Sunday, October 21, 2007

First French Cay trip

A late afternoon photo from our temporary back porch:



Well, I guess this is the first "official" day the blog has been open to the public. We are sitting here thinking, how can we make it better? More interesting? Please, send your comments and let us know what we are doing right or wrong."

Now, on to French Cay....

Friday we finally took our boat from Providenciales out to the little uninhabited island of French Cay:

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This map is so you can find it on the sat image so that you can visualize it. It's a litte bitty speck of an island, roughly twenty miles south of Provo. We had never been there before this trip. Never even flew over it. Its not on the way to anyplace else we would normally go.

But for hundreds of years, it was a convenient hide-out place for people who kept an eye on the Spanish ships sailing South of the TCI, with some bad intentions. You've heard of these guys......pirates. And not the Disney version.

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The light blue water is the Caicos Bank. The dark blue is the deep ocean. The TCI is essentially a flat hilltop a little over a mile high, in water that is just almost as deep as the hill is high. That's why we stick out of the water. We are surrounded by 5,000 to 6,000 feet of water in every direction.

French Cay is on on the far edge of the Caicos Bank, straight south from Provo and southeast of West Caicos, all alone in the middle of the blues. In the 17th century the island served as a hideout for a brigand of the sea, Nau L'Ollonois, who ambushed and captured passing sailing vessels. A seriously bad guy. He would hide out on French Cay, waiting for Spaniards to come sailing by to the South. He also had a hideout over on West Caicos, a hole where he would tie his ship with branches in the rigging to make it look like trees from a distance. Crafty Frenchman, eh?

Our excuse for the trip was that we needed to fill the boat's fuel tank and see if it was still leaking after my attempts to tighten hoses, reseal gaskets, and reseat bolts. We don't really need much of an excuse to get on the water, but we had one.

The water was rougher than we like it. The trade winds were kicking up out of the Northeast, as the trade winds do. That put us into a two-foot chop on the way out, which was building up toward three feet on the way back. It slowed us down, in our little bitty boat, and made for a real bumpy and wet ride. Isn't it funny how big a boat can seem when trying to squeeze it into a narrow slip, vs. how small it becomes when you surround it with nothing but ocean and sky as far as the eye can see?We still went.

After an hour of going slow so as to not rattle our teeth out nor spill our drinks, we finally got our first glimpse of French Cay. A low, flat, lonely island out of sight of any other land.

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The first thing you see is the single navigation aid: a pole with a radar reflector, a light, and an Osprey sitting on it. The water here is darker than what we are used to seeing on the Bank. A greenish tint, although still crystal clear.

The dog pays attention when we get near an island. I don't know whether he is thinking "wow, look at all those birds.....

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or maybe "I been bouncing for an hour, look at all those bushes...."

Looking toward the South, at the Eastern end of the island, you can see where the gnarly coral area suddenly stops and there is a beautiful, smooth sandy bottom. It's in the lee of the island, and a perfect place to drop the anchor and be protected from the wind and waves:

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We really wanted to do just that, and were prepared to spend several hours exploring the cay. But we had a problem. The fuel tank on the boat was leaking gasoline into the bilge. We probably lost three or four gallons into the bottom of the boat on the way over. It was difficult to tell how much, exactly, until we got into this calm water and could let the boat drift level. We ran the salt-water washdown hose into the anchor locker, and ran the pump. This diluted the leaked gasoline with seawater, and when it was mixed up enough we ran the bilge pump to clear it out. We don't like having to do that, but this was dangerous. One spark, and we would have gone up in flames. At least gasoline evaporates almost instantly in this environment.

But what we could NOT do was stop the boat and let it sit unattended with a leaking fuel tank while we explored the island. We needed to keep running the engine, burning off fuel, and keeping the bow high. The leak is somewhere in the front of the tank, and the leak stops when it gets down to about three quarters full. We had to keep motoring.

Looking back toward Providenciales with the sun behind us is a better picture of the color of the water as the ocean mixes with the water over the bank.

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Home is somewhere just over the horizon, that-a-way.

(That view is pretty close to what the water actually looks like over the sand. Photos taken into the sun make the water look darker than it really is.)

As we putt-putted around the Eastern end of French Cay, we immediately starting seeing bits and pieces of lumber and ship's parts scattered on the sand.



On the GPS chart, that area to the right is labelled "Haitian Fleet", and we did see ribs and parts of boats long ago broken up and covered by sand and vegetation. On our list of things to come back to.

The remains of another Haitian sloop, with an Osprey sitting there calmly watching us. I realize the photo is crummy. The sun was just totally in the wrong place to get good photos, and of course we couldn't stop the boat.



We also re-learned that for all it's strengths, the little pocket digital has a crummy telephoto. (Note to self: leave the zoom alone)

It's not only the wooden Haitian sloops that have come to their gravesite here on French Cay. We also saw the skeletons of some more modern,steel boats that will never float again:



We eased a little closer to this one, but the water was getting shallow on this end. We went in until it was about 3 feet deep, trying to get a better photo and angle, but the sun was still in our faces, which shadowed the wreck:



We could catch glimpses of the bones of other wrecks over the grass and bushes, wrecks on the southern, open-ocean side of French Cay. It was tantalizing us, because we wanted to see them. The best way to do that will be to go back, with a healthy fuel tank next time, and anchor in the lee where that evil French pirate anchored three hundred years ago. Then we can walk over the island, take our time, and get some really good clear and close up photos.
But this time, it was not to be.

As we left French Cay, looking eastward toward Africa we could see that the dangers of the reef along here are not limited to the immediate vicinity of the island. Staying well away from it is no safer. We could easily see the wreck of a much larger ship out on the reef itself a mile or two away:



This area is thick with shipwrecks. Dr. Don Keith, the marine archaelogist who found the Molasses Reef wreck, told me that it is estimated that since Columbus came through here in 1492, and Ponce De Leon in 1503, there have been at least a thousand wrecks on these reefs.
We definitely have to go back to French Cay again. We never need much of an excuse, in any case.

5 comments:

Johnny said...

Wow, I just spent the last 3 days (not straight thru) reading your posts in the other forum! Gringo you have brought me back to my dream and given me a needed respit from my treatment. I haven't dreamed of far away beaches in awhile now, and while I did not dream about coming to see you personaly, warm water and beaches have sure been in my dreams the last couple of nights!
Please do not ever stop the writing! I think most of us that have been reading this for awhile have seen how good it has been for you two AND how much you both enjoy it!

Gringo said...

Thanks for the encouragement. We are really glad you get something out of the photos, etc.

We still have a ways to go to get this blog thing sorted out. La Gringa is patient enough to educate me. Not easy...old dog, new tricks, etc.

As you can tell so far its mostly copying over the thread. But it should get better as we go.

Thanks, and please feel free to comment and criticize all you want.

msheppard13 (Mark) said...

Great blog structure. Nice and easy to use/read. At this point, I wouldn't change a thing.

argus said...

Well done 2Gringos! Looking really good. Too bad about the fuel tank - that thing must be driving you about nuts by now. Good luck with the repair.

Keep up the great work in this new format.

Gringo said...

yeah, the fuel leak is a bummer. It's getting worse, and I can't get to it. It's going to prevent us from taking our boat to Salt Cay and Big Sand Cay next weekend.

The good news is that the manufacturer (Andros Boatworks) is taking care of it. They told me to have the boatyard fix it and send them the bill.