31/03/2008/2:14 pm, George Town, Great Exuma
When I responded to the call for newcomers on the Georgetown, Pam replied, "Welcome to the Centre of the Universe!" Well... I'm not quite sure about that but we'll see how it goes.
We got here Saturday after a pleasant trip across from Long Island (wind right behind us though so no sailing). It is always fascinating to see the depth sounder go from around 2 feet through the tens, hundreds and then to last known depth 350 ft, knowing that there are really well over 1200 ft of water below us. The water colour changes too from warm turquoise to dark, cool blue.
The eastern entrance into Georgetown through North Channel Rocks was stunningly beautiful with an artist's palette of every shade of green and blue again, whitecapped waves curling off the rocks and those hazel-brown reefs to steer around. As we cruised past the various anchorages, deciding where to position ourselves, we spotted several familiar boats. The wind is supposed to come up over the next few days bringing some showers and thunderstorms, and our dinghy doesn't move very quickly so we decided to anchor off Volleyball beach. The protection is reasonable and it's not far to Stocking Island for interludes ashore.
Our first order of business was Georgetown itself for fuel, water and a check around for the computer fix-it store so we dropped the dinghy and headed across the harbour. There is a tiny little 8ft wide pass through from Elizabeth Harbour into Lake Victoria - the little pond that sits in the middle of the town. Once through that pass under the road (8 ft high too) we tied up at the long dinghy dock behind Exuma Market - the main grocery store. It was an experience going through there for the first time. Because it is so narrow, one has to line up to see that no one is coming, then rev up the engine and go. The waves were whipping us through on the way in and we wondered what would happen on our way back out! I'm happy to report that the return part went well too.
Jim walked around to the Shell station to fill the jerry cans while I filled our water cans from the tap conveniently placed right on the dinghy dock (free water - yeah). Then we walked around to the Web centre on the back side of the lake. That was a truly weird place - certainly not a web café - a door that buzzed to let us in, a few computers lined up along a wall and a countertop to ceiling black glass wall straight ahead with three little holes for shoving money through. I thought no one was there and as I bent over double to see if I could look through the little hole, a voice said "May I help you?" startling me back upright again in a hurry. Apparently that black glass wall was a window but there were no see through spots so we never got a look at who was behind it - just a disembodied voice. As Jim checked e-mail, many folks got buzzed in, handed money over and I kept hearing things like Miami, New York, and I couldn't imagine what was going on till Jim finally explained to me that they were placing bets on sports games. So it was a betting office that had some computers too. No wifi and the cost was $10. per half hour. We discovered a better system later. Both Harbour wifi (from Georgetown) and Gaviot Bay wifi (from St Francis resort on Stocking Island) have better rates. ($2. per hour or $15. per week)
Back at the market, we picked up a few items and remarked again how much better the stores in Long Island are - in terms of quality, price and friendliness. In fact, our whole Georgetown experience on this first afternoon paled in comparison with Long Island. It was like walking into a big impersonal city. Cruisers didn't great each other on the dock. I waited for the couple approaching the dinghy next to ours to make eye contact before saying hello, but they got right into the dinghy without ever doing that. Others looked startled when I greeted them. Don't people do that here? Even New York City was friendlier! Locals were a bit warmer, but not in the same open way as we have found at our other stops.
Sunday was a brand new day though, and while the general atmosphere still seemed a bit more reserved, we had ourselves a perfectly wonderful afternoon. Our friends Gail and Peter (Jabiru) and Fred (Casa Mare) were here, and they introduced us to Rick and Donna (Lorbas). We seven sat in the colourful lawn chairs under the casurina trees on Volleyball Beach. Burgers and beers from Chat & Chill went down very nicely. We caught up on all the news, traded DVD's at the swap table and watched all the happy people. As the afternoon came to a close, we dinghied back, fastened everything down and got ready for the wind.
