Thursday, May 5, 2016

A Short Look at a Long Cay

 We spent a couple of weeks anchored in Cockburn Harbour over on the far side of this little tropical island nation. We were in a beautiful anchorage, tucked up under the lee of the island of South Caicos.  It was the first time we've been able to actually go somewhere new in the sailboat since we got it down here. Our previous post has some photos of the trip and our first couple of days at South Caicos.   While we lived full time on the sailboat, we  also got a lot of use of our little rubber inflatable dinghy on this trip.  We had to take the dog ashore at least twice a day, for starters.  And we also made quite a few trips over to the town of Cockburn Harbour. We were buying take-out conch dinners, gasoline, diesel, and provisions all within 50 meters of where we stepped onto the dinghy dock.

It did take a few moves to slip our little boat in between the conch boats tied up there. We had to nudge them aside, and then drop an anchor off the stern.  Maybe I could call it a South Caicos two-step, so to speak..

And we found South Caicos to be extremely interesting, even from the first few steps ashore. That little shed in the background in the photo above is the ferry terminal for the island, for example.  And we saw several completely different types of boats labelled  South Caicos Ferry.   It's about a fifty mile ride across open water to get from here to Providenciales.  And of course once business in Provo is done, it's another fifty mile trip to make it back before dark if you want to do it all on the same day.
I suspect it takes a fairly hardy strain of TCI stock to live here.  And as we got to know a few of the local people during our brief two week stay, we came to realize that they are a little bit different than those from Provo. It reminded us of the differences between city people and rural people the world over.   And did we like it here?  Well, we came for "a few days" and ended up staying two full weeks, if that tells you anything.  We would probably still be there, except we needed to get back to Provo to get our skiff ready to sell.  . 

 Looking around after climbing up onto the aged concrete dock, I had noticed this little shed sitting there unoccupied in anything useful. I mentioned it several posts back, but now I've dug into it a little more.   It first caught my attention because of the damaged aluminum satellite antenna dish lying in front of it.  Regular readers of this blog will know we've had our own issues with aluminum sat dishes.

But then I started looking closer at the shed itself.  I noticed the wooden 'knees' used to frame the entrance way.   This is a technique we've seen used in native sloop building, too. All of the corner braces were cut from trees.

And what caught my attention was that the untreated timbers lasted far longer than any of the square cut framing timbers, or even the corrugated tin roofing material.

It occurred to me that for probably several generations of South Caicos natives, this unassuming little rough cut shed was the source of almost all of the island's income.   It all came from that dock, through this door.

I have to wonder how many million conch and fish slid over that crumbling and knife scarred hunk of concreted mortar and crushed limestone.  I didn't realized how much history this old hunk of masonry mix had witnessed back when I first posted this photo.

I know I have already mentioned that a local told me that this little shed was the very first 'fish processing plant' on the island of South Caicos. This kind of thing interests us.  We love local history, but finding out about some of these things is frustrating because there is so very little in the way of written documentation on the history of these islands. Development on Providenciales has covered what very little history there was there prior to the 1960's, but here on "Big South", hints of its history have not yet been razed to make way for the latest and greatest condominium complex or resort.    We rented a car for the day and spent more time touring the area later, and I'll write more about it in an upcoming post.

I referred to South Caicos as "Big South"  here, and in our previous post, and maybe I should explain that name.  First a little bit of fairly recent history.

South Caicos was once the commercial center of the Caicos Islands. It was the center for  both salt production and fishing, and that was basically all that was going on  here from around the late 1700's until the 1960's. The world found out that it is easier to dig salt out of a mine and truck it than it is to repeatedly flood a big pen with seawater and dry it out and then scrape it up and ship it in a boat.  The remnants of those days are all over the place, but that's all they are.  After  the sea salt industry dried up (arghh!)  the locals scraped out a living catching conch for a while.  Nobody got rich from that, but at least they didn't starve.

South has always been the fishing center of the Turks and Caicos and it still is today.   But this is not big fishing trawlers like you'd find in the North Sea or off of New England or Portugal.  These are small boat operations for the most part.  We've  started to recognize the local fishermen that we see twice a day as they pass by us here on their daily commute. This skipper, for example, wears a jaunty Tam O'shanter  and after seeing him and his crew a few times  I  started watching the horizon in the late afternoon for the little conch boat being driven flat out by the cat in the hat.   

South Caicos has a few beautiful beaches and some of the most dramatic scenery in the islands, but it's remote.  Isolated.  Small.  And tourism never really took off here.  At least not yet.  Some people are trying to make it work. We had lunch one day at the new East Bay Resort.  It's a beautiful facility, it looks exactly like the photos at that web site I linked to.  It was totally under utilized with only a few guests there. It would be a great place for someone who really wanted a nice resort without all the hubbub of Grace Bay.  A great place to "get away", but you have to really want it.  South Caicos is not very easy to get to if you don't have a boat or airplane. It's a long ferry ride from anywhere else in the country, all tucked away down in the southeast corner.  Getting through Customs and Immigration at the Provo international airport is just the beginning of the trip to South Caicos.  It's worth it, by the way. But tourism was never a major industry here.

