Where is George Town, you ask? It's at the southern end of the Exuma chain of islands, about 130 miles southeast of Nassau. And Nassau is about 120 miles ESE of Miami, FL. We were coming from the southeast and heading northwest to George Town, then to Nassau, then continuing northwest to Palm Beach, FL.
We cleared in on the morning of the ninth without a problem. As with last year we had to pay $150 for a 12-month visa and a 3-month cruising permit. We saw Jack of s/v Zeiggy on the dinghy dock in the morning and unfortunately that was to be the last time we saw him. We went back to Galena for lunch and then back to town to call our daughter, Michelle. As we came to the bridge that leads to the dinghy dock we noticed that some nuts were shouting at us from the road overhead. It was John and Cooper! They diverted s/v Dyveshka to George Town when the water tanks sprung a leak. The boat was going to stay here until they could make some serious repairs. But John and Cooper were going home.
On the morning of the 11th John came by to ask me to help him move his boat to the marina. During the night he had drug about ¼-mile down the harbor. He was lucky he hadn't hit anyone. He drove and I crewed and we went over to the marina and put s/v Dyveshka on a bulkhead dock. A 60-foot sailboat is a hell-of-a-lot bigger than a 32-footer! A couple of days later, with Jane's help, we would move it into a slip. John was a little pissed about having to hang around and wanted some company. Jane was still not feeling well (her sore back had turned into a pinched sciatic nerve). So John and I went drinking. I'm not sure how I made it back to Galena.
Downtown George Town hasn't changed much. Jane still likes to visit the Straw Market where the ladies sit and make baskets and there's every kind of tee shirt you can imagine.
Straw market in George Town
We did, however walk over to the ocean side of Stocking Island (the barrier island forming George Town harbor). It took a few minutes to find the path but we finally made it and strolled the beaches and around the rocks. Most of the north shore is not beach, though, and is hard to get to.
The north shore of Stocking Island
On the 11th the local police boat went over to Hamburger Beach and started inspecting boats for proper clearance paperwork. They also went through lockers and did a mild search of the boats they boarded. According to the radio traffic they were not missing anyone and were making a very thorough sweep. They even chased down a boat that was heading out of the harbor. One cruiser said he saw them enter and search boats where the cruisers had gone ashore (no one locks up their boats here). About 1700 hrs I saw the police boat heading into the town marina with about 9 very unhappy looking cruisers. It seems that some of them hadn't cleared customs (the fee is up to $300 for a boat over 35-ft) or had made some other mistake. After dropping them off on the dock the police boat went back to Hamburger Beach to take up where it left off. A couple of days later I was sitting in the Chat ‘n Chill and the police action came up. K.B., the owner said they do that occasionally but it's usually a cover for some tip. That is, they were going after a particular boat but they inspected a few along the way to make it look like a random search. Well, their net caught a few others this time.
19-20 March 2006
George Town, Exumas, Bahamas
We met and visited with Mike and Carol (m/v Midnight Sun). They and their two dogs were vacationing for a few weeks in the islands. A very nice couple of folks. We saw them again at the Two Turtles bar and again in the cab when we took Jane to the airport. I bumped into them later that week at the bar at the Peace and Plenty after they returned from the states.
It was the week of the Great George Town Flag Controversy. Pedro, of Pedro's Conch Shack, had it pointed out on the Cruiser's Net that the Bahamian flag must be the highest flag on the vessel and those of us who had a US flag (usually on the backstay) that was higher were insulting the Islands. I didn't hear the original discussion but Pedro stopped by Galena one morning and started yelling at me to lower my US flag. I didn't agree with his interpretation of the rules so he threatened to, as a member of the Bahamian Royal Defense Force board my boat and correct the problem himself. So I told him I would take care of it. As he left, I took down the Bahamian courtesy flag. He came back an hour latter and we had more words. I realized that I was being childish, so after he left I put the US flag only as high as the courtesy flag and tried to calm down. The next day, at the Chat ‘n Chill I bought him a beer and we shook hands and were buddies again. Other cruisers were vocally upset with the ‘new rules' and radio traffic for the next few mornings had some lively discussions. Everyone involved in the discussions had their own favorite “source” for the rules and their own interpretations. But most cruisers said “It's their country, just try to get along.” I don't think the questions of where to put the US flag (and how high it can be) were ever actually resolved.
20-22 March 2006
George Town, Exumas, Bahamas
For Jane's birthday we checked into the Peace and Plenty hotel/resort. The place is a bit pricey for what it is: $430 for 2 nights, dinner was $65. The room was small, open (no windows just slats) and not all that clean. But they had hot showers and a big bed. It was a good place to relax for a couple days. One problem was that there was no way to secure the door to the room from the inside. Twice the maid walked in while Jane was in the shower and I was standing there in the buff.
