Turks and Caicos – Humpback Whale 10 day Cruise

The Turks and Caicos are considered Humpback whale headquarters from January to March each year.  The whales migrate through the Columbus Passage to the Silver Banks, which lies between the Turks and Caicos and the Dominican Republic, where they calve and mate.  While scuba diving and snorkeling you can here the mesmerizing sounds from the humpbacks.  Snorkeling with these huge whales during regular in-water encounters is a truly awe-inspiring experience.

Day 1 - Providenciales

Providenciales, or Provo, is the tourist and yachting capital of the Turks and Caicos.  Anchor on the Caicos bank about 6 nm from South Dock, or as close as the shallow depths around the island will allow you and collect your guests by tender.

Day 2 –Salt Cay

Fewer than 100 people live on this 2½-square-mile (6-square-km) dot of land, maintaining an unassuming lifestyle against a backdrop of stucco cottages, stone ruins, and weathered wooden windmills standing sentry in the abandoned salinas.

Visit the imposing White House dating back to the early 1800’s, it sits so high on the horizon that it is one of the first things you see from several miles out at sea. This salt house is an example of classic Bermudan architecture.

In the afternoon team up with a local guide from Salt Cay Divers to get the most out of your Humpback Whale encounter.  Cruise the bank south of Salt Cay where you may enjoy in water encounters with the Whales.

Day 3 – Cotton Cay

Anchored off Cotton Cay within the Grand Turk lagoon, the largest and lushest of the uninhabited Turks Islands. 

Start the day off with a wall dive on the northwest point of Salt Cay, 3 miles away in the tender.

Ashore on Cotton Cay, there are ruins from when the island was used for cattle grazing.  Near to the ruins, a subterranean grotto leads to a rock-enclosed cove, explore a little on the island and see what you can find.

The island offers good shelter for jetski’s, kayaking, swimming and snorkeling.

Stay anchored on the southern side of Cotton Cay overnight.

Day 4 – Grand Turk and Gibbs Cay

In the morning, up anchor from Cotton Cay and head to the historic Hawksnest anchorage on the south side of Grand Turk. Those that believe Grand Turk was Columbus’s first landfall in the new world claim that this anchorage is the anchorage Columbus declared would ‘hold all the ships in Christendom’

Take a bicycle ride into Cockburn town and visit the Turks and Caicos National Museum, where you will find a central exhibit that tells the story of the Molasses Reef Wreck, the oldest shipwreck in the Americas (dated around 1505).   The display includes the largest selection of 16th century wrought iron beech loading cannons in the world.

Later in the trip you may choose to dive on Molasses Reef (weather permitting).

Dive the spectacular Grand Turk Wall.

In the afternoon take a tender cruise through the lagoon to Gibbs Cay, one of the uninhabited and un-spoilt sand cays. The luxurious white sand beach beckons you to relax or you may wander around the island to explore the nature. Take a dip in the warm water and about 50 yards from the beach is the beautiful coral reef that is alive with a multitude of colorful tropical fish and sea life.  A visit to Gibbs Cay gives you another special encounter, swimming with the graceful stingrays right off the beach, these beautiful and gentle creatures are very inquisitive and will swim right up to you. 

Day 5 – Grand Turk Bank and Great Sand Cay

Can’t get enough of those Whales?!

Take a cruise south and anchor or drift over the Grand Turk Bank, south of Salt Cay.  This is where whales are regularly spotted and try your own hand at getting up close and personal with these big mammals.

Dive the southern point of Salt Cay or take a shore excursion to visit the historic White house on Salt Cay.

Anchor overnight on the south of Salt Cay.

Day 6 – Great Sand Cay

Great Sand Cay is a remote island that lies 6 miles south of Salt Cay in the Turks Island group. It is the last landfall stretching southeast through the Bahamian chain.  The island is protected as a bird sanctuary and requires special permission to land on it.

Great Sand Cay’s isolation leaves it untouched by humans and a spectacular spot for snorkeling, diving and bird watching.  There is also a very good chance you will see Humpback Whales in this area.

There are exciting stories of pirate treasure buried here as well as numerous shipwrecks on the reefs nearby. HMS Endymion, a 44-gun British warship is probably the most famous of these, she ran aground on uncharted reefs 5 miles to the south of the cay in 1790. The mammoth anchors and chain can still be seen today.

Enjoy a Beach BBQ lunch ashore and stay anchored at Big Sand Cay overnight.

Day 7 - Mouchoir Bank

Well you’re here for Whales right?  Today is the day.

Mouchoir Bank is 20m deep rising up from depths of over 2000m, it lies 30 nm South East of the anchorage at Big Sand Cay and 90 nm North West of Silver Banks, known to be the calving and breeding ground for humpbacks.

Up anchor early and cruise 30nm to Mouchoir Bank.

Either drift around or anchor on the bank. Away from other whale watching cruises you will have the gentle giants all to yourselves.  In the early afternoon make your way back to the Turks group anchoring on the South side of Salt Cay for the night.

Day 8 – Cruise to French Cay

Departing the Turks group to cross the Turks passage and into the Caicos group, this 80nm passage will take about 7 hours.  Keep a sharp eye out for those Humpback Whales!

French Cay is a protected bird sanctuary and landing ashore is prohibited, however swimming and snorkeling the reef here is worth the stop over.  From here you can take the tender about 5nm to Molasses Reef and dive the remains of the Molasses Reef Wreck.  Just 19m long, the caravel crossed the Atlantic and ran aground on this reef, laying undiscovered for about 400 years when it was found by treasure divers in 1976. 

Day 9 – West Caicos

Cruise one hour to West Caicos Island, offering miles of white sand beaches and imposing limestone cliffs. Today there are ruins of a sisal press, railway and steam engines.  Land ashore on the beach and wander across the old railway crossing the island in an east / west direction, over the Lake Catherine nature reserve.  A walk across the causeway may reward you with sighting of pink flamingos, osprey and herons that live along the shores of Lake Catherine.  You will end up in the ruins of Yankee Town where in the mid 1800’s a flourishing community of Sisal workers lived.

Day 10 - Providenciales and Grace Bay

It’s time to depart, but the trip is not complete without a visit to Grace Bay.

Take a car ride over to Grace Bay, rated the number one beach in the world, three years in a row!  Enjoy lounging on the beach and a cocktail or a spot of shopping before heading to the airport for your flight out.

Guidelines for safe whale watching

I completed this cruise with guests in 2013, and we had fabulous whale encounters from our tender and from the 50m Motor Yacht.  I have previous experience in whale watching and the utmost respect must be given to these great animals in their own habitat.

o   If you have any doubts employ the services of an experienced local guide.

o   When looking for whales or encountering whales do not approach them with your vessel.  I have found the best results are shutting down engines if possible, or having them on standby and drifting, or anchoring; let the whales come to you.   You will be surprised how curious they are and how close they will come.

o   If you want to snorkel with the whales, hang a long floating line off the back of the boat or tender.  Allow snorkelers to go in the water and keep a hold of the line.  Ask them to be patient, again the whales are very curious will come to you.  We had whales so close you could almost reach out and touch them.

o   Do not chase the whales or threaten them in anyway.

Happy Whale Watching!!