Tag Archives: Georgetown

Georgetown, Part Six

It’s hard to believe that this is our sixth visit to Georgetown with the first one occurring in 2010. It is a popular stop for cruisers who spend time in the Exumas. A great many arrive to spend a few days and stay for weeks or even months, returning year after year. It is the ideal place to provision for going further south, so some stop, shop, and continue on their way. Occasionally  cruisers avoid Georgetown at all costs. Some have heard stories about it being “adult daycare.” Others don’t like to be around so many boats, although there are numerous anchorages in Elizabeth Harbour and some are frequently empty. You can be surrounded by other boats or anchored all by yourself. Last year I wrote an extensive post about Georgetown. It’s located here.  This year we are doing and seeing all of that and more.

We arrived in Georgetown at the end of November and quickly settled into our routine. As more cruisers arrived, the activity level picked up. Add to that the opening of the new resort at Lumina Point where we had an additional place to eat, exercise, dance, listen to cruiser jam sessions, and attend Happy Hour. When we arrived in Georgetown there were less than 20 boats here. The number peaks during Regatta Week. Below are two photos of the dinghy dock at Exuma Market. The first shows my son Peter, Mark and Sailor on the dock with five other dinghies when we first arrived in November. Mark is holding the hose hanging where cruisers line up in their dinghies to fill jerry jugs with free RO water, provided by Exuma Market. Yes, that is free. Other places in the Bahamas RO water costs 50 cents a gallon, sometimes a little more and sometimes a little less, but never this convenient and free. The second picture was taken in March when there were about 300 boats in the harbor. Notice the dinghies lined up to get water. By the time we left in April, there were less than 100 boats remaining. When the Regatta ends, some cruisers continue on their way south to the Caribbean, some head back north through the Exumas or Eleuthera and on to Abaco or other islands, and others follow different routes, eventually ending up in the States before hurricane season begins.

This is our third year in Hole 2, a hurricane hole mooring field. Not only do we enjoy the protection from high winds, but we also get to meet new friends each year because as a group we are “Hole 2.”  Michelle and Dan on Sea Monkey hosted a number of fun get-togethers, including a Valentines Day party and a jam session with Shannon and Bob (Category 1) and Gary (Tamaki) singing and playing their guitars. One afternoon Michelle offered to read our Chakras, which was very interesting. The bonfire parties on our beach in Hole 2 are legendary, but this year our main organizers, Joanne and Jack on Houseboat Panda, sold their boat and returned to Canada early. Jack was great at building bonfires and we only had one after he left – someone needs to take on that job. Most of the boats have kayaks and/or SUP’s and it’s not unusual to see several of us padding through the holes together since it’s always calm on the protected water. Below are a few get-together pictures with our Hole 2 friends and a photo taken, I believe, by Ingrid from Tamaki as they flew over Hole 2. The four mooring fields are on the west side of Stocking Island in Elizabeth Harbour. The long sandy beach on the east side of Stocking Island is on the Exuma Sound, aka the ocean. That beach is one of the most beautiful in the world and oddly, even when there are hundreds of visitors and cruisers in the area, rarely are there more than a few people walking on the beach and sometimes we are the only ones. Most cruisers spend time on the beaches on the harbor side of Stocking Island or in town. 

Below is a photo of the women of Hole 2 when we had a farewell luncheon at Lumina Point for Joanne on Panda and a welcome to Jill, the new owner. 

Saturday Night Poker on Seas the Day continued this year.  It is the highlight of our week and a good excuse to get the boat cleaned. We host 12-16 people with the men in the cockpit (seats aren’t as comfortable) and the women in the salon. (A note to the men – we hope to get the cockpit cushions replaced before we come back next year with much thicker seats.) When the number of players left in the game gets down to about 7 or 8, we combine the tables into one, usually in the salon. Most of the cruisers who come are from Hole 2. In fact three years ago when we began this, all the players were from Hole 2 the entire season. The last two years we have also invited friends from the anchorages when there aren’t enough players on the Hole 2 boats as cruisers come and go. Halfway through the game, we stop to chip up (trade in our chips for higher value ones) and eat a variety of always delicious snacks contributed by the players. New friend Holt (SV Agandau) is a gourmet snack maker and we hope he’ll be back next year, not just for his food. The name of his boat combines the symbols for silver (agand gold (au).  Sailor greets each dinghy pulling up to Seas the Day with one of his stuffed toys and kisses. He even has special ones he always brings to the same people. For example, Cathie consistently gets Mr. Squirrel. 

Three years ago we started to play poker at the St. Francis on Tuesday and Thursday. When we arrived in mid November this season, there was one table of about 10 people playing, including the three of us. Once hundreds of boats had arrived a few months later, the limit was set at five tables of ten each and we needed to register by about 5:15, with registration beginning at 5:00 or we would not get a place. Play starts at 6 pm. Mark and I won money enough times that we probably broke even. Buy-in is $5 with all money going back to the top five winners at the St. Francis and top three on our boat. Mark actually made it to the final table at the poker tournament during the Georgetown Regatta where there are many more players than the normal 50. He came in fourth place and won a very nice St. Francis shirt, a bottle of wine, and money – around $50. Pam on SV Dejarlo won the tournament, which was fitting since it is the last year she and Ollie will be coming to Georgetown after many years of being involved in numerous activities and volunteering through the years for just about everything. They will be missed. Below are photos of the final table at the Regatta Week tournament and Jillian, co-owner of St. Francis giving Mark his prizes.

Free yoga classes at Lumina Point Resort were offered during November, December and part of January. They were held on a large deck also used as an outdoor restaurant, a small deck overlooking the harbor, or, when weather was rainy, in their exercise gym. The teacher is from Andros Island and was trained in the States. She is also their massage therapist and is excellent  in both positions. I attended classes every day until the middle of January when I discovered that some of the poses were hurting my shoulder. Starting about that time, the classes switched to three times a week and there was a small charge to attend. The free classes attracted 20-30 people or more. Once the nominal fee was charged, the attendance dropped sharply. Luckily at that time free classes were offered by Agnes, a cruiser teacher, on Volleyball Beach. As the new resort started to get more guests, they stopped having so many activities for cruisers. It is an eco-resort, with solar power running everything and all aspects designed to be environmentally friendly. They even hand carried all of the building materials through the property to build the cottages. The paths are carefully cut through the thick foliage. Lumina Point Resort will no doubt attract visitors who are there for a relaxing, peaceful vacation. Cruisers tend to be noisy!

About the time I stopped going to yoga classes, a few of us realized that our two aquafit teachers from last season would not be coming to Georgetown this year. I volunteered to teach the class and Joanne from SV Bristol Cream provided the music and led the arm exercises. I have taken water aerobics/aquafit classes for many years, both in Columbus, Ohio while I was working and now in Florida. I researched poses that would work in the open water, rather than in a pool, and designed a routine that has a warm-up, followed by aerobics, then exercises strengthening each part of the body, ending with a cool down. As cruisers who came to our classes left Georgetown,  I gave them each a copy of the routine to follow as they visited other islands or back home in their own pools, lakes, rivers, etc. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting many new friends who came to the classes. Having retired from classroom teaching 11 years ago, I had forgotten how much I like being a teacher.

While we still paddle in our kayaks, mostly in the smooth, calm water of the four large mooring fields, this year we added an inflatable SUP (stand-up paddle board) to our “water toys.” I have to admit the main purpose was to give Sailor something to ride on with us. He hopped on our friend Christina’s SUP last season and seemed very comfortable, so now he has his own spot on the “pup deck” at the front of our SUP. So far he has behaved perfectly, sitting the entire ride. However, I am worried that if he ever decides to stand up, we’ll both go over into the water. 

Lumina Point Resort held several open mike sessions and we discovered there are many musically talented cruisers. One of my favorite sessions was when Sarah, on MV Borrowed Horse, played “Dueling Banjos” on her banjo with another cruiser on his guitar. It was incredible. Our friends Shannon (aqua shirt below) and Bob (red hat playing his guitar) are from Nashville, and their country music was fantastic. 

Activities in Georgetown increase substantially during the Regatta. There are usually close to 300 boats in the harbor and while the highlight is the big boat races, there are many other daily events, such as the poker run, bocce ball, beach golf, small boat races, the coconut challenge, a scavenger hunt, and much more.  A variety show is held the opening night in Georgetown at Regatta Park. The participants are both cruisers and Bahamians.

Our friends Cathie and Tom were on SV Interlude when we met them in January, 2013 in Bimini and they introduced us to Hole 2 three years ago. After selling Interlude, last summer they purchased a Tolleycraft motor yacht they named True North. Of course she goes much faster than a sailboat, up to 25 kts. One night we were invited to take a sunset cruise in the harbor with other friends from Hole 2 and we got a taste of Tom’s need for speed. 

We can’t write about our Georgetown activities without including Sailor’s adventures. He does have a great life on the boat. While in the Bahamas he goes ashore twice a day to play on the beach, plus he goes most places with us since the Bahamas are very dog friendly. He hasn’t met a friend as special as Zorro, his Portuguese water dog BFF. They were inseparable two years ago on the Hole 2 beach and later on in Long Island and Spanish Wells. This year a puppy named Bentley, which incidentally is the name of Sailor’s father, was the one dog who loved to run up and down the beach with Sailor.

After each visit to the beach, Sailor has to be washed off with fresh water. Then he is wrapped in this towel so he doesn’t shake water all over the boat.

