I flew to St Thomas in the American Virgin Islands to meet good friends Dave and Cal. Who wanted a hand to take their moody 44 Shearwater over to the island of Exuma in the Bahamas.
The first leg was just a small hop over to the Spanish Virgin Island of Culebra. Only a 4 hour sail over from St Thomas Culebra was the perfect place to wait for the right weather for a 3 day 3 night sail over to the Turks and Caicos. The weather we had on our 2 day stay on Culebra was very unseasonly wet. With nearly a whole day of torrential rain. Dave and myself kept a keen eye on the weather forecast and after being on Culebra for two days we had a three days of favourable weather to get to the Turks and Caicos. Before a blow was going to arrive from the North. So it was time to go sailing for a triple over night 450m sail.
We left around 11 am and the forecast was saying we would probably have to motor until midnight before we would pick up a good breeze of around 20 kns from the east. By 6 pm though we had the sails out the motor off and we were flying at around 8 kns. The wind stayed at a good 20 kns through the night. Which made for swift sailing the down side though was the wind was beam on which made for an uncomfortable night. During the next day the wind went aft of beam which meant for a much better motion. The wind stayed that way for the next 48 hrs. Which meant we had a very quick sail up to the Turks and Caicos and also we even managed to get some sleep.
The plan was to anchor in Sapodilla bay on the island of Provo. Then when we were ready we would continue on our way to the Bahamas. The weather forecast though was still holding true and showing a blow from the North for the next 3 days. So we decided to go over to the small marina called South side. No guesses to where it was situated on the island. South side marina was only a couple of miles away. However the Turks and Caicos islands are only just above sea level and for miles around the water is only 10 feet deep with a lot of it much shallower than that. So good pilotage is essential so that you dont end up stuck on a coral reef. Dave called up Bob who owns south side on the vhf and got some waypoints to give us a route over to the marina. The entrance to south side marina is very shallow and as we were entering two dive boats decided to come out at the same time. So we ended up on the very edge of the channel and went aground. Luckily the wake from the second dive boat lifted us off and we entered with no harm done.
We stayed for 3 days at south side marina on Provo. I have stopped in a lot of marinas over the last dozen years or so and i can honestly say that south side is the most unique marina i have been to and also the best stay in a marina i have had. South side marina is owned and run by Bob a 71 year old former cruiser who loves what he does and tries to make every sailing cruiser who stays there as welcoming and enjoyable as possible. Along with Bob there is his side kick Cam. Who is a canadian who comes down every winter to help Bob run the marina. Also to have a good time i must add. Bob is still developing the marina and has recently added a bar. Serving Turkshead amber one of the best beers i have tasted in a long while.
After a great 3 day stay at south side marina on the island of Provo it was time to leave and head for the Bahamas. With depths in the channel exiting south side we could only leave at high water. With high being around mid day we decided an over night sail to probably long island was the order of the day. On leaving Bob told dave to hug the starboard side buoy in the channel on the way out. Unfortunatly this turned out not to be the best route out and we ended up stuck firmly on the coral. Luckily 2 dinghies were coming in and attached a rope from the top of the mast of Shearwater and manageg to pull her over enough for dave to get her off the reef. We started our sail with very little wind. Once away from the island of Provo though we again picked up a good breeze. Also once again we began to fly along at over 8 kts. With such good progress by midnight Dave had a change of plan and we decided to head for Rum Cay. Which was our next stop after Long island. So we managed to cut out a whole days sailing in one go.
We arrived at Rum Cay just after lunch time. A 170m sail in just over 24 hrs great going for any 40 foot sailing boat. After a cooling swim and a good nights sleep we decided it was time to check out what Rum cay had to offer ashore. We were anchored near the now unused marina. Which had been devistated by a hurricane some years earlier. This we soon found out had had a knock on effect for the rest of the island. With no boats using the marina there were no people using the few bars and restaurants on the island. This led us hard to find a cold beer let alone anything for lunch. We did in the end find somewhere open and managed to have a beer and get a wi fi connection. So we decided we would have to settle for another swim in crystal clear warm water over coral reefs and head off the next day for Conception. A hard life.
The sail to the island of Conception was only about 20 miles and took us along the route of the edge of the drop off of the deep water around Rum cay. So we had a good fishing oppurtunity. Dave has an array of lures and decided on a plain plug lure. This proved to be the right decision as within half an hour of leaving Rum cay. We had a big eyed tuna on the boat which was big enough for the 3 of us for 2 meals. Yum yum. Conception is a national park and is totally uninhabited. With entering the anchorage we were now amongst the most boats since we left the island of Culebra. A whole dozen boats. If you are looking for solitude this area is the place to come. Culebra had amazing pink sandy beaches and the best snorkelling of the trip. With a multitude of fish a Hawksbill turtle and a lion fish. Which later i found you were supposed to kill on site. as they are an invasise fish and very dangerous.
After two days on Conception the weather was right for a sail over to the island of Exuma and the marina of emerald bay. My final destination before flying home and where Dave and Cal were meeting their long time friends Jay and Susan. Who i had had the pleasure of meeting at the wedding of Dave and Cals son Eric. Once again the 50 mile sail to Exuma turned out to be a swift one. We stayed well above 7 kts for most of the sail and the miles flew by. Emerald bay marina is a large modern marina and what struck me when entering was how empty it was. Which what was supposed to be the height of the season. The upside of this was that the rates for staying were very competitive at 50 cents a foot per night.
After 2 nights at Emerald bay marina, A fine meal at Grand isle resort, 750 miles of swift sailing and some wonderful memories. It was time to say good bye to Great friends Dave and Cal and head back to the end of the cold dreary winter of the UK.
A great trip with great friends.