The Bahamas Out Islands, part I

South Caicos

Cockburn Harbor

Cockburn Harbor

Three days after departing the Caribbean we sailed into Cockburn Harbor on the island of South Caicos. Perhaps you’ve visited Providenciales, also in the Turks and Caicos? South Caicos is a world away from Provo. On stepping ashore we asked about customs at the
local market. The friendly clerk picked up the phone and called the officials at their homes. After twenty minutes, including a detailed pontification by a local fishing captain on the best Mahi and Wahoo lures, the agents arrived and we filled out the paperwork on a chest freezer full of chicken parts and lobster tails. Now that’s service!


Ally Cat

After three days we had met most of the good citizens of Cockburn Harbor, snorkeled the nearby reefs, and weathered a cold front, our first since leaving the United States in November 2014. We also made friends with Mike, Kimberly and eleven-year-old Ally. Two years out of Mattapoisett, they were sailing north on their catamaran, Ally Cat. We agreed to meet somewhere in the Bahamas.



We left Cockburn in late morning and crossed the Caicos Banks in a stiff northeasterly breeze, making 8.5 knots with only the jib.

By dark we were safely west of the sand bars and coral heads, and the next challenge was to slow down. We spent the night reaching northwest under a reefed staysail, making 3.5-4 knots as we monitored the shipping traffic. We arrived at Mayaguana at 0830, and the sun was high enough to spot the coral heads as we passed the reef into Abraham Bay. Our 3-foot draft allowed us to anchor “close” to the town pier –  only a one-mile dinghy ride across the sand flats.


Strider anchored as close as possible to the pier at Abraham’s Bay

Walking up the road from the pier my initial impression was of a ghost town from a Hollywood western. Fortunately, no gunfighters emerged to challenged me, only a kind young man who offered to open the local bar if I wanted a drink. The sun being not passed the yardarm, I opted for the local market, really a room in someone’s house with a cooler, a freezer, and a few shelves of assorted produce and dry goods. I bought some oranges and frozen chicken from the twelve-year old clerk and proceeded to customs. The agent couldn’t have been friendlier or more professional, but she had just run out of immigration forms. She instructed me to return in the afternoon, as she hoped the incoming flight from Nassau would bring more forms. Sure enough, by 3pm I had my Bahamian cruising permit in hand. I raced back to Strider, and we hoisted anchor, clearing the reef and sailing to Betsy Bay on the west end of Mayaguana.  We anchored at twilight, with just enough light to discern a large sand patch into which we dropped the hook.


We woke at midnight, raised anchor, and set sail for Samana Cay. The watches were easy, sailing with reduced canvas in a solid northeast breeze and unfurling the gennaker as the breeze dropped just before dawn. Again, our goal was to hit the reef entrance at mid-morning, with the sun at our backs. The entrance to Columbus Bay is narrow, passing over coral heads in 6-7 feet of water and making a couple of turns to avoid shallow coral ledges on either side. The current, ocean swell, and wind added to the challenge. Fortunately we had perfect lighting conditions, and with Blaire on the bow serving as pilot we passed into the crystal blue bay without trouble, anchoring in the lee of Propeller Cay.

For the next two days we were the only boat – the only human beings, in fact – on Samana Cay. On the second evening a couple of fisherman arrived from Acklins, camping out of sight down the coast. And on the third day our friends arrived on Ally Cat. These were the only visitors during our six-day stay on Samana. It’s hard to convey the sense of privacy and solitude we felt here. The island is well over the horizon from Acklins, Mayaguana, or Long Island, themselves sparsely populated. The fish on Samana are plentiful, and the stars are dazzling.

Unfortunately, the island was ground zero for hurricane Joaquin just six months ago, and you can see the impact. Thick layers of seaweed are piled far above the tideline, and the weed itself is thick with the plastic refuse that travels the world’s oceans. The hurricane has left the shallow reefs in tough shape, with large areas of dead coral covered with sand and seaweed.

I suspected the deeper coral had survived the hurricane, so Mike and I took a dinghy outside the barrier reef to reconnoiter the “wall” – the steep drop off we’d seen on our depth sounders a mile south of Propeller Cay. I free dove down to 40′, and below I could see large, colorful coral with a vertical drop into indigo blue just beyond. It looked promising! The next day the winds collapsed, and the sea turned glassy. Megan and I knew that if we used our scuba tanks for this dive we would not be able to refill them for some, but the opportunity seemed too good to pass up. We piled into the dinghy, and Blaire drove us to the top of the wall. We descended into crystal clear water, with only a light current. By the time we reached the bottom we already been “visited” by several large barracuda, jacks, wahoo, and other pelagics. We moved along the face of the wall at 100′ feet, swimming up current for a few hundred yards, then back over the top of the wall at 80-90′ before ascending to the dinghy. We saw black tip reef sharks, Nassau grouper, and big, mature lobsters. The best part of the dive, however, was viewing a wide variety of healthy coral layered on top of impressive structures – a vertical wall split by deep, narrow canyons that wind back into the reef, towards the island. After finishing this dive Megan and I reflected on how lucky we were: to be anchored at this remote island, with perfect weather and our own dive gear. I wondered: how many 12 year-olds have dove the wall at Samana Cay?


Next post: Crooked, Ragged, and the Jumentos. And we finally catch some fish!



2 thoughts on “The Bahamas Out Islands, part I

  1. Great stuff, Guys!

    Wonderful to hear of your adventures.

    *From:* S/V Strider [] *Sent:* Tuesday, March 29, 2016 12:40 PM *To:* *Subject:* [New post] The Bahamas Out Islands, part I

    Strider posted: “South Caicos Three days after departing the Caribbean we sailed into Cockburn Harbor on the island of South Caicos. Perhaps you’ve visited Providenciales, also in the Turks and Caicos? South Caicos is a world away from Provo. On stepping ashore we “


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