January 31 – February 8.
Here are three things we never want to do again.
Go to George Town
George Town is known as a “cruising Mecca.” It has a large port, Elizabeth Harbour, which can hold 300 to 400 boats, maybe more. The northeast side of the harbor is bordered by Stocking Island. This is where the majority of the boats moor. Here they have access to restaurants, volleyball, yoga classes, mah-jongg games, fireside music jams, and, of course, copious amounts of drinking. A little over a mile southwest the harbor is bordered by the island of Great Exuma and the actual town of George Town where the Bahamians live. Here, cruisers have access to a good grocery store, free water, liquor stores, Laundromats, gift shops, a bank, more restaurants, and other amenities of civilization.
Now I don’t like to think I am a George Town snob. The drunken debauchery, elitism, rude and uneducated boaters, and all the drama that comes with 500 to 700 people swinging back and forth on chains, spitting distance from each other doesn’t bother me. What I don’t like about George Town is the water.
The water in Elizabeth Harbour is unsettled and the anchorages are uncomfortable. The dock for grocery store and the free drinking water is inside a small lake, Lake Victoria, in the center of town, which is reached by dinghy through a current filled narrow tunnel that is impossible to row a small hard shell dink like ours through. When in George Town we like to hide in a nice calm uncrowded anchorage over a mile away from all the action in a cozy harbor at Crab Cay, but even when we anchor near to town, our deep draft prevents us from getting in close and dinghy trips are always uncomfortable and wet.
After our return from the Jumentos we started making our way back north to Black Point where we would meet our friend Karen who was flying in to spend some time with us. But first we needed to refill our water and rum reserves in George Town.
We sailed into Elizabeth Harbour with a southeasterly wind. I could see the boats anchored off Stocking Island bounce up and down as we pulled into our quiet little spot at Crab Cay. The next day was Super Bowl Sunday and seemed like the perfect day to go get water (being that the Super Bowl seems to be a bigger event than Christmas here, therefore meaning there wouldn’t be a line at the water spigot). Of course, the row is too long from Crab Cay, so Greg finally tuned up the outboard and attached it to the stern of our dinghy, Fever. With empty water jugs, Fever and Greg motored away towards Lake Victoria.
Many hours later they returned. Greg was soaking wet, our dry bag was soaked inside and out, and the water jugs were empty. Greg and Fever made it into Lake Victoria without much trouble and got the water, but with the extra weight, the rough waves and current swamped the boat on his way out. He was forced to empty all of the jugs in order to make it back to Blue Wing.
The next morning we moved Blue Wing as close as we could get to George Town in the anchorage at Kidd’s Cove. Greg took Fever at the regatta dock to avoid going through the tunnel. Most of the day was spent dinking back and forth with half full jugs of water (Greg now had to haul the jugs across land instead of dinking right up to the dock). Our last trip was for the rum. We arrived back at Blue Wing with just enough time to motor back to Crab Cay right before sunset, mission finally accomplished.
Go through an inlet
An inlet is a narrow passage of water between two bodies of land. Generally this passage leads from calm protected waters to deep open water. The best time to traverse an inlet is at slack tide, which is either low tide or high tide when the current is temporarily slowed down and halted as it changes direction. This is easiest to do when you are making the transit from the shallow, lee side of the inlet, where you can just drop your anchor and wait for the tide to slacken. But when you are crossing from deep open water, often there is no choice but to go through the inlet when you get there, no matter what the tide.
From George Town we sailed up Exuma Sound (deep open water) to Cave Cay. When we arrived at the inlet late in the afternoon, the current was at half tide flowing out, opposing the wind, which was coming from the southeast. I motored up and headed for the first waypoint on my GPS into the cut. Blue Wing pitched over a wave, but I held the helm steady. The heading on my GPS no longer showed us going to the waypoint. I corrected course and looked up to see the jagged coastline of Cave Cay. It could have been current pushing us or maybe the GPS couldn’t keep up as we heaved over waves, but my visual and the electronics weren’t agreeing. The current is a strong, nasty, terrible, pushy beast and it is hard to know what the right thing is to do when you are physically straining at the helm to steer and mostly terrified. But I wouldn’t ever go through an inlet without a GPS as it usually has a much better idea about where we are going than I do. So I trusted the electronics, kept my cool, and kept steering towards the way point until my visual and the GPS started to agree again, the water became calmer, I could see the other side, and could breath once more.
Sit out a westerly at Black Point
About every week or so during the winter in the Bahamas we experience cold fronts. I could bore you with the technical weatherly definition of what a cold front is, but I would rather just tell you what a cold front means to us: west wind. Prevailing winds are from the east and the Bahamas are conveniently arranged so that so that most of the islands and smaller cays provide adequate protection to keep these east blowing winds from churning up big waves and knocking all the boats about. Unfortunately, there isn’t lots of protection from west wind.
After we finally made it Black Point, we had much laundry, cleaning and cooking to do in anticipation of Karen’s visit. Monday we heard that a cold front was coming through the area on Thursday. Everyone in the Laundromat was talking about leaving the next day to find protection from the wind. We wouldn’t be ready to go anywhere until Wednesday and I figured all the good spots would be taken by then.
On Tuesday we went to happy hour and met some other sailors who were going to stick out in Black Point. The west wind wasn’t supposed to start until Thursday morning and would clock around to the north by evening. At least the misery would only be during the day and we would get to sleep. We decide to stay.
Thursday, about 3 in the morning (about 4 hours earlier than expected) the wind started blowing out of the southwest and lingered there for most of the day. There were about 12 boats in the harbor at any given time, yawing back and forth, heaving to and fro. A few boats left and amazingly a few boats arrived. We watch a sloop enter the harbor and motor back and forth through the anchorage, its rail dipping below the water several times until finally a spot was chosen and its hook dropped. Another boat came in and anchored near shore. Immediately 4 people piled in a dinghy and headed to the beach. Only two returned to the boat, vacation ended just a bit early for their guests.
I stayed horizontal for most of the day. I ate very little until it was time to watch our nightly ‘sode on the computer. I devoured half a bowl of popcorn and felt like I would be sick. It was dark when the wind clocked to the northwest. It didn’t start blowing north until the morning when the water started to calm down. After 30 hours of west wind we were completely beat up. It was Valentine’s Day by then. Greg made me a bowl of grits and rowed me to shore so I could sit on the reassuringly steadfast dirt.
The reality is…
We will most definitely go through an inlet again. Not all inlet transits are as bad as our trip through the Cave Cay cut and we will have to go through an inlet to get back to Florida, although Florida inlets have their own set of terrifying hazards called weekend power boaters. George Town is not completely out of the question, but if we can get our water and rum someplace else, it just doesn’t have much of an appeal for us. But when a westerly blows through we are going squeeze in with all the other chickens (smart boaters) and find a really big rock to hide behind.