Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The sandstone cliffs above these caves on Bitter Guana Cay were soft and crumbley, so we did not dare walk along their top edge.

The entrance from Elizabeth Harbour into Lake Victoria in George Town is through this narrow cut in the limestone rock and under the low bridge.

Looking down on this small beach below the cliffs on Stocking Island, you can see the rock ledges and reefs in the water below.

With Haynes and Laura we snorkeled over this sea fan garden at the northern end of Stocking Island.

Adventures over. Time to relax at the Chat n' Chill. Laura, Bill, and Haynes enjoy a cold beer and a conchburger.

Practicing before the first day of the Family Islands Regatta, this boat used us as a turning mark.

Hello from Georgetown, Exuma. I know it has been a long time since I have written. We have had guests, sketchy internet connections, and been involved in the social whirl of the Georgetown cruisers. Is that enough excuses? I have more. Needless to say Bill and I are both doing just fine. We have really acclimated to living aboard Irish Eyes and being in the Bahamas.
We left Staniel Cay, sailed west around Harvey Cay, then motored south and east to Bitter Guana Cay. We anchored off the banks-side northernmost beach. It was backed by sandstone cliffs and caves. This was a most unusual and uninhabited island. Just above the beach and to the left were the 60 foot cliffs. To the right was a more level spot inhabited by the iguanas. (That was where the Guana in the island’s name came from.) These iguanas are huge and very creepy. Unlike the ones we have seen before on Allen’s Cay, they weren’t looking for food and have no fear of people. I didn’t like the beasts. They snuck up on us without making any noise and didn’t go away when we yelled at them. Bill went back into one of the caves under the cliffs and discovered several sleeping in the shade. He came out before they did. The sandstone was completely rotten. We picked up a fallen piece, threw it in the water, and it dissolved into beach sand. That nixed our planned walk across the top of the cliffs – they might have collapsed. The wind was supposed to move to the east in the afternoon, but it didn’t, making our anchorage a very rocky if not dangerous one for the night. Looking for a better spot, we motored the few miles south to Black Point Settlement which had better protection from southerly wind and waves.
Black Point was a very friendly place. There was a small grocery store where I purchased a can of New Zealand butter and some lettuce. The best thing in Black Point Settlement was the superb, clean, and new laundromat. I misread the sign giving the cost of washing and drying. I thought it was $3.50 for 4 to 5 minutes of drying when actually it was $3.50 for 45 minutes. Once I got that right and realized that I could wash clothes for less than a hundred dollars, we had a very pleasant time doing laundry with several of the other cruisers. One of the women was a writer for the Waterway Guides and had lots of information to share. The harbor in Black Point was rather rolly, so the next morning we got 15 gallons of free R/O water from the village tap and moved on south.
We had to motor into the wind but otherwise had no problems getting into Little Farmer’s Cay. The island is owned in common by the descendents of the original settling ex-slave family. We went ashore to visit The Ocean Cabin Club. As we were walking up the hill, we met a group of the local young men playing dominos. It was shortly after noon and they had all had a few (or more) beers. Bill joked for a minute or two with one who was having some trouble standing up. He was really quite funny to talk to as his friends egged him on. The club on the hill was a bar and restaurant owned and operated by Terry Baines. Terry has travelled, is well read, and is something of a writer/philosopher. Bill and Terry discussed at length the integration of the Salisbury, NC schools. I had read in one of our guides that there was a water taxi from Georgetown to Little Farmer’s operated by one of the local fellows. Haynes and Laura, Bill’s brother and wife, were flying into Georgetown, and we were getting worried that we might not be able to get there on time, so were looking for alternatives. When we asked Terry about the water taxi, he was less than encouraging, actually rolled his eyes. Bill and I left the next morning and sailed to George Town. I don’t think the water taxi would have been a good idea.
All our guide books and charts described the northern entrance to Elizabeth Harbour, George Town’s harbor, as a nightmare if the weather wasn’t just perfect. We must have picked the perfect day as we had no trouble with the entrance. Elizabeth Harbour separates Great Exuma Island on its west from Stocking Island to the east. George Town, the largest town in the Exumas, is on Great Exuma Island. Elizabeth Harbour is roughly a mile wide and eight miles long. Stocking Island has just a few houses and has beaches on both the harbor and ocean sides. Cruising boats anchor either on the town side of the harbor off George Town itself or on the Stocking Island side off Hamburger Beach, Volleyball Beach, or Sand Dollar Beach. We decided to first anchor off the town so we could check it out.
Georgetown’s main business area is along the shores of Lake Victoria, an inland lake connected to the harbor by a narrow manmade cut in the limestone rock that is spanned by a low bridge. In the lake is a dinghy dock with a free water tap. There is a grocery store, two gas stations, several bars, at least three liquor stores, and two laundromats. We spent several days anchored off town filling our fuel and water tanks, buying groceries, and replenishing our liquid stores before moving across Elizabeth Harbor to Sand Dollar Beach.
