Spending Christmas in Providenciales

Beatitude's stern.

Beatitude’s stern.

The Turks and Caicos Islands, about 620 miles southeast of Miami, are a British Overseas Territory consisting of two island groups: The larger Caicos islands and the smaller Turks. There are eight main islands and about 299 smaller islands. About the only commerce of note for these islands is tourism. That’s us! And… a lot of other people during the holidays! Providenciales (a.k.a., Provo), to the northwest of the Caicos group, is the largest island in population, and since it has an international airport, is home to Beatitude for Christmas and New Years. The diving and snorkeling in the Turks and Caicos is reputed by many to be the best in the Caribbean.

Cindy, walking along the canal in the rain

Cindy, walking along the canal in the rain

It’s hard to believe we’ve been here for almost a week and a half already. Our time on the island has been very pleasant. It’s quite a change, however, from the uninhabited islands we’ve visited over the last few days. We arrived on Saturday morning, the 19th, just in time for the Turtle Cove Marina Christmas party. We threw up a strand of borrowed lights on the bow of Beatitude and placed our tree out on the deck as well. We were ready to celebrate! We had dinner at the Tiki Hut restaurant (excellent!) a few steps down the dock from our boat, and then went over to the area surrounding the marina office where a tent was set up for the evening’s festivities. There was a band, refreshments, and even a visit by Santa Claus. The night was capped with the judging of the best decorated boat in the marina.

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Great food and atmosphere!

Great food and atmosphere!

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Beatitude's decorated bow.

Beatitude’s decorated bow.

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Cindy with Santa and his pirate elf.

Cindy with Santa and his pirate elf.

The Christmas party band.

The Christmas party band.

Since then, we’ve been mainly eating and relaxing. I know… not so good! We’ve enjoyed several of the local restaurants. One day, we rented a scooter and drove over to the beach to snorkel Smith’s Reef right off the beach. While I was snorkeling, Cindy made a good Christian friend, Sharon, who was also on the beach watching her family snorkel. We also did a little grocery shopping while we had the scooter. I’ve been able to take advantage of our time here to do a little diving. I dove on Christmas Eve and on Boxing Day (26th). The water is so beautiful. Visibility was greater than 90’ on both days. In my last post, I published a video of those two days of diving.

Waiting on our evening meal at Pizza Pizza in Grace Bay

Waiting on our evening meal at Pizza Pizza in Grace Bay

The pizza has arrived!

The pizza has arrived!

Christmas day dinner at Baci Ristorante.

Christmas day dinner at Baci Ristorante.

Baci Ristorante is in a beautiful setting not far from our dock.  The food is excellent!

Baci Ristorante is in a beautiful setting not far from our dock. The food is excellent!

This is the beautiful beach we snorkeled.  The water was a little cloudy, although I was able to see quite a bit of coral and sea creatures.

This is the beautiful beach we snorkeled. The water was a little cloudy, although I was able to see quite a bit of coral and sea creatures.

What a blessing! An honest-to-goodness, real-life, U.S.-like grocery store.  We saw nothing like this in the entire Bahamas (although Marsh Harbour had a good store).  The prices were about double of what we pay in the U.S. on about everything).

What a blessing! An honest-to-goodness, real-life, U.S.-like grocery store. We saw nothing like this in the entire Bahamas (although Marsh Harbour had a good store). The prices were about double of what we pay in the U.S. on about everything).

Our scooter for the day (this one went considerably faster than the previous ones we've rented,  > 55 mph).

Our scooter for the day (this one went considerably faster than the previous ones we’ve rented, > 55 mph).

Leaving on our diving expedition.  This was an isolated cloud.  The sun shone brightly for the rest of the morning.

Leaving on our diving expedition. This was an isolated cloud. The sun shone brightly for the rest of the morning.

Heading to West Caicos to dive.

Heading to West Caicos to dive.

Transiting the Caicos bank on the dive boat.

Transiting the Caicos bank on the dive boat.

On the Caicos Banks.

On the Caicos Banks.

We celebrated Christmas aboard Beatitude with the reading of the Christmas story from Luke, the singing of Christmas carols, prayer, and the opening of a few gifts.

The nativity onboard Beatitude

The nativity onboard Beatitude

Cindy, displaying her handmade Turks and Caicos dolphin jewelry (received on Christmas morning)

Cindy, displaying her handmade Turks and Caicos dolphin jewelry (received on Christmas morning)

One of my Christmas gifts: An icon of Christ!

One of my Christmas gifts: An icon of Christ!

