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BY ELLEN CREAGER
Detroit Free Press
GRAND TURK, Turks and Caicos--There's not much here except the dazzle and the deep blue sea.
The dazzle: Governor's Beach, a strip of white that edges the island like the powdered sugar rim of a cannoli.
The sea: It's actually not deep blue. It's as turquoise as a swimming pool. The ocean here is shallow--right up until it plunges 7,000 feet straight down a quarter mile offshore at the Grand Turk Wall.
This island is part of the Turks and Caicos, a trendy Caribbean vacation spot 500 miles southeast of Miami. The tiny British territory has eight major islands and dozens of uninhabited keys, a glistening broken necklace in the Atlantic.
Grand Turk is mainly visited for two reasons--diving and cruise ships. In 2006, Carnival built a big cruise ship dock and terminal. That same year Grand Turk snagged nonstop air service from Fort Lauderdale on Spirit Airlines. It had celebrity visitors like Steven Spielberg and Serena Williams. It had big plans.
Then, in September 2008, Hurricane Ike pummeled a lot of the island's hopes and dreams. About 80 percent of the flat little limestone island was damaged.
Now, life is slower. The nonstop flights ceased. The house Spielberg reportedly owns is for sale. The condo Williams supposedly was building is a shell.
Though cruise ship crowds still arrive on Grand Turk--655,000 last year--they operate in their own tight orbit, flocking to the cruise line-sponsored shopping complex near the ship, pouring onto Governor's Beach, speeding off for snorkeling. By late afternoon, the ships leave.
There are just a handful of hotels on Grand Turk, comprising only 70 rooms total, according to the tourism bureau. The whole island is just 7 miles long and 11/2 miles wide. And once the cruise passengers depart, it's left to the locals and the divers.
Cockburn Town, capital city of the Turks and Caicos, is really a village. A small collection of attractive but weathered pastel 18th- and 19th-century colonial buildings, it is a shabby-chic version of Bermuda.
About a mile down the road is a collection of old military buildings that date from days the U.S. Air Force used Grand Turk as a tracking station for early space travel. There's a memorial to astronaut John Glenn, whose 1962 first round-the-globe space flight splashed down just off the coast of Grand Turk.