In past years, we have never checked into the Bahamas before January 1. This year we arrived in Bimini on November 14 and Georgetown on November 27. A huge celebration on the day after Christmas, Boxing Day, is Junkanoo. In the larger cities such as Bimini and Nassau, a second Junkanoo is held on New Years’ Day, beginning at midnight. The parade held in Georgetown was colorful and fun. The groups practice for a long time and in many cases make their own costumes.

Groceries are always an important consideration when visiting the Bahamas. We provision for our entire winter/spring cruise, seven months this year. However, we always have to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy products and the Exuma Market and the Shop Rite Mart in Georgetown have great selections, but fresh produce only lasts on the shelves for a day or two after the supply boat brings food. These are by far the best grocery stores we shop at in the Exumas and other than Nassau, the second best we go to during our Bahamas cruise. The best is the Food Fair in Spanish Wells. Below are photos of one shopping trip at Exuma Market and some of the food we have enjoyed on Seas the Day.

Broccoli, muchroom, and cheese quicheMarinated boneless pork loin pork chops with pineapple and maple syrup, fried rice, and asparagus

Multi chip (and multi calorie) oatmeal cookies

These are items we purchase almost every week

Caramel pecan rolls rising overnight to bake in the morning 

Rice Krispie treats – not fancy or unusual but we couldn’t make them without bringing Rice Krispies with us from the States since cereal is very expensive here

Of course there are many good restaurants in Georgetown. A tradition is Valentines Dinner at St. Francis, always with a wonderful gourmet meal. It is so popular that it isn’t even “advertised” on the morning net, but the reservations fill up quickly.

I often say that the best thing about cruising is the friends we meet. This year, we met Tucker and Robbie on SV Pixie Dust. They were in Hole 2 on a ball near Seas the Day. Little did we know that Robbie would give us a very special gift the day before they flew back to Michigan. She is a talented artist, and she certainly captured our boat, Mark, Sailor and me in the water color picture she painted of us. Each day, we picked her up on her boat to go with us to water aerobics. We looked just like this arriving at Pixie Dust. 

We left Georgetown on April 2nd to start our way north. We’ll be back next year to create more memories. The sad part about leaving is that each year some of our friends do not return to Georgetown the next cruising season when they sell their boats and become CLODS – Cruisers Living On Dirt. Our 2016/2017 cruise is not over yet though. We still have two more months to enjoy the Bahamas as we travel through the Exumas, across the Sound to Eleuthera and on to Spanish Wells.

Cambridge Cay to Georgetown

With our dinghy motor nonfunctional, on 11/24/16 we left Cambridge Cay at 0950 and at 1200 dropped the anchor at Big Majors Cay, next to Staniel Cay. As usual on this trip, we were one of very few boats in the anchorage. In a month or two, this large anchorage will be crowded. It’s a very popular stop, both for cruisers heading south and for those who like to stay in this area for weeks or longer. The anchorage is huge and well protected from all but westerly winds, with a few smaller nearby anchorages for wind protection from the west. There are three very small grocery stores, two in small rooms in private homes and one on the first floor of a private home. Another advantage of stopping here is there is an airport, so often cruisers will have their guests fly into Staniel Cay. Also, with the airport being walking distance from the marina, it’s a good place to have boat parts or other supplies shipped from the States. (In Georgetown we have to pay a $30 fee to a broker who drives to the airport to pick up packages we have sent  from the States and brings them back to town where we pick them up.) There are several restaurants, including the recently updated Staniel Cay Yacht Club. The town recently added a laundromat. Water and fuel are available at the marina and dive boats take tourists to nearby snorkeling and diving locations.  There are quite a few cottages and private homes for rent on Staniel Cay. Cruisers can base themselves here and with a short sail or motor be at the popular Exuma Land and Sea Park. 

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First on the agenda was to repair the dinghy motor. Mark worked on it for several hours, finally determining that the problem was the fuel. He emptied it from the motor and it looked more like water than gas. He added new gasoline and the motor started. Off we went to see the swimming pigs and take Sailor to the beach. We needed to wait until the next day for a slack tide during daylight to go into the Thunderball Grotto and snorkel. 

People actually come from all over to see these pigs, which is quite amazing because a pig farmer from Iowa once told us that all pigs can swim. Although there are quite a few beaches on Big Majors Cay, the pigs are always on this one. We chuckle when we see float planes or tour boats coming here from resorts all over the south and central Bahamas and as far away as Nassau to see the pigs.  They pull up to the pig beach, the tourists get out and swim with or feed them, they get back in their plane or boat and head off to the next “attraction.” We usually stop our dinghy when passing this beach, but have never gotten in the water with the pigs or gone ashore. Sailor, of course, would love to play with them, but that would be dangerous. These are huge pigs and they are protective of their piglets. Apparently, these pigs are so important to tourism in the Exumas that as Hurricane Matthew approached Big Majors Cay in October, the piglets were captured and placed in sheds while the larger pigs were left to fend for themselves. With the strength of the hurricane force wind, the piglets could have blown away. 

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Next we took Sailor to another beach on Big Majors where he could run, swim, and fetch his ball. We can almost always find a deserted beach in this anchorage where he can freely run without dodging people. He hadn’t been off the boat since the fiasco on Bell Island the previous day when we were marooned for awhile. This was much more fun.

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My son, Peter, climbed a nearby hill but the rocks were very sharp so he didn’t go far.

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The next morning, we moved Seas the Day to an anchorage right next to the grotto so we wouldn’t have a long dinghy ride to snorkel or go to lunch. Our motorsail to our next stop at  Cave Cay was short, so we could easily get there in the afternoon after spending the morning in Staniel Cay. Last year when we snorkeled Thunderball Grotto, it seemed like there weren’t many fish and the coral wasn’t as colorful as in the past. We blamed it on the massive amount of people in the grotto making it difficult to swim around to look at the coral. Everyone times it to come during one of the two slack tides during the daylight hours. Otherwise, the strong current pushes through the grotto and makes getting in and out difficult. Like the pig beach, tour boats bring tourists to snorkel at the well known Thunderball Grotto where scenes from the James Bond movie Thunderball were filmed. This time, again there were several dinghies anchored outside the grotto (the dinghy mooring balls have disappeared), but it wasn’t as full as last year when we came. Swimming into the grotto, it was very apparent that the tourists who come here in large groups have killed the coral and scared the fish away. I spent several minutes inside and returned to the dinghy since there was little to see. Mark didn’t go in the water because he had a cut on his foot and there are a lot of sharks, mainly harmless nurse sharks, in the area. Peter ended up snorkeling mostly around the back of the outside of the grotto where few people go. All in all, I don’t think we’ll go to Thunderball Grotto again. It’s sad that the multitudes of tourists have ruined it. I don’t include cruisers in this because they have been coming here for many years, before the influx of numerous daily tours began, and until a few years ago the coral in the grotto was very healthy. Our first time snorkeling here was in 2010 and the grotto has changed drastically since then. In the past, there were so many fish in the grotto than they would sometimes totally surround snorkelers.  Most cruisers are very careful to protect the land and sea environment so they know to be careful not to touch live coral. 

Peter used his GoPro camera at Thunderball Grotto, but hasn’t put a video on YouTube yet. Hopefully he captured some colorful live coral outside of the back of the Grotto. He saw a nurse shark while swimming there. 

Below is a video Peter took when we snorkeled at The Aquarium, near Cambridge Cay, at our last stop. This is in the Exuma Land and Sea Park which is a “no take” zone, so it’s as pristine as the coral is going to get here. There were still plentiful, wide varieties of fish in The Aquarium. However, several nearby islands are owned by private citizens, including Johnny Depp and the Aga Khan, and they have been dredged for megayachts which will probably affect the nearby cays in the Park. I suspect they allow their family and visitors to take shells off their beaches, so while they are in the Park, the “no take” rule isn’t being followed. 

We returned to the boat, cleaned up, and went ashore to Staniel Cay where we had a delicious lunch at the Yacht Club and took a walk around the town. 

Lunch at the Yacht Club.

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Sailor and the resident Yacht Club retriever had a discussion below our table, probably about food droppings. There are signs telling people not to feed the dog, but he is quite clever. We were eating outside and I noticed he would wander over and walk under the tables from time to time. He seemed to know he would find food that had dropped off the tables, and he did! Sailor doesn’t eat “people food” so the dog got any scraps that blew off our table. Perhaps Sailor was telling him to feel free to eat any scraps he found.

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Whenever the Staniel Cay residents have a fundraiser for a local cause it’s held in this location. The food is always traditional Bahamian cuisine including BBQ meat, peas and rice, mac and cheese and coleslaw.

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Before cell phone towers were built on most of the islands, you could get a phone card and make calls back to the States, or locally, from one of these booths. Now Batelco (Bahamas Telephone Company) has cell towers everywhere (except in the Land and Sea Park) and voice and data prices are reasonable. This phone booth hasn’t been used for awhile.

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Coming back to our anchored boat near the grotto, we were all alone again. We pulled up the anchor and made our way to Cave Cay. 

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We had asked Chris Parker during his morning SSB/webcast what the sea conditions on the Exuma Sound would be like the next day between Cave Cay and Georgetown and he said the wind would be 10-12 kts and seas would be 4 ft becoming 3 ft. That sounded fine to us so the plan was to leave for Georgetown in the morning from Cave Cay Cut. When we arrived, there was one other catamaran anchored near us. We didn’t go ashore, although there is a nice beach right around the corner from this hill. You can see why this is called Cave Cay. Below is one of the many caves along the shore and there are more on the land.

