Nigel North
Tue 3 Feb 2015 03:46

21:44.50N 072:17.31W

14th Jan 2015


Weatherman says no wind tomorrow – perfect for the trawlers, but I want to sail as much as poss, so going today.  As its going to be into wind-ish, I’m reckoning on only making about 3 kts in the right direction as we’ll be tacking, so 24 hours for the 80 odd miles.  

Left accordingly at midday after a refreshing snorkel over to the seagrass patch, still no sign of life anywhere, until that is we emerged from the barrier reef and there’s  this catamaran ‘Firefly’ hauling past – doing a massive 7.7kts according to AIS, motoring of course, dead into wind.  He’ll be there tucked up in the marina drinking his G&T long before I’m even half way.  So what!  I like going slow anyway.

First tack was parallel to Mayaguana, except that as its banana shaped, we weren’t going to clear the SE Point, so next tack was due south pretty well, and after Pinball settled down and the self steering was sorted out ok, it was lunchtime!  – THE egg, butter bean + cheese wrap.  Ravenous!   Devoured in hazy sunshine in the cockpit.  The Windgen I had tied off to stop it completely, as will continue the diagnosis in TCI – winds are forecast to be very light the next few days so that’ll keep me off the streets.

In fact, it didn’t, for all the wrong reasons.

By sundown – no green flash – we were just crossing the rhumb line (direct line start to destination)  still heading south, with a wind that was gradually giving up the ghost so all sails went up to keep some speed on, but we were down to not much more than 3kts.  Enough to help digest the last of the fish pie anyway.  No other boats came our way, it was a lonely old sea that night, but that’s fine by me as long as no nice old squalls come my way, especially when asleep!  But sleep was the last thing on the mind at 2200 when the wind picked up to 25 kts, and with a full set of sails up Pinball  was careering along at 6.5kts having  a ball, whilst I just had to hand steer until it calmed down again – an hour later.  Its just not possible to reef three sails and keep control when the wind gets up, singlehanded, but I enjoyed the ride, steering more by instruments than anything – but that’s ok too, I’m a pilot.  Yes its good fun to be belting along, but not so much when you want to sleep.  

So finally got reefed down, dropped the mizzen, and went below for some kip. 

Woke at 0300, just as well as Pinball was heading for the rocky shores of LITTLE INAGUA, just 15 nm away and quite far enough south.  Time to tack east again, for the SANDBORE CHANNEL – a break in the reef that surrounds the TURKS & CAICOS ISLANDS (TCI) that leads on to the Caicos Bank, and my anchorage for the week – Sapodilla Bay. 


If I’d had known what was to happen here in TCI, I would have kept going!   I had not enjoyed these expensive islands the first time of passing, two years hence going the other (easier) way, and I definitely didn’t this time.

Approaching the Sandbore Channel there was a transmission on VHF #16 from PROVO RADIO  reminding listeners that we had to call them on arrival and departure.  That’s new!  Called them, which involved a question and answer session about the boat that lasted ages, wanting to know everything, MMSI number, callsign, how big the liferaft was, dimensions, colour, when I last cleaned behind the ears, you name it.  Had to go below to find out, twice! 

But SAPODILLA BAY is the best bit, a quiet sandy beach of shimmering turquoise sea with holidaying families de-stressing in the warm water, and once popular with cruisers if the guide book is to be believed. But no more.  The occasional boat came and went, but it was mainly just me.   I had to anchor a fair way out in 2.5m depth, then call ‘Provo Radio’ again to get permission to dinghy in around the headland to visit Customs.  To stay a week was $100, chink chink.  Longer, up to 3 months, $300. 

‘OK, a week then’. 

The odd thing was, even though I was some 3-400yds out, I was picking up a weak but FREE wifi!  Never found that anywhere.  Even in a marina, if you’re not pretty close you will struggle.  So did some Skypeing…great. 


There are no shops down here at the base end of the T-shaped road system on Provo, so next day, having grown a little weary of porridge and onions, it was time to go exploring on the trusty fold-up bike. 

There is something rather delightful about beaching a dinghy in foreign lands, a pleasure I have yet to grow out of, as it does make you feel a bit like an explorer. Hardly Columbus, but you know what I mean.