The Peace and Plenty Hotel
One of the highlights was that we met Peter and Marguerite Frisk. They were from Sweden and had visited George Town every year for over a decade. Peter and I had a great deal in common philosophically and had many a lively conversation.
I'm seeing a lot of boats that I remember from last year. That is, I remember the boat names. Most of the people we didn't meet. There are get-together's on the beach each day, and little parties each week. But Jane and I don't attend them.
23 March – 1 April 2006
George Town, Exumas, Bahamas
At this time we're looking at leaving GT sometime in the next few days. We moved from Kidd Cove to Volleyball Beach. We ended up a little too close to a large catamaran (s/v Lioness III). Terry came over and pointed out that he was not hanging to his anchor but rather to a large loop of chain. I let out more rope to let us swing around each other. But at about 0200 he was asking us to let out more because the wind was clocking and building and we were getting too close. I let out all 180 feet of chain and we ended up about 60 feet off his stern. He was happy and we all went back to bed.
I went over to talk with Terry (s/v Lioness) and we had a couple of beers. We have a lot in common. But he thought I was crazy for being debt-free. He said he was in debt to the tune of $2 million. And that was the best way to make money. He owns (sort of) 10 homes and is living off the rent. He counseled me to do the same. I don't know.
Terry had more than a few disparaging comments to make about the “condominium mentality” of GT. He was bugged by a couple of comments on the morning cruiser's net. Someone was complaining about people running generators before 0900 and after 2100 which “…we used to not do and it would be nice if we could get back to that situation.” Terry's position is “If I have a problem with someone, I go and talk to them. I don't hide behind a general bitch to the community at large.”
The Cruiser's Net hasn't been fully described this year, has it? Well…
Cruisers in GT use VHF-68 for hailing and then switch to a working channel.
Each day at 0800 the Net Control for the George Town Cruiser's Net gets on VHF-72 and takes boat names of people who have an announcement to make. This is usually something like a beach party, or someone needing a part for a generator, or someone having lost a pair of glasses. That sort of thing.
Then at 0810 hrs Net Control calls each of those who checked in and lets them make their announcement. They also give the weather report for the next few days. Control also makes general announcements for the town and harbor master. Everyone is on 72 for that half hour. <![endif]>
My list of things to fix on Galena is growing. But I can rationalize putting off most of this stuff until I get back home. A lot of these cruisers live aboard. In fact I think most of them do. So their list of boat fixes have to be taken care of out here. I pity them for that. This is not a great environment to work in.
Jane's leg/back is still killing her. It's not getting any better and has me concerned. For the past few days she has alternately born it well and cried with frustration. She's having absolutely no fun and rarely leaves her berth much less the boat.
I met Mick and wife (s/v Nortada) who were heading south after visiting Cuba. They compared it to Russia in that while you can't buy a commodity (washing machine) you can get anything custom made (alternator bracket). They said when the Russians left they took all the know-how with them. They told of seeing a farmer till the soil with a horse and single-bladed plow. On the side of the field was a rusty farm tractor that was in need of repair. But, they said, even if it could be fixed, the farmer would not be able to get fuel for it. They lamented that lost production of the farmer and the country because of “The Bearded One.” They also said that once the sanctions are lifted, the people who fled to Florida will demand their property back, and that will not happen. And that will cause civil unrest and little progress for a decade or so. Interesting people to talk with.
I also met a couple of guys at the bar who described themselves as “two Jewish doctors on a boat they don't know how to sail.” Doctors? I told them about Jane's problem. They said have her do this and this. If it hurts it might be a ruptured disk and it will not get better by itself. You need an MRI. I went back to Galena and Jane did “this and this” and, yes, it hurt. So I'm convinced she has to go back home to have something done. She doesn't want to “give up” on the cruise. I said I would wait here for her to get back. We'll see.
I talked with Dave (s/v Encore) about refrigerator insulation. He said “a well-insulated icebox is the key to economical refrigeration on board.” He described the process he went through with his icebox. It sounded just like the one on Galena so I listened. He worked through the open lid and cut out the plastic liner (just like in Galena). And then removed the old foam insulation. And then he installed a vapor barrier (plastic) and a UV barrier (aluminum foil) (the UV barrier was on the outside). He was adamant that one use 2-lb foam and use spray foam to seal the hard to reach places. Then he used ¼” plywood with Formica glued to the inside to make a new liner.
I also had a long and contested discussion with Ed ( s/v Solent, wife: Nancy) about the green flash. Ed used to have a 42-ft Westsail. He contended that the green flash (and even the rarely seen blue flash) were actual events and not just a trick of the eyes as I contended. He brought support to Galena the next day. It seems that Bowditch has a chapter on it. And he's right, it's not just a trick of the eyes.
Jane had a particularly painful night on 29 March. I'm trying to convince here that she has to go home and get this looked at.