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The next morning, we waited until 0900 to leave, hoping that since it was close to slack tide we might not encounter large seas or a rage as we left through the cut. We were anchored near Galliot Cut but motorsailed the short distance to Cave Cay Cut, which we find is sometimes easier to go through. But it wasn’t. As we entered the cut, large waves were coming onto the foredeck and crashing over the salon roof, which was not unexpected since it’s always been rough when we’ve gone through these cuts, but we assumed once we got through the cut and turned south, the predicted 4 ft waves would be manageable. They would have, except Chris Parker didn’t mention the HUGE SWELLS. The four ft seas were on top of them. We were going straight into the swells and they were still crashing up onto the foredeck, occasionally coming over the salon roof.  Mark estimated the swells were 10 to 12 feet high. From another direction they would have been manageable because if there is enough time between the swells, they just carry the boat up and then gently drop us down. Not this time.

I went to bed with Sailor and Peter got in his bed with a dramamine while Mark was at the helm, controlling the boat as best he could. Many people think it’s easier in rough seas to be on the deck level, but on our catamaran, I find it’s more comfortable in beds located in the hulls. Besides, Sailor is a “fair weather sailor” and insists I get in bed with him if the sea is not almost flat. These sea  conditions were probably the worst ones we have ever sailed in over the last eight years. At 1417, about five hours after leaving Cave Cay, we were in Elizabeth Harbour and dropped the anchor near Volleyball Beach on Stocking Island to wait for high tide to get into the mooring field on our ball. The seas dropped as soon as we entered Elizabeth Harbour although it was still very windy and the water was choppy. While this was a horrendous leg of the journey to Georgetown, we know that Seas the Day can take much more than we can and we weren’t worried about any danger to us or the boat.

The Ohio State/Michigan game began shortly before we entered Elizabeth Harbour, so we had to finish watching that, which went into several overtimes. We lived in Columbus, Ohio for over 20 years, so Peter and I are diehard Buckeye fans. A few minutes before the game ended, we lost our Direct TV signal, so we had to check online to find out that Ohio State won.

Before we left Cave Cay, we had removed all items off shelves, locked all cabinets, moved cockpit plants to protected areas, and put away everything we thought might fall because it’s almost always a little rough on the Exuma Sound, aka the ocean. However this time anything that was loose fell down. We have hanging rods for clothes in the two showers that we don’t use and these had never come down in the roughest of seas. Not only did they come down with all the clothes, the rods bent in the middle and will have to be replaced! A planter in the cockpit that had never moved fell down causing loose dirt to blow all over the cockpit. Except for the hanging rods, nothing broke, but it was the biggest mess we ever had to clean up. 

Below are pictures of the mooring field in Hole 2, and Seas the Day on her ball. Most of the moored boats are empty, with owners storing them here during hurricane season and not arriving for the cruising season yet. When Hurricane Matthew passed over Georgetown in October, several boats in this mooring field and the “hurricane hole” next to it, broke loose and hit the sharp rocks on the shore, causing major damage. The mooring  balls, which are held by screws dug deep into the floor of the mooring field, did not break loose, but the lines from the boats to the balls did. In one case, a boat came loose and hit other boats, pushing them along with it to the shore.

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Peter had a few days to explore Georgetown before he flew home to California, but the wind was high so all we got in were a ride around the relatively calm mooring fields on the stand-up paddleboard and kayak, a walk on the Exuma Sound beach, a trip into town for a short tour, a snorkeling attempt in the harbor, two dinners at St. Francis, and a game of Texas Hold’em the night before he left. It was too choppy in the harbor to get in anymore snorkeling or exploring.

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We’ve never seen the dinghy dock in Lake Victoria, where cruisers tie up when they come into Georgetown, so empty. Then again, we arrived here over 1 1/2 months earlier than on our other five visits to Georgetown. Sometimes we were the only dinghy on the dock. In a month, dinghies will be three and four deep along this dock.

dscf3256In the dinghy dock photo below you can see Mark and Peter are getting water from a hose to fill a bowl for Sailor.  This is the only place in the Exumas where there is free RO (reverse osmosis) water for cruisers available directly into their dinghies. Water usually costs about 50 cents a gallon at fuel docks and marinas in the Bahamas. The Exuma Market, located next to the dinghy dock (which was built for cruisers by the Market), provides this free water. As more boats arrive in the harbor, there will be a line of dinghies with jerry jugs waiting to get water to bring back to their boats and put in the tanks. We have a watermaker so we make our own RO water, but once our watermaker broke and while waiting for a part we were very grateful for this free source of water. 

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Shortly before we arrived in Georgetown, we heard news that the Red Boone Cafe had burned down. The building is next to the Exuma Market, so it was amazing that did not catch fire. Fortunately, a large propane tank used by the cafe, not shown in this picture, did not catch fire and explode. This was a very popular place for cruisers to get together for something quick to eat and to visit. I believe they also had free wifi. The three red picnic tables near the cars, always occupied by cruisers and locals, are now partially burned,  showing that is where the fire stopped. Hopefully it will be rebuilt and used as a cafe again.

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The Georgetown School is near the center of town. In the Bahamas, all schools are painted yellow. Government buildings are pink and police stations are aqua/green, The islands in the Exumas do not have high school classes, so students have to move to Nassau and live with friends or relatives when they attend high school. 

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I don’t know the significance of this boat, although I suspect it won a regatta for Georgetown.  Next to it is the Georgetown Straw Market. This burned down in April, 2015, but is up and running now with a variety of locally made treasures. The only thing I could talk Peter into letting me buy him was a small refrigerator magnet with a map of the Exumas on it. It cost $6 and I suppose I could have bargained down the price, but I always figure these ladies need the money much more than we do, and gladly pay whatever they ask.

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The wind finally calmed down enough to go for a kayak and iSUP ride. We stayed in the “Holes” aka mooring fields, where there weren’t any waves and we were protected from the higher wind in the harbor. This photo was taken in Hole 3, which is a hurricane hole, and boats are on mooring balls or tied to docks. No liveaboards are allowed.

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We took the kayak and iSUP to a small beach in Hole 1 and walked over the hill to the beautiful Exuma Sound Beach. It’s amazing that there is so much foliage left after Hurricane Matthew’s wind went over The Exumas.

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A climb to the top of a sandy hill where there is a bench gave us a great view of the beach below. It is almost always either empty or at the most has a few people walking or swimming.  All the action is on the Elizabeth Harbour side Stocking Island and across the harbor in Georgetown, so many cruisers and tourists never discover this treasure. Hopefully the tour boats don’t start coming here!

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On November 30, Peter had a flight leaving in the morning and the wind had picked up, making a dinghy ride across the harbor rough. Peter and I took Elvis’s Water Taxi and he brought us to town. From there Peter rode in a van taxi to the Georgetown airport to fly back to his home in Oceano, California. We enjoyed having my son with us for several weeks on our travels from Miami to Georgetown.  I think he got a taste of what the “cruiser’s life” is all about. A few days ago I got a text from Peter saying, “I saw someone in Morro Bay taking their groceries out to their boat via dinghy yesterday…..Now I know the struggle.” 

We plan to stay in Georgetown until sometime in April, when it will be time to start heading north to eventually return to our home port of Stuart, FL and our favorite marina, Sunset Bay. 

Why Do So Many Cruisers Converge on George Town?

We’ve been in George Town for almost two months, having arrived here on January 16, 2016. The settlement of George Town is located on the island of Great Exuma at the southern end of the chain of 365 islands and cays in the Exumas. (An island is a land mass completely surrounded by water. A cay, pronounced “key” in the Bahamas, is an island that forms on top of coral reefs.) When traveling south along the Exuma chain, George Town is the first settlement most cruisers have visited since they left Nassau that has a large selection of services such as: two large well stocked grocery stores, two banks, a small hardware store and a very large one with marine supplies, a dive shop, several places to get propane, two laundromats, a library, a marina, a deli with a large selection of meat, many restaurants, a pharmacy, a clinic, a dentist, a bimonthly visiting vet and dog groomer, businesses that can repair small engines and refrigeration, liquor stores, a Batelco (Bahamas Telephone Company) office, a phone and electronics store, a computer repair shop with wifi and phone services, hair salons, masseuses, nail salons, bakeries, gift shops, Customs and Immigration offices, gas stations, a straw market, and much more. Some smaller settlements in the Exumas have a few of these but grocery stores not located in a house and banks with ATM’s, in particular, are only located here in Georgetown. Most cruisers headed further south to the Caribbean stop in George Town to provision for food and other supplies. Once we arrive here, our destination for half of our time in the Bahamas, we breathe a sigh of relief. Finished are the days of checking weather to see if we can move on, and rocking and rolling in anchorages when we can’t.  

