We’ve reached George Town, Exuma. This is it! The mecca and ultimate destination for cruisers each year. Many boats make a bee-line for Georgetown from Florida and then spend months here without moving. In some respects you wonder why. The town isn’t that pretty. It certainly does not have all you may need – no good chandlery or boat services, no great marina or easy fuel/water access. Water is expensive. In fact everything is Expensive here! There is a small and rather inadequate clinic for medical emergencies. And the best anchorages are off Stocking Island, a good long (read wet and bumpy) dinghy ride to town. There’s no internet, no mod cons. So why is it so popular? You need to hang out here for a while to figure it out.
The population of Georgetown is about 1000 people – a village by our standards. In the height of the season there may be up to 400 boats anchored in Elizabeth Harbour, mostly off Stocking Island and in the hurricane holes. Right now there are probably about 100. It is almost like a ‘tent city’ of sailboats, catamarans, a few trawlers and power boats. And therein lies some of the attraction. It is a self-contained cruising community. Every morning at 8 am there is the Cruisers Net. This starts with a call for emergency or medical traffic, followed by the weather and tides, and goes on to provide notices from local businesses of their offers or special events. Community events follow, and then the ‘classifieds’ – boaters with something to sell or trade.
New arrivals and/or departing boats then have an opportunity to introduce themselves or say good-bye to friends. After that the experienced boaters stay on Channel 72 for questions from newbies – like where to recycle glass bottles, or what to do with dirty engine oil.
Almost everyone ‘hangs out’ on Channel 68 for the rest of the day. It is easy to make friends in this cruising community and then boaters call each other via VHF on 68 to make arrangements, play bridge, go for a hike, go into town for provisioning or get together for sundowners. Potlucks, book exchanges, volleyball on the beach, or helping each other with repairs make up the day-today activities in this tent city. Anchor lights all come on at dusk and it really does look like a city. But it’s generally early to bed, early to rise here – 8 pm is “cruisers midnight” and gradually the cabin lights blink out.
You can tell the experienced boaters from the newbies like us. We thought we were well prepared for this life, but we were wrong. Our batteries are old and do not hold their charge well, and our wind vane and single solar panel do not generate enough power between them, so we have to run our engine for a couple of hours every day – burning precious diesel and not making ourselves popular in this community where self-sufficiency and economy are so prized. And our vehicle (dinghy) is not good enough for the longer drives into town for provisioning, water, garbage runs or internet. We have a soft-bottom, 10 foot dinghy with a 8 hp motor. We really need a hard-bottomed dinghy with 15 hp. But we manage, We survive.
There are an abundance of beautiful beaches nearby. Picnic beach, flip-flop beach, ocean beaches and sea-grass beaches. And walking/hiking trails up the hill to the monument or to the reef beaches on the other side. There is a non-denominational beach church on Sundays on Volleyball Beach. There are a few cool beach bars – such as the Chat ‘n Chill and the bar at aptly named Hamburger Beach where there is also a great conch salad bar. There is a water taxi to take you to Georgetown if it’s too windy or choppy. And Georgetown has its own certain charm.
On windy days it is not easy to go to Georgetown for supplies or to drop garbage, recycling, fetch water, propane or fuel. But on calmer days there is a veritable dinghy highway across the sound, and traffic jam under the little stone bridge which leads to a crowded dinghy dock on Lake Victoria. Exuma Market, where most people shop, is right next to the dinghy dock. It is a little hit and miss in terms of fresh food, bread and milk, but if you do manage to get there after the mail boat delivery has been unpacked, it is pretty good…and very crowded. The local restaurants and bars take it in turns to have their special evenings with “Rake and Scrape” live local music – Eddies Edgewater is on Mondays, Peace and Plenty on Wednesdays etc. And the straw market is the place for locally made crafts such as baskets and shell jewellery as well as hats, t-shirts and souvenirs. I convinced Mary to buy a hat there – it looked great on her!
In a place where many people fish and there are few regulations, fresh fish is surprisingly hard to come by. You may be lucky and find a guy near the “fish fry” little huddle of restaurants just pout of town. He is sometimes there, depending on when he goes out and what he catches. No telling in advance. You tell him how much you plan on spending and he’ll pick out a fish that size, clean it and fillet it for you. I got $15 of red snapper – one large fish that when filleted, made four good servings once I marinated them in lemon juice and garlic and grilled them on the barbecue. At the hair salon next to the customs office sometimes sells fresh fish out of a cooler – just ask!
We were lucky to get to Georgetown in time to watch the local regatta of Bahamian C-Class boats. This was quite a spectacle. There were only 8 boats competing but they came from far and wide in the Bahamas – e.g. Andros, Staniel Cay and Clarencetown, Long Island. They are beautiful to watch and serious races. We ran out of dinghy gas as we edged close to a race buoy to get some good photos, so Steve had to quickly row to ensure we stayed out of their way as they tacked round the buoy and raced away in close pursuit. It added a little to the excitement, the thought of being mowed down by these boats!
Then there is Junakanoo. This tradition stems back to the 17th century when slaves were given a special holiday at Christmas. They would be able to leave the plantations to be with their family and celebrate the holidays with African dance, music, and costumes. After emancipation this tradition continued, and junkanoo has evolved from its simple origins to a formal, more organized parade with fancy costumes and marching band music. We went into Georgetown with other cruisers, picked up from our boat by Elvis on his water-taxi. The parade started around 9:30 pm by which time the downtown streets were lines by locals and visiting cruisers. It was a wonderful spectacle of brightly coloured costumes, marching bands and dancing – the junkanoo music a sort of blend of oompah marching band and calypso island rhythm music. We left at 11 pm by which time the parade was over but the party was still going strong – costumed revelers still playing music and dancing in the park.
We headed back to the Government Dock and Elvis met us there as arranged at 11 pm. It was a calm, sultry night. As we left the harbour, we suddenly noticed one of the C-Class boats, “Fugitive” speeding along behind us in the moonlight. We notified Elvis – he had unfortunately caught it’s anchor as we pulled out. Luckily it was not too badly tangled and no damage to the prop or the anchor, so we left “Fugitive” behind to cross over to Stocking Island, and our respective boats.
View our photo journal for Dec 28-31, George†own.