A PERIPATETIC JOURNEY
not all who wander are lost
The effects of the strong front that passed soon after we arrived in Turks and Caicos had lingered, mostly in the form of large ocean waves of up to 15' along the way we needed to travel. After almost two weeks in the marina, it finally looked as if the winds and seas had calmed enough for us to begin our 2-3 day passage to Puerto Rico. Just after sunrise on January 19, we left the dock, threading our way through the reef and shallow water into the Atlantic. It was an uneventful day of motoring, motor sailing, or sailing, depending on the wind and our heading. The ride was a bit rolly at first, and the kids, while not sick, were definitely a bit off.
After we were away from the islands, we put out the hand lines to try our luck fishing. It wasn't long before we caught two skipjack tuna. We let them go because we were hoping for a mahi-mahi. Not all of us care for fish and our freezer is not large, so we make sure we don't keep more than we can eat. Bringing the fish to the boat and identifying them before either releasing or keeping them is an interesting learning experience. Whenever we have a fish on, we slow the boat and Eoin watches the helm while Brian does the messy work of filleting. The girls grab our fish identification guides and try to figure out what kind of fish we have. Of course, the mahi-mahi are obvious and fortunately, we caught one next.
Due to small swells and lack of strong wind, this passage was mostly mellow. We enjoyed beautiful sunrises and sunsets and the kids did a lot of reading and drawing. Brian sighted land early in the morning on the 21st, and we were safely anchored out in the harbor at Puerto Real by mid afternoon. Brian went to shore to take care of the formalities while Kendall and the kids tidied up the boat. Once we were cleared back into the United States, we went to shore for some food and a walk. The next morning, we would tie up at the fuel dock and wait for it to open, then after filling the tanks, we'd go to our assigned slip for the week.
Some of you may be curious about passages: what are they like, what happens, what do we do with our time? Passages are thought by some to be a necessary evil; something to be endured in order to experience the destination on the other side. Others love them - the challenge, the movement, the planning. Usually it takes a day or two to settle into the groove. The adults must adjust to a disrupted sleep schedule to cover night watches, and depending on the sea state, some of us need time to adjust to the motion. Kendall and the kids begin taking their drugs of choice at least a day prior to departure (Kendall takes Bonine and the occasional Zofran, Eoin takes Bonine, while the girls take Dramamine). So far, Brian has been unaffected. We all seem to be adapting somewhat and thus far no one has felt as seasick as they did on the first passage from the Chesapeake to Georgia (well, actually Kendall was in her worst shape so far on the aborted Thanksgiving Gulf Steam crossing).
Meals also become less regular or predictable, although we suspect this is something we will get better at in time. On our passage to Turks and Caicos, for example, we made a lunch of fish tacos with our fresh-caught mahi-mahi on day one. As long as our luck with the handlines holds, we hope to have more fresh fish to eat on future passages. Kendall and Eoin eat plenty of saltines, and there is a lot of grab-and-go. For example, an abundance of granola bars, cheese and crackers, beef jerky, and nuts are consumed on passages. We try to bake banana bread or other treats ahead of time and also make large quantities of pasta and rice to have on their own or as a base for a meal.
Sometimes we have school on passage, but depending on the motion of the boat, this isn't always possible. Usually we let the kids know what they have to do for the week's lesson, and they do what they can when they can. Passage school is usually reading, math, or workbook-based exercises. Writing can be difficult on a moving boat. Again, this comes down to preference. Some families never do school on passage, while others always at least try. We hadn't held school on a passage until our trip from The Bahamas to Turks and Caicos, and so far, that is the only time. We did not on our trip to Puerto Rico from Turks and Caicos. Rather than being rigid about school on passage, keeping it optional and based on the kids' (and teacher's!) comfort level works for us. There's always time to do the work once we make landfall. Of course, the students know they can't plead seasickness, then pick up their kindles. If they can read, they can have school!
