Remember When?

Today, Yesterday, and Today

Looking back at life on the Islands “back in the day.”

By Shelagh Barrington

Shelagh Barrington is Kathi Barrington’s older sister. Kathi was editor of Times of the Islands from 1990 to 1993. On a recent visit to Providenciales, she had occasion to reminisce on those early golden days in the sun. 

Today . . .

It’s time for lunch. After a little local shopping along Leeward Highway, we take the roundabout at Suzy Turn and go down the road that leads us to the water and Turtle Cove. 

Yesterday . . .

The Third Turtle Inn was the TCI’s first hotel, built in 1967.

In 1985, when Kat and Mike first sailed Minx, their 41-foot trimaran, into the Turks & Caicos Islands, destination Providenciales, they anchored in a deserted marina development at Leeward Going Through on the northeast end of the island. George and I arrived in 1986, loaded with supplies from the “real world,” for a two-week visit aboard Minx. 

Life on a subtropical, sunny island sounds idyllic. In reality, it’s not that easy. Supplies must be rowed in from shore; the dog must be rowed to and fro for daily walks—friends and visitors too. Suntan, their German Shepherd pup, had to be taught to bark at visitors arriving in their own dinghies.

Mike and Kat fetched their food, booze, water, and fuel in a tiny refashioned two seater Citroen, with a ghastly green wooden body. It lacked doors, roof, and windshield. Almost everything was imported and stock was never consistent. Fortunately their friends at the Conch Farm had a truck, which they generously shared, to collect sporadic visitors from the tiny Provo airport which had just extended its runway to accommodate jets flying in guests to the brand new Club Med, which opened in late 1984. 

The supplies George and I brought in our luggage included necessities not available on island:  Bandaids, underwear, dog treats, books, and Cryovac-sealed meat. The meat was stored in Minx’s ice chest, along with a box of chocolate Skor bars. The hoarded and allotted chocolate bars became the new tradition of shared chocolate for dessert. 

Kat introduced us to cracked conch with peas ‘n” rice; Mike made Johnny Cake for breakfast. We often shared our evening meals—Mike’s catch of the day and Kathi’s rice—with our other boating friends, Anka and Alain. This French couple, who ran dive excursions for Club Med and lived aboard the boat they ran, docked each night at the closed Leeward marina. The Club supplied them with more than ample food each night, and several bottles of wine. They shared this bountiful surplus most nights. “Un peu de vin blanc” became our motto.

Everything was an adventure. We rowed or dragged Minx’s dinghy through the shallow channels in the mangroves to see baby sharks and tiny fish that would eventually populate the surrounding ocean. We joined Mike and a friend who had a small motorboat to check out the channels between the cays, looking for conch and lobster, which Mike was becoming adept at spearing with a Hawaiian sling.

On one snorkeling expedition we inadvertently invaded the territory of a very large barracuda who, protesting the occupation of his fishing grounds, circled the boat. When we returned to the dinghy with lobsters and spied this monster, George, activated by a rush of adrenaline, lifted me straight out of the water and into the boat, a feat he has never replicated. We also explored one of the nearby cays to visit the rare local iguanas, which we fed stale Club Med baguettes. (We know better now.)

When really, really, necessary we did laundry. We filled the lone washing machine sitting in the tiny abandoned washhouse with a hose. After the single-wash cycle, Kat and I spread the hand-wrung laundry on the lines of an embarrassed Minx to dry in the sun. 

Overlooking the cove, The Third Turtle Inn served as the meeting place for locals and imports alike from the time it was built in the late 1960s.

One afternoon we took the wooden car on a magical mystery tour, over what were barely tracks, to the newly established Conch Farm. Here, raising conch from eggs was to become a fraught-with-drama, short-lived island industry. We were met by and toured the facility with marine biologist Megan. She and her partner Gary, a sailor, boat builder and long-time friend of Mike’s, was the operations manager at the farm. They also lived in Leeward, on an amazing houseboat that Gary, Mike, and various transient boaters built and launched there.

We often played euchre late into the evening. There was light and music (when the batteries were charged) and the sky was always filled with stars. On one dark evening, after a full moon, we were startled by countless phosphorescent green sparkles in the water, that we would eventually learn were mating glowworms. And when it was time for lights out, we were serenaded by the soft crackle of shrimp as Minx rocked us to sleep.

During that first visit in 1986, Mike decided that Minx’s bottom needed a scrubbing. We sailed her, inside the reef, to protected Turtle Cove to get that done.

In the early days, Turtle Cove was the heart of Providenciales. This was where the transient yachters, who helped fuel the island economy, came in for safe harbour, to effect repairs and restock on their way to the Caribbean or South America. Deep-sea fishing diehards were attracted to these pristine waters and the small waterfront hotel, The Third Turtle Inn, served as the meeting place for locals and imports alike.

If you needed something, this was where you met, (at happy hour), to find whomever could get it for you. Where can I find someone to repair a sail or re-cover my weathered cushions? Answer: See Barb or Faye, transplanted Canadians, at Sew What. Or, where can I find someone to repair my damaged boat or make a part for me? Answer:  See Mike. This was the genesis of Mike’s boat repair, rigging, and eventually, welding business, Osprey Marine Services. He was one of a handful of people who were the “go-to” guys for fix-anything advice.

Kat and Mike docked their trimaran Minx in Turtle Cove to get its bottom scrubbed!

Pardon me, I digress . . . back to the sail to Turtle Cove.This was Minx’s first sail down the coast, inside the reef, and the route to and into Turtle Cove was not marked.  Mike is now a master at reading the local waters, but that first trip was nerve wracking because the newbies on board were not much help (except for moral support) and because Kat and Mike were sailing their home, once again, through unknown, coral head studded waters.

Obviously, they made it and safely anchored in the middle of Turtle Cove. We met Brad and Debbie, who were running the little marina, and who became fast friends. To celebrate the brave sailors, we all got gussied up and rowed over to the small—and only—fancy restaurant, the now long-defunct Third Turtle Inn. I can’t remember what we had for dinner, but it was delicious, and the treat for all of us was that others did the cooking and clean up. 

Today . . . February 2022

All these memories come flooding back as we walk the docks around Turtle Cove, which has been transformed.  Where Minx once anchored, the Pond has been filled to create a large spit lined with docks, some a tad dilapidated. Turtle Cove Marina is small, but definitely a going concern. A new boutique hotel, Zenza, has opened beside the Sharkbite, and where the Turtle Cove Inn stood for many years, another small condo is under construction. Mango Reef Restaurant, which seats 200, is a lovely spot on the water for lunch or dinner. We decide to lunch there, joining locals and yachters.

The food is good and well priced, but we look across at what now appears like ancient stone ruins of The Third Turtle Inn and remember when it was one of a handful of places to stay on Providenciales. So much has changed, yet our memories remain.

Some may say that Turtle Cove, the heart of the island, has been upstaged by the glitz and glamour of Grace Bay, where countless condo resorts and a 12-story Ritz Carlton now shadow that magnificent beach. But the Cove remains the most popular hangout for long-time residents and visitors. For good reason. It’s like coming home.

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Aysha Stephen is Grand Turk’s newest artistic sensation, renowned for her iconic “Cool Donkeys” paintings. Her creations are quite the hit with visitors to TDB Fine Arts Gallery. It recently opened within the Turks & Caicos National Museum on Grand Turk and is dedicated to showcasing art “Made in TCI.

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