Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Running to the Caicos

We spent a couple nights in Clarence Town, not counting the night we arrived.  One anchored in the harbor and then we moved into the protection of the marina for the second while we waited for a cold front to pass over.  

Our first day there, the crew made the long dinghy ride in to the docks to spend the day exploring town on foot.  I opted to remain aboard and passed the hours in glorious silence and solitude, reading, napping, eating, precious time alone with my thoughts.  They returned just before sunset.  They'd met a local chef who gave them some chili peppers and specific instructions on how to cook the Mahi Mahi fillets still residing in our refrigerator.

It was my night to cook dinner.  The instructions were repeated to the best of everyone's memory and I set to work.  Brown rice cooked in chicken stock, green beans with carmelized onions and green peppers.  The fish, I pan seared with olive oil, salt and pepper, lime juice, and minced chili peppers.  As soon as the peppers hit the hot fry pan, the spiciness vaporized and we were all doubled over in the little cabin coughing, eyes streaming.  It served to heighten our appetites.

I used every pan and pot we had.  It was Nate's turn to do the dishes.  We piled them up in a greasy heap out in the cockpit.  He put it off until the morning.

The next day, with the wind howling, so it was time to motor in to the marina.  We pulled in smoothly, looking like pros in front of the dockmaster, but then spent a full hour adjusting dock line tension and placing chaff gear.  Strolla jerked and bucked at her tethers.  It wasn't much calmer at the marina docks than it had been out at anchor.  The wind continued to increase.  With seven dock lines out and rags and hand towels and pads placed on all the wear points, I finally felt secure that we wouldn't break free in the night.  

Showers, internet, loafing about, an evening in the bar next door getting drunk with the crews of the two twin mega yachts tied up across from us.  We compared weather information, discussed sailing routes.  They informed us repeatedly that the British Virgin Islands are the only place to spend New Year's.  We informed them repeatedly that we averaged five miles per hour, strictly dependent on the weather.  Pockets empty, we all stumbled back to our boats.

The next morning was relaxed.  We took on water, topped off our fuel, and waited for the winds to weaken.  Early afternoon we cast off and motored out.  The bikini clad crew of the nearest motor yacht waved farewell from their sunbathing beds on the foredeck.  We waved back sadly.

The swells exiting the harbor were steep, the winds still howling.  I wondered if perhaps I'd been a bit impatient on our departure.  Returning to our spot at the dock was briefly considered.  However, as soon as we'd gained enough sea room, we turned off the wind, putting it directly astern and setting the compass for Crooked Island.  The wind seemed to lessen, the boat seemed to stabilize.  In a second it became quite pleasant.  Only careful attention to the size of the waves steaming by reminded us of the conditions we were actually out in.  

We ran along under our genoa alone, coasting down the faces of the waves at speeds up to 10 knots.  I cautioned everyone that conditions had not in fact moderated as they appeared.  It was hard to take me seriously.  Out in the sun, all alone on the rolling sea, we joked and snacked.  I showed everyone how to set the jib boom.  We set up the spinnaker for the first time, or what passes for the spinnaker aboard Strolla.  We were making great time, rested and ready.

The sun set, the stars came out, the wind never weakened.  We passed the safe anchorages on Crooked Island early in the night, and those in the Plana Cays closer towards dawn.  By morning we could see the shores of Mayaguana.  Still, the wind howled and hurtled us forward.  We turned south and then east again, riding our west wind along the coast of the long, wooded island.

As we crossed the shallower waters near the coastal reefs, we caught two large Barracuda in close succession.  Becca's cookbook warned about the high risk of food poisoning from eating Barracuda.  We reeled them in and I took it upon myself to unhook each one and throw it back.  A tricky proposition.  I knelt on it's head.  Mark knelt on it's tail.   The tri-pointed hooks of the lure flashed violently in the sun.  Working quickly with gloves and pliers, staying well clear of the inch long teeth, I soon had the great fish free and returned to its home.

As our second night at sea settled in, we had a decision to make.  The entrance onto the Caicos Bank and the anchorage at Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos was strewn with shifting sand bars and shoals.  Infrequently and incompletely mapped, the experts in our cruising guides agreed, "don't attempt to enter unless you can navigate visually."  The problem was, sailing straight from Mayaguana, we would arrive around 3 a.m.  Even when the sun did rise, it would be directly in our eyes.  With the easterly swell, there was no protected anchorage on Mayaguana.  

We sailed on, carried along by the irresistible momentum of the elements.  Five miles from the channel, with Mark and I on watch, we hove to, or at least tried to heave to.  I'd never done it before and with time to kill, decided to give it a try.  It didn't work, not without a sea anchor, which seemed like more work than it was worth at the time.  Faced with the proposition of sailing back and forth along the coast until the lighting was right, we decided to go for it.  The moon was full, its silvery light bright enough to read comfortably by.  Going slow, with a double bow watch, we would be fine.  

As we entered the narrowest part of the channel, the moonlight suddenly failed.  One of the small cumulus clouds dotting the sky had probably passed over the moon for a second, I assumed.  The moonlight didn't return.  I looked up.  Only the tiniest sliver of white still showed.  The rest of the moon was a deep blood red.  We were witnessing a full lunar eclipse.  Impeccable timing.  We arrived at our anchorage safely, nonetheless, and slipped gratefully to sleep.


  1. I love it! Thanks for giving me something exciting to read while at work. Good work Pete. Great writing and great sailing.

  2. What a great entry, Pete. One of your best.

  3. Um... that is not the spinnaker. That's the head of an old spinnaker from a boat I used to race on that we turned into a wind scoop... to funnel air down the forehatch at anchor. But it looks very pretty as a spinnaker!

    She will heave to so long as you get the right balance of main versus genoa and the helm lashed hard over to leeward f the main. She still makes a knot or so sidewards, but it slows and calms everything down.