It was not an easy ride.  For a start, I’d forgotten about the gears.   The gear change cable had rusted out and snapped in Nassau and I should have replaced it, but hadn’t.  Then there was the head wind.  And the heat.. But, struggling up the hills in top, I did manage to get to the small provincial airport as I had it in my head to do the dreaded Self Assessment Tax Form there.  Why oh why didn’t I just do it on the boat?  The usual shed-loads of sleep deprived Americans were pouring out of the processing area to be whisked away in long lines of shiny Resort taxis, but there was a good little diner café inside and I got down to business. 

On the way back the bike got loaded up with as much food as I could wobble away with, and things were looking good;  the Tax was done even though my new laptop’s screen had the day before decided to fail on the whole of the left side, and no more onions for  a while.   Easier going back, downwind, but it was getting dark and I must have missed the dirt track turning down to the beach in the gathering gloom and cycled on way past it.  You know that feeling, deep in your belly, when things aren’t right, but you don’t know why?  Finally stopped, climbed the bank, recognized nothing, no sign of Pinball, no torch no bike lights no map no GPS, I’m in the s**t here.  Back we go, into wind again, dark now, I’m tired and cursing.  

I had passed a small car pulled in on the way down on this little excursion, and it was still there, so I stopped.  A young guy was standing by the hedge.

‘Hi.  I’m a bit lost!  Looking for Sapodilla Beach..’  Surely he’d know? 

He didn’t.  He was Spanish he explained, as was his girlfriend sitting in the car. They were just working here at the moment.  Out came her Iphone, on GPS mapping, yes, that’s it there! 

To cut a long story short, I was finally persuaded, somewhat reluctantly, to fold the bike up and get in this tiny little car, bike hanging out the back with me holding it, food perilously balanced on the edge, whilst madam drove back up, still fiddling with Iphone, and ‘Arthur’ talked on his mobile.  I should have known better, but I really was whacked. 

GPS maps are only any good if you can read a map. I can, but neither of them could.

‘I need to know exact name of place you going’ she complained, thumb a blur.  I explained it was just there on the beach, stabbing with a finger, no name, but what I needed to know was where were we now?  The GPS was not playing. On the second circuit of the area I got out and asked the guard down at the South Dock.  Finally, someone knew!  We drove back to the turn off – a darkened track, no wonder – and piled out again to reconstruct the bike, what a nice couple.  I gave Arthur my phone number and invited them aboard the next day.  

It was not until I reached the beach and dinghy that the cold shock realization that I no longer had my backpack hit.   Too late to go back, they would be long gone. Bugger!  But no matter, I would see them next day, and he had my phone number.

I didn’t. 

He never rang.

I spent the morning on the beach waiting for them to arrive, until it was obvious they wouldn’t.  They had said they wouldn’t know if they could come or not. 

I don’t ever carry anything ashore unless I have to, as I can’t afford to lose anything, loss or theft, whatever.   It is Sod’s Law that on that day I had,  almost entirely of necessity, a brand new laptop albeit with a dodgy screen, tablet, camera, two calculators, irreplaceable book of logins, passwords and product numbers, business logbook with pin numbers, bum bag with wallet including credit card and driving licence, all my recent photographs, waterproof bag, new swimmers and lord knows what else. On any other day they would at most have got the dodgy laptop, period.  This was a devastating loss.  If not catastrophic, then pretty close.  The only saving grace was that the money I’d just drawn out was in my pocket, and passport/ships documents still on board.  If those had gone, I really would be sunk.

So, that week on TCI became a wearing odyssey of searching, police stations, the airport just in case, futile scrabbling in the dirt for a lost cause.  And every time I thought of it, I felt physically sick and still do weeks later.  It’s a sort of rape.. 

So what had happened to it?  I could not get away from the thought that if they had it, they would have rung me wouldn’t they.  So either they don’t have it – maybe I left if in the road – or they’ve kept it.  Surely not…

Either way, someone who shouldn’t has got my stuff. 

I never thought I’d ever feel pleased that the screen of the brand new laptop I’d bought in Florida had failed  (with ingenuity and stubborn persistence I’d  just managed to get the Tax Form off  with half a screen) By the end of my week there with all hope gone I just had to make myself deal with it, and let it go.  I bought another laptop, at  TCI prices. 