Passages can also be kind of meditative, especially if the conditions are light and we are motoring or sailing slowly in calm seas. Marin and Eoin will often catch up on sleep during a passage. Isla spends a lot of her time reading our tropical fish, game fish, and coral reef guide books. She also enjoys a shark identification app we have on our phones. Brian and Kendall try to sleep when they can; keep an eye on the weather, fuel, and charts; refine plans for landfall and clearing in (if we are entering a new country); and identify anchorages or make marina reservations.
Sometimes, we need to repair something that breaks along the way. Late on the first night of our trip to Puerto Rico, the starboard engine shut off unexpectedly (these things do tend to happen in the dark for some reason). After starting up the port engine, Brian opened the starboard compartment to see what was going on. After ruling out other possibilities, he decided to switch fuel filters. When we had the engines serviced after purchasing the boat, we had the mechanic install a second fuel filter in each engine compartment. If a fuel filter clogs while we are underway, we can simply switch off fuel supply to the clogged one and send the fuel to the fresh one instead. This "hot switch" lets us get back up and running quickly and saves us from having to do an emergency filter change at night, in heavy seas, shorthanded, etc. The next day, when there was plenty of light, Brian changed the dirty filter in the starboard engine and proactively changed the one in the port engine. We will try to describe other aspects of passages in future posts.
Our first day in Turks and Caicos, we kept it simple and just relaxed at the marina (Blue Haven Marina and Resort) and enjoyed being on land. The marina is part of a resort complex with hotel, beach, pool, two restaurants, convenience store, and two 'sister' resorts on Grace Bay, the Alexandra and the Beach House. Marina guests are able to use all of the facilities, including a free shuttle to the two other resorts. We have to admit that it is pretty cush, especially after anchoring out a vast majority of the last few months :-) The kids finished the week's last school assignments while Brian was handling customs and immigration and the rest of us were confined to the boat. Once we were all checked in, we had lunch at one of the restaurants, then went to the pool for a swim. The pool has a swim-up bar; the kids liked the submerged barstools, the adults liked the convenience.
One of the first things we did was take the dinghy out to the reef to see at least a portion of the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world. It was stunning and we enjoyed snorkeling and all of the wonderful coral and fish life. The next day we rented a car and got our bearings in Providenciales. We stopped at the Alexandra to enjoy the pool, beach, and the Hobie cats. We did more exploring on Sunday, and stopped by the Beach House just as the leading edge of a cold front blew in. The skies were grey, the wind was chilly, and the restaurant was expensive, so we headed back to Blue Haven. For the next week, the weather was squally, cool, and windy. Not great for beach and pool time, but boat school benefited from the lack of distractions. We were able to complete two full lessons during the week (usually a lesson takes 3-5 days) and put the first semester behind us. It feels like quite a milestone in our short career as homeschoolers! Brian also took advantage of the less than ideal weather to get a lot of his work done.
While in Turks and Caicos, we replenished our fresh food stocks at the excellent, but expensive, grocery stores. The stores carried many foods we are used to seeing on shelves in the U.S., as well as less familiar items. It is interesting and fun to sample the different ingredients and flavors of cookies and crackers packaged in countries other than the U.S. Many people from European and other Caribbean countries relocate to Turks and Caicos for jobs or lifestyle and we heard many different languages being spoken one crowded afternoon at the Graceway Gourmet grocery store.
We also visited some local shops, finding short john wetsuits for the girls at a dive shop (Dive Provo). Lacking much natural insulation, they get cold snorkeling and aren't able to stay in the water very long. Often they are huddled in the dinghy, warming up in the sun, while the rest of us are still enjoying the underwater sights. The girls haven't yet tried their wetsuits in the ocean, but found them to be quite warm in the chilly pool this past week! Speaking of underwater sights, you may have noticed the lack of underwater photography lately. A few weeks ago, our supposedly waterproof GoPro camera started taking on water. We plan to exchange it at West Marine in Puerto Rico.