While the area is called George Town, that is just the name of the small Bahamian town located on the east side of Elizabeth Harbour. Stocking Island, where the anchorages with the best protection from the prevailing east wind and the three mooring fields are located, is on the west side of the harbour. In the harbour there are designated reefs where one can snorkel. On Stocking Island, numerous sandy beaches are located on the harbour side for swimming, and long sandy beaches great for walking and swimming are on the Exuma Sound side. A short dinghy ride out into the Exuma Sound is the best place for fishing and spearing lobsters. The Exuma Sound is actually part of the Atlantic Ocean with very deep water offshore. Kite surfers like to use the harbour, but when the Sound is calm, they are out there too. Below is a satellite picture of Elizabeth Harbour. Our mooring field in Hole 2 is located by the blue dot below the word Stocking Island on the map. The settlement of George Town on Great Exuma Isand is directly across the harbour from us, about a mile by dinghy. When the water is rough we either don’t cross the harbour or we wear rain coats and pants so our clothes are dry when we arrive in town.

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This is our fifth trip to the Bahamas and last year when we came to George Town we took a mooring ball in one of the three “holes” on Stocking Island. The other years we anchored in the harbour. Last year I had three month old knee replacements and I didn’t want to deal with getting in and out of a dinghy in an anchorage with rough water. After a few days of totally calm water in Hole 2, regardless of the speed or direction of the wind, we knew we were spoiled. This year, there was no question about it. We were ready to grab a mooring ball in Hole 2 as soon as we arrived on January 16. Unlike some places in the Bahamas, these mooring balls are very secure and checked regularly. Hole 1 is called “The Fruit Bowl” and is mostly filled with houseboats with names like “Cantaloupe,” “Pineapple House,” and “Papaya.” They obviously stay here year round, but some of the Hole 1 balls are used by cruisers here for the season or maybe a few weeks. They like it because it is very close to the popular Volleyball Beach. Hole 2 is a bit more protected and boats have survived hurricane force wind with no damage. About half of the boats in Hole 2 do not have people on them right now, with their owners flying in for short visits throughout the year or coming to their boats and sailing to nearby destinations. At least four airlines fly into the Great Exuma Airport and cruisers or their guests leave and arrive daily, together with packages delivered to locals and cruisers.  Hole 3 is a true hurricane hole and no one is allowed to live on the boats there. Many boats are stored there while their owners are home in various parts of the world. There is a small deep “blue hole” in Hole 3, filled with fish, a popular place for snorkeling. Numerous turtles live in the mooring fields and occasionally dolphins visit, although they seem to prefer the open water in the harbour. At least once a day someone will come on the hailing channel 68 and announce “dolphin alert in _______ anchorage.” The harbour is filled with fish, starfish, stingrays, dolphins and the occasional shark. Being on a mooring ball in Hole 2, we rarely rock. On occasion a small boat will speed past us, between Hole 1 and Hole 3, creating a slight wake. It is calmer in Hole 2 than at any marina or mooring field where we have stayed in the Bahamas or the States. As I write this blog entry, the winds have been in the 20+ knot range all day long and our boat hasn’t moved. One of the other nice things about being in Hole 2 is the friends we have made. Below are photos of one of the bonfires we have had in our hole this season.

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There is a small beach in Hole 2, and that is where Sailor goes ashore twice a day. He could swim the short distance to the shore, but he rides in the dinghy and then jumps out. Usually there are one or two other dogs to play with who live on boats in Hole 2. Other dogs could come to this beach but since every anchorage is near a sandy beach, that is where dogs on those boats go to play. Last year, Sailor’s  BFFF (best furry friend forever) Zorro, a Portuguese Water Dog, was here in Hole 2 on MV All In. Unfortunately Zorro and his family were not able to come back this year.  Libby from SV Flying Dog and Tasha from SV Tikitiboo often played on the beach with Sailor.  Libby preferred to eat coconuts, but Tasha, a shaved Golden Retriever (very smart idea to keep shedding down), loved to run on the beach and help Sailor fetch balls. Sadly, both went back to the States this week. Sailor still enjoys running on the beach and swimming, but he likes it better with a friend.

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Since the mooring fields are so protected, they are an ideal place to paddle on our kayaks. Sometimes I join friends on their kayaks and sometimes we paddle alone. One friend, Christina, has a stand up paddle board and Sailor enjoyed jumping on her board and taking his first ride on one last month. He doesn’t fit in our kayaks, so perhaps a SUP should go on our list of things to buy for the boat. Many cruisers have kayaks and SUP’s onboard and of course we see them paddling along the shores in the harbour, but it’s much easier to paddle on flat water in the holes.

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We love walking on the beach on the Exuma Sound side of Stocking Island. It is usually empty or might have a few people walking on it or swimming in the turquoise water. Needless to say, it is a beautiful beach for dogs and people.

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We got “hooked” on Texas Hold’em last season, and this year we returned to playing Tuesday and Thursday nights at the local resort, St. Francis. Luckily it is located next to our mooring field, so even when it’s windy and the water is rough in the harbour, we can dinghy to poker without getting wet. On Saturday, we host a game on Seas the Day. Last year we had the same group of six couples every week, all from Hole 2. Three of those couples did not return this year, so we had to recruit new players. Unfortunately some of them have not been able to come every week, but we are always able to have about 12 people playing, the men at the large table in the cockpit and the women at the salon table. When we get down to six or seven people, they move to the inside table and sometimes we have a “losers table” in the cockpit. Halfway through the game, we stop to have snacks and drinks.  Both at the St. Francis and on our boat, each person puts $5 in the pot and the top three players split the money on the boat while the top five players split a much larger pot at the St. Francis. Below is a photo of our friend Jean (MV Winterlude) when she got all the chips and won a game on our boat.

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This year, I decided to try water aerobics. It is held every morning at 9:30 on one of the beaches by the monument. We call it South Beach, since it is the most southerly beach of the several beaches near the monument. The instructor, Callie on SV Serenity, is a well trained yoga and water aerobics teacher and she makes the class a lot of fun. Music mostly from the 70’s and 80’s is played from a device resting in her dinghy, floating next to her. The water temperature is in the high 70’s but sometimes, especially if it is very windy and the sun isn’t shining, it feels chilly when we arrive and climb out of our dinghies. However, we all warm up quickly with the fast paced exercises. There is also yoga offered on another beach at the same time. As with all events here, classes are free. Occasionally Callie will jokingly say, “You get what you pay for,” but we would gladly pay her for this incredible experience. 

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Impromptu sundowner get-togethers are held on various beaches, where everyone brings their own drinks and snacks to share. Someone announces over the VHF radio the time and place, and dinghies arrive on the beach. It’s a great way to meet new friends and greet old ones. Occasionally an ARG (Alcohol Research Group) meeting is called, which involves a bonfire, singing, musicians playing, and of course eating and drinking. Many other regularly scheduled activities are available, including a Bible study group, trivia, bridge, dances on Volleyball Beach with a DJ, Bahamian “Rake and Scrape” dances at several restaurants in town, volleyball, and softball. A group of cruisers also meets every week with children from the local school who need help in reading. 

At 2 pm every day, cruisers arrive on Volleyball Beach to (surprise) play “fun volleyball,” take part in all sorts of board and card games such as Mexican Train, or sit around and talk. Chat ‘n Chill, a restaurant with burgers, drinks and more, is located on Volleyball Beach. The owner does not allow people to bring their own food and drinks to that beach, so if cruisers want to eat or drink, they buy it from him. Whenever someone wants to talk to a group about various topics, this is also the beach they use. There are numerous benches and picnic tables under large Casuarina Trees for shade. A tire hangs from a rope swing in one of the trees for the children on boats to use. On most Sundays during the cruising season a local historian shares interesting and educational stories about the Bahamas. Last week, Jeff and Karen Siegel, developers of the popular Active Captain (a website used by cruisers to share reviews of marinas, anchorages, etc.) gave two talks: one on what to do in a medical emergency and one on the most recent cruising APPS and other technology to use on a boat. The medical talk was not a first aid class, but rather gave valuable information on what to do when someone is hurt, especially on a boat, until help arrives. We are seriously considering buying an AED (automated external defibrillator) for the boat and know of several cruisers who have them. The Siegels were both EMT’s for many years before moving aboard their motor vessel. Whenever groups want to get together for a specific purpose they meet on Volleyball Beach. Recently one cruiser shared his expertise on marine electrical systems. Another boater taught people to make conch horns so they could blow them at sunset. When a group of people are going to a particular destination, such as south to the Caribbean, or to Cuba, they meet to discuss their plans and then often travel together as boat buddies to their destinations.  Usually an experienced cruiser who has been to those destinations leads the discussion. On Sundays, Beach Church is held on Volleyball Beach with cruisers taking turns sharing a message and a choir singing songs, followed by a fellowship time with coffee and treats. 

Last week was the 36th annual George Town Regatta. Here is a link to the regatta website with a list of all of the activities. There is also a Facebook page for the regatta with lots of pictures and information. There are always more than 300 boats here during regatta week. Many cruisers are now waiting for weather windows to travel north and eventually back to the States, or south to a variety of near and far destinations. One of our favorite events during Regatta Week is the Pet Parade. Sailor won this year for “Best Costume” wearing the K9Sailor sailboat that Mark made for him. He tried it on before we left and then competed on Volleyball Beach with a dozen pets who also live on boats. All the dogs got prizes. We have never entered our catamaran sailboat in the races, but two years ago we crewed on our friends’ monohull, SV Interlude. The first race is in Elizabeth Harbour and the second is around Stocking Island. There are also small boat races with kayaks, SUP’s, rowing dinghies, small sailboats, and more. A poker run event is where cruisers motor in a dinghy to multiple bars and restaurants along the harbour, picking up one playing card for their group at each stop. The dinghy with the best poker hand wins. Bocce Ball and beach golf are other competitions and the cruisers’ softball team competes against a local Bahamian team. This year the score was a tie. A scavenger hunt is also a fun event. The regatta began  with a Variety Show in town with cruisers and locals performing, and ended with an awards ceremony at the Peace and Plenty Restaurant in town. The George Town Regatta Facebook page has photos of most of these events and the website has descriptions of all of them.

