Tag Archives: Georgetown

Georgetown to BVI

I know its raining but no, you can't come in! Lou in another squall.
I know its raining but no, you can’t come in! Lou in another squall.
Arrival in the BVI - the last 20 miles can be enjoyed
Arrival in the BVI – the last 20 miles can be enjoyed

There is a little of an overlap in this post as I think Lou will cover our few days stay in San Salvador as a separate post. However, the purpose of this post is to write up the passage between Georgetown and BVI, the longest passage we will do this year and the longest that Lou and the girls have done.

The passage to the BVI from the Bahamas is done in two ways and as I have explained in the selection of the route, we choose to do the direct route which required us to push out E well in to the Atlantic Ocean, bypassing all the other interesting places we could have stopped at such as the Turks and Caicos Islands, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

The trip measures about 800Nm, a little less on the rhomb line (the shortest line between any two points on the Earth’s surface) but this course is near impossible and the offshore route is normally done by heading E to the 65W longitude line then heading directly S to the BVI to “get around” the normal trade winds which come from the SE. It is otherwise known as the I-65.

We provisioned up in Georgetown and then took an overnight jump to San Salvador to get a little easting out of the way to wait for the main front that we needed to push across towards eastwards.

The marina at San Salvador isn’t great. It was an expensive investment by a family that own a small hotel a little up the road which hasn’t quite worked out. I had a good chat with the youngest son in the family who was running the bar. They had hoped to bring sailors out to San Salvador. The difficulty, whilst there is fantastic diving opportunities, there are no safe anchorages around the island unless it is a flat calm and the island is 50 miles offshore. Most people bypass it either heading S towards the Turks or keep closer to the main islands to the W.

The unmanned harbour is now the home of four fishing boats that service the Club Med resort on the island and a couple of dive boats. Whoever did the harbour design didn’t take into account the surge that the harbour experiences from the N and W and whilst they have added 100m of breakwater boulders it hasn’t made a huge amount of difference. Any kind of sea running from those directions, it is a lumpy and noisy ride inside the harbour.

We did meet some interesting people at San Salvador. We had Jim, an American who was about to fly back to the USA, and Eric and Jen, the couple who were going to sail the boat back for him.

Eric and Jen were a lovely couple. Eric bought his yacht, a 29’ sloop at the age of 19 and has been a liveaboard ever since, working when he needs to build up the funds and sailing when he has the readies. Jen is another free spirit. The pair of them put up with our small people hero worship wonderfully. H came away with a couple of dresses from Jen and E was paid for some hair braids she did for Eric with a kite. Great fun!

Having spent our time usefully catching up on email, blog and lots of cooking of premade meals that would just need reheated, the weather eventually started to turn with the wind looking to move into the SE as the start of the front came through. We pushed off on the 9th Feb in about 20kts of wind and headed around the S tip of the island.

The next two days were lumpy to say the least. Although the wind had turned, the seas that had built up with the E wind were unpleasantly large and short. Skylark is great off the wind but struggles (as most cats do) going to windward. We were having to head far further S than I wanted or expected but with no real options that was what we had to do. The girls spent most of their time conserving energy and reading. It wasn’t much fun for them but they were stoic about it and made Lou and I’s life as easy as they could, which was much appreciated.

A note on our watch system.  We used a three on, three off for dark o’clock hours, mixed with 4hr stags which were more manageable during the day. If there was trouble or a sail change was needed it was all hands on deck.








It meant that ever 2nd day you would get the chance in daylight hours of some decent sleep. It actually worked pretty well for us and although we were tired when we reached the BVI’s, we weren’t exhausted.

Over this first period the wave changed from big E sea to mixed rubbish, then to the W sea that I’d hoped for. The waves were steep and short. With the wind gusting 30+ knots at times it was exhilarating sailing but sometimes a bit too much. We got faster and faster as the waves built up and occasionally decided to take us with them. We also spoke to another yacht “That’s Life” who were heading to Puerto Rico and compared notes and strategies. With no planning or coordination at all, we were to stay in contact with them by VHF for the next 4 days. One of the crew, a long term immigrant to the US, was from Dunfermline. It’s a small world.

By this time we had a v small jib flying out but were still managing 7-8kts. Our surfing speed maxed out at 16.9kts. Scared the willies out of us.

The 12th and 13th gave us two days of slowly weakening wind, the mainsail finally saw the light of day again and we had the fishing lines back out, catching a Mahi Mahi which fed us a couple of days.

We also had some surprising visitors. Whilst I have seen plenty of dolphin play around boats I have been on, I have never had two whales turn up and play the same tricks. First I knew about them was one of them surfacing 5m from the boat and exhaling. It was pretty big – somewhere between 20-30 feet. They spent about 30 mins around us, riding the waves just behind us, charging past us and generally looking as if they were having fun staying close to the boat.

