Friday, January 13, 2012

South Caicos

Papa waved his arms and shouted like an evangelical preacher. “Ike! He done two hundred and sixty miles an hour!” As he slid off of the bar stool, his voice dropped to a whisper and he leaned towards us, widening his eyes. “There was demons in that one. I could hear people talking in the wind.” We put down our breakfast cutlery and listened as Papa continued his account of the category 5 hurricane that devastated South Caicos just three years ago. “My gramma, she remember the hurricane in ’45. It was bad, bad, but she say it didn’t have the wind like Ike. There was planes flying at the airport, lifting off the ground and no one flying them. The coast guard came after Ike with 1600 body bags and left with them empty. Not one person died.” He spoke with pride about how his community had survived the monster storm. The population of South Caicos is 1600.

We changed our plan to sail to Providenciales (Provo) the capital city of Turks and Caicos and stayed an extra day in South Caicos. This wind swept, arid island in the southern end of the Caicos Bank archipelago seems to be in-waiting and Papa is one of its characters who clings to the hope that things are going to improve. The town has perfectly paved and painted roads but the sparse homes are in desperate need of repair, and blocks of lots lined with concrete block walls are empty and overgrown. Stop signs stand waiting for traffic that doesn’t come. When we arrived yesterday, intending only an overnight respite after our four day passage from the Virgin Islands, we at first thought it was deserted. We could see a couple of guys at the dock but the streets were empty. With the help of one of the guys, we found Customs in an unmarked building that was indistinguishable from the other houses. Faded and torn photos of Prince Charles, the Queen and Prince Philip, must have been hung in the 60’s in the tiny office.

As we walked around town, we discovered that many people were trying to eke out a living by converting part of their homes into a Variety store. We were surprised at how well stocked the shelves were, thinking we could have provisioned our entire boat from any of them. Wilson, a store owner, had recommended Dwayne’s restaurant to us and we soon discovered it was the only one in town. Our encounter with Papa was our second time there. We had savoured Dwayne’s conch burgers the night before and when I ordered coffee with breakfast, Dwayne sent his teenaged assistant to the one of the variety stores for milk and coffee creamer in case I wanted it. The town once thrived on fishing for conch and lobster but the cost of fuel has decimated the industry. Looming on the two small hills north and east of the town are half finished resort hotel projects that to us looked like Club Meds as we rounded the tip of Grand Turks at the end of our passage. They are deserted but everyone we talked to believed they were going to open soon. Wilson explained. “Right now we have no crime and people help each other but we just want bettering. We don’t want big change, just a way to make a living.” We walked over to one and discovered a priceless property on a pristine beach. Expectations are high and one wonders if these projects will ever deliver. In the meantime, Alberta Crewed is the only boat here (the benefit of a catamaran in 6 feet of water) and we will savour the peace, quiet, and hospitality of South Caicos.

From 26,000 to 6
Our sail from the Virgin Islands took us over the Puerto Rican Trench, the second deepest ocean hole in the world and the deepest in the Atlantic Ocean. It is the boundary between the Caribbean and the North American plates, with the Caribbean subducting the North American. This explains the numerous volcanic islands we have sailed by these past weeks. Our electronic chart showed over 26,000 feet of ocean underneath us and Craig wondered how long it would take for a penny to reach the bottom if we dropped it from the boat. We also wondered if there was anyplace else on earth where we could throw something and have it come to rest five miles away from us.

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