Tag Archives: Igor

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.

Dinghy Envy

When we started in Fort Lauderdale back in November, I viewed those boats with huge tenders  equipped with massive engines hanging on their davits as having something vaguely wrong with them. You have a sailing yacht. The operative word is “sailing”. Why would you need some whizz bang rubber boat? Just a bit of showing off really, isn’t it?

A few months on, I now see exactly where their owners are coming from.

Around Scotland, the UK South Coast and all the places I have sailed before, the wee rubber dinghy with a 2 or 3.5hp engine is enough as you trail over to the pub from that nice anchorage just off.   Puilladobhrain springs to mind just S of Oban in Scotland (if you haven’t been there – google it – beautiful).  A lot of the time you can tie alongside, sit close to civilisation on a mooring or maybe that nice water taxi will come and pick you up for you night time libations. Even Tobermory had that, at least for Army yachts as the harbour master there was an ex Gosport man and he liked to catch up on the chat.

Here we anchor pretty much every night……….

What we have
What we have

So let’s look at my fine dinghy. An 8 ft hard bottomed inflatable APEX dinghy with our new 5hp engine. A bit beaten up, a bit heavy compared with newer types and old,  patched so much so it probably wouldn’t be looked at as a targeted steal, but functional.  Good enough for the four of us and room for the odd bag too.  I was pretty happy when I bought the 5hp in Nassau.  Bigger than most dinghies have back in the UK and I got a good deal on it too.  Perfect, thought I.

Or maybe not….

The Caribbean is not like any other sailing area I have been to. Come to the Caribbean and you suddenly find that the places you anchor can be a long, long way from where you need to land at. And as we have moved down the Bahamas, we have seen longer and longer rides.  Take our last stop at Georgetown and Elizabeth Harbour. The anchorage is over 3 miles long and as most boats anchor on the East side of the bay, it leaves you over a mile to get to Georgetown itself.  Takes a while to travel that distance at a walking pace  which is the best I can do with all of us in it. That is, as long as the current isn’t against you which is when you suddenly realise that you are moving backwards….

You also need to take into account that constant wind thing here. It is rare that there isn’t 15-20 knots with the associated fetch around, night or day and as we go further South into the Caribbean, the Trade winds will grow. No big deal if you are going across a sheltered UK anchorage. Sheltered here can mean an anchorage with a 3 ft fetch which is short and sharp. Bit different.  It has been a bit cheeky sometimes just getting in to the dinghy.

I’ve also needed a change of perspective as well. No longer am I a weekend sailor happy with the safe anchorages and moorings with the pub close by. We are liveaboards and we go to the middle of nowhere on a regular basis, just because we can.  We have quickly realised that as liveaboards, the dinghy is your workhorse. It allows you to travel away from the often limited safe anchorage sites to interesting islands close by, to trawl safely in the windward deep water at the edge of the reef when you have folk snorkelling and spearfishing and to carry those spare water/fuel cans you need filled (trust me two or three 6 gallon cans weigh a lot) in to harbour. And you need to do this safely and quickly to cover the distances you often need to do.

An appropriately sized and powered dinghy really is a necessity, not a luxury.

So what is the typical dinghy here? From what we have seen (and we have seen hundreds)  it is  10-12ft long, inflatable but with a hard bottom, needed because of the risk of coral ripping the bottom and so it can lifted to davits. Power wise the average engine is around the 15hp mark. You very rarely see less than 10hp but 20hp is common too. This combination gives you enough power to get on the plane with 4 adults on board (ie us, the kids and associated junk that goes with us) and enough length to bridge the short seas and travel safely at speed.

The most spectacular tender we have seen was at Big Majors Spot, where someone had a 36 foot catamaran and had a 21ft tender, centre cockpit and bimini, with a 50hp on the back, dragged between the hulls on a home made harness. The only person we have seen with a smaller dinghy than us is our mate Igor, who has a sailing dinghy. But he sensibly hitches lifts if he is going anywhere far and you have seen photos of us pulling him back to his boat through some hard current he couldn’t row through. Strangely, he too is on the look out for an “upgrade”.

What Hannah would like!
What Hannah would like!

Back to our reality. Our normal speed is that of a fast walking pace with all of us on board as the engine just isn’t strong enough to get us on the plane. I can’t do anything about the splashes from the short chop or the associated abuse from Lou for “parking too far away” as she gets another bucket of water over her (sorry, love –  it really isn’t deliberate) as we are too short to do anything other than go up and down over each and every wave.

And I have to suffer the indignity of having friends coming back to take some of my load so we can get on quicker to our destination. A 3 minute journey for them = 15mins for me. Taia, ( 2 adults and 5 kids on board) bless them, came back to whizz past me three times just so the girls could wave at me going put put to the beach…. Ernesto, I may forgive you eventually…..

The girls are in on it too. “Daddy, would you be able to buy a bigger engine if we broke this one?” asks Hannah innocently . I am feeling ganged up on.

Having seen a couple of these collapsible “unsinkable” boats and having been given very positive reviews, I am quite keen to explore either the 10 or 12ft variants as an option too. Very light and they fold flat to pack away.

A Folding boat
A Folding boat

I have to admit, adding weight with a bigger dinghy to the davits worries me. We have issues trying to protect the dinghy from rubbing on the davits and the davits with the solar panels and current dinghy are very near to their max allowable weight as well.

Ah well, for at least the next wee while, our dinghy will have to do. But if a good deal can be had and I can find something that my davits can take, we may just see something a little bigger appearing on the back of Skylark…….

Watch this space ……

Big Major’s Spot – Home of the Swimming Pigs

We left Exuma Park with a short hop from Cambridge Cay, across the cut to the top of Compass Cay.  One of the recommended stops had been ‘Rachel’s Bubble Bath’ at the top of the Cay – I have no idea who Rachel is but we decided to drop the anchor and go and have a look.  A short walk took us to a rocky coastline where the sea came rushing in through a cut in the rocks.  The girls had a great time avoiding the waves and then climbing the surrounding rocks.  Yet another great opportunity to get them off the boat and tire them out with plenty of exercise.

From there we motored a couple of miles south and anchored for the night at Pipe Cay – again a recommended spot.  It was extremely sheltered and really scenic but we found that there was nowhere to take the dinghy ashore and there was absolutely no marine life, so nothing exciting to see whilst snorkelling.  What we did see was several empty beer bottles and an old ladder, and that is it.  As a result we decided to move onto Big Major’s Spot the following morning.

Having safely arrived and dropped anchor, I decided to take a look round the boat.  I was just about to call the girls out and tell them there was a very large ray by the boat, when I looked again and realised it was a shark!!  It was a nurse shark (which, I now know, is pretty safe) and about six feet long, who had a good nosey at our boat before swimming off.  With lots of other boats anchored in the bay and plenty of people in the water, I figured it was still safe for a swim so we all cooled off with a dip.  See how my confidence with marine life has grown?  I have never seen Hannah’s little legs kick so quickly when the shark made a surprise reappearance from under the hull just as she jumped in.

Up until now we had only seen one other boat with kids on in Nassau.  We kept being told that we would meet lots of boat kids on our travels but we were getting to the point where the girls were growing impatient.  Well, we had been anchored for less than an hour and we had visitors – the crew from Taia, that included nine year old Camila and six year old Matias, came to say hello.  The girls were so excited and we arranged to meet on the beach later.

Big Major’s Spot is famous for its swimming pigs so a visit here would not be complete without a trip ashore to see them.  We had been warned that they would try to get in your dinghy if they could smell food, so I wrapped up the sacrificial carrots extremely well.  I really didn’t fancy a punctured dinghy – or a pig as company for that matter!  The pigs were not shy and they knew what they wanted; once the food was gone, so was their interest in us.  Hannah thought the piglets were very sweet and spent the time following them around.  I just had to warn her to beware of protective mothers.  We would have stayed longer but the ‘no-see-ums’ were out in force and we were proving to be a very tasty dinner so we headed off to douse ourselves in Skin So Soft.

Further north from the pig beach, there is another beautiful beach, these days known as “Bill’s Beach”, that has been taken over by a group of Canadian regulars who spend their winters in the bay on their Hatteras motor cruisers.  Every year  for more than 20 years they bring down various items of garden furniture, BBQs and beach games.  They have also built benches and produced decorations out of driftwood and other flotsam and jetsam.  They are very welcoming to visitors so we headed across to meet the crew from Taia and enjoy a playdate/sundowner and great conversation with several other cruising crews.

The following morning we headed round the point at low tide to go snorkelling in ‘Thunderball Grotto’, which is yet another location from the film.  Apparently Sean Connery sits inside the grotto awaiting a helicopter rescue – we have yet to watch the film to see if we can spot the scene.  Myron and Dena from Holdfast, who we had met the previous evening, very kindly offered to help us with our ‘load’.  Yes, they had a big dinghy and a big engine (it’s all about the horsepower

), but we really appreciated the lift and got round to the grotto a lot quicker and a lot drier than otherwise would have been the case.  The snorkelling really was great!  Dena had brought some crackers to feed the fish with so they were immediately attracted by the food and we had so many of them around us, much to the girls’ excitement.  There was so much marine life and the water was really clear so we got some great photos, with Eleanor yelling the names of the fish through her snorkel – her hours pouring over the fish books have obviously not been in vain.  Eleanor and Stewart had great fun exiting the grotto several times through the three underwater holes.

We headed into Staniel Cay from there and bumped into our old friend Igor, who was anchored in close to the harbour for easy access with his rowing boat!  He seemed to be enjoying the buzz of the town and the marina after several weeks of solo sailing through the quiet Exuma Cays.  Staniel Cay really does cater to the mega yachts that pass through and we saw several crews clearing out the local shops of milk and fresh fruit and veg.  The marina does not have any shower facilities – we were certainly not checking in – but we enjoyed a cold beer in their very nice bar.