There are about 170 boats scattered among the anchorages that are spread out through this huge harbour. We have lots of swing room and a good view of the comings and goings at the beach. The wind came up to a consistent 20-25 knots throughout the night but the anchor held well and we didn't move all that much. Despite ominous clouds, the rainfall was just a short heavy shower - enough for a quick rinse of the salt on the decks and then it was over.
Monday morning brought a bit of excitement as we watched a freighter come in through the channel, threading its way through some boats anchored in its way. We watched a couple of them pull up and move. As the announcement was made on VHF 68 about staying out of the channel, we wondered why it is not marked with at least a few buoys. Sure, our charts all indicate where it is, but a buoy makes it really clear.
The wind stayed at anywhere from 12 - 20 ENE and the swells weren't all that large on the Stocking Island side of the harbour, so we headed down (up?) to Hamburger Beach (Monument Beach) to join Jabiru and Lorbas for a walk. I even tried the Georgetown Dinghy Posture - standing up while hanging onto a line for balance while roaring across the water. It does keep a person drier, and must be good for developing body balance. We'll know we are truly part of the crowd when Jim tries it; so far his reaction is "Hmmph - ridiculous!" The hike up to the monument was short, steep and beautiful, and we could see clear from one end of the island to the other. A friendly cat stretched his way out from under a clump of seagrapes and followed us back down the hill - we thought we had a new friend but he deserted us when he met what looked to be a littermate down at the hamburger hut.
We trekked off to the beach, gathering up pretty bits of shell and giving our legs a good stretch. The beach was gorgeous and the sound of waves crashing in was just wonderful. The nature walk established by the Peace & Plenty folks was informative and pretty. It was much calmer over in the Hamburger anchorage, but we decided to stay put according to the theory that "if the anchor holds don't mess with it" - something like "If it ain't broke, don't fix it.) The wind is supposed to shift a bit more South but we hope it won't get too rough. We have lots of company here including another couple of Bayfields!
30/03/2008/3:01 pm, Hog Cay, Long Island
We first learned this expression in the book, Out Island Doctor, where the words "De Doctah done reach" meant the doctor had arrived. For us, it means Madcap has reached its southernmost destination for this trip.
With regret, but also with anticipation of a few more new places to visit, we went ashore one last time and then hauled anchor. One indication of our regret is this little wine story. Our friend, Juan Luis, gave us a fine bottle of Chilean wine to drink "when we got where we were going". Since we have never been quite sure of that, we had decided it would be appropriate to drink it at this point in the journey. Once it was turn around time however, it seemed entirely too final to do that, so we've decided to keep it a few days longer. We'll drink it on our last "new" destination before we truly head north again. With favourble weather, that will be Cat Island - unless of course we do some other madcap thing and postpone the occasion once more!
On our morning list of chores was electronic filing of income tax returns. Most of the American folks we've met have requested extensions. Since that is not an option for Canadians, and since we didn't have all the information we needed on paper, Jim has been on the phone and e-mail for many hours lately. Finally, he had it all together and we asked the folks at Sunset Realty if we could tap into their wifi. A very obliging gentleman said, "Sure thing" and ushered us to a lovely air-conditioned office that wasn't being used. Our Canadian Income tax returns have thus been filed in our most exotic location ever, and we anticipate a reasonable refund that will help us get home again!
We filled water jugs at Island Breeze and ate very good sandwiches on their deck, made one last stop at Hillside Groceries where the extensive shelves and fridges were jam packed with everything one could possible need, and waved goodbye as we left the anchorage about 3pm.
Because of another weather system containing strong easterly winds, we opted to head for Georgetown instead of Conception Cay, and our goal was Hog Cay for a one-night stop on the way. We had a new navigation experience here. It was about 7 pm when we neared the turn from the Glenton Sound waypoint, and the light was not conducive to coral spotting. The Explorer chart showed many rocks to be avoided but it appeared that if we went due east along the 23° 35.990'W line of latitude we'd be in the clear. It was the first time I ever steered quite that way, but with Jim on bow watch, it worked just fine. We dropped anchor just in time to watch the sun drop over the horizon, hung the anchor light and enjoyed a cool glass of white wine along with chicken and spicy rice.