1 April and Jane has flown home to do something about her back. She wasn't enjoying it here and I didn't want her to suffer while we did nothing to make it better.
2-15 April 2006
George Town, Exumas, Bahamas
I decided to look at the engine mounts. They have always given me trouble. Galena had been recently re-powered before I bought her. That was one of the reasons I selected her. A new (just over 100 hrs) Yanmar 3GM30 diesel engine is about eight grand. But the engine was installed on the cheap. That is, the original engine mounts were rigged to take the new engine and they were not rigged properly. The result is that there is a hell of a twisting moment on the mounting bolts at the engine casting. The solution is to lift out the engine and fabricate and glass-in a proper set of logs to take the engine mounts. But that is a project for next winter. Till then I'll have to keep an eye on the setup as it is.
The mounts themselves are bolted to the engine pan molding with 3/8” bolts. When I went to tighten them, I found that both bolts on the starboard side aft were missing their nuts. Just the weight of the engine was holding them in place. That would allow the engine to move quite a lot and in turn put a lot of stress on the shaft and its coupler to the engine. I found a couple of lock nuts and re-secured the mount. The other side aft was also loose. I tightened up that too and called it a day.
Jane has gone to the ER of the hospital and was told essentially “sometimes you just have to live with this kind of thing.” Not what we wanted to hear. She will try to get in to Dewitt Army Hospital later in the week.
On 4 April I moved from Kidd Cove to Volleyball beach. As I approached the anchorage I was very conscious of the fact that I had no one on board to talk this through with. With Jane there we would always discuss the pros and cons of each available position in the anchorage and come up with a place we could each agree on (sort of, anyway). Now I was all alone and there were a lot of people watching and a lot of boats around me. I moved over toward the end of the anchorage and found a large hole with no one around. I had no trouble anchoring by myself and the spot turned out to be ok.
I went into town and joined the George Town Library. I exchanged about 12 books and came away with some good ones. I also went to the beach to get my first (and probably last) bridge lesson from Stewart (s/v Union Jack). It was OK, but I'm no bridge player.
I also went for a little sail up and down the harbor on s/v Polaris Jack with Albert. He can really sail that little boat. Like a racer, he likes to constantly tweak the sheets. He said his wife, Lindy, says he'll keep adjusting things until they come to a complete stop.
Also during this time I had a bit of a scare. I was anchored off Sand Dollar Beach in 11 feet of water. I had out only about 50 feet of chain.
At 1800 hrs the wind went from SE to NE. Then at 2000 hrs (just after dark, of course) the wind built to over 30 kts (I later heard talk of gusts reaching 50 kts).
Squall rolling through the anchorage
Then the rain started. It poured! According to the GPS I was moving south at 1.5 kts. Not good when you think you're anchored. By the time I had gone on deck and let out another 60 feet or so of chain Galena had dragged over 300 feet. Fortunately we went South, away from the beach and between the few boats that were around us. The next morning the wind was still blowing so I motored forward and a little to port and laid the other bow anchor in a V pattern so Galena was hanging from both of them.
S/v Polaris Jack anchored near me and Alfred came over for coffee a couple of mornings in a row. He's a great guy to talk with. He's in his late 60's and has had quite a life. We don't always agree on things but we always have a good exchanged of ideas.
I moved to Volleyball Beach after a little sail down the harbor. I had sundowners on s/v Que Sara Sara with Don and Lois and met Berry and Julie (s/v Imagine) Don is from Vermilion, Ohio and Berry is from Lorain, OH. S/v Imagine is heading South without specific plans. I gave them some of my old charts. If I go that way again I'll just get new ones. Que Sara Sara and Galena are old friends. We first saw them in November on the Chesapeake Bay. Then we talked with them in Puerto Rico. And now here. They are a great couple. Married 49 years. Circumnavigated once already. Now they just sail around where ever they want. I'd love to spend more time with them and get to know them better.
I was talking with Alfred about sails and he recommended his sail maker: Lee of Hong Kong. But it's strictly mail order. You assume all risk for measurements and design. But the prices are good.
I was over at the Chat ‘n Chill bar and talked with Dave (s/v Encore) and Pedro came up and bought me a beer.
16-20 April 2006
George Town, Exumas, Bahamas
I met a guy named Dave (that's all I know about him). But he and 20 of his friends were renting a set of houseboats and hanging out in the harbor for a week or so. He was an interesting guy. He invited me over to the boat for dinner and drinks. I went, got drunk, met his other friends and generally had a good time. As I recall there was Dave and Gail, Myla and Rob, George and Jayne, Jay and Frieda. And a bunch of kids. Rob races go-karts, something I'm a bit familiar with.
