Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Big Sand Cay, Turks and Caicos

Genesis at Anchor
Big Sand Cay is a remote and uninhabited island and is the jump off place for leaving the Turks and Caicos to travel to the Dominican Republic.  Boats stop here and wait for good weather for traveling. Charter boats visit from nearby Grand Turk.  We waited here for 7 days. So, what is there to do on Big Sand Cay?

At first glance, the island looks like a wonderful place to explore.  There are long, beautiful white sand beaches on the leeward (out of the wind) side with a big cliff for hiking.  We anchored for our first night in the place on the chart that was marked "ideal for east winds" because we were having east winds. However, the next morning, the wind clocked around to the northeast, and our "ideal for east wind" anchorage wasn't so ideal.  We weighed anchor and moved over closer to the big cliff for protection from the winds and swells.

There was one other boat in the anchorage, a 40 foot catamaran.  I tried to hail them on the VHF several times the following morning, but they did not answer.  I saw them out in their dinghy snorkeling and hailed them later in the day.  I finally got an answer, but they only spoke French. Oh well!

We put our dinghy in the water and decided to go to the beach.  It was quite windy and there were a lot of swells coming in.  When we got near the beach, we discovered why the Frenchmen were snorkeling and never landed on the beach.  There was a trough of deep water close to the island, and it was not going to be easy to land the dingy and keep it from getting swamped by the waves.  We rode up and down the leeward side of the island and decided it was just going to be too rough to try.  We returned to the boat and decided to try again another day to see if the waves calmed down.

The following day, the winds were blowing like stink and the waves were rolling in like crazy, quite gnarly, as we call it.  We saw the handwriting on the wall and decided it was not in the cards for us to visit the island.  We hoisted the motor back on the boat and raised the dinghy on the davits.  No need to let the dinghy bounce around in the waves when we obviously weren't going to make it to shore.

So, we used our time on the boat to relax, read, listen to music, nap, and eat. It rained... we saw a double rainbow. I prepared a nice veal dinner for us on Christmas Eve and we had a quiet little Christmas together all by ourselves.  It was peaceful and wonderful.

Seabirds flew by the boat and checked us (and LuLu!) out.

LuLu got in plenty of rest as well. She's one relaxed kitty!

But, still, the island beckoned to me.  I scanned the island through the binoculars and saw two ospreys on a nest that was built on an abandoned rusty lighthouse that had long ago fallen over.  The nest was not that high off the ground.  I convinced myself that if I could just get to that island, I could get a close up look at an osprey nest!

On Christmas morning, the winds settled down somewhat.  I knew it was deep next to the island, so I convinced LA to move the boat over closer to the island so that I could snorkel to shore.  Yep, that's right… swim!  He, of course, thought I was crazy! He didn't want me to do it, but I kept needling him about it… on and on and on! One thing in my favor is I am a pretty strong swimmer.  I have been scuba diving for almost 30 years and I am very comfortable in the water.   I told him that I would wear a life jacket. He finally acquiesced and I set about the task of getting everything together for my trip.  I took a waterproof backpack and loaded it with my small Coolpix camera.  (I wasn't brave enough (or stupid enough) to take our nice Nikon camera!).  I took some dry clothes so I wouldn't have to wear a wet bathing suit once I reached land.  I tried to convince LA to come with me, but he thought it would not be a smart idea for him to leave the boat in case I got into trouble on the beach with the waves rolling in and the deep water trough.

So, off I went!  I snorkeled over about 200 yards, got summarily washed up on the beach amid the waves (literally "beached"!) and walked up on the sand. I changed out of my wet bathing suit, put on dry clothes, got my camera and headed up the beach.

First order of business was to check out that osprey nest! I hiked down the beach about a mile through deep sand and then climbed up to the top of the cliff.  It was a bit of a workout after I had spent the last six days in the boat with yoga as my only exercise. It felt good to get out and move!

I'll have to admit... When I got to the top of the cliff, that old abandoned lighthouse structure creeped me out. It was spooky-looking and rusty.  

There were two abandoned out-buildings nearby that had trash in them, which added to the creep factor.  

One of them had graffiti on the side. Tourists!! Why do some people feel the need to deface property and leave their mark for others?? Can't they just enjoy unspoiled beauty like the rest of us??

I didn't venture too close to the buildings.  I kept waiting for some type of "critter" to leap out and welcome me to the island!  

Actually, I did see some "critters". Lizards were everywhere! They would dart out from rocks and cactus and startle the crap out of me.  I would see them out of the corner of my eye, and I would be thinking "snakes" and be infinitely relieved when it was just a little lizard!

