Chépa

December 2005:

Provo, Turks and Caicos

I was very excited to arrive there, in my mind a continuation of the Bahamas, just a bit southeast of it. Helas, TCI - Turks and Caicos Islands - are NOT that at all.

So, after going to the pictures and if you are planning to get there by sailboat, hereafter is a short survival guide...

A few Pictures

Provo Survival Guide (as of Dec 06):

After the cruiser friendly Bahamas, arriving in Provo is quiet a bit of a culture chock. I know of 3 guides that would allow you to navigate there ;

- Bruce Van Sant, The Gentleman's guide to passage south (Bruce hereafter) ; Bruce information are perfect if you are only passing through - the lot of most of us, at least after a first stay here.
- Stephen Pavlidis, The Turks and Caicos Guide (Stephen hereafter) ; it's complete, but my second edition is a bit out dated concerning services etc... you may find in Provo. Charts and Chartlets are excellent, and sufficient for cruising around needs.
- Bob Gascoine TC 001 Chart (Bob hereafter) ; not exactly a guide, but a well commented chart that would do for the Southern shore (you need TC002 for the NW shore, and TC003 for the NE + Grand Turk).

Sandbore Channel : I went through 3 times, never seen less than 12 ft, coral heads and rocks are few and far in between, easy to spot. Just pilot it, and it doesn't seem to be challenging at all. Some caution near Turtle Rock, as there are a bit more dark spots to avoid. If you are using Bob, his charts are very detailed and may give you the feeling of a land mine. But most rocks charted are rather deep, so no need to stress. Again, just pilot it.

Sapodilla Bay : The anchorage itself is rather wide, good holding in general. A catamaran could get rather close to the beach. On the North side, beware of the wreck - mentioned by both Bob and Steve. It's an old Haitian sail boat, and it come a bit out of the water at low tide. Also, there are a few private moorings, just be a bit careful if transiting in poor visibility.
Now, Sapodilla Bay is pretty and has beautiful beaches. And this is it. There are NO facilities there. No shops, no bars, no public phones, and no places to dispose of your garbage, the dumpster mentionned by Steven is long gone. Just the customs office - see below - and this is it. Closest anything is about 5 miles away. Unless you have access to a car, well, it is not exactly a convenient location to explore Provo.
Also note that the small dock on the south of the beach is private. And finally, that some of the owners of the multi-millions houses on the bay are suffering of the Florida syndrome, and do not really like the cruiser community in their expensive heaven.

Turtle Cove Marina : Well protected, this is an option to have access to a bit more life. A few bars, a few restaurants around, but limited night life. A grocery about a mile down the road. As of Dec 05, the public phone was broken, marina charges $0.95 / ft / day and offers Wifi Internet access. A good deal if you want to spent some time on Skype calling home. Limited space available for multihull. The small anchorage outside and east of the channel is good - mentionned by Bill and Steve - , but do not expect to be welcome there, and you will be boarded by police and fisheries checking out that you are not planning to stay more than a night. Be sure to have your paperwork squared. You could dinghy to Turtle Cove from there, and leave your dinghy just between Tiki Hut and the fuel dock, under the weight station.

Customs, Immigration, etc...: Arriving in Sapodilla Bay, dinghy to the beach, and follow the road to South Dock, the commercial harbor near by. The officer - very nice and pleasant I must say - will clear you in (and out when that time comes) quickly. The basic is that you get a 7 days stay, for just $5, have the exact change in hand. If you are thinking or planning to stay longer, think twice. Still thinking about it? then ask for a 90 days cruising permit, which he will issue for free, but you will need to report to Immigration before your seven days expires. Now, if you had arrived by plane, you would have received a 30 days stamp on your passport. Only 7 days if - or because ? - you are on a boat.
Immigration is Downtown, at Sam's Building. Get there no later than mid morning, or you might be sorry. You need to visit 3 offices, some close for lunch break, some close early afternoon, and you really do not want to have to come back. Do not expect to feel welcome, and learn to grind your teeth before speaking up. Get upstairs, wait, apply, wait, be interviewed, wait, and receive your "privilege". Rush downstairs, wait, get some more paperwork, rush across the parking lot to the Treasury office in the City Mall office, wait, pay $50 per person, rush back to the second floor of Sam's building, present all this paperwork, wait and voila, you have a stamp on your passport allowing to stay longer How longer? well, depends. Basically on the officer whom interviewed you, making sure that you understand that being granted an extension to spend your time and money in Provo is a privilege, and not a right. You could get up to 30 days for your $50 - same as the visitor coming by plane, but at no charge for him! -. I got 20 days. I ended the day teased by the other boaters about not being granted my 30 days, and with a lot of references to be French, single, with long hair, dark skin and a ring on my ear. These clean cut US cruisers went through Sam's Office circus the day after. 2 couples got 15 days, 1 just 10 days. Same price, same "service". Go figure.
You are NOT yet done. You still do not have your fishing permit. Everybody aboard need one before you could get a hook in the water. Having a fishing pole just stored on the rail may get you boarded, like it happened to me. You can get your permit at the dockmaster office of Turtle Cove Marina - another 5 or 6 miles away - for $31 per person and valid for 30 days.

