Well, this is it!..... George Town is the turn-around point for most, a stopover for some, the winter refuge for others, and is considered to be the cruising mecca for boaters in the Bahamas. George Town is located on Great Exuma island and is over 200 years old. During the winter high season, it is host to over 400 boats. Although George Town is Exuma's main settlement, it's still on the no-need-for-a-traffic-light scale. We were surprised at how small George Town was. Although it does have an international airport, there are not many restaurants, one grocery store, several liquor stores (that ought to tell you something...) and a couple of banks. There was a straw market there for locals to sell their baskets, purses, and other goods. We traveled to George Town so that I could fly back to the States for my mother's 80th birthday.
George Town is often referred to as an "adult day care" due to the many organized activities such as volleyball, bridge, yoga, and general "chatting and chilling". The winter cruisers all congregate at several anchorages "Monument Beach" and the beach near "Chat and Chill". Each morning there is a cruiser's net on VHF 68 which announces the weather (quick summary) and then announcements (long, long... no summary here...). There is so much radio traffic on the VHF, no one can use channel 16... all of the radio traffic hailing is on channel 68!
Organized activity is not our thing, so we decided to pass the crowded anchorages by and anchored at a remote anchorage, Red Shanks. This was a neat anchorage, close enough to town to get to the grocery store, and close enough to a nearby laundromat to wash clothes..
And, close enough for LA to enjoy some fishing. He caught local fish, Lane Snapper. Very sweet meat. We sautéed them in butter and olive oil, they were some fine eating! We served them up with Martha McSherry's pickle and onion slaw and they were fantastic!
We enjoyed taking our dinghy to explore some remote, deserted islands nearby. Fishing and swimming (skinny dipping!) were our "marooned on a desert island" fun for the day.... (thankfully, no photos of the skinny dipping!)
We dinghied to some remote, inhabited islands, too. What spectacular views of the ocean and mangroves they have!
We also had fun spending time with friends... Stacy and Rene from Pipe muh Bligh, and Deana and Troy from Storyville were happy hour and pot luck dinner partners in crime. We met some new friends, Barbara and Gary of Palaola, and celebrated Stacy's 40th birthday with a beach party. We grilled hamburgers, built a nice fire, were serenaded by Troy playing his guitar, and "ho, ho, ho and a bottle of rum" was drunk to celebrate the occasion. Here's to the big 4-0, Stacy!!
George Town hosts two sailing regattas each year. At the beginning of March, the Cruiser's Regatta hosts visiting boats for a week of races, cookouts, and partying. We didn't make it to George Town in time to see it, but we were there in April for the Family Island Regatta. The Family Island Regatta takes place over 4 days at the end of April and is the Bahamas most important yachting event of the year. The best sailors from every island in the Bahamas arrive in George Town prepared to sail their locally built sloops for the much-coveted "Best in the Bahamas" title and bragging rights for the year. The town of George Town is a riot of Junkanoo parades, Goombay music, arts and crafts fairs, and native Bahamian food.
One would think that these sailing sloops would be sailed to George Town to participate in the races. Nope! Prior to race day, ships arrive in the harbor laden with small sailing sloops. A crane is located on the local dock to offloaded the sloops into the harbor to be rigged ready to race.
The races start in Elizabeth Harbor, and the competition is fierce. The racing rules dictate that the sailing vessels must be designed, built, skippered, and primarily sailed by Bahamians. There are strict restrictions on the building materials used in order to keep the boats as closely related to the traditional origins (dating back to 1954) as possible. Overall length must be 28 feet, three inches or less. Sails must be canvas with a single mast and the hull and the mast must be wood. No bowsprits. No spreaders. No winches. No wind or speed instruments or tell-tales. No bending masts. There are five classes of racing sloops based on boat length.... classes A-E. We got to see the larger class boat races, Classes A and B.
We got in our dinghy and waited at the starting line for the races to begin. The starting line is chaotic. All of the boats have to be anchored dead in the water behind the starting line. Upon hearing the starting gunshot signal, a mad scramble begins... the bow man begins hauling frantically on the anchor line, while the rest of the crew raise the sails as quickly as possible. With around 20 to 30 boats sailing to the starting line, there is a lot of rearranging and shuffling about. There are many incomprehensible, high volume exchanges between competitors and frequent re-anchoring maneuvers with assistance from chase boats.
Finally, they're off! The major strategic decision by the skippers is which tack to begin the race, which also leads to chaos, especially if nearby boats head off in opposite directions. Near miss collisions are frequent. The course for the races depend on wind direction. The boats sail three times around orange buoys placed at each corner of a triangular course from the start to a windward mark and back, the finish line being near the Government dock lined with spectators. We raced back and forth outside the race course in our dinghy. It was exciting action, and also exciting to keep out of the way of race boats, chase boats, and spectator boats (who, by the way, were a lot more focused on watching the race boats than watching where they were going!! Danger, Will Robinson!).
Boats battle to be on the starboard tack and have the right of way as they sail around the course buoys. The long over-hanging booms of the boats sometimes become tangled as boats squeeze together rounding the buoys. Notice the sailors on the photo on the right, below. Two of them are precariously hiked out on a "prys" bar to balance the boat and make it sail faster. These wooden planks can be extended out about four feet to either starboard or port. Winner of the Class A event was Tida Wave; winner of the Class B event was Lady Sonia.
Racing isn't the only thing that attracts visitors to George Town during race week. Regatta Point hosts brightly colored booths serving traditional Bahamian fare (lots of ribs, chicken, fish, mac and cheese, cole slaw, and, of course, plenty of beer!). There is lively, LOUD Bahamian DJ music blaring from six foot tall speakers to get your mojo working! We enjoyed walking through the crowds on a sunny afternoon hanging out with our friends Rene and Stacy (Pipe muh Bligh), Deana and Troy (Storyville) and Christie and Matt (Kaleo).
We had a great time in George Town!
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