Well, we’ve been in Elizabeth Harbour for the past 11 nights. And, with guests arriving and departing from here next week, it looks like we’ll be here for quite a few more nights to come.
George Town is cruiser central. Currently, with the Annual Cruiser Regatta underway, there are over 300 cruisers anchored in the harbour. Every day, there are a number of regatta events to choose from. Yesterday was the softball tournament. Two days ago was the Coconut Challenge in which Spartina and 30 other dinghies competed to collect the most coconuts.
For the Challenge, each dinghy had four sailors using only scuba fins for oars. Hundreds of coconuts were dropped into the water, and then the whistle was blown, and we all scrambled around a little bay trying to collect the most coconuts. We are proud to report that, out of 30 boats, we and our friends from Sea Dragoness collected 22 coconuts, giving us the proud finish of not-quite-last-place! There are also volleyball tournaments, trivia nights, poker runs, talent shows and, of course, sailing races to come.
Every morning starts with the cruisers net. On channel 72 at 8 am, the day’s festivities are announced, along with hellos and good-byes from boats travelling, and, most importantly, the buy/trade/help segment where boaters can find a part they need or get help with a repair that’s vexing them. It’s an extremely valuable resource in a harbour like this.
Elizabeth Harbour is about a mile wide. It’s divided into a fun side and a functional side. On the east side, in the lee of Stocking Island, Spartan and 300 other boats are anchored. It’s party central. Chat and Chill is a beach bar on a spit of land that is the hub for all cruising activities. Stocking Island also has enough beaches on both the Atlantic and western side to assure you can always find a beach to hang out with friends or even have a whole beach to yourself. But what you won’t find on Stocking Island are groceries, water, fuel, laundry or garbage disposal. For any of those things, you need to make the 1-2 mile trek across to “Lake” Elizabeth – the functional side of the harbour.
On an average day, the average dinghy can make it to Lake Elizabeth in about 10 minutes, in relative comfort. However, our dingy, Spartina, is not the average dinghy. Spartina is smaller than most dinghies. She sits lower in the water than most dinghies. She holds less weight than most dinghies. And, her maximum power is about 1/8th the power of most dinghies. So, even on an average day, Spartina is not a very comfortable way to get to town. And since we’ve arrived, there have been few average days.
The regulars here are telling me that the winds are higher than normal for this time of year. No doubt! An endless array of low pressure systems have been passing through this part of the world, leaving us with high winds and cool temperatures much of the time. The sound of wind surging through our rigging is relentless. Today, on Spartan – which is somewhat tucked into the lee of a hill that is 18m high – the winds are averaging 20kts. Yesterday, at 15kts, they were still too high for us to get to town. The day before they were bit lighter, but coming out of the south, which gave the harbour plenty of room to build up enough waves to keep us on the fun side of the harbour and away from the functional side. We’re getting low on water and fresh food, and high on laundry and garbage.
In winds like this, just stepping into the dingy means you’re going to get wet. Getting wet, of course, means getting your clothes covered in salt. Because of these conditions, we’ve implemented a new clothing regime. We have inside clothes and outside clothes. And since our fresh water supply is diminishing, we can’t really afford to rinse them thoroughly every day. So, each night, we put our salty clothes out and hope for some overnight rain to wash away the salt. So far, each night has delivered some rain, but usually only enough to spritz the deck, leaving our clothes wet but not rinsed.
There are alternatives to just waiting for better winds, of course. There’s a water taxi we can take to shore. For two people, that would cost $30. We can also pick up our anchor and move our boat to the west side of the harbour for the day and return to the east side before dark. The water is a bit shallower over there, and the fetch would be up, so some care would be required. But the main reason we’ve been avoiding this approach is that with 300 other boats clustered along the lee shore, we don’t really feel like moving. It’s pretty cosy here, and the anchoring room is a bit tight. We’d need to find a new spot, and then watch closely each time the wind clocks to a new direction. It’s doable, but not fun.
When the winds do abate, Spartan and every other boat without a water maker will parade into Elizabeth Lake to line up for water and laundry services. The grocery store in town offers free fresh water to visiting dinghies. Nice! But on the rare, calm days, waiting in line for water can easily take more than an hour. I’m not sure about the laundry yet, but I imagine it’s much the same.
Throughout much of the Exumas, if you’re not happy with where you are, you can be somewhere new in 10-15 miles or less. But George Town is a bit more of a commitment. You’re further from wherever your next destination might be. You’re in a shipping harbour rather than a quiet little bay, so you are exposed to more weather. And, in this harbour, there’s more distance between your boat and the turn dinghy dock.
With it’s large community of boaters, I can see why George Town would a great place for kids to be. I can also see why it’s a great last stop before heading further south into the remoter Bahamian islands or further still, and a good place to pick up visitors. It also seems like a great place for retirees to enjoy a simple life that offers warmth, beauty, companionship, easy airport access and comfort – particularly if you get one of the long-term mooring balls in the harbour’s hurricane holes. But if I was coming back to the Exumas, and none of these criteria applied, I think I’d skip the extra miles and enjoy more time in the rest of the Exumas where it’s easier to get to a quiet anchorage, easier to provision and easier to enjoy the natural beauty of the Exumas’ undersea worlds.