Sunday, April 10, 2016

Poking Around the Islands

This is going to be really similar to the previous post about our first mini-shakedown cruise on Twisted Sheets. We finally got out of the marina and anchored over in Sapodilla Bay for a week.  We embraced the realities of living on the boat and off the grid. Well, embraced might be too friendly a word. We unplugged from the island.
 It was fun. We learned some things.  Like when  the anchor broke loose in a blow one night interrupting our sleep.  We had to get up at 3 AM, start the engines, retrieve the dangling anchor,   move the boat and drop the anchor all over again.  Imagine the sounds of  your clothes flapping madly as the rigging started singing in the suddenly howling squall. Can't use sunglasses at night very well, so unexpected salt spray was blowing into our very wide awake eyeballs like birdshot.  At least it felt that way.  
One engine wouldn't start, of course,  but there was no time to spend on why.  Always a lot of fun to try to maneuver a catamaran on one engine in a group of anchored boats.  Their anchors were holding. Our  anchor was feebly leaving a big scratch mark in the dirt as it went merrily skipping along over the seabed.  While we were quickly approaching an unsuspecting sloop.  We watched worriedly as the distance between us and the first boat anchored downwind of us went from three digit yardage to two digit yardage.  Yes, we were still dragging. I guess we had hoped that the anchor would just conveniently reset itself and we could go back to bed.  Didn't happen like that. This would  have been a good time for that old Delta anchor to get a grip. An anchor alarm  had reeled  us  up from a warm comfy sleep to the stark in the dark do-something-right-now nail biting  jitters, with a double shot of nervous alacrity. Try to get back to sleep after an intense hour of saving the boat. We did learn  a few things. Enough to happily justify another shakedown cruise.  A longer one.   This post is about our second trip out. Two weeks this time.  But the anchor didn't drag.
For our second little boat trip we headed over to the far side of West Caicos to pick up one of the dive boat moorings. This uninhabited island is more remote than Sapodilla Bay. The forecast was for clear skies, lumpy seas but with a diminishing wind from the north east. It was supposed to smooth out in a day or so. That's what the weather gurus claimed, anyway. We decided to risk it.  Wind is a fact of everyday life here.
This next photo  is of the southeastern edge of West Caicos.  This is the area where the  shallow Caicos Bank drops almost straight down into the deep blue ocean just south of here.   Thousands of feet deep just a few hundred meters off shore. The seas were a lot more serious than the little choppy things we've become so familiar with up in the lee of Providenciales. As they passed under us, they lifted first the left rear corner of the boat, and then  the rear dropped while the bow raised up.  It was a little like trying to catch a wave and just missing it. It would be fun on a surfboard. Takes some mental adjustments in a floating cottage. Nothing alarming, but we were well aware that we were no longer in protected water.  No danger of dozing off during this turn around the southern tip of the island. 
There is a series of fixed moorings installed along the west side of West Caicos. The dive charter guys like this area  because it is usually protected from the prevailing winds and waves from the northeast and it's blessed with clear deep water close to shore. Very deep and very close. The dive boats leave the marinas in Provo after breakfast and come hang on the moorings from mid morning until early afternoon. Then they scoot back to Providenciales to have their vacation divers back at their hotels by Happy Hour. If you see someone in the hotel bar with a fresh sunburn and a grin almost as big as his wristwatch talking about The Wall at West Caicos, this is where he's been diving.
The water gets deep so fast that there is only a very narrow band of shallow water along the shoreline  suitable for anchoring overnight. With the dive moorings unused from early afternoon until the middle of the next morning it's common and accepted that cruisers can 'pick up' a mooring for the night.  These things are solid. They won't come loose in the middle of the night to leave you waking  up to the sound of armed people asking questions in official sounding Spanish while you're busy munching on the top of your heart.  As you may have once heard, NO one expects the Spanish Inquisition. I guess I'm stretching that a bit. Cuba is directly downwind from here, yes, but it's more than a night's drift away. The next thing we'd be likely to drift into would be the island of Little Inagua in the Bahamas, some 25 nautical miles west. It's uninhabited, so we'd be more likely to hear the sound of the waves breaking on the rocks first. I shudder to even think of that one. I'd  much rather be conversing in my butchered Spanish while shoving various denominations of paperwork at every official in sight.
But these moorings are solid, regularly maintained, and designed to hold much bigger things than our little plastic catamaran. Another aspect of this is that the moorings are typically in 50 ft. of water.  This is right on the edge of the drop-off.  A hundred yards west of here we could put out all 380 ft. of our anchor chain and rode and have it hanging straight down below us like a big pendulum. With the sea floor a thousand feet below it. So what we do here is to make up another bridle, similar to the one we use for hooking onto our own anchor chain. In this case we're attaching to a floating loop that is attached to a surface buoy. We just double two long lines through the loop in the mooring pendant....
 ...and bring them back to the cleats on each side of our bow. This is a pretty secure way to spend the night. Makes for softer nightmares, I think. Can you get an idea of the water clarity here from looking at that photo above?   Those dark patches you can just barely make out are rocks on a sandy bottom section about 70 ft. below us.
We had an issue with Dooley. He absolutely did not  show any interest whatsoever in his expensive specially imported fancy Petco Piddle Place Pet Relief System. No interest in the scented pads, or whatever extract came in the bottle. Nope. He wanted to go ashore. And this was a problem. No matter what interesting things we were trying to talk about, he would  find a way to turn the conversation back to us taking him ashore.  It reminds me of a teenager whining for a ride to the shopping mall.
That shoreline he's longing for is what the south western edge of West Caicos looks like.  It's almost all overhanging "ironshore" marine limestone.  Rocky.  And we had a nice little swell sweeping down from the north.   We put the rubber boat in the water and drove him several miles up the coast, but we couldn't find a place to safely land and get out of the boat. We finally gave up trying to go ashore and hoisted the nervous terrier back onto the boat. He'd have to sleep out in the cockpit, alone with his bladder. Listening to the sound of water lapping against the hulls all night. Dog psychology. Works on me too, come to think of it.  We awoke to a guilty looking dog and a suspicious puddle in the corner of the cockpit.  Easy matter to just hose it off.  It is a boat, after all.  Liquid friendly.
It was interesting to be moored right where the seafloor drops from the Caicos Bank pillar to the deep ocean. The mooring is in about fifty feet of water. Our depth under the boat was reading around 60 ft. and  I think I could hit a golf ball with a baseball bat into 2000 ft. of water, just off the stern of the boat. The bottom drops away just that fast.
This part of the Turks and Caicos is locally famous for the number of sharks that cruise up and down these submarine ledges. Just outside the reef generally, but within a quick dash into shallow water should a meal present itself.  Sort of the underwater version of a big cat lurking in the edge of a jungle watching a popular water hole to see what turns up.
Anyone up for a midnight swim later when the stars are out?   Nah, I didn't think so.
We had a 'rolly' night and before you start with the wry congratulations let me explain that a rolly night means that the waves came at us from a different direction than the wind. The wind was from the east while the swells were running from the north. The boat points into the wind. The waves hit it from the side and waggle it all back and forth. It rocks one in one's bunk, from side to side if your bunk is fore and aft. For hour after hour. The fun runs out of that one after about the first ten minutes. We got up the next morning and the waves were still crashing on the rocks. The wind and waves had obviously not felt bound by the forecast that we had used to plan this trip. We changed plans. We decided to head north and come back into Provo via the Sandbore Channel. We would be circumnavigating West Caicos. 

