Saturday morning, another cloudy day. Wind still blowing at around 19kn. Chris Parker (our weather router) did another forecast for us last night. Instead of reinforcing our decision to go, the new forecast is throwing doubt on the proposition. As I sit staring at my computer, I’m feeding this growing pit in my stomach. Am I trying to put a spin on what I’m reading because we are on a (gasp!) schedule, or is the passage doable? Finally, I decide that it’s probably the plane tickets in Puerto Rico talking, and by 06h00, I’m crawling back in bed, knowing that we won’t have another window for at least a week. Suz asks me what’s going on-I read her the forecast. C.P. says that the weather and seas will be rough for the first three hours of the trip, as we beat up to the northern tip of Long Island, then should moderate throughout the day. After that, the prediction gets a little murky. If a Low forms along the TROF currently preceding the Cold Front moving our way, it will probably bring with it Squally conditions, with winds of 40+kn, and seas to 7’. IF we can thread the needle between the Low and the Front, we should have tolerable conditions. Okay, here comes the disclaimer. He says “If my forecast is wrong, you could have considerably worse conditions. If you run into the backside of the Low, you’ll run into the squalls. On the other hand, if the Cold Front catches you, you will lose the suppressing effect that it is having on the winds.” At any rate, he says that we MUST be in to the Turks and Caicos by Monday morning, as the winds will be significant for the rest of the week. His last shot was to the effect of “Fortunately, you’re in a well-found, stabilized boat.” Suz added “At Home On Any Sea”, Kadey Krogen's corporate slogan.
This is the part where it’s good to be part of a team. The Admiral breaks it down: Let’s stick our nose out. If it’s too bad, we’ll turn around and come back; When we turn the corner at the North end of Long Island, if the beam seas and wind have not moderated, we’ll come back down the lee side to Salt Pond (a 3 hour backtrack); If conditions head south later in the day, we can head in to Clarence Town on the South end of Long Island (at night); After that, we’ll be on our own until mid-morning on Sunday when we could duck into the Bight at Mayaguana Island. It all still sounded pretty “iffy,” but it was a plan. By 06h32, the anchor was up, and we were on our way.
During the first leg up to the end of Long Island, we beat into 17kn winds and 2’-4’ seas on 5 second intervals-nothing that we hadn’t rocking-horsed through on the Great Lakes. As we changed course from NE to SE, we began to have a beam sea, and the waves moderated to 1’-3’ on around 7 second intervals-NICE! Of course, all day we were waiting for the other shoe to drop. Toward the end of the day, the seas went to around 2’-4’ on about 8 seconds, with very little wind chop. When I came on watch at 00h30 on Sunday morning, the conditions were about the same, and stayed that way throughout the night, with the exception being the seas near the Plana Cays. I had plotted our course a little too close to the islands, and as the depth changed from thousands of feet to one hundred, the waves stacked up accordingly. As The Girl changed course for deeper water, the steep waves abated. Rounding Mayaguana Island, Suz woke up, and we decided to continue on under lowering skies, the wind picking up slightly, and the radar showing rain all around us. With the windometer creeping up, we decided against our original plan of heading to Blue Haven on the north side of Providenciales, opting instead for the South Side marina, and the relative safety of the Caicos Bank on the south (and lee) side of the island. We figured our ETA would put us through the reef, and on the Bank well before dark, and possibly, even to the marina before all light was gone. Well……….” The best laid plans.” For the next three hours, the wind and seas crept higher. We were still seeing rain on the radar, but the cells all dissipated before we hit them. We now had steady winds in the upper teens, with gusts into the twenties. The seas were up to 4’-6’, but not uncomfortable. Then the squalls hit us. As we passed through each, the winds would rise into the 30’s, with the tops blowing off the now 6-8 footers. In between squalls, the wind would drop back into the 20’s. Never scary, but a bit uncomfortable. We could only imagine what was going on behind the Velcro tie-wrapped doors of the cupboards as we listened to the crashes emitting through their louvers.
A couple of nervous “Hee, Hee, Hee’s,” as we entered the unmarked break in the reef and rode up onto the relatively calm Caicos Bank three hours later. Our ETA now shot to heck, we arrived at the turn which would take us a mile-and-a-half over very shallow water into the marina in near darkness. This was a story in itself, but suffice it to say that Bob, the owner of South Side Marina, talked us in over the cellphone (another story), and we never saw less than 6’ 3” of depth. By 19h30, we were safely tied at the dock, and by 20h30 we were dead asleep.
This morning we had visits from Customs and Immigration. Both were smooth, although a little late. That was okay with us, as it gave us time to wash the salty Girl. We chatted with Bob, an expat who has lived in the Islands for some 40+ years. He chuckled when he said that it was almost a good thing that we came in at night, ‘cause we couldn’t see how bad it was. (Both of us had sensed the tension in his voice when he had talked us in last night). We’ll get the bikes down, and do some exploring this afternoon.