Sand Dollar Beach had, surprise surprise, sand dollars, and I picked up my share. We walked the trails that laced the south end of Stocking Island, walked on the ocean side beaches, walked along the tops of the ocean facing cliffs, walked along the harbor side beaches… You get the picture; Bill was back into his Appalachian Trail hiking mode. To break the monotony, we snorkeled on a reef in the harbor and swam around the boat. We attended a couple of happy hours (bring your drinks and an appetizer to share); one on Hamburger Beach and another on a nearby 49 foot trawler which was also from New Bern. The motor boat showed us its advantages including a dishwasher, a washer, a dryer, a frig, and an ice maker! We took the dinghy north to the Chat and Chill Beach Bar on Volleyball Beach to learn how to play dominos, drink beer, and watch the volleyball. Not a bad life.
On Easter Monday, Bill and I took Irish Eyes across the harbor and grabbed a cab to the Exuma International Airport to meet Bill’s brother Haynes and his wife Laura. The airport was as laid back as everything else in the Bahamas. Bill and I waited in the departure/arrival lounge (bar) along with several European families who had vacationed at one of the hotels on the island. A Danish family was interested in how we managed to live on the boat, and we spent almost half an hour talking with them. I think we could have sold them the boat on the spot.
We collected Haynes and Laura and moved Irish Eyes back across the harbor to Sand Dollar Beach. The four of us beach walked all over the southern end of Stocking Island before moving the mile or two north to Hamburger Beach. There is a 20 foot concrete obelisk on top of the highest hill (37 meters) between Hamburger Beach and the ocean side beach. We walked up to the monument, but there was no indication of what it is a monument to. We returned to Irish Eyes via by the ocean side beach and a trail through the palms leading to the Peace and Plenty Beach Club on Hamburger Beach just in time for a noonday Kalik beer. That afternoon we took the boat north to Conch Harbor to snorkel on the sea fan covered reef there before crossing the harbor to the more protected lee of Goat Cay for the night.
Haynes very much wanted to cross the Tropic of Cancer and sail in the tropics. So, we sailed out of the southern entrance to the harbor then south until we passed the line on the chart. Nothing much changed. For the afternoon we anchored off Pigeon Cay. This cay was about ½ mile long and was mostly a beautiful white sand beach. We snorkeled from the anchored boat to the beach looking for shells along the way, walked on the beach, and snorkeled along a bit of reef before swimming back to the boat. It was a beautiful day. Bill found a helmet conch shell to go along with the queen conchs we had found previously.
We motored our way back towards Elizabeth Harbour with the wind on our nose. The first overnight anchorage after entering the harbor from the south was just north of Fowl Cay. Our intent was to anchor overnight and snorkel the reef between the cay and the ocean. During the night the wind picked up making it a very rolly spot. Bill slept through the howling wind and creaking boat. The rest of us didn’t.
As it was a bit rough for snorkeling on the reef, we pulled up anchor and went back to our favorite Sand Dollar Beach. Too lazy to fix lunch, the four of us piled into the dinghy and went to the Chat and Chill for conchburgers and beer. Later in the day when the sun was not so high, we took still another walk first across the island, then along the ocean cliffs, then back along the harbor side beach.
Sadly, on Saturday it was time for Haynes and Laura to leave. It had been a good week. After seeing them off, I did some grocery shopping before we returned to the boat. The wind had picked up, and the dinghy trip against the waves and wind was a soaking wet one. I am now waiting to see if flour once wet with sea water but now dried makes salty bread. Once again we returned to Sand Dollar Beach.
Monday after our now daily walk on the beach, we discovered two young women slowly circling Irish Eyes in their dinghy. They were taking pictures of two adult porpoises and one small one swimming under our boat. The water was so clear we could see them when they dove for the bottom. What a sight! The dolphins I mean, not the two women.
This week Georgetown is hosting the 57th Annual Family Islands Regatta. It is a national sailboat race for little wooden boats with huge sails. The boats used to be working sailboats, but times have changed and they just race them now. The boats are very colorful anything from the usual white to hot pink, aqua, or purple. To keep the boat from heeling over too far the crew uses one or two a pries, long boards that hang far over the side with the crew perched on the end. When a boat tacks not only does the crew tack the sails but also the 16 foot long pry. They really hustle and fuss at each other. The verbal harassment between the competing boats is intense.
The main street in George Town is now lined with shacks, and that is the official name, not mine, for the temporary plywood stalls erected to meet the needs of the racers and the crowds. They are all either bars or food stands and most play loud music. It is a sight to see. The population of the place has doubled. It looks like Bristol Race Week. On Tuesday after doing our laundry and filling our water and fuel tanks, we stopped at shack #16 and had a delicious lunch of cracked conch with peas and rice, corn and beets, and of course Kalik beer. (The local concoction of coconut milk and gin will have to wait for another day.) We are anchored off the town again and have a ringside seat at the finish line. The racing continues through the weekend. I will take lots of pictures. It is already a hoot.
Bye for now.

No comments: