We arrive at Georgetown, Bahamas after almost a month in the Bahamas. It is a destination of choice for many cruisers, a significant number of whom appear to be from Canada, who are escaping the winter weather up in the north. It is also a good stopping point for boats heading further south to far off destinations. There are literally hundreds of boats here and a very well defined community with a ton of activities. And, we have heard, kids.
Start: The Marina at Emerald Bay, 0917
End: Anchorage off Honeymoon Beach, Elizabeth Harbor, Georgetown, Exuma, 1150
Total Distance: 14.9 nm
Average Speed: 4.7 kts
Dawn broke for day two of our one day trip to Georgetown and we missed it. We were sleeping the sleep of the dead in our air conditioned boat and you could have lit a nuclear weapon off outside our boat and we may not have noticed. I’d like to say that we are so acclimated to our environment that we don’t need or enjoy our air conditioner, but that would be a big fat lie.
Eventually we got out of bed, managed to get a free load of laundry done and get out of the marina by 0900(ish). Just in time for slack tide. Weather? Same as yesterday. ‘Three’ foot waves (whatever), wind from the east. The difference? We had one day of beating to windward and against the waves under our belt and so knew what to expect. The waves, the banging and the motion were all old hat AND we only had two hours to go to our anchorage. Piece of cake.
Our big decision for the day? Did we want to try our newly fixed sewage pump in front of the Sandals resort beach and ruin some vacations or wait for an hour or so until we got well off shore. It was a close one, but we decided to wait.
So out we went, banging across the waves heading straight out to sea for a couple of miles, then took a hard right and set our sights for the entrance cut into Elizabeth Harbor. Two hours later, we were making our way in to our home for a couple of weeks.
Elizabeth Harbor is about eight miles long and a mile or more wide that runs NW to SE. On the east side of the harbor are a series of islands, the largest of which are Stocking and Elizabeth Islands (and I have no idea why they are called ‘islands’ vs. ‘cay.’ I should look that up someday). On the West Side is Great Exuma Island, the largest island in the Exuma chain and home to Georgetown. It is a huge harbor that has lots of sheltered anchorages from the eastern trade winds (or from any other winds if one cares to move). And there are a ton of boats.
I’ve said this before; it appears that most of Canada has gone ahead and left the great, white north and headed here in a huge armada. There are over 200 boats in the local area and a lot of the maple leaf flags flying off the stern of the boats. Some cruisers spend the entire winter season here; some are transients passing through on their way south/east to other warm destinations; some are like us, spending a couple of weeks before heading back north.
There is a very well organized community here that starts with a morning cruisers net call detailing out the activities for the day, upcoming events, boaters asking for assistance, new boat arrivals and say good bye to departing boats. There are poker and trivial pursuit nights, volleyball games, church, a weekly bbq and daily gathering of children (and adults) on the ‘chat and chill’ beach (aka volleyball beach) at 2pm daily. You can hike up hills, head over to the ocean side to shell and play in 10 foot waves, eat at a large number of restaurants and explore Georgetown.1 If you don’t like people or are looking for solitude, this may not be the place for you.2
We knew a little of this as we cruised into the harbor, but were about to get a fire hose of information once we anchored.
Our plan was to cruise along Stocking and Elizabeth Islands and look at the various anchorages and then pick the best since we were going to be here awhile. We saw on AIS that Mahi was just off of Monument beach and we recognized other boats that we have passed by on our way down here as we made our way down the line. The forecast for the next week is for 20-25 knot winds with higher gust from the east/south east, so we were looking to get in as close to shore as possible. Unfortunately there were 200 other boats who had the same plan; we would have to look hard.
As we made our way SE and past stocking island, it felt, to us anyway, that the best protection was back by monument beach, further up, so we turned and headed back. Ultimately we ended up at a spot off of Honeymoon beach, just around the corner from Volleyball beach and the chat and chill; the local daily gathering spot.
The spot we picked was front row, just off the beach, between two other catamarans. We pulled up relatively close to the beach, dropped the anchor in some mixed grass and sand and backed up and were set. And we looked awful darn close to S/V Ismael on our left. I yelled over to Carl on Ishmael and he gave us the ‘thumbs up;’ not too close for their comfort. We were set.
It was lunchtime, so we grabbed a quick bite and then got a call from Mahi; there was a daily gathering of kids on the volleyball beach at 2pm. We had planned on heading into Georgetown to get provisions3 but decided to postpone the trip for a couple of hours so we could get a feel for what happens in this place.
So at 2pm we hopped into the dinghy and over to the beach.
Which would become our ‘go-to’ place for the next seven day.