We have not yet replaced the GPS chartplotter  that came with the boat.  It was another one of the tragic lightning bolt victims. Lately we've  been using a standard iPad running a navigation package app. The iPad wedges into a window frame right next to the outside helm.  It works out fairly well.  I snapped a photo of the display we had while heading up the far side of the island.   "Whiteface" was the name of the dive site mooring we borrowed for the evening.
We had planned to spend several days at West Caicos, anchoring close to the island during the day and then hooking up to various moorings for the evenings. There are some old ruins left over from days gone by and this island has heard a lot of secrets. But the weather didn't cooperate. We couldn't easily get ashore here during the day, nor sleep very well at night.  As Kenny Rogers sang,' you got to know when to fold 'em' We left the exploration of West Caicos' past to serve as our excuse for another trip out when things are right. Heck, we couldn't even get a good photo of the shoreline with the island and the sun both to the east.
I could get decent photos looking west, but there was basically nothing to look at there except for some very deep water.
We'd been thinking of trying out one of the dive moorings up off Northwest Point.  Same deal as West Caicos. Unused all night and available. But the swells were coming from the north and we could tell that we'd have the same rolly experience up on the west side of Providenciales. We decided to head back to Sapodilla Bay and just relax for a few days. It was protected from the wind there. And we now know the place.
Coming into an anchorage where we've been before is a lot more relaxing than coming into one for the first time.  Those previous days on and off the hook here gave us the lay of the land, so to speak. We picked a familiar spot and dropped our anchor just up wind of that old wreck we showed you in the previous post. One of the nice things about a low draft multihull boat is that we have a lot more options on places to anchor than boats that need more water to be clear of the bottom.  We're happily anchored in chest deep water. But this time La Gringa let out about twice as much chain when she dropped the anchor. And that anchor buried itself completely and didn't much budge for the next week.  See?   We're learning stuff already. I just wish so much of it wasn't the hard way.
We saw some familiar sights on our way east after turning into Sandbore Channel. When we first got to these islands we were told that this place is called Osprey Rock. The charts call the area West Harbour. And lately I've heard it referred to as Split Rock. It's very much a landmark for sailors coming into the South Dock and Sapodilla area from the west.  I suspect it's served as the local landmark for several hundred years, in fact.
Pulling into Sapodilla Bay, again, we head past all of the monohull sailboats and find a good spot closer to the beach and sheltered. This is one of those situations where we really appreciate a boat with a three foot draft.  Opens up a lot of anchoring possibilities that full keel boats drawing five or six feet just don't have.
The next morning was fairly still and clear so I decided to put the Go-Pro and kite setup together for the first time in months. The stern of Twisted Sheets is a really nice platform for flying a kite. These photos also illustrate the shallower water we can anchor in, compared to the small fleet of deeper draft monohulls anchored out further from shore.  Further from shore is windier, with more wave motion.
This is probably a better photo of the deepening water and our floating flotilla of temporary neighbors.
And this one illustrates one of the benefits we appreciate with the shallow draft.  All of the boats are facing the wind.   Being close to the beach, our boat is sheltered from the wind and waves by the curve of that point below Sapodilla Hill. The other guys are getting more wind, and when it picks up, more waves.
No real reason to include this one, except that it does a better job of showing Sapodilla Beach.  And how high I put the kite up. 
And for those of you who are feeling the urge to tell me about drones, well, first let me explain that I  own three of what most people are calling drones. I still think of them as UAVs, but bow to the latest nomenclature.  Besides, drone is just easier to say than Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. There is a beauty in simplicity, and the kite setup is very simple. It's secure, in that I have my camera tethered to me with a 200 lb. breaking strength line. It's not going to fly off into someone's kitchen window, and I'm not going to lose it. It won't damage it to fall into the ocean. It's cheap. It has no lithium batteries. And no one seems to care about kites. They don't make any appreciable noise and it's actually difficult to see the camera apparatus hanging from the string some fifty feet below it. I do give up some control, but I don't have to deal with a lot of electronics on board the boat.