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imageThanks to Donna on SV Duchess for the pictures below of some of the Variety Show acts. My camera’s battery died when we arrived at the show.

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Every year there is a contest for the design to be used on the regatta t-shirts for the following year and cruisers vote for their favorite design at the opening event, the Variety Show. This year along with t-shirts, water resistant backpacks and hats were sold to raise money for regatta expenses. Any money left over is given to a local charity. Volunteers sell regatta items at a small booth between the Exuma Market and the new Red Boon Cafe, a popular place for breakfast and lunch. 

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There are lots of reasons why cruisers flock to George Town, although admittedly people either love it or hate it. We’ve heard it called “Adult Daycare.” Some cruisers think it is very “clique-y.” Other cruisers don’t like the crowded anchorages, although there are so many they could  easily find an empty one in the harbour. Some people take advantage of many activities and others interact with a few old and new friends. Since there are many anchorages in Elizabeth Harbour and two mooring fields, it is easy to find a secluded anchorage or cruisers can choose one of several popular anchorages to be among many fellow cruisers either close to town or near the activities on Stocking Island.  Boats with children on them love to come to George Town to meet up with other “Kid Boats.” They can be found playing together on the beaches, especially Volleyball Beach, and there are special events for them during the regatta. Young voices are often heard on the hailing channel calling their friends. Naturally, those who come here year after year make good friends and socialize with those friends. However, these same people are very friendly and anyone who wants to be part of that “clique” can join in by getting involved in the cruiser and/or local activities. There is a Cruisers’ Net every morning at 8 am on VHF channel 72. A volunteer “net controller” recognizes other cruisers and locals who indicate they want to share something. The Net begins with a weather report (someone reads marine weatherman Chris Parker’s report for this area), then there is a section for local businesses, followed by community announcements, a section where cruisers can buy or sell or give away items, and the last section is where cruisers who have just arrived in the harbour tell about themselves and departing cruisers share their new destination and say goodbye. When cruisers ask for help with a problem on their boat, they get numerous offers after the Net ends. Last year, our freezer stopped working and we asked on the Net if someone had a cooler we could borrow while Mark fixed it. Immediately after the Net ended, a cruiser offered us their 12V Engel freezer which kept our items frozen until Mark discovered the problem and fixed it. Requests like this are asked and answered here every day. This week, cruisers are collecting clothing and household goods for a young Bahamian family from George Town whose house burned to the ground. Many cruisers brought items to Long Island this year to help those who lost everything in Hurricane Joaquin last summer. Rum Cay lost all of its trees, so cruisers going that direction are bringing small seedlings provided by the locals from Great Exuma. Overall, cruisers love the Bahamas and especially the people here. It’s a mutual admiration society as the Bahamians appreciate the cruisers who spend their money here and in many cases lasting friendships are made between cruisers and Bahamians. 

Besides all of these activities going on, there is perhaps an equally important reason why cruisers stop in Georgetown for a day, a week, a month or more: groceries and free water. There are two well stocked grocery stores located on the shores of small Lake Victoria, which has an entrance from Elizabeth Harbour under a bridge on the main George Town street. One of them, Exuma Market, provides dinghy docks and a hose dispensing free RO (reverse osmosis) water. Dinghies line up along the dock by the water hose with their 5 gallon jerry jugs and fill them, return to their boats, and pour the water into their tanks. Even people like us who have watermakers supplement the RO water they make with a few gallons of the free water. When we run the watermaker we have to turn on our inverter and sometimes the generator, so it does take fuel and power. Below, a line is formed on the right with Mark and Sailor at the front putting water in our jerry jugs. In the rest of the Exumas, water costs 40 to 50 cents a gallon or more. In town we can also drop off garbage at $2 for a small bag or $3 for a large one. Rodney on the Harbour Services boat comes to all the anchorages near George Town to collect garbage, pumpout holding tanks and he also collects propane tanks to be filled and returns them a few days later.

DSCF2250The Exuma Market has an excellent supply of fresh produce, together with meats, dairy products and other staples. Supply boats come twice a week to restock the shelves. In other smaller towns in the Exumas, you have to go to the store (usually in a house) on the day the boat arrives to get any fresh food. In George Town the shelves are fullest after the supplies arrive, but the shelves are never empty. Prices for most items are more expensive than in the States because most are shipped from the US and since last year, a 7% VAT is added to everything here. However, like most cruisers, we are happy to contribute to the local economy by buying items from them.

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We have less than a month left to relax and enjoy our stay in George Town. Friends from Hobe Sound, near our hurricane season marina in Stuart, Florida, will be flying into Staniel Cay on April 14th to enjoy a week aboard Seas the Day with us. We can get from here to Staniel Cay in a day, by sailing north on the Exuma Sound for part of the trip and then entering a cut to the shallow Bahamas Bank to travel along a chain of cays and islands until we reach Staniel Cay. We will leave here several days early to be sure we are in Staniel Cay when their plane touches down. As in all cruising, weather is the main consideration, and if there are strong winds out of the north or high seas predicted, we’ll need to plan an earlier departure from George Town. We’ll be in the Exumas and Eleuthera during April and most of May we’ll stay in Spanish Wells, returning to Florida at the end of May. 

We love these last few months of our cruising season because the days are longer, meaning more hours of sunlight. With the strong winds today and the clear blue sky, our wind generator and solar panels are working hard, currently giving us 35 amps of power and our batteries are fully charged with no need to turn on a generator for power. Every morning at the end of the Cruisers’ Net, the net controller asks if anyone has a thought for the day. If I was giving mine right now it would simply be “life is good.”

Bimini to Georgetown

On January 8, 2016, we left Bimini for Chub Cay in the Berries at 0520, obviously in the dark, arriving at the Chub Cay anchorage in daylight at 1700. We were going almost directly into the wind and made good time, but it wasn’t a comfortable ride. However, we were on the Mackey Shoals portion of the shallow Great Bahama Bank for most of the trip and the water was beautiful. Chub Cay anchorage is not the best, but OK for one night. It is often rough because large fishing boats race in and out of the channel to the marina, which is right next to the anchorage, causing huge wakes. It is close to deep water, where the fishing boats are headed, and often there are uncomfortable swells. Also, Chub Cay is private so we aren’t allowed to take Sailor ashore. Below was our view while sailing on the Bank. 

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Unfortunately we had to stay a second day in the Berries since the sea and wind conditions were still unfavorable for going on to Nassau. Also the wind was clocking and the conditions were getting worse at Chub Cay. In the morning we moved to nearby Frazier’s Hog Cay and while the first part of the trip around the end of Chub Cay was VERY rough, it smoothed out and we spent a comfortable night at Frazier’s Hog Cay. This will probably be our stop in the Berries from now on instead of Chub Cay. We had a nice time swimming off the beautiful beach and Sailor got lots of exercise chasing his ball. The evening ended with a gorgeous sunset.

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On January 9, we reluctantly left our anchorage in the Berries headed to Nassau. We heard on Chris Parker’s morning report that the seas were 6-8 ft with over 3 ft swells on the beam and we try to only sail in 3 ft seas or less. However the weather this winter in the Bahamas has been very different than usual with constant storms and poor sailing conditions for long periods of time. This was our last sail on deep water until we go out on the Exuma Sound for one day to Georgetown. The winds were also not great at SSE 19-20 kts gusting 22. It was a rough ride, in fact Mark wrote in our cruising log, “Worst sail by choice ever.” Thankfully it wasn’t a long sail, leaving at 0715 and arriving in Nassau at 1230. 

We had reservations at Nassau Harbour Club and enjoyed a quiet night in a slip. Of course, we had to have our last frappuccinos at Starbucks and visit the Fresh Market grocery store, both right across the street from our marina. The photo of Starbucks below is taken from the exit of the marina. Two years ago, when Sailor was 7 months old, we stopped at this same marina and Sailor, spooked by fireworks (in February!) jumped off the boat, ran down the dock in the dark, and fell into the water when the dock turned to the right as he kept going straight. Mark showed him the very spot this happened, but not sure if Sailor remembered.

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While our sail from Frazier’s Hog Cay to Nassau was rough, other boats had come in after sailing straight from Bimini or the States over a period of several days, and they had horror stories to tell. A boat in a slip across from us had taken on water. The marinas in Nassau were filled with tired cruisers. We were glad we waited the extra day to leave the Berries even if we still had an uncomfortable sail.  

We try to never stay longer than one day in Nassau. It is not a safe city, and other than crossing the street from the marina to the strip mall, we don’t have anything else we want to see or do there. Boats have even been boarded by thieves at several of the Nassau marinas and it is dangerous to be out on the streets after dark. Paradise Island, where most tourists go, is across a bridge and probably safer. Nassau is on New Providence Island and is where the cruise ships stop. Our boat buddies since Miami on Renaissance II, another Lagoon 420,  decided to stay in Nassau since they had never been there and we left the next morning for Norman’s Cay, our first stop in The Exumas.

