Saturday, December 13, 2014

Georgetown and Beyond!

Georgetown. What can I say about Georgetown? It is the cruising destination for many people. There are so many organized activities here during the winter season that it has been called ‘Cruiser Daycamp’ – Yoga on the beach, volleyball tournaments, dinners, etc. We are still a bit early for the crowds so most of these things have not started up yet. I am relieved. I hate that crap. I am an antisocial introvert at heart so I would prefer not to be pummeled with interactive experiences.

Georgetown is also a decision point for many cruisers. Once you reach this point moving south, you have to choose whether or not you will brave the big ocean to go further into the Caribbean to the Turks and Caicos, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, on and on. As such, Georgetown also has earned the nickname of ‘Chicken Harbor’ because many cruisers decide this is far enough.

For us, it was a very necessary stop for provisioning and regrouping. We had waited out a very windy period in the Exumas. We had been anchored out, with limited access to groceries and laundry, for many days. We were out of clean clothes and cookies. Time to get to civilization. Georgetown has stores (yes, plural!), restaurants, laundromats, banks and fuel. Not that we have used much fuel but we did want to top off our tank with diesel from the jerry cans on SeaClearly’s deck and then refill the cans before we moved on.

We arrived around noon on Friday, December 5. That left us plenty of daylight to get into town and have a look. We probably looked a little dazed walking down the street. As I mentioned in the last post, this is the biggest town we have seen in a month. It is still a ridiculously small ‘town’ but, comparatively, Georgetown is quite the metropolis. The amount of traffic - cars, trucks, even big trucks - and the number of people was kind of overwhelming. We kept walking out into the street like a couple of lost country folk. 

Of all the things Georgetown has
to offer, the only picture I managed
to get was the laundromat. You have to
love a laundromat with navigation
charts on the wall.
The next day was errand day. Due to the expected resurgence of northeast winds, we chose to anchor behind the islands on the east side of Elizabeth Harbor. We were, very effectively, out of the wind down behind the hill. Unfortunately, we were also about as far from the actual town as we could be – about a mile and a half. 

Now, at home, when you have errands to run, you jump in the car. Living on a boat, your dinghy is your car. The Family Truckster.  The trip to the town can be a very wet ride. Or the trip can be canceled due to weather. On this Saturday, it was only a tad wet and rough. Which was good considering that we had, at least, two trips to make. Trip One – bank, laundry and garbage. That’s one dinghy full. Trip Two – diesel, outboard parts, bakery, wine, lunch, groceries. Bearing in mind that each trip to town involves getting into the dinghy, loading up everything you need to take, motoring across the harbor, entering into Lake Victoria through a stone tunnel, docking the dinghy, dragging all your stuff around with you and then back again. Needless to say, this pretty much filled up our day. By the time we got back from the second run, the sun was low in the sky and we were beat. But we had a cheap bottle of Malbec  and some new food to make the evening enjoyable.


It was a good thing that we squeezed our errands in on Saturday because the next day was, as forecast, back to really windy. A trip to town would have been miserable. So we stayed on our side of the harbor, in the wind-shade of the hills. We dinghied around the corner from our anchorage to, what will soon become, the center of activities here in the Georgetown Cruiserville – Chat n’ Chill CafĂ© at Volleyball Beach. We were the first customers to order food when they opened. We each got a conch burger – a fried patty of ground conch on a bun – and side orders of peas and rice (never ‘rice and peas’) and cole slaw. And flies. Not fries, flies. A million of them. We were, literally, covering our food with napkins between bites. We were blowing on each forkful just before taking a bite to make sure you didn’t  - well, you get the picture. We kept hoping that they would deliver someone else their meal to distract, at least, a few of the hoard. Not a great lunch.

Idle volleyball courts. Not idle for much longer!
The cruisers on the east coast have been stuck due
to weather but they are not far away now.

Chat n' Chill Cafe.

A hike over the island...

Sunday, we spent riding around in the dinghy, going to the beaches, hiking over to the oceanside and swimming in the clear, warm water. We had the place to ourselves every place we went.  It was a very relaxing day. The kind of day that reminds you just how lucky you are. the ocean.
Junie on a tree swing by the sea.

A dip in the calm water on the
protected side of the island.

By that Sunday, we had also resolved that we were moving on. An absolutely benign weather window was coming that would allow us to make it to the Turks and Caicos. We probably would have to motor all the way and might not get to sail at all. But, it would knock down a bunch of miles and get us below the effects of the weather patterns coming off North America. We had to take the opportunity.

Monday morning at 9:00am, we were anchor up and headed back out to sea for a 48 hour run. Around the top of Long Island (not New York’s), down the east coast, across the top of the Acklins, past the western tip of Mayaguana and onto the southern bank of the Caicos.