I have an almost completed Aquacopter sitting in Texas, waiting for me to bring it down here. This is a larger quad that can land and take off in seawater.  It was one of my projects last summer when we were in the Rockies. Regular readers might remember that we ended up bringing our main sail and jib down with us in our luggage. There was no room for the quadcopter. I had thought (at the time, in October) that I would be back in Texas for Christmas, and that I would bring the new, waterproof drone back down with me the first of the year. Alas, it didn't work out that way. Man plans, and the gods laugh. Or something to that effect. But yes, we will eventually have a large quadcopter with an improved camera on board. One designed for this environment.
We've been getting into the water quite a bit lately.  It's easy to do anchored in a bay. Drives the dog nuts when he can't hop in with me, but he's a pain when I'm trying to accomplish something. He does keep a close eye on us when we're in the water.  He will  always be standing somewhere on the boat where he can see whichever one of us is not on the boat. He thinks he's a lifeguard.  But everytime I look up from snorkeling....
I see these two beady little brown laser eyes reproachfully watching over me until I am back on board.   This is his version of giving me a lecture for swimming alone.
While we were in Sapodilla Bay this most recent trip, La Gringa had an appointment in town. Our automobile was parked at South Side Marina, so we nervously left the boat at anchor and took the RIB over to South Side so she could  retrieve the car and make her appointment. Saw some reminders of what can happen here when the weather turns really gnarly, as it does from time to time.
Back at South Side Marina the dinghy sure looked a lot different parked in "our" slip,  without the sailboat.
We passed real close to the new government radar station on Providenciales. This radar covers almost all of the waters of the Turks and Caicos. They keep track of the boat traffic approaching and departing.  They especially keep track of boats coming from the south. Cruisers entering the country will hear Provo Radio ("Papa Romeo") hailing them on marine VHF channel 16. If the boat doesn't answer, it can expect to be intercepted by the marine police. The radio station also acts as somewhat of a "safety net" for boaters here. Their VHF reaches the entire country, and if a boater gets into trouble and needs help here they can contact Provo Radio 24 hours a day to get advice or to help organize a rescue. This is pretty important in an island nation with no Navy, Coast Guard, or SeaTow. 
Eventually we had to pull anchor and take the boat back to the marina. We had been gone almost two weeks on this second trip, and would have liked to stay out longer but supplies were starting to run low and we had things to do that would be much easier if we were marina based. And the weather was forecast to get very windy from the south east. This is not a good wind direction for being anchored at Sapodilla. It puts the boat on what's called a 'lee shore', meaning that if things went wrong and the boat drifted, it would drift toward the beach. Or worse, the rocks. It was time to head "home".
As I'm sitting here on the boat writing this post at anchor a week later in Cockburn Harbour, South Caicos, it occurs to me that we felt more comfortable boating in familiar water six feet deep than we do in unfamiliar waters fifteen feet deep. Our trip back to the marina from Sapodilla requires us to pay very close attention to the rocks and coral heads along the way. 
This is actually another useful characteristic of catamarans. It's like driving a four wheeled vehicle over a road full of potholes, except of course a pothole won't knock a hole in the bottom of your vehicle. We  have to mentally keep track of where the hulls are, and the gap between them, but we've been known to straddle some of these smaller coral heads when needed. We try not to, though.  
We can usually pick a path between them, or go over the deeper ones. This is all part of 'reading the water' here, and it's very important to be able to do that. The extremely clear water can make a rock 9 feet deep look like it's only three feet away. We try to time the trickier routes for mid day, when the sun is high and the light is best for reading the bottom. Here we're clearing the worst of this particular shoal area, with an almost clear path to that hill in the distance. South Side Marina is nestled in the notch hidden behind the furled jib in this photo.
Back in the marina we fall back into our new normal life on the boat. La Gringa puts in her hours working on software development, and I put in my own hours working on the boat. Such fun-filled adventures as figuring out why this ancient AirX wind generator doesn't work. And hasn't since the lightning strike of  2012. I repaired it, by the way. Replaced the brushes connecting the regulator to the slip rings. Piece of cake. And now we get a few amps into the battery bank rain or shine, as long as the wind is blowing. Which is most of the time here.
I was just finishing this post up when I realized that some of Dooley the Deluge's fans will be concerned about his bathroom anxieties when we're on the boat. I wanted to reassure you that we take the time to run him ashore on a regular basis in the dinghy. Here's a photo from the last "shore call" of the day at Sapodilla one evening.
And a sunset photo as we get ready to head back out to the boat for the night. Sure starting to feel like home in that old hunk of fiberglass. This is definitely a different way to live.    And a lot more active.  Taking the dog for a walk takes on a whole new meaning when living on a sailboat full time.