Boxing Day is a holiday celebrated the day after Christmas in Britain and in the former British colonies. Traditionally, it was a day when servants and tradesmen would receive gifts, known as “Christmas Boxes” from their masters, employees, or customers. For the Turks and Caicos Islands, it is also a day to celebrate Maskanoo, an African-influenced street festival which finds its origins in the days of slavery. The slaves took advantage of their one day off in the entire year to celebrate, wearing masks and dancing to drums, whistles, and cowbells. The Bahamas celebrate a similar festival known as Junkanoo (the name is derived from a well-known early reveler named “John Canoe”). Jamaica also has a comparable celebration. Anyway… on Saturday, the 26th (Boxing Day) we rented a car and drove over to Grace Bay to participate in and observe the Maskanoo celebration. What fun! A short video compilation (shot by Cindy with her iPhone) follows.

Our rental car came with a busted-out back window (the only one they had available).  Someone had broken into the day before to steal a ladies bag out of the back.)

Our rental car came with a busted-out back window (the only one they had available). Someone had broken into the day before to steal a ladies bag out of the back.)

Waiting in front of the ice cream parlor for the Maskanoo festivities to begin.

Waiting in front of the ice cream parlor for the Maskanoo festivities to begin.

Some audience participation during the Maskanoo celebration.

Some audience participation during the Maskanoo celebration.

Cindy's ready to party!

Cindy’s ready to party!

One of the costumed Maskanoo revelers.

One of the costumed Maskanoo revelers.

The Maskanoo crowd.

The Maskanoo crowd.

One of the best ripsawers in the Turks and Caicos.  Ripsawing is part of a uniquely Turks and Caicos music style called "Rake and Scrape".  The teeth of the saw are scraped with a metal object while the saw is bent to create various overtones.

One of the best ripsawers in the Turks and Caicos. Ripsawing is part of a uniquely Turks and Caicos music style called “Rake and Scrape”. The teeth of the saw are scraped with a metal object while the saw is bent to create various overtones.

Maskanoo!

Maskanoo!

The final celebration up on stage.

The final celebration up on stage.

On Sunday, the 27th, we attended worship and enjoyed a wonderful service at St. Monica’s Anglican Church. The Turks and Caicos islanders, like the Bahamians, are not timid when it comes to their singing and worship. They only know one way to sing, and that’s as loud as they can! The preaching was good and the people were friendly. Oh, and another thing. The islanders sure like their incense during the liturgy. I actually enjoy incense in the service, but in these services there is sometimes a great cloud of smoke which fills the nave necessitating me to frequently stop my singing to cough and clear my throat.

Worship at St. Monica's

Worship at St. Monica’s

We’re having a great time here which will soon be interrupted by another work trip back to the States. But not before celebrating the New Year in the islands.

We have one more week to enjoy the island before we fly back to the states. We’ll likely join in some New Year’s Eve festivities somewhere. I’m scheduled to scuba dive one more time. We’ll continue to enjoy the good food and island relaxation.

Here, as promised, is the Maskanoo video:

Diving in the Turks and Caicos

I’m working on a regular blog post on the happenings in the Turks and Caicos since we’ve been here. But, for now, I”m posting an 8 1/2 minute video I produced from a couple of dive trips here on Providenciales. Diving is truly a magical experience. I am privileged to spend a few minutes in an entirely foreign landscape – swimming with and becoming a part of the world of the fish and other marine creatures. I hope you enjoy the video (including encounters with several sharks and a beautiful sea turtle!)

Our Challenging Passage to the Turks and Caicos

Cindy's shell collection from Acklins Island

Cindy’s shell collection from Acklins Island

Our Olive Tree Nativity Scene which we purchased in the Holy Land earlier this year.

Our Olive Tree Nativity Scene which we purchased in the Holy Land earlier this year.

Atwood Harbour was fabulous. While the wind and waves were doing their thing outside, we sat in completely calm and beautiful waters, staring at sugar-sandy beaches all around. Like on Conception Island, we could have spent a week here (or longer!). It is a special thing to be all alone with nature and experience awe at God’s great creation. But, we needed to move on. After careful consideration, we decided to leave on Friday morning for the Turks and Caicos. As the marine weather guru, Chris Parker, put it, this day would be the least bad of the bad days in store for the foreseeable future. We need to get somewhere with a secure marina and a decent airport in order for me to fly out to work after the New Year. The forecast for our passage would call for our ship to point into 14-16 knot winds and 5’ seas for 22 hours straight. If you’ve never been on a sailboat in those conditions, that is not a thought to cherish. But… the forecast for the next 9-10 days would call for even stronger winds into the 20-25 knot range and still from the worst direction. So, we decided to take our lumps and go for it.