On January 11, we left the last marina we would stay at until we return to Sunset Bay in Stuart, Florida, at the end of May. The route to The Exumas is across the Yellow Bank portion of the Great Bahama Bank. We had a great wind angle for sailing although on a long day we always use the engines and sails and at one point were motorsailing at 8.3 kts. We left Nassau at 0900 and arrived at Norman’s Cay at 1445. It was almost full when we entered the anchorage because strong winds were forecast for that night. We anchored southwest of the sunken plane and several boats came in after us but left, probably going south to the next anchorage or mooring balls at Shroud Cay. During the night we had high winds and rain while turning 360 degrees with the strong current.

After listening to Chris Parker’s report the next morning, we decided the weather was settled enough to head south to Big Majors/Staniel Cay. This meant we were going past the entire Exuma Land and Sea Park, something we would never do if we weren’t planning to return on our way north in April. The park has the best hiking, kayaking, beaches, and snorkeling in the Exumas. Our goal was to get to our mooring ball in Georgetown as quickly as we could safely move. Friends who were already there told us the balls were being taken quickly, perhaps in part due to the 100+ kt storm they had while we were safe at a marina in Bimini.  We left Norman’s Cay at 0740 and dropped the anchor at Big Majors at 1230. We made very good time, outrunning a squall coming from the ENE as we left Norman’s Cay followed by a sunny day. Big Majors is a large, excellent anchorage, unless the wind is from the west. We will be returning here in mid-April to pick up good friends Carolyn and Ed (S/V Sharkitecture) so we didn’t mind missing snorkeling at Thunderball Grotto. We did go ashore for a walk and Sailor got to visit the nurse sharks who hang out at the marina waiting for someone to drop discards from the fish cleaning station. Of course we had to bring him to see the famous swimming pigs also.

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The next morning we made the short trip to Cave Cay, where we planned to exit the cut to go out on Exuma Sound to Georgetown. We knew we would have several days to wait for calm seas and favorable wind. We left Big Majors on January 13 at 0825 and arrived at 1130, the only boat in the anchorage outside Cave Cay Marina. It was a very pleasant sail and after dropping the anchor, Sailor and Mark headed to a beautiful beach near our boat. The shore has some interesting caves and there are many more on the cay, thus the name “Cave Cay.” Mark and Sailor also took the dinghy into the very protected marina at Cave Cay. He reported that it is a hurricane hole marina with excellent docks, but it seems to only get boats in its slips during very bad weather. During the several days we were in the anchorage, two boats joined the one that was already there.

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Houses and caves were next to the beach where Sailor played.

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Sailor checked out the marina at Cave Cay.

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We spent three nights at Cave Cay waiting for the Exuma Sound sea state to calm down. On the first morning we had a BIG surprise. We got up at 0630 to listen to the Chris Parker marine weather report and saw a 160 ft long tanker named Tropic Breeze headed right towards us. (We have AIS and checked the info about the tanker.)  We saw her anchored on the deeper south side of Cave Cay Cut the night before and early that morning she was coming to our shallow anchorage.  Tropic Breeze motored straight for our starboard side, then turned and went a few feet off our aft, turning again passing us on our port side. A short distance past us, her anchor dropped. Next, we saw a small boat with a diver in it next to the tanker. The diver brought a large fuel hose from the tanker to the shore and for several hours fuel was pumped into the Cave Cay tanks. We weren’t worried about the “close call” because we have seen these Bahamian ships often and their captains are very good at maneuvering in tight spaces. The reason the ship went around us was to get downwind so they wouldn’t be blown into us. However, we were surprised that this was a marked anchorage on the Explorer Charts but there was no indication that tankers would come here to transfer fuel to the cay. We have anchored here before but this was our first close encounter with a big ship. 

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The fuel hose is visible floating in the water in front of the small boat.

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For the next two days, all was quiet in our anchorage, mainly because we were the only boat there, and by January 16 the sky was clear, seas were 2-3 ft, and winds were from the southwest at 8-12 kts. It was time for the last leg of our journey to Georgetown. Even Sailor stayed out in the cockpit all day, which he only does when it is very calm. Otherwise he insists I get in one of the beds with him where he feels safe. We left at 0730 and were on our mooring ball in Hole 2 at Stocking Island, across the harbour from Georgetown, by 1230. There were only two balls left in Hole 2 and a few days after we arrived the last one was taken. We were very happy to reach our destination for the next few months and are looking forward to our stay here until the end of March.

This was our view of Exuma Sound on our way south to Georgetown. It is rarely this flat so it was well worth the wait.

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Entering the turquoise water of Elizabeth Harbour. The city of Georgetown is on the right and Stocking Island is on the left. 

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Finally we are on our mooring ball in Hole 2.

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This is Hole 2 with Elizabeth Harbour and Georgetown in the background, We are at the far end of the mooring field, protected on all four sides with a narrow channel running in the foreground of the picture from Hole 1 through to Hole 3.

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Goodbye Georgetown

We have been in Georgetown for three months and while we haven’t written many blog entries, there are quite a few pictures on my Facebook page. The link for that is near the top of the right hand column of this website.

While in Georgetown, we made a lot of new friends, kept busy but also found time to relax, and had fun learning to play Texas Hold’em poker. With two months remaining before we have to be back in the States we will leave this week to start heading north. Instead of going up the Exuma chain of islands and crossing to Eleuthera as we usually do, our first stop will be Cat Island and then we’ll work our way up to Eleuthera and Spanish Wells. We’ve never taken this route, but have been told we’ll enjoy Cat Island. I’m sure we will.

A few weeks ago, we took a one week trip south to Long Island and stayed in our favorite anchorage, Joe Sound. We went with most of our poker buddies in four boats,  so there was poker playing almost every night.  The first day we went to Cape Santa Maria, while we were anchored nearby in Calabash Bay, for a delicious lobster salad. One day we rented a van with Tom, Cathie, Vivian and Rena. Dennis and Chris stayed aboard All In and watched Sailor and Zorro. Zorro is a Portuguese Water Dog who lives on MV All In. Sailor met him shortly after we arrrived here and they have developed a very special bond. On our car trip, we visited Stella Maris Resort, had lunch at a roadside restaurant, visited Dean’s Blue Hole (deepest blue hole in the world), had rum punch and Kalik beer at Max’s Conch Bar and Grill, and ended the day with a gourmet dinner at Chez Pierre.

Dean’s Blue Hole, 663 feet deep:

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Natural salt water pool at Stella Maris Resort:

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View of the Atlantic Ocean from Stella Maris overlook:

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Drinks at Max’s Conch Bar and Grill:

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Chez Pierre Restaurant:

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Joe Sound is a unique anchorage, but not for the faint of heart. The entrance is narrow with a rock ledge on one side and a sand ledge on the other. Seas the Day is almost 25 feet wide, so we have to watch very carefully as we enter and exit with only a few feet on each side. In the Sound, the current is very strong and the anchored boats reverse direction with the tidal change.

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The anchorage is a narrow channel able to hold about ten boats. There are four local boats permanently anchored there. At high tide Joe Sound is a large body of water. At low tide numerous beaches appear until the tide comes in again. The scenery changes almost by the minute. The beautiful turquoise water is crystal clear and the sand feels like sifted flour. Below are photos of the crescent shaped anchorage and the Sound at low and high tide. The low and high tide photos are taken from our boat looking at the same location.

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When the tide was low we took Sailor, our chairs, a beach umbrella and something to drink to the beach near our anchored boats. The water was the same temperature as the air, 80 degrees.

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Sailor and Zorro enjoyed the low tide beaches as much, or more, than we did. Here are a few pictures of them having fun. In the first picture, notice that all eight feet are off the ground as they race down the beach. In the last picture you can imagine them saying, “OK buddy. What should we do next?”

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The night before we left Joe Sound we discovered the port rudder was not turning. Mark was able to temporarily fix it. We weren’t looking forward to going through the narrow cut but all was well and it looks like we’ll be fine until we get back to Florida where we can get a part for it. Of course with two engines we could use the throttles to turn the boat but it’s much easier using the wheel.

Tomorrow we’ll dinghy across the harbor to do some provisioning before we leave and fill our tanks with some free water. I’ll also visit Vanria’s Salon to have my hair cut. Mark has done a good job in the past but it has been nice to have a stylist do it while we were in Georgetown.

There is so much we like about Georgetown, but most of all we’ll miss the new friends we have made here. Ask almost anyone who is on a boat and they’ll tell you that the best part of cruising is the people they meet. Every Saturday night we hosted Texas Hold’em on Seas the Day. Since we have two large tables, one in the cockpit and one in the salon, we could easily have 12 people sitting comfortably. As we would get to the end of the game we’d go to one table and sometimes the “losers” would play at the other table. Usually we had friends from five other boats moored with us in Hole 2. On  Saturday we had our last poker game and as usual had lots of laughs, ate delicious snacks, and enjoyed playing with each other. Using a timer on a camera, we captured a great shot of our happy group.

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Of course we have enjoyed many stunning sunrises and sunsets while we have been in the Bahamas. We even saw the “green flash” while anchored in Calabash Bay (before we entered Joe Sound) in Long Island. Neither Mark or I had ever seen one and the first night it was spectacular with a very large green flash as the sun set over the water and the green flash even came back a second time before disappearing. The second night we saw it again! Now we are believers.