kristine barr said...

Interesting life. Never thought of doing a trial run before taking off for real. Do you think that Dooley won't use the pee pad because he is used to lifting his leg and the pee pad requires he squat like a "girl"?

Anonymous said...

We tried taking off on a longish (for us) trip already. We hopped on the boat in Jacksonville, and started the engines for the first time and took off. Man, were we dumb. We're lucky we made it. Some of the engine-out moments were borderline dangerous, and in one instance coming out of Joe Cay cut in the Exumas, if the second engine had failed we would have been blown onto the rocks.

These little shakedowns are working out okay. We're making little adjustments and still finding gremlins. Getting good practice.

Now as for Dooley, well, he thinks I've gotten him this pee pad thing in retribution. You see, I've had to learn to pee sitting down since we installed the composting toilets. It's actually a good idea on a moving boat anyway, but this was a tough one for me, personally. Now, Dooley has been watching this. Chortling under his breath, pointing his paw at me and making rude comments. He's developed this smarmy sneer, too. Maybe he was trying to impersonate Elvis, but I don't think so. The worm has turned. Adjust or bust, little buddy. Ball's in his court.

Unknown said...

Hey for Dooley I'd suggest wiping up some of his puddle with the pee pad so it gets that smell on it - maybe it'll give him the right idea. Old dogs, new tricks, right?