After a quick two-and-a half-week back to Toronto for the birth of our first Grandson, Samuel Evan Rose, I am back in Georgetown. Steve boat-sat here while I baby sat in the freezing, frigid north. But my heart was warmed by the beautiful, healthy baby, his adoring, chatty and bright “big” sister Amelia (now 2 years 4 months) and the happy family. I found Steve fit, tanned and happy on my return, the bright work on the boat all sanded with 1 and a half coats of cetol varnish on it!
We have slipped into the groove here. We understand now why this is such a cruiser mecca. Notice I did not say sailing mecca, which I had thought it was before I arrived….BVI’s is a sailing mecca – people charter sailboats and sail between the cays there. Here many sailboats and catamarans and a few power cruisers and trawlers come and stay. Just drop the anchor and stay for months. And many come back year on year and stay for the winter. I think of it as more of a sailboat settlement, a cruiser haven. That is what Bahamians call the towns (or more appropriately villages) here. It has a colonial but also cute ring to it.
When we first arrived after Christmas there were less than 80 boats here. Now there are about 340, spread out among the four major anchorages at Monument, Volleyball Beach, Sand Dollar Beach and Kidd’s Cove nearer George Town. At night it is a sight to behold, as the density of anchor lights looks like an unusual skyline against the natural beach/island background.
At first we could not really understand the draw – there are so few amenities or services here. But that is part of the charm. It is like a game of Survival. The wind blows for days and so the long dinghy trip into George Town for jerry cans of water to fill our tanks becomes an exercise in endurance. You arrive with soaking clothes and salt-water starched wind-blown hair sticking up in all directions, to find the Exuma Market full of people but devoid of fresh milk, bread or vegetables! Meanwhile, back at Stocking Island there is not too much to unpack or put away. We are incredibly stingy about power and water – and have a hissy fit any time the water pump runs for more than a few seconds! Windy days are welcome from a power perspective – we sometimes generate enough through wind and solar to balance our consumption – or better – and do not have to run the engine to keep the batteries topped up. But the bumpy, wet dinghy rides are a definite downside!
Dinghies ferry between boats with friends gathering on each others boats for sundowners….and, as the sun goe down each evening the conch horns are blown – a veritable conch shell orchestra from boats anchored around the base of the monument and other groups of boats anchored at volley-ball beach and sand-dollar beach. It did not take us too long to settle down in this sailboat settlement. The weather is balmy, the pace relaxed. Everyone is friendly, it is easy to meet new people and make friends. In a place where self-sufficiency prevails, people help each other with tools or equipment – knowledge is freely exchanged. The morning cruisers net run by Herman, on S.V. White Wing, gets each day off to a good start at 8 am. After local businesses and boaters exchange notices of events and activities, new arrivals are introduced and departing boats say their goodbyes as they head off to Long Island, the Jumentos or further afield to Cuba or the Caribbean.
Cruisers offer seminars on Volley Ball beach, which has a big meeting area of picnic tables and benches under the shady casuarina trees. Topics include batteries, HAM radio, connected healing etc. There is yoga on the beach at 7 am (intense) and 9 am (for the rest of us), beach church on Sundays, and volleyball daily. People gather there near the Chat ‘n Chill beach bar to learn basket weaving from palm fronds (as I did), play mah jong or just chat. On Sundays there is a pig roast. You can feed the large (3 feet diameter) sting rays which come to the conch bar daily for the scraps of conch. They feel soft and are friendly! Three dolphins came by our boat one day for a visit through the anchorage at Monument.
When the wind blows it is relatively easy to get to nearby Stocking Island for walks on pristine beaches on the lee side, or ocean beaches on the outside. The beaches are all beautiful and it is easy to find one to yourself. A favourite pastime is the Exumas is looking for sea-beans which are carried over oceans from Africa and South America, and wash up on beaches in clumps of Sargasso weed. There are also some wonderful snorkelling spots including a small blue hole in Hole #3.
On hamburger beach there is a Wednesday evening music jam weekly – where musicians from cruising boats gather at the beach bar, Big Dee’s to play music….there is a bonfire and it is a lot of fun. Poker nights at the St. Francis Resort on Tuesday and Thursday are very popular. The resort (under South African management) is a great place for lunch on the shady verandah and is on Stocking Island so easy to reach by dinghy.
There is a beach bar at the far end of “Flip Flop” beach which cruisers have restored this year. It is like a scene from “Swiss Family Robinson” or “Robinson Crusoe” or “Lord of the Flies”. Picture a pristine and private beach with a palm-frond topped tiki hut decorated with mooring balls and other flotsam. Conch shell lined paths lead to the “out-house” if you can call it that.
There are also one-off events like the conch horn oom-pah orchestra (youtube video coming soon) and reef restoration project after a catamaran ran aground and sank on a nearby reef. It was a treacherous error in navigation software, and very sad for the owners of the 6-month old 46 foot Leopard Catamaran. But it did enormous damage to the reef, so volunteer cruisers are working hard to mitigate the damage through reef restoration.
There are great relations too between the local Bahamians around George Town and the cruisers. Cruisers volunteer at the local library and attend the local rake-and-scrape bar evenings. The sailboats more than doubles the population, and are welcomed as they support the local economy.
More than anything else, it is a community of friends. Like-minded people can easily get together. Musicians find other musicians, vegetarians share pot-lucks on the beach, crafty people make baskets or jewellry, chefs teach others how to make sushi, fitness freaks play competitive volleyball, and others do aquasize with noodles near one boat or water-walking for excercise. The evenings are a buzz of dinghies visiting other boats for sundowners or dinner.
Now we are settled, I don’t want to leave. There is a lot of buzz about the upcoming cruising regatta, which we will miss. It sounds like three weeks of fantastic fun – tournaments, races, dinghy parade, conch shell blowing, coconut shies etc… But above all this is a transient community. People come and go. Some people return every year and stay several months. But many others on on their way – to the Ragged Island and Jumentos, the Caribbean proper, or Long Island, or on their way back North.
And so, sadly, we move on soon and start our slow trek north.
View our George Town photo journal.