29/03/2008/2:54 pm, Thompson Bay, Long Island
Time for some more exploring by car. We rented a cute little white Suzuki from Fox Auto ($65.00 for the day - $10 less than the usual because the air-conditioning doesn't work) and set off for fun and to cross off items on the ToDo list. First stop, propane. That done, we headed for Stella Maris Airport, Customs and Immigration office.
As Jim puts it, we were due to expire on March 30. The boat is here on a one-year permit from the time we entered, Dec 9/07. No problem. Our personal permits were for only 90 days. When we returned from Canada to the Bahamas on Dec 30 we were given 90 days from that date which takes us to March 30th. None of the immigration offices will renew a permit any more than a few days in advance of expiry so there is a bit of scheduling necessary to be near a port of entry around about that time. Long Island is one, and so is Georgetown. The next closest ones are in Nassau or the Abacos.
Our experience was excellent at Long Island. We went on the 27th and got a 60-day renewal - exactly what we asked for. We now know that permits can be given for 8 months on the initial application. Initially, we checked in at Green Turtle Cay where there is a Customs agent only - no immigration one - who has limited authority around timing. We would go to an Immigration post next time and try to get 6 months right away.
Next stop, the Columbus monument up at Cape Santa Maria. It is a bone rattling 20-minute drive in from the Queen's Highway and we were sure glad to have the Suzuki with its extra few inches off the ground. Waves were crashing up on the rocks, the water was brilliant blue and the monument paid tribute to the original Lucayan inhabitants as well as the landing of Columbus and his fellow explorers in 1492. It was quite moving to gaze out at the sea, contemplating the voyage these men had taken and the discovery of this new land, while also understanding that it was devastating for the native population. Whether they were killed through firepower or the introduction of diseases from which they had no immunity, the gain for the Europeans meant loss for North Americans - the destruction of a people and a way of life.
After rattling back out to the Highway, we visited Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort for lunch. This was an absolutely beautiful resort - Canadian operated and part of the Oak Bay Marine Group based on Vancouver Island - www.capesantamaria.com. Lunch in their lovely dining room was delicious - conch chowder and salads, the beach beautiful and the atmosphere friendly with lots of families coming and going.
From the top of the island, we roared down to Buckleys where I visited the Museum. Long Islanders are noted for their straw work (hats, bags, baskets, table mats) and I bought a couple of placemats. I tried to see if my theory about the larger white population here was accurate but I still don't know. The really helpful woman said that there was a larger white population in the 60's and 70's, but more black Bahamians have been moving back. There is also a lot of intermarriage. In many other cays and islands, Haitians have been moving in to take agricultural jobs. She said that Bahamians here do that work themselves, and unless there is a lot of expansion of resorts, there will probably not be immigration (much of it illegal) of outsiders. If we were staying in the area
I'd love to have come back to the Bahamian festival on Fri and Sat.
We continued on down the road to Clarencetown as viewed the Catholic and Anglican churches, both built by Father Jerome. I had expected more of a community here, but once again, it seems to be a series of houses and small businesses strung out along the roads near the harbour. After a quick tour and a drive by the old salt ponds - which would probably have been more interesting at low tide - we headed back to Max's Conch Bar because I had been lusting after their conch salad ever since I saw Gary making it on our first visit.
He made up a fresh batch as I watched; Jim ate grouper fingers and checked email. This salad was the best I've ever eaten - and I've tried lots of it. It is always a hot and spicy concoction of chopped conch, tomatoes, onions, celery, peppers and limejuice. This one had a complex sweet/sour flavour along with the heat. He squeezed in key limes and oranges, added a dab of sugar and I could swear I saw a bit of apple going in there too. The conch was chewy, the vegetables were crunchy, and the heat was high but not so much that it wrecked the tastebuds - a great combo, and of course Kalik beer was a perfect accompaniment.
By the time we made it back to the boat, the sun was down and we spent a relaxed hour or two in the cockpit making plans for the next few days.