Our trip from George Town to Providenciales (Provo) was an exercise in extremes. We calculated the trip would take about 48 hours at 5 knots. Our route had us heading northeast from George Town and rounding the north end of Long Island; turning southeast to pass the north side of Acklins Island and then the Plana Cays and Mayaguana; and entering the Caicos Bank north of West Caicos. Our destination was Southside Marina on the south side of Provo.
We left George Town at 6:45 AM on January 20 and for about 45 hours had less than 10 knots of wind and nice, long period swells.
We motorsailed with the staysail and genoa and marveled at how smooth everything was. We had the thrill of seeing a pod of short-finned pilot whales near the Playa Cays, blowing misty water high as they surfaced.
We made such great time that we hit the Caicos Banks at 4:00 AM on January 22. The Banks are quite shoal and studded with coral heads, and we didn’t want to enter until it was light enough to see. We circled for two hours and then entered the Banks. This is where the other extreme fired up: a huge wall of squalls chasing us from the north.
The squalls had been forecast, and we were prepared for them, but that never makes them fun. It’s especially not fun when you are navigating skinny water. At one point I counted five individual storms on the horizon and just quietly hoped that they wouldn’t converge on us. The largest mass was on the stern and approaching with the typical gusts coming from unexpected directions.
As the winds surged and the seas started to churn, we neared the marina. We passed through a designated large ship anchorage and noticed that a huge container ship was anchored but was dragging; we could see the line of sand blooming up in a straight line extending forward from his bow, and he was ramping up his speed to power into the wind and take tension off of his anchor.
After a tense 20 minutes of trying to raise the marina on the phone or radio, we finally got through and got directions on where to go. The Captain managed to surf* the boat through a narrow channel with a 90 degree bend and into the marina’s tiny basin, which is a rectangle blasted out of coral, and up to the concrete dock; I’m sure I helped by holding onto the rail so tight that I raised the boat a couple of inches out of the water.
After 52 hours and 249.5 nm, we arrived at 9:30 AM. Since we were still flying the Q (quarantine) flag, we could not refuel or leave the boat until we checked in with Customs and Immigration. So many boats sought shelter on Provo that day that the officials didn’t make it to our marina until 1:30 PM. Once we were checked in, which was completely painless and only cost $50 US, we hoisted our Turks and Caicos courtesy flag and counted ourselves home for the week.
*I have mentioned surfing a few times and wanted to explain. The only way to have control of a boat’s direction is by the action of water flowing over the rudder; the boat must be moving through the water in order to have steerage. When a boat surfs, it is essentially sitting still in the water and being taken to wherever the water wants it to go. The only way to get any kind of control back is to increase engine speed to try to move the boat in the water, which results in going faster, and boats don’t have brakes. We generally run into surfing at inlets where large amounts of water are flowing at a high rate. This was a whole different kettle of fish given how tight it was and the margin for error was zero.