On Easter Sunday we joined a few friends on the Exuma Sound (aka ocean) beach. We almost missed it but luckily Sailor woke us up by ringing his “poochie bell” to go outside. We were able to race in our dinghy the short distance to a small beach and follow the path over the hill to catch the sun as it came up over the water, a fitting end to our time in Georgetown. We feel very blessed to have worked hard our whole lives to afford this lifestyle and be healthy enough to enjoy it. There is no doubt that the cruising lifestyle is one reason we are healthy.

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We are waiting for good weather to leave here, probably in a few days, and sail (more likely motorsail) about 50 miles to Cat Island. We’ll be going with our good friends and boat buddies Cathie and Tom (Interlude). Sailor doesn’t realize that he will be leaving behind his BFF Zorro since they are staying here another month. Sailor’s beach visits won’t be the same. Gone will be the rides to the beach as they stare at each other from their dinghies, then chasing each other back and forth, fetching balls, and of course rolling in the sand.

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Just Relaxing

We’ve been in Georgetown 2 1/2 weeks now and have settled into a routine dominated by reading and relaxing as well as frequent get-togethers with other cruisers. The weather is almost always in the low 80’s and when the wind kicks up, we are well protected on our mooring ball in Hole 2.

Mark and Sailor visit nearby beaches twice a day in the dinghy.  Sometimes I go with them but have been avoiding the rocky path near us up a hill to the Exuma Sound side of Stocking Island where the longest ocean beach is located. I was worried about slipping and falling on my new knees, but found it fairly easy to climb the hill and follow the well groomed sandy path to the other side. On this day, Sailor decided to race down the beach by himself. When no one is around we let him off his leash. He always comes back but he LOVES to run. We got him to pose on a piece of coral after we caught up with him. The first photo below is the small beach near us where we leave the dinghy. You can see the opening to the path that goes to the other side where the Exuma Sound beach is located.

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Our favorite place for swimming in Elizabeth Harbour is Flip Flop Beach, which is a dinghy ride towards the north end of the harbor. On the harbor side the water is shallow and very warm for swimming. Sailor prefers to swim out to us and then makes one of us hold on to him so he can be with us but not overexert himself. Spoiled dog? Perhaps.

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Before our swim, we followed the path from Flip Flop Beach to the Exuma Sound side and had a nice walk with Tom and Cathie (Interlude) down that beach. Then we relaxed for awhile in several chairs someone had left behind. There are some nice snorkeling areas in the harbor which we’ll visit soon.

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Last year we had strawberry and tomato plants, but this year it’s just tomatoes. I miss the fresh strawberries, but couldn’t find any plants before we left. The tomatoes are starting to ripen now.  It’s easy to find tomatoes to buy in The Bahamas. They are $1 each at Exuma Market but sometimes aren’t very tasty.  A local man comes to town and sells vegetables from his garden twice a week, but lately his tomatoes were mostly green and $4 for a small bag. Our tomatoes are always going to taste better than what we could buy. The smaller plant has cherry tomatoes.

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This weekend I made caramel rolls using my mom’s overnight roll recipe.  We freeze them and thaw a few to eat a day so they last several weeks. It’s difficult to find homemade bakery items other than bread here so we have to make our own. In past years there was a Bahamian woman who would bring bakery goods to town several times a week and set them up on a table next to the Exuma Market, but apparently she has retired.

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I think we have met more cruisers in the last two weeks in Georgetown than we have in our entire past three trips to the Bahamas. The two main reasons are we are in Hole 2 with friendly neighbors and we have been playing Texas Hold’em.  Yesterday we went to a bonfire get-together on one of the small beaches in the Hole.  About 20 Hole 2 cruisers were there. Everyone brought their own meat to cook over the fire and something to share.  We had people coming over to play cards last night so just went to visit and didn’t eat this time. It seems like the Hole 2 beach get-togethers are weekly events.

I have learned to play Texas Hold’em Poker, a very popular game here.  We play two times a week at the St. Francis Restaurant and Resort. It costs $5 to play and the top three winners split the pot. There are three tables of nine or ten playing, but later in the season there will be more tables. Some of the people are here for a week or two at the resort, some live in houses, but most are cruisers. We have also been hosting games with a few other couples on Saturdays on Seas the Day, mainly because we have a big table in the salon and another in the cockpit.  We also play Mexican Train dominoes with Cathie and Tom occasionally.

The photo below was from last night as we were “chipping up” when we exchange our smaller chips for thousand ones.  Unfortunately the hanging lamp over the cockpit table caused a glare in the picture. Cathie (Interlude) was  helping Jean (Winterlude) count her chips.  Obviously Jean was having a good night! I only had a few of the thousand chips at that time, but ended up coming in second and Jean won.

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There are many other activities going on in Georgetown. Every morning at 8 am we can listen to the Cruisers’ Net on VHF channel 72 to find out what is happening. The Net lasts 15-20 minutes with lots of information besides activities. Cruisers can ask for help, offer items for sale or trade, introduce themselves if they just arrived, hear the weather report, etc. Local businesses also talk about what they have to offer. Last night there was a free outdoor country western concert in town with US Grammy nominated singers and a Canadian who was their Entertainer of the Year. Also tonight the St. Francis is hosting their weekly Trivia Night where teams complete. A yoga instructor has classes on the beach every weekday morning, but I haven’t gone yet because I am not supposed to kneel therefore I can’t get on the ground. Beach Church is held on Volleyball Beach Sunday mornings. A very entertaining local historian gives talks every Sunday afternoon about The Bahamas. At 2:00 every day, people meet on Volleyball  beach to play games and visit. When Regatta starts in mid February there will be more activities culminating with a sailboat race around Stocking Island and another one in the harbor. The nice thing is you can do as little or as much as you want here.  You can be around lots of people or go someplace by yourself.

Blackpoint to George Town

After being treated to a boat wash courtesy of Mother Nature, we left Blackpoint Tuesday afternoon and motorsailed to Cave Cay.  We anchored near Cave Cay Cut, which was where we were leaving the shallow waters of the Banks to go out on the deep  Exuma Sound on Wednesday. We always try to take Sailor for a beach run when we arrive at a new island, but Cave Cay didn’t look too promising.  The shores near us did not have any beach, just rocky cliffs.  Still, Mark took off in search of a sandy beach and found a great one. Posted signs said “private” but all Bahamian beaches are public up to the high tide line, and Sailor always stays on the edge of the water or in it.  Cave Cay is a privately owned island with a marina and a resort.

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At 0750 today we left the anchorage, motored the short distance to the cut and headed south on the Exuma Sound with less than 5 kts of wind out of the NE. Needless to say, we did not bother to try to sail.  There were quite a few boats out on the Sound ahead of us and a storm brewing behind us, so we went a little faster than our normal cruising speed.  We counted 18 boats as we passed them and more came out of the cuts behind us. It’s not that we are that much faster than the boats we passed. We just chose to use more fuel in order to reach George Town before the storm clouds. The photo below shows some of the boats following us into Elizabeth Harbor.

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By 1350 we were dropping our anchor in the Monument anchorage. Tomorrow we will pick up a mooring ball in Hole 2, a very protected hurricane hole in Stocking Island. Our friends Cathie and Tom (Interlude) always stay there and we know that we won’t have to be concerned about the weather.

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There are many anchorages in Elizabeth Harbour and when a storm or heavy wind is predicted, boats move to different anchorages for protection. The harbor sometimes gets very choppy and the current is strong. There have been times when we couldn’t get into the dinghy. We decided that due to the fact that I am not fully recovered from my knee surgery, it would be best to be in a situation where I am not constantly trying to stay balanced.  I discovered since we left Stuart on December 19 that on days when the boat was rocking a lot, my knees became sore.

Sailor has become more comfortable on the boat as the days have passed and when it isn’t rough, he likes to stay at the helm. However, on the days when the boat bounces around in the waves, he wants to be inside, usually in a bed with me next to him. Today was a good day.

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Of course, as soon as he saw and smelled land in Elizabeth Harbour, he was ready to come to the foredeck to check it out. We undo his tether when we approach land.

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He knows that soon after we stop, Mark drops the dinghy and they are off to play on a new beach.  Once we are in Hole 2, we will be a very short calm dinghy ride to shore where we can go over a hill and be on a long sandy Exuma Sound beach.  Today, Sailor enjoyed another new beach on the harbor side of Stocking Island. The monument in the background is how this anchorage got its name.

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This is the earliest we have arrived in George Town, mainly due to getting good weather windows along the way. Except for Sunset Lake in Florida and Warderick Wells where we waited for weather to pass, we never stayed more than a night at any stop. People either love or hate Georgetown.  Yes, there are a lot of boats here, but if you don’t want to anchor amongst them, there are plenty of anchorages where no one goes.  On one side of the harbor is the city of Georgetown.  Of course, this is where you go to shop. The Exuma Market has built a large dinghy dock and provides free water to cruisers who line up at a hose to fill their jugs. The market is the best since Nassua, large and well stocked. There are at least seven roomy anchorages on the George Town side.  On the Stocking Island side, where we are, there are also many anchorages, but these are the populated and crowded ones since they are the most protected from the prevailing winds.

Lots of activities here to join or ignore.  Someone just came on the VHF radio announcing a meeting of the ARG (Alcohol Research Group) this afternoon. All interested parties are to gather their research materials and meet in the harbor in their dinghies to raft together and drift. Mark chose to do his own research with a rum punch in the cockpit after returning from Sailor’s beach run. As I said, some people love it here and some avoid George Town like the plague, but the good news is there are a variety of things to do, everything you need is available in town, the phone and Internet signals are strong, the scenery and water are beautiful and that makes for many choices.