Also while at the dive shop, Brian inquired about SCUBA certification for himself and Eoin. The shop directed us to an offline app for the required SCUBA theory coursework and exams. Eoin is very excited about diving and has been quite motivated. Last week, he did his schoolwork more efficiently than usual so that he could work on his SCUBA theory in his free time. He has completed the first four chapters and exams and is halfway through the fifth (and final) chapter. Brian was busy with his work and has not yet started on the theory, but he plans to complete it during our upcoming passage to Puerto Rico. They hope to do their pool dive and two days of ocean dives (required for certification) sometime after we get settled in Puerto Rico.
One afternoon, while Brian was kiteboarding, Kendall took the kids on a field trip. First they went to the Caicos Conch Farm. The Caicos Conch Farm was established in 1984 in an effort to remove some of the pressure on natural stocks of Queen conch (Strombus gigas). The facility sustained damage during Hurricane Hanna in 2008 and has not fully recovered. However, they are still farming conch and have recently begun farming fish as well. We heard a presentation given by a staff member, then went to see the conch and fish enclosures. It was very interesting and we wish them success in their endeavors.
The next stop was the Turks and Caicos National Environmental Centre to see their exhibit. We learned about the plants and animals of the Turks and Caicos, both on land and in the sea. The highlight of the exhibit was the scale model of the country, showing how the islands are on a plateau that rises up 10,000 feet from the sea floor.
Everyone got up to help raise the anchor at Little Farmer's. The kids don't always wake up for early departures, but we were all eager for a longer passage and a new country. The sun rose as we motored toward Galliot Cut. We had timed our transit for late in the incoming tide. The winds were light, but with the tide, so our only obstacle was the 2-knot current. But that is much preferable to giant standing waves! The influence of the current was obvious as we kept the throttle steady and watched our speed over ground drop...and drop...and drop...and then start to increase again as we traveled farther through the cut and were less influenced by the narrow space between islands. Finally we were out on the Exuma Sound! We turned southeast toward the northern tip of Long Island and began our journey.
We sailed, motored, or motor sailed all day. By late afternoon, we had passed the northern tip of Long Island. Around sunset we noted and tracked a couple of squalls, one of which passed by in front of us, while the other brought a little rain but not much wind. The kids went to bed while the adults got ready for night watches. We don't have a strict watch schedule, although we do take turns with solo watches of varying lengths overnight. It gets tiring, so we try to make up for the lost sleep during the day.
The next morning we continued our combination of sailing and motoring or both and the day passed uneventfully. The wind had been forecast to 'collapse' during the day, which it did by early afternoon. Sails went down and an engine went on. We try to run only one engine at a time to conserve fuel; the small gain in speed from having both running usually does not outweigh the increased fuel consumption. By evening, we were passing Mayaguana Cay and entering the Caicos Passage. And we were way ahead of schedule. If we continued at 6 knots, we'd get there a little after midnight. Waiting hours for sunrise while motoring in circles (we couldn't have anchored; the ocean is many thousands of feet deep there) near Turks and Caicos was not what we wanted to do. The Caicos Passage was nearly as calm as a lake; there were no wind waves and the swells were about a foot high with a long period. We slowed down to about 3 knots, planning to arrive just before sunrise. Once near Providenciales, we waited for sunrise, then called Provo Radio on the VHF to let them know we were there. They collected information (boat name, name of skipper, identifying numbers such as our MMSI and USCG documentation numbers, number of crew, most recent port and next port after Turks and Caicos, etc.) and welcomed us to the Turks and Caicos. Next we called the marina to let them know we had arrived. We entered the channel, hovered off the docks waiting for them to point to a slip, we docked, and then Brian went to the office to meet with Customs and Immigration officials. After he returned with the completed paperwork and our stamped passports, Kendall and the kids were free to leave the boat (no one but the captain can leave the boat until customs and immigration have cleared us in). And after longer passages, we are all very eager to get onto land!
