Certain objectives in life require more time than others to come to fruition.
In October of 1986, Pat and I had the good fortune of a chance encounter with Island Packet sailors Vince and Legare Kane aboard IP 31, Good News. At the time, we were delivering a sister ship (Chuck Berrington’s IP 31, Relationship) from the Chesapeake Bay to Oriental, NC via the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. We were hopeful of securing a slip at the city dock in Oriental, but it was already late in the afternoon and there wasn’t an empty space to be found.
Seemingly out of nowhere, a cruiser appeared alongside in a dinghy asking if he could be of help. In a generous gesture of Island Packethood, Vince invited us to raft off their IP for the night. Inevitably, the cockpit conversation that night drifted towards cruising ambitions and destinations. The Kanes spoke eloquently about the delights of cruising in the Exumas. They urged us to cruise the Bahamas in the spring, not winter. Their advice was to enjoy life “down George Town way” in April, when cold fronts are less frequent and the cruising is easy.
That night, this experienced cruising couple planted a motivational seed. At that very moment in time, I knew with absolute certainty that one day we would eventually visit George Town. It was just a matter of time.
Well, it is now April and here we are in George Town. The seed planted by Vince and Legare is finally bearing fruit. Perhaps deferred gratification makes the experience all that more satisfying after nearly thirty years of germination.
George Town is a mecca for cruising sailors. It is the yachting center of the Exumas. For boats headed to and from the Caribbean, George Town is a convenient stopover. For others, it is a winter destination unto itself. In the yachting community, George Town is sarcastically known as “Chicken Harbor” because many boats with Caribbean aspirations arrive in George Town and never leave.
One reason to remain in George Town is because the “thorny path” southward to the Caribbean is a challenging journey into the prevailing easterly trade winds that requires considerable patience and perseverance. Another reason to stay is because life is simple here. Everything that a cruiser might need in the way of provisions, services and eating and drinking establishments is a short dinghy ride away. With several dinghy docks from which to choose, the town is exceptionally cruiser-friendly. Townsfolk are generally warm and conversational.
These amenities have not gone unnoticed by the boating public. A recent count revealed almost 400 cruising boats in the harbor at the peak of the season. The cruising community is quite active and organized. From early morning to late afternoon, the VHF radio is buzzing with cruiser chit-chat and water taxi communication.
Every morning at 8AM, the cruiser’s net on the VHF radio provides a rundown on the day’s activities which typically include morning yoga and water aerobics followed by volleyball, softball, art-on-the-beach classes, dominoes, Scrabble and Texas hold ‘em poker games in the afternoons.
Most of the cruiser activities take place on the lovely beach at Stocking Island. Rays swim right up to where the water meets the beach to interact playfully with the children. Watch out for the barb at the end of that tail!
One area of the beach is reserved for dinghies and water taxis. The venue for most activities is an iconic beach bar called Chat ‘n Chill.
A cluster of pines provides protective shade for the picnic tables located near the volleyball courts.
Here, locals and cruisers alike engage in conversation, play table games and watch the volleyball action.
Elizabeth Harbor provides a variety of anchorages for every wind direction. Most boats anchor near Volleyball Beach on Stocking Island in order to be close to cruiser activities and for protection from prevailing easterlies. From here, it is a one-mile dinghy ride across Elizabeth Harbor, under the diminutive Main Street Bridge and into Lake Victoria.
On Sunday, April 5th, we are off in the dinghy for an early breakfast at the Peace and Plenty Hotel followed by the 11 AM Easter service at Saint Andrew’s Anglican Church.
The sanctuary is packed this morning. Not only is today Resurrection Sunday, but a baptism celebration as well. Four infants are baptized today. The extended family of each child is seated together in the front of the sanctuary. They are attired in matching shirts, ties and dresses. There is no problem associating the family members that correspond with each infant.
The personable Bahamian Rector delivers an inspiring message, frequently interjecting subtle humor to the obvious delight of parishioners. This service is an interesting blend of traditional liturgy, soulful gospel music and lively interaction between the Pastor and his flock. At 1:30 PM, we discreetly depart through a side exit along with a handful of other cruisers. For all we know, this service may still be in progress.
Since Easter Monday is a national holiday, all of the shops in town are closed. On Tuesday morning, George Town is buzzing with activity. The stores are filled with customers and there is a lineup of 20 some vehicles waiting to buy petrol at the Shell station. The inter-island mail boat has obviously arrived because the shelves in the grocery stores are filled with fresh produce and customers. This is good news because the supply of fresh fruits and vegetables aboard Cutter Loose had become severely depleted during our trek north through the out islands of the Bahamas. The galley has not been provisioned since Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos… nearly three weeks ago.
As the wind velocity gradually builds, the trip into town via dinghy becomes more interesting each day. With over two miles of unobstructed fetch, the easterly trade winds funnel into the narrow tunnel that leads from Kidd’s Cove in towards the dinghy dock inside Lake Victoria. Since this water is only a few feet in depth, the waves are short and steep, causing the dinghy to surf through the tunnel.
The return trip from town to our anchorage at Volleyball Beach is even more challenging. The wind is now on directly our nose, requiring the dinghy to plow its way through over a mile of steep, frothy whitecaps. Our belongings are covered in a giant plastic garbage bag, but our clothing is soaked with saltwater by the time we arrive at Cutter Loose. Our “go to town” outfits are used, dried in the sun and stored for reuse day after day. It makes little sense to break out clean clothing only to have it saturated within minutes after a minute or two in the dinghy. This is the infrequently admitted, funky side of cruising.
After five days of enjoying the civilized pleasures of George Town, the time has come to begin the next leg of our journey…cruising the Exuma chain. Settled weather in the forecast appears conducive for a Friday morning departure from Elizabeth Harbor.