A Beach a Day

What is better than walking on a long sandy beach with clear turquoise water to wade in or swim through?  The sky here is usually bright blue, there is often a breeze or stronger wind, and the temperature at this time of year is always around 80. It’s hard to believe but EVERY stop we make in the Exumas has at least one, and often several gorgeous beaches next to where we anchor. The water is clear and warm, the sand is soft and the beaches are almost always free of debris.  They are usually free of other humans too, and if people are walking on the beach, there are never more than a handful. Every beach is dog friendly and of course no leashes are needed, although we do bring one to control Sailor if/when other people pass by us.  All beaches in the Bahamas are public. Some of the more than 500 islands in the Exuma chain have been sold to celebrities and wealthy people, but even Oprah has to let us use her beach up to the high tide water line.  It’s the law.

In the Exumas, there are two types of beaches.  The calmer, smaller beaches are on the “bank” side, the inside of the islands.   We are always anchored on this side.   The water is shallow and usually very calm so these beaches are perfect for swimming.   Of course, the soft sand is on the sea floor as well as on the beaches which makes walking out in the water no different than walking on the beach, just wetter.

A short hike over rocky hills, often on a trail marked by other cruisers takes us to the Sound beaches.  (The “marks” are varied, including conch shells, rocks, cloth tied to branches, and even old sandals.) These beaches are bordered by high rocky hills which can be climbed for dramatic views of the Sound.  The beaches are often as far as you can see, deserted, and covered with soft, white sand.  Waves crash over reefs close to shore, but in some parts there are calm areas where you can safely swim, almost like ponds in the water.  The Sound beaches are breathtaking because the water offshore consists of shades from light to very dark turquoise, depending on the depth and floor of the sea.  There might be sand, rock, reefs,  or grass underneath, which affects the coloration.

Pictures being worth a thousand words, below are some I took today while on a beach walk on the Exuma Sound side of Georgetown.  Pictures in the previous post were at a beach on the Elizabeth Harbor side, where we are anchored.  To get to the beach on the Sound we ride a short distance to a very small stretch of harbor beach where we leave our dinghy, throwing the anchor up on the beach.  If it is high tide, we put the anchor out in the water so we don’t come back to a dinghy sitting on a beach when the tide goes out.  We climb a rather steep rocky hill up and then down on the other side to the beach you see in the photos below.  Although the trail is steep, there are branches and sticks deep in the ground to grab for support so it is quite safe.  Today we walked for several hours along this stunning beach.

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Relaxing in Georgetown

People have mixed feelings about Georgetown in the Southern Exumas.  Some cruisers love it and spend the entire season here.  Others come for Regatta when there are lots of activities and then leave. Cruisers who don’t like crowds totally avoid coming to Georgetown because there are usually hundreds of boats here, spread out over numerous anchorages, but still a lot of people. Yet, it is quiet and it is possible to find a place to anchor by yourself.  

Georgetown is a small town with many facilities a cruiser needs.  There is a well stocked grocery store, the Exuma Market, as well as another smaller one. These are the only grocery stores in the Exumas that aren’t in houses.  There are several banks, places to get fuel and propane, a Customs and Immigration office where you can either check in or extend your stay in the Bahamas. Restaurants, rental cars, bus excursions, a Batelco (phone) store, a computer shop, laundromats, a cell phone store, various small shops and much more are available.  A pumpout boat comes through the anchorages three times a week and new this year there is a trash boat.  This is the first year that cruisers in Georgetown have not had free garbage disposal.  Instead there are several ways to get rid of garbage, all for the cost of $2 a small bag and $3 for a large one.  Water is free and there is always a line at Exuma Market on the dinghy dock where cruisers fill five gallon jugs to bring back to their boats.  Even though we have a watermaker, we still get some free water from town.  It’s RO (reverse osmosis) water, and very good.  Every morning at 8 am there is a “cruisers net” on the VHF radio.  You get to hear the weather, local businesses advertise, and cruisers can come on to try to sell or give away things, share rides to the airport, ask for help, etc.   At the end of the net, people are invited to introduce themselves if they just arrived or say goodbye if they are leaving. 

Since we arrived here eight days ago, we have walked on several beautiful beaches on the Exuma Sound side and the harbor side. We have played Mexican Train with friends and eaten dinner at the St. Francis. We’ve gone swimming several times at a beach called Flip Flop. We also went with ten other cruisers to Flip Flop Beach one late afternoon for sundowners. Today we went to a talk by a local historian who shared information for more than an hour about the Bahamian culture.

Normally by the time we get to Georgetown, we need to purchase food and perhaps get money from the local bank ATM, but since we came here so quickly we don’t need anything yet.  Tonight we had BLT’s with tomatoes from our “garden” and every morning I have fresh picked strawberries with my yoghurt. 

We’ll probably stay here until the end of March and then start heading north through the Exumas, very slowly.  If the weather cooperates, we’d like to spend a few days in Long Island, a short sail south of here before heading north.

Unfortunately, Sailor does not like us to leave him alone on the boat, and he LOVES riding in the dinghy. So we are taking little steps to let him know it’s OK if he isn’t always going with us.  Mark has gone ashore alone a few times and Sailor is adjusting to that, although he does stare towards where Mark went until he returns and whimpers a bit.  Just as he learned when we were at the dock in Stuart that we will return, he’ll eventually learn that here too.  We have discovered that he loves to swim.  He swims out to us and then swims back and forth between us “letting” us hold him while he rests.

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Our anchorage today was so still there were no ripples in the water. In the photo below you can actually see the sandy bottom. We also saw a (harmless) five foot long nurse shark swimming by our boat.

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The Exuma Sound beach here is usually deserted with lots of room for Sailor to run off leash and for us to walk.  We usually swim on the harbor beaches where there are no big waves.

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In the Bahamas, our dinghies are our “cars” and below our dinghy and our friends on Interlude’s dinghy are anchored while we swim nearby on Flip Flop Beach. In the distance are buildings in Georgetown, across Elizabeth Harbor.

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Staniel Cay to Georgetown

Normally the leg from Staniel Cay to Georgetown would take us at least two days, maybe three if we stopped in Blackpoint. But this time we did it in one day.  It took 8 1/2 miserable hours. The first hour was fine, on the bank to south of Big Farmer’s Cay.  Depths are about 10-12 feet on this part of the trip and the water was very calm.  Then we had to decide if we would anchor near there or go out into the Sound which is hundreds of feet deep. We heard from another cruiser who had just gone out Galliot Cut.  She said it was horrible, but once you got out, the Sound was fine.  The cut was in a rage, wind and current in opposite directions and huge waves from all directions.  It didn’t look good, but we figured it would be a few minutes of being in a washing machine and then OK.  But it wasn’t.  When we got out in the Sound the waves were high and we were going into them.  It was like riding a roller coaster for the next seven hours.  We made good time at 7.5 kts with the jib barely out and the mainsail reefed. Without doing this to the sails we would have been going too fast. Sailor was not happy and he stayed with me in the salon. We alternated between the couch and the floor because it was impossible to stand without falling.  I had put most things away, but I could hear every cupboard and closet having its contents knocked around.

We finally reached Georgetown, in the south Exumas, and were surprised to see how many boats were still here.  Regatta was early this year, in February, and when we got here they had already done the Long Island Rally and were back.  Still all of the anchorages were filled.  We went to the Sand Dollar anchorage and spent two rocky nights and days there before moving down to Monument.  Now the wind has dropped and we are comfortable. In Georgetown some boats move from anchorage to anchorage depending on the wind direction but unless we are going to be very uncomfortable we stay in one place.

When we arrived the entire boat was covered with salt, not just salt water but chunks of salt.  We did something we rarely do and gave the boat a fresh water wash.  Our deck hose can use either fresh or salt water but this called for something very clean.  Everything got washed, and inside the boat it took hours to put everything away and straighten up the messes in closets and cupboards.

We have a rule that we don’t sail to a schedule and we don’t sail in bad weather.  The weather was fine, very sunny, but the wind was strong and not favorable to the direction we were going.  I would rate this as our worst day on the water. We never should have gone in those seas.

We will stay here for a few weeks, maybe go to Long Island.  There is a lot to do here, including a great beach on the Sound for walking and lots of little beaches on Elizabeth Harbor, where we are anchored, for Sailor to chase balls. When we go north we’ll travel slowly and stop at places we missed coming south so fast.

Just before we left Staniel Cay, I ran out of data on my iPad.  It is very easy to add voice or data to a phone, but for a tablet the procedure is difficult involving taking the SIMM card out, putting it in a phone where the slot is three times as big so the iPad card doesn’t fit in the slot and making some phone calls to add data, then putting the card back in the iPad. I thought I could do it myself this year and in the process ruined one phone.  Luckily I had another old phone so I could use it to talk to my daughter Jennifer back in Florida every night. There is a Batelco office in Staniel Cay but we left the day I realized I needed help.  That was Saturday and although we arrived in Georgetown that afternoon, Batelco offices didn’t open here until Monday.  Today we went into town and a nice Batelcto person got the data on my iPad card and we are good to go for another 2 GB’s.

Even with the bad experience, Sailor still seems to enjoy sailing and especially going ashore in the dinghy.  Below are pictures of him retrieving a ball in deep water and running on a beach bringing the ball back to Mark. He is just learning to like to swim and the retriever part of him is having a great time.

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