On the 13th as the wind died to nothing, we had one of the engines on most of the day just to keep us moving. We had reached the 66W line but still had 120 miles to go before we could safely turn S to reach the BVIs. The 14th was filled with squalls and rain, giving the boat a good fresh water flush but meaning that the sails were up and down a fair bit. The rain at times was spectacularly heavy.

The forecast that we were getting from my father, sent out daily on the Delorme InReach by text message suggested that the wind would hold up long enough to allow us to push SE direct for the islands.

A comment on weather forecasts here.

In the Bahamas, we learned quickly that you simply could not trust a forecast any more than 48hrs ahead and frankly you were sensible to be suspicious any more than 24hrs.

Whilst the forecast passed on by Dad was generally grossly accurate, we experienced far more wind than forecast (generally by 5-10kts) and the trending that we had to rely on for the last couple of days was wildly wrong. At one point the forecast E trending SE was a W. Confusing how a super computer can be so wrong.

Once we were about 50 miles off the BVIs we decided we had fought the wind enough and the engine went back on to take us in to Jost Van Dyke, our closest port of entry which we thought we could just reach before last light.

After six days at sea, Lou’s cry of “Land Ho” on the morning of the 15th was wildly celebrated. The BVIs are completely different from the Bahamas where you would be lucky to spot an island any more than 5 miles off, so flat are they. The BVI hills are high and we spotted Jost over 20 miles away.

Just to help us in, the wind decided to wander into the W for our last few hours. We rounded the W end of Joest and anchored in Great Harbour with an hour of light left.

We cleared in the next morning at the small police station come immigration/customs office. The main street on Jost remains a sand track which was delightful. The island finally got electricity 20 years but it still has a very relaxed feel about the place. We celebrated our arrival with our first “painkiller” rum cocktail at Foxy’s, one of the bars of the Caribbean. It went down well.

Departed San Salvador                  090745Feb15

Arrived Jost Van Dyke                    151705Feb15

Total Time                                      6 days 9 hours 20 mins

Total Distance                                749Nm

Av speed                                        4.88kts

p.s Our friends Eric and Jen who were delivering a yacht back to the US had a more difficult trip. With a complete electrical failure and a front coming through on them with gale force wind, they were only able to get as far as Staniel Cay, half way up the Exumas before they had to stop for repairs. They are currently heading back to their own boat at San Salvador having managed to hitch a lift there with another sailing couple.

Georgetown, S Bahamas

We had decided to get down to Georgetown before Eleanor’s birthday so we could hopefully find some kids for the girls to meet up with. With the last real contact with kids being their cousins who left at Xmas, other than one girl we met briefly at Warderick Wellsand the kids from Taia one morning at Big Majors, they were in need to find some their own age.

We left Little Farmers Cay and pushed out on the turn of the tide through the rip that is similar to all the Cuts out into the deep ocean. There were standing waves, a fair amount of bounce and it all got exciting for a moment or two but then we were out with the wind just behind our beam and we were screaming down towards the S.

We hit 11.5 knots at one point, certainly the quickest we have been so far, proving that the boat can pick up her skirts if the wind and waves allow her. Great  fun. We then had success number two for the day when, finally, just as we got ready to turn into Elizabeth Harbour, we hooked and caught a Mahi Mahi, locally known as Dolphin. Weight wise it was about 10lbs. After we got ourselves through into the protection of the harbour mouth, it was gutted and filleted.  Good eating guaranteed for the next couple of days!

To give you an understanding of the importance of Georgetown, it is the largest and best collection of anchorages anywhere in the Exumas, certainly in the whole of the Bahamas and probably for 1000 miles. It has both hurricane holes (rarer than you would think) and anchorages giving shelter from all points of the compass. It is the largest town (pop about 1000) and is the capital of the Exuma district. It is the last safe port in South Bahamas before you leave South, either for Turks and Caicos, Dominican Republic or Cuba and for us South West to the BVI.

Its other name is Chicken Harbour because of the number of people who reach there with the intent to travel on but just don’t quite escape its charms!

Most of the yachtie visitors are from the US and many are return visitors (one visitor we met arrived in 1986 and has been back every year), enjoying the winter season in the sun before running back into the US at the start of hurricane season. However, we met lots of Canadians, Aussies, New Zealanders, Brits, Germans, French, S African, Danish, Argentinian……. the population truly is an international one.

More importantly for us, it is the yachtie community in the Bahamas with numbers annually of up to 400-500 yachts anchoring.

We knew that there were a sizable number of yachts in the harbour and we had fun trying to count them as we sailed up towards our chosen anchoring spot at Sand Dollar Beach. We got to just over 200 (by the time we left some two and a half weeks later the number was over 300). We chose a spot a little off the beach and out of the crowd in 15ft of water. An easy drop and with good holding, we had arrived.

There are four main anchorages and several other smaller less used ones. The main sites

The Holes at Stocking Island. Home to those more permanently stationed boats and these days, pretty much all moorings. Good hurricane holes.