The nice calm waters leaving our anchorage

The nice calm waters leaving our anchorage

Exiting the anchorage at Atwood Harbour, passing Umbrella Rock

Exiting the anchorage at Atwood Harbour, passing Umbrella Rock

We hated to leave, but around 10:15 a.m. we weighed anchor and made our way through the opening in the reef and out into the open waters of the Atlantic. Except for about an hour when we were in the lee of Mayaguana, we experienced just about what we expected. Winds were generally in the 14-17 knot range with gusts into the low-mid 20s, and the waves were generally in the 5’ range with the occasional 7-8 footer. A squall passed just to our north late in the day kicking up winds in the 20-22 knot range with gusts to 30 for about 30 minutes. During this time, I was soaked to the bone while sitting in the helm station. These were probably the worst conditions we’ve been in. (I attempted to video the conditions, but was not happy with the videos. They just don’t accurately depict what it was like.)

Cindy's usual position during passages with rough seas. :)

Cindy’s usual position during passages with rough seas. 🙂

Not sure if you can see it very well, but I'm completely soaked at the helm here.

Not sure if you can see it very well, but I’m completely soaked at the helm here.

As the sun set, and the night wore on, it was more of the same. It certainly wasn’t fun. Everything and everyone was covered in the salty brine of the sea. We couldn’t stay dry. The seats, the railings, the floors were all covered with a fine layer of sea water. There was, however, the pleasing sense of accomplishment at having completed such a passage twenty-one hours later as we pulled into the lee of the Turks and Caicos. We motorsailed the entire way with one reef in the main and no jib. We averaged about 5 knots under the power of our two faithful 39 horsepower Yanmar diesels. They, thankfully, worked like a charm all the way. I noticed our speed dropped in the hour or so before dawn. Once morning’s light had illuminated our rig, I discovered that my reefing line had chafed through. This is the second time that has happened. I’m not sure why, but I’ve got to figure out how to stop it from happening over and over. That and the chafing through of several small pieces of line that held the luff of the mainsail to the slides on the mast track, though, were the only casualties of our difficult trip. Experiencing the banging and rattling of the vessel as it climbs the waves and falls down into the trough below burying its bow in the oncoming wave, one might get the idea that the whole boat is going to break up at any minute. Imagine lifting 38,000 pounds of fiberglass, metal and wood and dropping it from 5 feet onto the water below — and then doing it over and over and over again for 22 hours straight. I have a healthy respect for the integrity of our vessel. Speaking of the lifting and slamming into the waves…. Imagine sitting on the head (toilet) while underway and suddenly going airborne as the toilet drops out from beneath you. Even the simplest things become difficult when underway in rough conditions. 🙂

Sun setting on our passage to Turks and Caicos

Sun setting on our passage to Turks and Caicos

Good night and good-bye Bahamian sun.  By morning, we'll no longer be in the Bahamas

Good night and good-bye Bahamian sun. By morning, we’ll no longer be in the Bahamas

I was rejoined by my new friend, the Southern Cross as we neared our destination. I saw this constellation for the first time ever as we were making our way south to Atwood Harbour a few days prior. Making a brief appearance in the low southern sky, just before the sun rose, it cheered my heart again making me realize how far south we have come. About 30 minutes before reaching Sellar’s Cut, which traverses the reef surrounding north Providenciales, I radioed Turtle Cove marina. They sent out a guide boat to lead us through the winding, coral head-infested channel into Turtle Cove. Following immediately behind the guide boat, we safely snaked our way into entrance to the marina itself, which strikes a rather picturesque setting in a well-protected cove. We backed Beatitude into her slip and breathed a big sigh of relief. The passage was now behind us. We checked into the marina and immigration, but had to wait a couple of hours for the customs officer to arrive. This gave us a couple of hours to shower and clean up. Once she arrived, it was a painless process (other than the $400/dollars for a cruising permit, which allows us to stay in the country for 90 days.) And, by the way, this is our second foreign country we’ve visited aboard Beatitude! (Although, they both speak English and readily accept American dollars.)

Our guide boat at Providenciales

Our guide boat at Providenciales

Following our guide boat between coral heads

Following our guide boat between coral heads

Piloting into the marina

Piloting into the marina

The entry channel in to Turtle Cove Marina

The entry channel in to Turtle Cove Marina

Beatitude in Turtle Cove Marina

Beatitude in Turtle Cove Marina

Our daughter, Julie, made us these stickers of our vessel.  We're finally finding places to leave our mark as we travel southward.

Our daughter, Julie, made us these stickers of our vessel. We’re finally finding places to leave our mark as we travel southward.

Beatitude in her slip -- a well deserved rest.

Beatitude in her slip — a well deserved rest.

Using the miraculous "On and Off" to clean the rust spots from the deck (left by our rusting bicycle chains)

Using the miraculous “On and Off” to clean the rust spots from the deck (left by our rusting bicycle chains)

Pumping the tires and prepping my bike for riding.

Pumping the tires and prepping my bike for riding.

Riding our folding bike around the neighborhood

Riding our folding bike around the neighborhood

Beatitude in her slip, already decorated for Christmas

Beatitude in her slip, already decorated for Christmas