Georgetown and Environs
19 February 2009
Let me give you a description of the area we've spent almost three weeks along with almost three hundred other cruisers....
First of all the profile of the cruiser. The average cruiser is from Canada, sixty years old, travelling with his /her mate and often a pet (dog, cat, parrot). The average boat is a 40 foot monohull and most have been here more than once. I find it very interesting that there are probably 60 percent o the boats from Canada, many from Quebec. Even more notable if you consider that the ratio of the Canadian to US population is about thirteen percent and that we have to come from such a distance. However, we understand that the devastated US economy has had such a dampening effect that a lot of cruisers have stayed home. Also it is explainable to a certain extent when you consider how far we are wiling to travel to escape the Canadian winter.
Georgetown is the largest community on Great Exuma Island, one of the last (most southerly) Islands in the Exuma chain which extends from Nassau down to here. The harbour, which is really called Elizabeth harbour, is a complex series of smaller harbours, bights, channels formed by the placement of Great Exuma Island and Stocking Island. There are several prime anchorages including Volleyball Beach, Monument Beach, Hamburger Beach and our anchorage of choice, Sand Dollar Beach.
Most of the organized activities happen at or around Volleyball Beach where there is a great Beach Bar called Chat and Chill. Stocking Island which forms the eastern segment of the harbour, is a long and skinny Island with only a few small resorts and bars. Basically, it is uninhabited and we roam around it's many beaches and great trails with pleasure.
Now, to Georgetown itself. This is a bustling town with a population of about 5000. While it is likely the commercial and business centre of the southern Exuma islands, you cannot understate the impact of the cruising community on its viability. There is just about anything you'd need as a cruiser here including an airport where many cruisers' guests fly in and out of. Any given day, you'll see a steady stream of dinghies motoring over from the anchorage side o the harbour (Stoking Island) to Georgetown. This procession ends with most people soaked from top to bottom because there is usually a chop running through the Harbour.
Once over to Georgetown, you tie up to a dinghy dock, with dozens of other dinghies making for an often challenging time getting in and out. There is free water on this dock and there is always a line up for folks to fill their containers which will, ultimately be fed into the main boat's water tanks.
So to maximize the trip to town, you usually have a list of things to do including laundry,. Provisioning, internet connection. Telephone calls and other business. Internet is an interesting venture. There are several free places but the connections are often unreliable and frustrating. There is a little (and I mean little) place called T&K ventures, a cinderblock building about 12 by 16 with a five foot open ceiling where you can get internet (see picture). So, picture up to a dozen sweaty cruisers converging to send emails to their loved ones, do internet banking, checking websites and generally staying connected with the outside world. About every 20 minutes the system crashes and the connection is aborted requiring the young proprietor to reboot. At first it is frustrating but you adjust.
Now to the broader Great Exuma Island area. We arranged a Taxi tour when Ann and Harold were here and were joined by Kathy and Darious and Mike and Bonnie. We took Elvis' water taxi over to town and were met by Patrick Dorsett of Taxi 8. He took us on a very informative and pleasant tour of Great Exuma and Little Exuma Island. Patrick was knowledgeable, articulate and strongly committed to the preservation of the history of Exuma. We spent five or so hours on this tour which I'll describe a few of the highlights.
We went through a number of small communities, two of which were known as Generational Communities. A former plantation/slave owner(?) named Lord Rolle turned large tracts of land over to his slaves (most of whom then and continue to use the surname Rolle). I presume in his intention to be generous and forward thinking, made stipulations that the land would be to the benefit of the direct descendants of his slaves and that the land would be available without fee but could not be sold. This has had some good and not so good impacts. The good is that these communities remain "local" communities. The difficult part is that the land tenure is uncertain and unsecured. Banks will not provide mortgages so the houses are built as you go. The effect of this is that there are many partially constructed homes, many of which have never and may never be occupied. I was musing that it would be an interesting assignment as a former SNB employee to work with the government to retain the principles of the Lord Rolle bequest but strengthen the tenure in such a way as to provide for a real property system which would leverage using real estate assets to secure financing.
He took us to this impressive fishing lodge called Peace and Plenty Bonefish Lodge. It was interesting in numerous ways but for me the ultimate was when I was told that Jimmy Buffett comes here regularly to fish bonefish. I implored Patrick to be sure to let me know if he was aware that Jimmy was coming!
He took us to the remains of a cotton plantation replete with slave quarters. He indicated that as many as thirty slaves inhabited each of these stone dwellings with would probably measure 15 by 20.
On the other end of the spectrum, he brought us to a number of the luxurious and glamorous resort complexes. The sad part is that the economy is so devastated that they were virtually empty. A real blow to the Bahamian economy.
For lunch we went to a place called Santinis; a beach bar where the crew from the filming of the Johnny Depp movie Pirates of the Caribbean spend much of their leisure time. As an interesting aside, our tour guide Patrick, went to school in Florida where his father resides and his school mate was Mr. Depp (the latter who dropped out of high school).
We went to the Tropic of Cancer beach, which is obviously right on the tropic of Cancer. There are very famous people who have retreats in this lovely but secluded area.
All in all, it was a great day and wonderful to get a perspective of the land side of Exuma.