Volleyball Beach and the Chat n Chill bar. Crowded to the point of madness and the party place. In the short time we were in Elizabeth harbour there were three major incidents of people hitting other yachts because of either too much or too little rode and frankly, plain stupidity. Yachts at times were less than a boat length apart. Saying that, you didn’t need to travel far to the happening beach where most of the yachtie activities were organised.

Sand Dollar about half a mile to the S of Volleyball. Less crowded, excellent holding in the main and where folk gave each other a bit more room.

And lastly Monument to the N of Volleyball.  Another popular spot which becomes crowded quickly.

I could go on but I could also say that pretty much anywhere inside Elizabeth Harbour could be used for anchoring. It is rarely more than 20ft deep, more often like 10-15, with good holding. We spent most of our time at Sand Dollar less a couple of nights off Georgetown (shopping and doing the “Georgetown shuffle”, moving to a better anchorage for a change in the wind direction) and one day, our last, off Volleyball.

The folk of Georgetown yachting community are an interesting crowd. We met young families with real smalls on board, the youngest just about to have his first birthday when we left and families with similar aspirations to us. There were the single handers looking nervous in company and the majority, the old and bold who, in their retirement, were simply living the life and having fun in the sun. I’d say the average age of the folk on the beach would be 60+ with one of the keenest volleyball players in his late 70’s. A great crowd who gossiped quietly, knew everyone else’s problems (and tried to sort them out) and is one of the happiest collection of people I have had the pleasure to meet.  They get on, endlessly boat hop for chats and meals and they all look out for each other. Certainly for the older members of the population, I can think of far worse places to live. Frankly, any town on land….

The day started every day at 0800 with Sue from Wind Dancer, our compere on the community net kicking things off, going through weather, the calls from local businesses, those needing help, community announcements, the buy, sell or giveaway and then the meet and greet for the newcomers. There were plenty of those in our two and a half week stay. It generally took about 40 minutes.

I will say that a lot of our time in Georgetown was a bit “groundhoggish”. Up, radio net, chat to a few friends or someone who was offering something I needed, school and then onto Volleyball Beach to meet up with a crowd of kids for them to run each other ragged, some volleyball for me and a sit and chat for Lou. We might for a change go to the beach on the E side of the island where the big seas are for some body boarding. We didn’t join the daily yoga…..

Not so bad a life.

There were also lots of weekly events. We decided we had to at least go once to Church on the Beach one Sunday. A good crowd and the baking provided for snacks afterwards was great.

There was the weekly stampede to the market (not quite a supermarket but nearly!) when the boat came in with the weekly dose of fresh fruit and veg, generally on a Tuesday. Not too bad a selection but expensive.

Chat n Chill had just started a weekly dance night and BBQ – great fun even if it did look as if there was an extraordinary amount of daddy dancing going on!

The rake and scrape on a Monday at Eddies. Proper Bahamian music. Pretty wild.

Although we managed it only once, there was Brownies for the girls on a Wednesday at the school in Georgetown. The local girls all wear the proper Brownie uniform I remember my sisters wearing!

We didn’t have the nerve to join in with the very competitive poker nights arranged at the St Francis resort…..

I could go on for some time about the great people we have met here. For the kids, the main three boats were Taia, Paisley and Lost Horizons. Whilst Paisley and Lost Horizons have headed back N towards the US, we hope that we will see Taia again in the BVIs.  Also a mention for Kingsley from About Time who looked after everyones wee ones wonderfully.

For the grown ups (and kids), Myron and Dena from Hold Fast. A lovely couple who we first met at Thunderball Grotto and who I’d love to met up with again. IGOR and his mobile chandlery, otherwise known as S/V Von Dutch! Can’t get away from the man.

And some new friends.  The wonderful Jillian, a long time Brit visitor to Georgetown who knew everyone and gave us some very good introductions.

JD and his daughter Tiffany on Seahorse who are just getting in to sailing but who both have huge heart and had made it to Georgetown in their first season of sailing. They are good people. Tiffany is off back to college in the autumn but JD will sail on.

Whilst we could see why people could get stuck in Georgetown,  we had the motivation of our restricted timetable to move on. Having managed to equip ourselves with some guidebooks for the rest of the Caribbean from some folk going N, we decided to that we had to get on. Couldn’t be late for the Mother in Law (note capitals, Joyce, I know your importance!) arrival in BVI, now could we??

We will step out to San Salvador to allow us to cut the distance we need to go E by about 90 miles and wait for the right window for us to get going. We still need about 600 miles before we head S! All up about 900 miles. We will plan for about a week; hopefully it will take us less.

I thoroughly enjoyed our time here in Georgetown and the friendliness of the people, both locals and the yachties. Perhaps in a few years we will be more of a mind to enjoy a season here.  Maybe after we retire properly and the kids have flown……..

I always felt I was quite good at Volleyball but I may need some more practice. Incentive enough to return I feel.

PS More photos to follow once we get one of the damn cameras to accept download instructions.