Transportation : First problem after clearing in at customs is transportation. Form Sapodilla Bay, you have two choices. Try to get a taxi on VHF 06, ask for the price right then, and it might work for you. A lot of cabs will not come to pick you up without requesting an astronomical fare. Steven mentions Morris Taxi as a good solution, but Morris Taxi is no more in service. Second choice, you hitchhike your way to town. You will usually be quickly picked up, ask for the price for the ride - yes.... - and you should go to downtown between $3 to $5 per person, and sometime for free. Add another $2 or $3 to get to Turtle Cove. Note that pick up at night is not that easy, so try to comeback to Sapodilla before sunset, and wear good walking shoes.

Fishing : So now you are legal, you have a fishing permit, time to hook up some dinner - can't spear in the TCI...-. Not that fast. Most of the shore line is off fishing limit (park or reserve). You can fish in Sapodilla, but you won't eat. So you need to be comfortable for a long dinghy ride to the head in the banks, or the Western reef. And you might catch something. You could also snorkel for lobsters, learning how to catch them by hand, keeping in mind that clarity in the bank is not really good.
Offshore fishing is however great, and you could go after Wahoo, Mahi and Tuna - of the 100 m depth line usually, marking the limit of the parks and reserves. If you do not want to take the boat there, check out Gwendoline Charters, out of Turtle Cove, ask for Mark (www.fishingTCI.com). He usually monitors VHF 16.

Snorkeling & Diving : Do not plan to dive or snorkel in the banks, visibility there is usually poor. But it gets excellent on the West and North shore of Provo. With kids, or for beginners, the Coral Garden in Grace Bay is a great spot. The ones wanting to go scuba diving should contact Caicos Adventures, ask for Fifi (www.caicosadventures.tc). They also monitors VHF 16 and will pick you up at your boat in Sapodilla Bay.

Shopping etc...: With access to a car, you will find in Provo several well provisioned grocery shops, and prices are not too outrageous. IGA has the best selection. Except may be the Duty Free Jewelry's, I did not find anything very attractive around for some fun shopping. In the other hand, I'm not much of a shopping addict so...

Various : Security and safety seem to be an issue, just be on the cautious side. In various places, you might feel accepted at best, welcome likely not. Keep your expectations low, and everything will be fine. Finally, I have not been to South Caicos and Grand Turks, which I'm told are significantly more pleasant for the typical cruiser, so the above really stands for Provo.

Xanadu : if anchored in Sapodilla, try to give a call to Xanadu on VHF 16 around 0830 or 1200. You may talk to Jim, who lives close by when not cruising on his custom built ketch. Jim is a great guy, an avid cruiser, and when at home, enjoy meeting and spending time with other cruisers. He knows the TCI well, is a great story teller, and since you asked, drinks Seagram VO bourbon.

So yes, one could say that Provo is not cruiser friendly. Checking in for more than seven days is an expensive marathon all over the island, and a frustrating one in addition. Locals are not too excited to see you around, and well, nothing there looking like some warm welcome. Yet I have made some very good friends there, Jim being one. And I enjoyed my stay because of them, so all of you I spent time with, Thank You. The scenary is very pretty, and may be in the future, the situation will improve a bit for the visiting cruiser. Until then, you may just end up following Bruce's advise : get in, get out.

 

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