So lots of cycling about, a hazardous business as they all roar around in  American 4x4s up on the busy four-lane Leeward Highway, not least because they don’t bother putting edges on the roads, let alone cyclepaths.  But a swim round the boat at the end of a day puts a lot right. 

Being still a British Overseas Territory – neither Jamaica nor the Bahamas wanted to link up with TCI when they split with UK – they drive on the left, which is a little strange as a large number of their vehicles are American and left-hand drive.  We still have a Governor here, appointed by her Majesty, apparently. 

Thursday 22 January 2015


The plan was modest, easy even.  Sail the 14 miles due south from Sapodilla Bay to French Cay, and anchor!   Four hours, at a dawdle.   The sun shone, the wind blew not, not even a whisper, so it would be another Yanmar day.  But plenty of time to clear out with Customs just round the headland, load the dinghy on deck, get shipshape and up anchor, all in beautiful sunshine.  

 It’s a funny place, South Dock.  Scruffy, unfinished, freighters come and go loading and unloading, tugs hang around waiting for work, then anchor off at night.  To get to the Customs shed you have to call “Provo Radio” and ask them to get you clearance in,  beach your dinghy next to a rusting hulk up on the sand, and with luck someone lets you through the wire enclosure. Run by very large ladies, Customs was its usual messy state, papers everywhere, but friendly, and no more charges.  “How much did you pay us?’ she asked, checking. Just as well I’d laid Perky’s grapnel anchor up on the beach as the incoming tide had floated the dinghy off on my return.


1300 up anchor and set course south in the shallows waters of the ‘Caicos Bank’, on autopilot with Skipper up near the bow, autopilot controller in one hand, looking for the dreaded dark coral heads.   And good job he was..! The wind was light, the sea like a swimming pool before opening, and the next four hours  unforgettable.   Without the usual choppy surface over the crystal clear waters, the whole seabed was laid bare – an unprecedented experience – rather like snorkeling at 4 knots for fourteen miles.  What was there?  


Durt great big five armed heavily armoured starfish.  Hundreds of them, one every twenty yards and each a foot across.  Like Qualcast mowers they scour the bottom, it was their territory.  One had an arm missing, a meal for some big fish.      Mainly sandy, the only fish appeared when crossing weedy areas, and I watched as a couple of grouper disconsolately moved out of the way.  It was shortly after crossing a weedy patch that a load of coral heads appeared dead ahead. 

Now with a high sun one would normally be able to see the change of colour ie dark patches of coral, well ahead, but because the sea surface was almost completely flat today, it was reflecting the whole sky ahead, yes brilliant visibility close to the boat downwards, but dazzlingly bright ahead. As a result,  these BIG coral heads were only spotted close in, requiring serious avoiding action.

Luckily I was awake, and had the autopilot controller in hand, but it was a close thing as there was a large group of them, each looking like submerged giant dollops of elephant dung.  Boats have scraped heads at depths of 20’.  At least I know what a coral head looks like now. 

Approaching the shallow spit of land that is French Cay, no less than three boats were thereabouts.  The whole ocean and they have to be parked where I want to anchor for the night.  One of them caught my eye, a powerful looking motorboat, as it sported half a dozen crew all wearing identical lifejackets.  Got to be official!  Through the monocular I  read ‘POLICE’ on the side, and they were just hanging around.  Hmm… Now French Cay is a nature reserve;  am I about to be apprehended for anchoring illegally and given a massive fine?  Neither the chart nor guide book mentioned restrictions here, other than a dotted boundary 200yds off the island.  Whilst considering what to do, the problem disappeared in a cloud of spray at 30kts back to the mainland.  Good!  Must be end of their shift.

It took a while to find a spot to anchor in the lee of the Cay as the seabed was rocky, but found a patch of sand  close in, just outside the nature reserve boundary.  The air was full of Sooty Terns making a fair old  racket, and I watched them glide just above the surface snatching a meal as they flew – an amazing technique.  They must be incredibly quick off the mark to do that.  Pelagic, they nest on the island but spend their lives in the air.