Volleyball beach is a white sandy beach (of course) that surrounds a point of land between Gaviouita bay and Elizabeth Harbor. There are a ton of boats anchored just in front of the beach, one presumes to minimize the dinghy ride to shore while maximizing the rolling throughout the day caused by other people dinghies, and a ton of dinghies pulled up on shore. You find a spot, drag your dinghy ashore, try to remember if it is high tide (you will have to drag your vessel a county mile back to the water), or low tide (make sure you anchor it to shore or swim for it later) and head up towards the trees.4 On the immediate left is the chat n chill bar and grill. Cold beverages and warm food and both served very slowly because there can be a ton of people. Just past the CnC are some trees under which are picnic tables and benches. One tree has a rope swing and kids usually are in the branches of the tree or swinging out of the tree and into the unsuspecting adult if they are not paying attention. Three sand volleyball courts are in the back. A conch bar is a bit further on where you can watch a young man pull conch out of its shell, clean it, dice tomatoes, onions, green and jalapeño peppers, mix together with salt/pepper, put in a plastic bowl and top with fresh squeezed lemon, lime and orange juice. It is fantastic. And as an added bonus, you can take the left over conch bits and hand feed some sting rays that are hanging around the shack.
At any time there may be volleyball games, seminars on wide and ranging topics, church (on Sunday), ad hoc music groups or any other activity you can think of, happing in/around the tables. The tables are usually occupied by adults talking and the local area by kids playing.
When we arrived at 2pm it was a bit overwhelming. I’m pretty sure the three of us sat there with our mouths wide open looking at all the activity. Fortunately Carla and Joe from Mahi, who already had a day under their belt, took pity on us, grabbed our hands and led us to a table where we could sit and take it all in. After a month of being mostly by ourselves or in a small group, this was a lot.
AJ was with us for about five minutes and next thing we knew he was up in the tree with other boat kids. We would see him sometime later in the evening when it came time to get back to our boat. He would end up in part of a pack with the boys from S/V Serenity (monohull) and the kids from S/V Schole.
After an hour, Jan and I headed across the harbor to Georgetown (the town itself). It is a mile(ish) trip and the conditions on this afternoon were great; we moved over quickly and entered under a tiny bridge into Lake Victoria. $200 later we had groceries for a couple of days, snacks and some wine. Hopefully we make it through the windy weather, because we have a feeling when the wind blows, the trip over won’t be all that great.
Back to the boat to put groceries away, then back to volleyball beach where AJ, oblivious to the fact that we actually left him, is still playing.
Back to the boat for dinner. End of day 1.
I don’t want to wear you out with a day by day detail of of our time here. Because they are all kind of the same. The executive summary of major events:
The forecast was correct and the wind has blown for six days straight. 20+ knots. Very loud. Very wavy. So very little chance to explore the harbor. BUT easy enough to get from boat to boat and to volleyball beach as well as back and forth between boats to shuttle kids. Temperatures are in the 70s in the days. And at night. Wind keeps the bugs away. There are worse places we can be.
Cruisers net is first in the morning–get the daily dose of information on the activities. Then school for three(ish) hours. Lunch is spent on the boat and by 2pm we are heading off to the beach. AJ heads off to pack o’ kids. Adults sit on rear ends and talk. Maybe we take some excursions, like a trek over to ocean beach for a day and hike to monument peak for another day. But generally volleyball beach. Evenings kids played D&D.5 Or other games. Or movie nights. To bed and restart in the morning.
We have been promising AJ kids for 10 months. “Just wait until Canada.” “Wisconsin…kids in Wisconsin.” “Heard there were tons of kids in Florida.” “Two kids sighted just outside of the next marina.” And so on. But for the most part, we have been unable to find the leprechaun known as a ‘kid.’ So Jan and I stopped promising kids.
Until now. We have run into a couple of kids boats since we have been in the Bahamas on our way down to Georgetown. But now we have hit the motherlode. There are a ton of kids here in all ages ranging from two to 16. They typically divide into a couple of packs based very loosely on age and run about the place. It reminds me of the long ago days when we were kids and our instructions were to “Go outside and come in when it is time for dinner.” And we were off. Same deal here. “Come find me when it is getting dark” or “ call me on the radio when you need a ride” are the prevailing instructions.
1‘Explore georgetown’ takes about 10 minutes.
2Though there are anchorages here that can be found that have significantly less people. But they are a long way away from the beaches with kids.
3Booze and chips.
4To date I have swam for our dinghy twice (once when i let go of the line holding it to our boat before I was in the dingy and then watched it float away. Second time when I neglected ensure there was an anchor line actually attached to the anchor when I set the anchor), have waded for the dinghy three times, sprinted towards the floating dinghy about 10 times.
5Yes. The game still exists. And kids still play it. Who knew?