The first day went very smoothly. The first night was a beautiful full moon so it never really got dark. We saw several container ships. Junie saw a couple of cruise ships. And the swells started. A Swell Event they call it. Somewhere up in the North Atlantic, several days of north winds had built up a lot of wave energy. Hundreds of miles later, it arrived at the same place we were.They came in the night, quietly, when you couldn't see them so clearly. You could see the evidence though. When I came out of the cabin at midnight, Junie mentioned that the cruise ships were disappearing behind the waves. Hmmm. Throughout my watch, the swell continued to build. In the moonlight, I could watch as SeaClearly rode up high above the world and I could see the horizons. Nine seconds later, all I could see was a wall of water going away in one direction while another wall of water rose up to my right. It was not uncomfortable or scary. Just awesome.

The swells continued all the next day. It is hard to describe how big they look. How powerful and mellow at the same time. Not rough at all. In fact, Junie put out her handline to fish and, almost immediately, hooked up with a Mahi Mahi. We decided to release it rather than deal with it. 

As we passed the Plana Cays, the effects of huge swells hitting rock islands was pretty amazing. There were towering plumes of spray and turquoise water surging up the north-facing shores. We started to wonder what our approach to the reefs around Caicos might look like in the morning if these swells followed us all the way there.

The second night, we were a little ahead of schedule so we needed to slow down in order to arrive at the Sandbore Channel in the daylight. In the middle of the night, I saw our wind speed indicator showing 10 – 12 knots from our stern quarter so I unfurled a head sail, shut off the engine and very effectively slowed down. It was peaceful while the breeze lasted. Which wasn't long.

We entered through the reef onto the Caicos Bank on Wednesday at mid-morning. We could see the waves crashing across the reef just to our north but the entry was gentle. We pulled down our Bahamas courtesy flag that had been flying from our flag halyard for over a month. We replaced it with the yellow 'Quarantine' flag that indicates that we have not yet cleared into a new country - the Turks and Caicos. We were headed for Southside Marina and needed to be there at noon to catch the high tide to get in. It is a shallow, tight channel. 

The scene of the incident. If you can't see the rock,
don't feel bad. I couldn't either.
As we got close, I got on the radio with the marina. Bob gave us specific directions to go past the last green marker until our stern was at least 30 feet beyond the mark before turning hard left to line up into the marina. As I, standing at the wheel, came even with the marker I looked ahead and thought, ‘This cannot be right’. I started to turn but I was already too slow. SeaClearly took a hard smack on the rock ledge at the far side of the channel, bounced left and scraped again, and then settled back into clear water. How I suddenly missed the soft, muddy bottom of the Albemarle Sound.
We pulled into the marina fuel dock and had a few tense moments with the marina staff - for about the next three hours. I couldn’t believe they had given me such bad direction. They were not apologetic. I was mad at myself for not recognizing the danger sooner.  I am never very forgiving of myself when I make a mistake. While we waited on the fuel dock for customs to come to clear us in, the marina guys agreed to assign us a slip that we had picked out and then proceeded to give it away to another boat. It was a very bad start to our stay at Southside Marina.

Junie used the GoPro on a pole to examine SeaClearly’s wounded keel. She has a scrape but it seems to be just a flesh wound. We made it all the way from North Carolina to the Turks and Caicos before we hit bottom for the first time. The day slowly started to get better. We ended up in an OK slip right next to the folks that got our originally assigned slip. We, immediately, got along wonderfully with them. We realized that they were the trawler that had been tracking near us two nights ago and that we had contacted on the radio. More on Ken and Sylvianne later.

We finally settled down, made nice with the marina guys (because, what choice do you really have?) and took a moment to look around. We are in the Turks and Caicos!

Now, it is Friday again. We have had some adventures here on the island of Providenciales and made new friends. Those topics deserve a post of their own so I will get back to them some other time. But, as usual, we are always looking ahead. We checked our weather apps the other day and saw a nice sailing opportunity coming soon. We asked our weather guru, Chris Parker, if he saw the same window for sailing from here, in Provo, to Puerto Rico. His response-‘Wow, those opportunities are hard to come by, but, yes! If you leave the Turks on Sunday you will have north winds that should allow you to sail all the way.’ How can we pass that up? 

We are a little nervous. The trip will be, roughly, 72 hours over 400 miles of open ocean. The 'bail-out' ports are few and a long ways from anywhere on our track. We will pass over sections of the ocean that are 25,000 feet deep. Most cruisers skip the north coast of Puerto Rico because it can get rough. But, we wanted to go to San Juan. So, we are.

So it looks like San Juan for Christmas. How crazy is that?

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