rock in the heat of the day.  Rose’s Settlement along with some of the other small communities on this island are still populated with the decedents of those slaves. We talked with one lady in Roses Settlement. She and here friend were passing the time on their front porch as we walked by. Her home , new to her, was given to her by the government after hurricane Joaquin destroyed her old home in 2015.  These Islands are full of history some of it embedded in the landscape but a lot of it embedded in the people that live here. Hopefully we’ll try to learn more of the human part and publish it here.


Every once in a while you get a great walk and a good photograph all in one

This lake-bed was just a short distance from the plantation wall but the stories it could tell…

Dry lake bed on grounds of what was a Loyalist plantation ~1790


In the next day or two we will move the 10 miles to the harbor at Clarancetown, maybe treat ourselves to the marina there. After that: who knows?

But I think there is a law that states all good blog entries must end with a sunset picture. So we close with was a pretty spectacular sunset.

Sunset in the Bahamas

–Ron (Feb 19, 2017)