Then, back in the 1960's the illegal drug trade noticed that South Caicos was located about half way between Columbia and Florida.   It has a decent airport runway courtesy of an old US military base and a convenient harbor.  It became a refueling stop for aircraft flying below the radar.  I've read descriptions of life here in the '70's and up into the mid 1980's that sound like episodes of the old television series Miami Vice.  New Cadillac cars driving around these rutted roads.  Local merchants with the best merchandise. Pilots bringing construction materials down from Florida to justify the trip, making an overnight run to Columbia and back, and then flying fully loaded back to Florida. Marijuana and cocaine as easy to buy as alcohol.  And the money flowed. Here's one description of it by someone who spent some time here.

The pilots who were engaged in this temporarily lucrative business came up with a nickname for the South Caicos refueling stopover. They called it The Big South. And that's where I got the name for the title of our previous blog post. And now with the morning's history lesson behind us....

The island of Long Cay figures very prominently in  South Caicos  geography.  As with so many names here, Long Cay  pretty much describes this island. It defines and protects the entrance to Cockburn Harbour. The  entrance to this excellent anchorage is between the north end of Long Cay and the little island of Dove Cay.

We explored Dove Cay the first day we were here.  It's easy, accessible, and nearby. We also made a few trips over to Long Cay, but we were very limited by the dog. This is primarily because the entire 3.2 mile length of the cay is a Rock Iguana preserve.  This means dogs are definitely not welcome to come over here and harass the lizards.  So when we visited with Dooley we had to maintain tight control over him, and kept him with us on the beach right next to the water. No exploring in the bush.  No iguana chasing allowed whatsoever.  He was on a leash on an uninhabited island. He didn't have to like it.  He just had to live with it. 

And it's an iguana dreamland.  Lots of vegetation, miles to roam, no people, no predators.  Plenty to eat, and plenty of shelter.

On our first visit to Long Cay  we boated over to the nearest little stretch of beach we could see with binoculars from the boat.  I've labeled that as 1st Landing on the satellite image above.

We were very curious as to what the other side of the Cay looked like.  But we couldn't take the dog on a trek over the top of it. Nope.  He'd be chasing iguana faster than I could say "look at the pretty lizard".

I would never have been able to stop and take this photo of an iguana if Dooley had been with me.

I didn't show the dog this photo, either.   He'd probably sulk about missing the trip.

 But to see if it was going to be worth the trouble of even hiking to the other side, I took a little trek over the rocks while La Gringa kept the dog under control down on the beach.     She's the one in this photo standing there on Dooley duty, with her arms crossed, just waiting for me to slip and fall and break something major. I was barefoot at the time and it was not a simple matter to clamber over these rocks without shoes on.  Hey, it was only a short trip.

But it was enough for me to get a quick  look at the Atlantic side of Long Cay.   I even managed to snap a few photos of it, so I could show it to La Gringa when  I made it back down to the beach side.  And it's pretty impressive.    

This is the view to the north:

And this is looking south:

 I wasn't equipped for much hiking on this excursion, and didn't want to be gone from sight for too long, so I snapped my hasty photos and decided that we needed to come back for a longer look on another trip.  With shoes. And without Dooley.   

The little island is not very wide at this point.   This is the view up along the spine of it looking north toward South Caicos. You can see the white roofs (rooves?) of the East Bay Resort there to the left in the distance.

On our next trip to Long Cay we decided to expand our horizons a little bit, and we headed down further to the larger beach that I've marked as 2nd Landing on that Google Earth image above. This is a nice little protected beach, very easy to get the dinghy into.   Except for one complication.   The place is dotted with old piles of discarded conch shells. And I don't mean just a few. They're everywhere.  The conch shell piles are the dark mounds in these photos.  It made me a bit nervous about the inflatable boat.  These things have some very sharp points on them.  Even the old broken ones. Maybe I should say particularly the old broken ones.

What happens is that the conch fishermen like to pull their boats into comfortable places to clean their catch before taking it back to the fish processing company on South Caicos.   They pull their boats up to the beach and fling the shells over the side.   Day after day.  Month after month.  Generation after generation.  Century after century. Some of these darker shells are ancient by USA standards. 

We got around the rubber boat issues by just moving on down to a clear part of the beach and not pulling it ashore.