The first day of 2017 began with a beautiful sunrise. After breakfast, we raised the anchor and motored the short distance to Black Point on Great Guana Cay. The harbor was crowded, but with our comparatively shallow draft, we found a spot closer to shore to settle in. We had heard that the coconut bread on this island was the best in the Bahamas, so we went to find out. The baker of the bread is the mother of Lorraine, who owns a cafe on the island. First, we dropped off our garbage and an associated donation to the local school. Finding a place to get rid of garbage is not always easy, especially after weeks of anchoring out and away from docks/marinas that will take it... Next, we set off in search of Lorraine and her mother. We passed a few people in the road and exchanged New Year's greetings, but since it was a Sunday morning, things were pretty quiet - everyone was in church.
When we reached Lorraine's, she was closed (at church), so we continued along the road to explore. The day was sunny and warm and the water views were beautiful. Upon returning to Lorraine's, we found the cafe open, so we went in for lunch. After lunch, Lorraine directed us to the house behind the cafe to find her mother and the famous coconut bread. With bread in hand, we returned to the dinghy, having decided to find a more quiet anchorage to spend the night. After pulling up the anchor, we sailed around the point and further south on Great Guana Cay to Little Bay to spend the night. That afternoon we enjoyed some hiking ashore and elevated views of the sound and bank.
The next morning we experienced passing squalls. After a brief rainy sail, we dropped our anchor at Little Farmer's Cay just offshore of Ty's Sunset Bar and Grill. The anchor looked good, and we were hungry, so we headed to shore for lunch. Ty's is right on the beach so we relaxed and enjoyed the view. Later in the afternoon, we took a very wet dinghy ride (into the wind and waves) to the government dock to find a post office as we had a few things to mail. Kendall found the post office padlocked, but a passerby directed her to the postmistress's house next door. After being invited in by the postmistress's husband, Kendall left the mail on her kitchen table, some with stamps, some without. The postmistress didn't have any stamps in her house, so took payment for the postage on the items needing it and assured us she would stamp and mail them. She was unsure about when the mailboat would next come to the island from Nassau. Hopefully those of you who were intended recipients of those letters will receive them eventually!
The squally weather was not a surprise since we were expecting unsettled conditions for the next couple of days followed by calm conditions later in the week. We were planning a significant passage (up to 2 days and nights) to Turks and Caicos that required us to leave the Exuma Bank through a route between islands into Exuma Sound. These routes between bank and sound are known as the Exuma Cuts. They can be quite calm, or they can be extremely dangerous, such as when the wind is blowing in opposition to the tidal current. When this happens, large standing waves can develop, making the cut dangerous, if not impassable; this is called a 'rage'. A passage through an Exuma cut must take the tide and wind into careful consideration. The cut we had chosen was Galliot Cut, which is known to be a relatively easy one, although careful planning was still important since currents run a few knots at least.
After two nights at Little Farmer's Cay, we woke early to raise the anchor and head for Galliot Cut and our passage to Turks and Caicos.
After collecting our mail, we left Staniel Cay for the short trip over to Bitter Guana Cay. This island is often bypassed for the more popular Black Point on Great Guana. We were ready for some solitude after busy Staniel so we opted to stop here. The island is also known for its population of protected iguanas. Reptiles! Solitude! We were in!
We were approached by a large iguana as soon as we landed the dinghy on the beach. Most likely it saw us anchoring in the cove and was expecting our arrival. Like the fish, they aren't supposed to be fed, but there was evidence of feeding along the beach. We aren't sure exactly what the iguanas' preferred foods are, but we can say with certainty that they do not seem to like green grapes or Brussels sprouts since those lay untouched on the beach. The cay is narrow where we went ashore so we were able to climb a bluff and cross the island to see the crashing waves of the Exuma Sound on the other side.
Once we'd explored the island, we headed back to Counting Stars for dinner and gifts! The kids were good sports about our shore excursion, but they were eager to open their next set of Christmas presents!
McGlynn family 5 (Isla, Marin, Eoin, Kendall, and Brian) sailing Counting Stars