Sunday, December 12, 2010

North Caicos!

Sea meeting sky en route to North Caicos in Eclipse
Winds were light from the NE at 8-12 kts, the sun was shining brightly and we wanted to see more of the Caicos than just Providenciales, so we took ourselves on a little dinghy expedition! We'd been told the other nearby islands - North, Middle and South Caicos - were a must-see, although getting there was an issue. From Provo, it's extremely shallow on the inside on the Banks as its basically all mangroves and tidal flats, and the fringing reef outside on the Atlantic prevents any large vessels like Equinox any entry, not that there are any deep draft anchorages inside the reef. So, we decided to take Eclipse along Grace Bay, and continue to follow the shoreline all the way over to North Caicos. 

While there is now a ferry that can take you to the westernmost point of North Caicos (across from Parrot Cay), Ron checked the charts that we had for use in the tender -- none had great detail in close-- and briefly consulted the cruising guide as to possible settlements and restaurants that we could visit once there. We just wanted a taste of the Caicos "out islands", and hadn't done much research ahead of time. we went. The sky was cobalt above the water, which was every shade of turquoise, teal, and aquamarine, blending and shining, crystal clear and glittering. 
There are no words for how beautiful it was!
It was a delightful day! North Caicos is remote and beautiful -- if you want secluded beaches, the north end around Whitby has seven miles of pristine and isolated beaches that are just unimaginably gorgeous. At its tip, we passed the Three Mary's Cays with ospreys and their nests and saw from afar the the resident wreck way out on the reef. Depths varied from 6 feet to 3 feet as we wove our way through the coral ledges and shallow areas on the inside of the reef area. We had a rising tide, and the winds were were light, and it was so amazing to see such beauty. This is the stuff that most folk never see!! 

The wreck on the reefs north of Three Mary's Cays
We made our way into the North Mouth of Bottle Creek, and followed the most obvious route along the deeper blue water until it became aqua, then pale blue, then changing to barely white....basically until we were in tidal flats stretching from horizon to horizon. We crept the dinghy through the waters as far as we could, marveling at the empty serenity of the place. It was amazingly beautiful but incredibly desolate, too. Supposedly there are flamingos here in great numbers, but all we saw was the water. 
The water in the tidal flats was only about 2 feet deep
We finally turned around when we couldn't go any farther. We retraced our route to the outside reef again, and continued east all the way around to East Bay Cay. We followed the shoreline there south in fairly shallow water, riding the waves from splintered incoming swells, avoiding coral heads, and finally making our way in through Robin's Cut, although we zig-zagged so much I'm not sure there was much of a "cut" at all. We followed the deepest water we could find, meandering quite slowly along a route marked by barely discernible stakes poking up here and there. It was hot and desolate, with nary a soul in sight! We finally ended up near The "Crossing Over Place" over on the west side of Bottle Creek. Talk about a maze of shallow water!

Thankfully, we found deeper water quite close to shore, and followed that north again, hoping to find the actual town at Bottle Creek. We'd wanted to stop for lunch, but there was really no place to do so; a few private homes were in obvious use, but most buildings were either boarded up, abandoned or in disrepair, isolated and empty. We waved to some local fishermen along the shore, (the first people we'd seen all day) and pulled up to ask if there was a restaurant nearby, only to to be told, "" But, local knowledge was key, as they did tell us that there was plenty of water to get through to the North Mouth from there, so we didn't have to back track through the labyrinth of shallows to the south again. Whew!! 

A few homes along isolated Bottle Creek
Friendly North Caicos Belongers heading back to Bottle Creek
Continuing north, we found ourselves back at North Mouth again -- exiting from  a hidden and less obvious channel of deep water, and avoiding the tidal flats. We did make our way to the west side of North Caicos for lunch, following in a local ferry to the North Caicos "Yacht Club". The marina basin and canal infrastructure, like many other endeavours we've seen here, were completed a couple of years ago when the economy was in full swing, but as is the case with the economic downturn felt worldwide, work came to a grinding halt. Nothing is finished, nothing is built beyond a Higgs' restaurant/giftshop and car rental place. Seems like the place is really only a solid hurricane hole for local boats. The controlling depths on the way in from the reef is only 4-5', so we were baffled as to what size boats the yacht club was hoping to attract! More dredging was on the agenda before the recession, clearly.

Just one slip along the million dollar bulkheads here
Anyway, after an amazing six-hour expedition aboard, we have only scratched the surface of seeing North Caicos by land. By water, we've seen quite a bit --- more than more folks, I dare say! Remote, isolated and stunningly neat it is to take the road less taken. That is why we cruise!

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