Here's the path we had spotted on our earlier reconnaissance trip when we were shackled to a terrier. But this time we were free to wander up and take a walk on the wild side of the place.  Dooley was left in charge of Twisted Sheets. And almost certainly napping the afternoon away at this point.  This trail  goes up to the top of the ridge.

 And on the other side of the cay here there is a small cove.   We thought it was pretty scenic. And went over to get a closer look.  The spinal ridge of Long Cay really divides the differences between the shallow Caicos Bank's turquoise water on the left, and the dark, thousands of feet depths of the open ocean on the right.

Taking a look at the charts for the area later we could see that the  exposed eastern edge of Long Cay has quite a few small coves like this. The Atlantic has eaten its way into the rock in many places.   This cove seems to serve as a trap for all kinds of floating goodies that get washed up against the island.  We couldn't find an easy path down to the edge of the water and this definitely is not the kind of place to mess around. I don't know what a medical evacuation from here might be like, and am in no particular hurry to find out. We stayed up on the edge of the cliff.  Nice and safe. We think.

This was a nice calm day on the sea here.   Some gentle swells were rolling into the little cove and breaking on the rocks.  The water is every bit as clear as that amazing water on the other side of the island, but it has a different hue to it.  It just looks deeper.  Rougher.  No so much like a swimming pool on this side.

We could see dozens of fishing floats, timbers, shoes, and all kinds of other flotsam packed into the deep piles of seaweed that the ocean has shoved up against the inside edge of the cove.

And looking closer, we started to notice little sea caves here and there.   It made me want to bring the inflatable around on a really smooth day and do some more exploring.  I'd much rather do it from a boat than by slithering down a rocky cliff.  The problem with slithering down is that one then has to slither back up again.   Not so, in a boat.

We'd left Dooley the Detective in charge of the boat on this trip so we didn't spend all afternoon walking the island.  We saw enough to know that all of the 3+ mile length of it will  be fairly rugged and wild.

Here's a view of the dinghy anchored to the small beach where we came ashore to explore this trail.  The water on this side of the island looks completely different than the open Atlantic at our backs.  At least, it looks benign on a day like this one.

We were feeling a little bit guilty about leaving the dog unattended for a couple of hours.  Maybe apprehensive is a better word.  In either case we decided to head back to the sailboat, pick up the dog and go do some more exploring without going ashore on the iguana preserve.   S/V Twisted Sheets sure looks like it's a long ride from here. Can you spot it in the middle of this photo?

Here, this should help:

So we clambered back down the path and launched the dinghy.   This is a look back at Long Cay as we pulled away. I was thinking to myself what a great spot that flat section of land would be for a small off-grid cabin. Surely someone has camped on that cay over the centuries that man has been visiting this area.

We picked up the dog without any mishap, other than he tried to make us feel guilty about leaving him.   We're accustomed to what we think of as his POD (Poor Old Dog) mode, though.  A quick doggie treat cookie and a ride in the dinghy always cheers him right up. We took off for a big tour around the edge of the anchorage.  This time with the dog aboard.   We were scoping out some potential spots to go snorkeling. There is a small reef area marked on the charts as The Admirals Aquarium near here and we wanted to go take a look at it.  It turns out that it's actually a long shallow spot with a lot of loose rocks, coral heads, and various marine animals hanging out.

We kept spotting various fish but since we were zooming around we didn't get many photos of them.  Dooley discovered that there were things to look at here, though.   He started paying attention from his favorite perch in the bow of the little inflatable.  All clear to the port...

Everything cool on the starboard...

And a nice breeze to air one's ears out.  Assuming one likes that kind of thing.

You might wonder why Dooley the Discriminating is paying so much attention to the water around us. Well, there's a good reason for it. He's discovered that if he just pays attention there is all kinds of sea life around here to keep a terriers attention. You know, just in case something were to need biting. Watch how attentive he gets in this video:

The weather was great on this day.  It was mostly sunny with some scattered clouds, and I wanted to put a kite up with a Go-Pro to see what kind of images we would get from the air.   The wind had been dropping steadily and was forecast to be light and variable for the next two days.   Light and variable is great for playing around in a dinghy, but it's not so good for a kite.   I need about 10 knots of wind to lift the camera with the one I use the most. I did have a bigger kite that would work well in 5 knots of wind, but unfortunately for me someone on Provo broke into our car and stole it from me.  I'll have to pick up another one the next time I'm in Boulder.

I got all my kite kit together for the first time in months, and managed to get it launched before the winds died completely.

As you can tell from the position of the ladder we've had on board lately, I'd been doing some more repair work to our wind turbine.   We don't often need a ladder on a sailboat, but when working on these solar panels or the wind turbine it's  turned out to be very handy.   

That dot in the near distance on the left is the small fishing trawler that we published  a photo of in the previous blog post. From this angle you can see it's  list is because one side of the hull is resting on a shallow sand bar.     The dot on the right is a lone fisherman out in his boat over a rocky reef area.

