I Made It

Entering Elizabeth Harbour at George Town for the first time

Dateline: George Town, Exumas, The Bahamas

I’d like to say the trip from Rudder Cut Cay to George Town was an invigorating sail through turquoise waters alongside pristine Bahamian cays, but the truth of the matter is: we motored the whole way. The wind was light and right on the nose, but as with the Gulf Stream crossing a couple of weeks earlier, there was a weather window so it was time to make hay while the sun was shining, so to speak.

And the reason to make hay was because George Town was the southern terminus of my journey. It was the far-off destination always looming in the back of my head. It was the place I’d heard so much about from my friends who’d spent the winter in the Bahamas, the place where there was a vibrant cruising community and lots of fun times, a sort-of Vegas for the cruising community but instead of slot machines and Wayne Newton shows it was beach yoga and mellow volleyball at Chat n Chill Beach.

Further at anchor off Monument Beach, as seen from Monument Hill

To be sure, it was all of those things—and more. And it was also less. Let me explain.

Of the several reasons George Town is such a cruising destination, I’m guessing three are primary. For one thing, there is infrastructure in George Town: restaurants (plural), grocery stores (plural), a gas station that also sells diesel, hardware/marine stores (plural), an international airport. And that infrastructure also welcomes the cruisers, with things like a free water spigot on the dinghy dock at one of the supermarkets.

The second reason is that George Town is far enough south that, in normal winters, it is beyond the reach of the cold fronts that sweep down off the southeastern United States. Those fronts roll across Florida, hammer the Abacos and then begin dissipating their energy as they swing southward through the Exumas. By the time they get down to George Town, the fronts haven’t much punch left and everybody in the area can be pretty chill. And if there is some truly inclement weather, the stomping grounds of the cruising community, Elizabeth Harbour, is between Great Exuma Island (on which George Town is located) and Stocking Island, so boats can simply head over and anchor on the west side of the harbor for the stormy period then go back and anchor off Stocking Island for protection from the prevailing easterly and southeasterly winds.

It’s very easy to chill out at the Chat n Chill. Pro tip: Order drinks two at a time…the service is NOT the swiftest

The final reason is the aforementioned community that has, over the decades, established itself in the area. The beach bars, including the famous Chat n Chill, provide a never-ending social scene. The activities organized pretty much daily include yoga and volleyball, as mentioned, and also Texas Hold-Em, water aerobics, church services on the beach, group floats down a stretch known as the Lazy River and also the naturally occurring enticements such as reefs and blue holes to snorkel, trails on Stocking Island to walk, fishing and lobstering on the Exuma Sound side of Stocking Island, and more. There’s a lot going on, and there are a lot of fun, like-minded people with whom to enjoy it all.

And I think that’s what drew me to the spot. And I think that’s what I found. But there was also a sneaky sort of intoxication that came with all of that organization, a loose as it may have been. It was simply too easy to get sucked into that lifestyle and then the next thing you know you’ve spent three months in one place, had far too many Kaliks (Bahamian beer) and rum drinks at the various beach bars, and not done as much of the swimming and SUP paddling and kiteboarding and such as you had planned. Not that that’s a BAD thing, mind you. Just that it’s not as productive as even you might have liked.

The sunsets in George Town were simply magnificent

So yes, I enjoyed my stay in George Town. My favorite anchorage was at the south end of the mooring field off Sand Dollar Beach, because there you were away from the hustle and bustle at Chat N Chill Beach but still close enough that it wasn’t a long dinghy ride to said beach or over to town. You were close enough to swim to the beach if you felt like it, and once on the island there were some cool trails to walk, including one, aptly named the Art Trail, on which cruisers over the years have placed “art” works made of driftwood and shells and such. There’s an increasing preponderance of social media promotion in said art works, but oh well. I guess it’s the times. I also found a potentially nice surf break directly in front of the eastern end of the Art Trail, something I would like to investigate more in the future. I enjoyed anchoring off Monument Beach, mostly for the trails that reach to the northern end of the island as well as providing access to the hill for which the beach is named (and a lovely, long beach on the sound side), but it made for a long dinghy ride into town and unless you were close in to the beach (which I wasn’t; always too crowded already) you were also very close to the channel on which the ships move between George Town and Exuma Sound.

Showering in all the free fresh water falling from the sky during a squall. Feels good, but it’s not worth the stress the lightning brings. Nine boats got struck in this storm, one about a hundred yards from Further

There was great hubbub from longtime cruisers about the new mooring fields instituted off Chat n Chill Beach and Sand Dollar Beach. And while I can see why they were pissed at losing something that was free, I can also see where the decades of use (and abuse) of the resource that is Elizabeth Harbour required that some sort of action be taken. I booked a mooring off Chat n Chill for the first couple of nights upon arrival, mostly so I didn’t have to worry about where to anchor at first since I’d never been there before. And I’m glad I did; I was able to get there, get settled and get a sense of the scene…and then I could strike out on my own and anchor where I chose. I also took a mooring ball at my favorite anchorage off Sand Dollar Beach when the roughest of storms during my visit was forecast to arrive. The moorings are brand new this year, looked to be in amazing condition when I dove to inspect them and they provided a safe spot in which to weather said storm. Sure, I could have gone and crowded into Crab Cay’s anchorage along with a dozen other boats, but I felt the mooring was far safer. Further weathered the storm so I am of the mind that I made the right call.

Finally, again, I get that some oldtimers are bummed about losing what was once free. But times change, man. Get over it. These same folks don’t flinch when they have to pony up $75 or $100 for a mooring in New England, but $40 in the Exumas is too much? The fact of the matter is that the resource is getting too much use. If it stays unregulated, it’s going to get loved to death. This way, more boats can be fit into the same area with less environmental damage. I’d call that a win-win. And hey, there’s still plenty of room to anchor free of charge. I did both, anchoring and mooring, and I enjoyed both. Now that I know the scene, next time I’ll probably just anchor, and maybe grab a mooring ball for upcoming storms.

New friends enjoying a Sunday brew at the Peace n Plenty Beach Bar

In the end, I made it to George Town. I’m kinda bummed my friends took off before I got there but I get it: the scene has changed too much for them and the weather this year was just too ugly. And hey, I made a couple of other friends, including an Austrian couple who were nearby at Sand Dollar Beach and are headed in the same general direction I am, and a second sailing-couple-from-Maryland-with-a-cat to go with a couple of friends from Annapolis.

I made it. I made it to where I said I was going to make it, and I made it on my own boat. And I’m glad I did. What’ll happen in the future—will I ever get back to George Town, Exumas, Bahamas? Well, who knows? Stay tuned and find out.