I finally crept close enough to see the ospreys. The male osprey was soaring over the cliff near the water patrolling for fish.  The female osprey was sitting on the nest.  She was keeping an eye on me and making a slow chirping noise... an alarm call.  As I stood there and took photographs, she finally quit chirping. She didn't fly away as I cautiously approached.  

I got a good look at the nest. The male usually fetches most of the nesting material and the female arranges it.  Osprey nests are built of sticks and lined with bark, sod, grasses, vines, algae, or flotsam and jetsam.  I could see pieces of colored boat line sticking out and lots of sticks and pieces of sea fans.  It was a huge nest.  It looked to be about 6 feet across and at least 3 feet deep. As I got closer, the osprey finally flew away.  I really wanted to climb up and look at the nest, but the concrete structures were too high.  I walked around the lighthouse and found some old equipment and tried to drag it over to climb on, but it was too heavy.  I thought it was too risky to keep trying because of all the rust.  I was the only one on the island and had no one nearby to help me if I injured myself.  So, doing what "Plato" would do, I abandoned my "look in the nest" project.  

The female osprey flew back to the structure and sat there and let me take photo after photo.  It was magical!  

I walked to the edge of the cliff and looked north up the leeward side of the island.  The water colors were absolutely beautiful.  Although I missed having LA with me to experience the island, I enjoyed having some time just for me. I can't tell you when I have felt more alive or peaceful. 

The leeward side of the island had lovely white sand beaches and were very pristine.  I hiked along the shore and found lots of shells for my collection. I found a prized helmet conch (below)...

... and I didn't have to pay $45 dollars for it, either! (Remember Charles the Turks and Caicos' shell man?) Ah, ha! LA wasn't around to be the "shell monitor" so I finally got to bring my big shell on board Genesis!

After I collected my shell treasures, I hiked back up the cliff and made my way across to the windward side of the island.  Although it was only about 1/2 mile, it was slow-go as there was scrub-grass and cactus everywhere. I was in full "snake-watch" mode as I tipped my way through the brush to get closer and closer to the other side of the island. 

I was rewarded with yet another spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean. Big waves were rolling in.  Looking at the waves, I was reminded what was in store for us the following day when we were to depart for the Dominican Republic.  Oh, Katie Scarlett O'Hara! I'll just think about that tomorrow!

Meanwhile, I had more exploring to do!

The windward side of the island was a beachcomber's delight.  The amount of flotsam and jetsam on the island was unbelievable. Flotsam and jetsam is a nautical term used to describe goods washed overboard by waves (flotsam) or deliberately thrown overboard by a ship's crew (jetsam). I poked my way along the island looking for "treasures".  I found sea-beans and some beautiful sea glass.

What are sea beans?? Click here: for a link to my story about sea-beans.

After a long day of hiking, I was tired! I hiked all over the island for 5 and 1/2 hours! When I hatched my plan to snorkel to the island, I didn't think about how long I would be on the island, or how tired I would be when I got ready to swim back to the boat.  I trudged across the island with all my treasures and packed everything up for the trip back.  The waves were rolling in and I had to balance my stuff with getting my fins on and back in the deep water.  I was doing pretty good until one of my fins came loose and the strap got wrapped around my foot!  LA watched from the boat as I got pounded by the waves trying to put the fin back on!  Although it only took a couple of minutes, it seemed like forever to get going.  

Once I got going, I swam back to the boat quickly.  LA grabbed my heavy bag with my beach loot.  I was tired, but exhilarated!  I played show and tell with LA, displaying all my treasures with the bright-eyed wonder of a child. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Big Sand Cay. One of my best days ever!


Mary Connaughton said...

Awesome story!

Becky said...

Hey, I just found your blog on pinterest. (Boat Galley Page) I have really enjoyed reading the last few entries. I was wondering what kind of waterproof backpack you used to swim to shore? I've been looking at different packs and would love to know what type you have and what you think of it.

wyattsailing said...

Becky, glad you liked the blog! The waterproof backpack I have is actually a smaller size backpack designed for a camera by Overboard. Big Sand was my first time to use it, so I was afraid to take my nice Nikon D7000 camera. It worked fine. The only thing is that it is a little small to carry too much, and I have found that the locking clasp will come undone if it is too overstuffed. Otherwise, it is well designed. If I had to buy another one, I would get something a little bigger. Here is the link to what I bought:

Becky said...

I'll check it out. Thank you so much!