The aerial view helped explain why we'd noticed this boat sat upright at high tide, and  was listing to starboard at low.   When we first posted this photo we thought the boat must have sunk and be aground on a shallow bottom.  Now we know we were only half right.   I have suddenly seen the possibility that it's anchored right there on purpose.   And  it's not going to sink. And there are only barnacles on one side of the hull.  And it could leave twice a day.  Theoretically.

The wind continued to drop and I started having a hard time keeping the kite up with the weight of the camera under it.  Several times I thought it was going to be swimming. The three other sailboats anchored in the Harbour are visible in this shot looking north toward South Caicos.

And as my home-made DIY camera rig circles around I eventually got another image of the lone fisherman in one of his favorite spots.

The wind started to die out on me and I had to start reeling the kite string back in at this point.   But here's a photo looking back toward the east, with South Caicos, Dove Cay, and Long Cay in the distance.

Then the wind died almost completely and I had to pull the kite down hand over hand.  Trying to wrap it on my stringer was just too slow. Notice the pile of loose string on the deck by my feet.  I managed to get it before it fell in the water. You might also notice a lazy little dog catching some rays there on the port side of the boat.   I never knew a dog so in love with his own suntan.  We should have named him after George Hamilton.

The wind was so light that we drifted back over our own anchor, even though we had over 15 meters of chain out in about  3.5 meters of water.   This is our anchor, under our stern.

It still amazes me to look at these photos and realize that these rocks are under over ten feet of water. You can also make out an old, abandoned fish trap.  The light areas in the photo are the reflections of clouds overhead.   There was hardly a ripple on the ocean this afternoon.

At first glance I thought I was looking at two barracuda swimming together here.  Closer examination reveals that it was just one barracuda and his shadow on the bottom.  Sometimes it was hard at first glance to differentiate the fish from the shadow.

Several of these fish hung around Twisted Sheets while we were there.  I think the shade under the boat was the attraction.  They always seemed to be around. It was just easier to see them when the water surface was smooth as the wind died.
We could tell how close to the surface this guy was patrolling by how far he was from his shadow on the sea bottom.

Eventually the tide turned and we gently drifted back over our own anchor again.   We thought it was worth a photo from the bow of the boat.

There's a live conch in this photo if you know where to look.

At this point we were very much enamored of being anchored here in Cockburn Harbour.  The other sailboats had left after checking in with Customs and Immigration, but another one was entering in late afternoon. We've imported Twisted Sheets to the TCI now, so we're not required to visit the officials when we travel around the country. Makes us almost feel like locals.  Sometimes.

The reflection of the sloops mast should give you an idea of how calm it was this afternoon.   We made the decision to take the dinghy over to Middleton Cay the next day if the forecast held and the weather stayed like this. We really lucked out on the weather.

And we had another decent sunset at anchor, and slept through the night with the soft sounds that a boat makes when it's anchored in calm seas.  I think this is about when we decided to extend our stay in South Caicos.  And it seemed to be unanimous.

La Gringa just reminded me that she shot a little video that afternoon, as we drifted lazily back and forth over our own anchor in the gently changing tides.   Not only did she get the amazingly clear water in this one, she got the sunset as well. It makes a much nicer end to this post than the sunset photo alone.

Oh yes, we are definitely not done with this place just yet.  We're liking it here very much, at this particular point in space and time.


Jonathan said...

I got so worried when I read the link below that I came here immediately... Great post!! Glad to know Dooley is safe.

kristine barr said...

Loved this post! Are there bugs on the boat when you are close to the islands?? i.e. mosquitos or no see ums?

Anonymous said...

We were anticipating bugs, but they never showed up. We like to open the boat up at anchor, and we're always facing into the breeze. The open hatches scoop that breeze like a wind tunnel through the boat. We leave the cockpit door open, with a Jack Russell Terrier on guard duty, and there are no screens on the boat at the moment. Yet in the entire time we were anchored in Cockburn Harbour we had absolutely no issues with any kinds of bugs. Even when the wind was barely moving.

Wendy said...

Another beautiful post. Thank you. I know you have (had?) a Hobie Mirage Kayak. Just want to let you know - look up Hobie Mirage Eclipse. I bet you will see lots of them on the yachts that check in during the season. Might be an easier way to bring Dooley to land. Fair Winds and Thank You for another escape!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip. Those Hobie Mirage Eclipses look fantastic. We loved our Tandem Island. If we could have figured a way to take it on the catamaran with us we'd still own it.

We've had experience with a lot of their boats, including catamarans, inflatable kayaks and the Tandem Island. And I've had exchanges with their customer service people and dealers, and in my opinion Hobie is absolutely first class. I'd buy more of their products without a doubt.