Jane had the MRI done but didn't get the report until about the 19th. They couldn't get her a follow-up appointment with her doctor until sometime in May. So we alternately decided to have her fly back here, have her fly to Nassau, and finally to have her fly back to here. She will arrive on the 21st.
S/v Pipe Dream had some out-of-date fire extinguishers they were giving away. I went over to get them and got a cold beer, an hour of good conversation, and an invitation to dinner from Ferdy and Jutta. They have a great boat, we had a nice dinner, and drank a lot of rum.
I talked again with Walter (s/v Marnie). He's heading back to Beaufort, NC next week. Maybe I'll see him down the road. He's picking up a couple of racers as crew and going north through the Abacos
I sailed up to Fowl Cay. The wind that day was just about 5 kts out of the NE. It was a nice quiet sail both ways. I went to Fowl Cay, anchored, had lunch, took a nap and weighed anchor to sail back to Kidd Cove. As I was leaving Fowl Cay I saw what I made out to be s/v Polaris Jack coming into the harbor from the SE. He as about 2 miles away but it is a very distinctive boat. So I turned around and headed over to him. I figured we could sail up the harbor together. Our boats are similar. Both are old-styled cutters that don't look anything like the modern boat filling George Town. We sailed together for about 30 minutes when I realized that I was catching up to a Bennetau 411. It was s/v Dejarlo. Since I was catching them in this light air I said goodbye to Alfred and concentrated on passing Dejarlo. It took about an hour, but just as we were passing Volleyball Beach I passed them. Wow. What a good feeling. I passed close aboard on the windward side and they just came to a stop as I blocked their air.
21-23 April 2006
George Town, Exumas, Bahamas
Jane's back. But still in a bit of pain. We have to provision, do laundry, and get water. Then we'll be ready to leave this place. We should be home in about 25 days.
Detail of the route into the anchorage west of Big Major, just north of Staniel Cay Yacht Club.
We sailed all the way from George Town. It was a perfect sail. We made between 5.5 and 6.5 kts the whole way with the wind just abaft the beam. Seas in the sound were 3-ft. We entered Galliot Cut with a flooding tide and rushed through at 7.5 kts. Then onto the Banks and a beautiful run all the way to Staniel Cay. We anchored off of Big Major. While running up Exuma Sound we encountered at least eight boats heading south. It was like a freeway out there. As we came through Galliot Cut we examined the anchorage just inside and north of the cut. It looks like a nice place that can hold about 5 boats without trouble. On the way west to the great north-south highway (as shown on the Explorer Charts) we held 9 feet of water (MLW + 2.5).
On the 25th we went to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club to replace the had I'd lost earlier in this trip. But they didn't have any. So I bought a tee-shirt instead. We went to the beach to see the pigs but they were nowhere to be seen. So we went over to s/v Satisfaction (Willie and Jean) for drinks. They were a couple a folks heading south. They had lived aboard for 5 years and this was their first trip through the Exumas.
Jean and Willie (s/v Satisfaction)
Before we left Staniel Cay we just had to visit the pigs! A bunch of pigs, just regular farm pigs not wild boars, live on the island of Big Major. They are quite tame and use to being fed by the cruisers. In fact, if you don't come to shore they will swim right out to your boat. Jane and I, along with Willie and Jean hit the beach and were immediately surrounded. A most interesting way to get rid of scraps.
Jane feeding the pigs of Big Major Spot Cay
And ,yes, they will try to climb into your dinghy
Winds were from 180° at less than 10 kts and by noon had dropped to less than 5. So we had to motor sail most of the way here.
Route from Staniel Cay to Hawksbill Cay.
Detail of route into the anchorage at Hawksbill Cay.
When we visited here last year we discovered the collection of notebooks and boat cards in a “visitors' mailbox” a little way up the path to the cairn. All the notebooks were full of entries from visiting cruisers. We had a spare notebook onboard so Jane drew a very large version of our boat card on the inside cover and we left it, along with a new pen, for following cruisers to add their comments. The main reason we stopped here was to see how many new entries were in that book. We found our old notebook still there and almost full. The entries made by visiting cruisers, their comments and sketches, made for interesting reading. We made a new entry and went back to Galena for dinner.
The winds built and we had a fairly rough night. The anchorage is open to the south through north and the waves just roll through here. Galena was bucking at her anchor and giving us quite a ride.
This was a hell-of-a-day at sea.
It started out just fine; wonderful, in fact. Jane made pancakes!
We left Hawksbill in a stiff south wind and sailed over to Shroud Cay. Shroud Cay is mostly mangrove swamp. We were told last year that dinghying around in the mangroves is a great way to spend a relaxing few hours and we were looking forward to that.
But when we got there, the dinghy outboard wouldn't run properly. It was hard to start and when it did, it wouldn't run at anything over an idle. I had to row back to Galena twice. And the wind and waves were creating a not-so-favorable anchorage. We finally gave up on the engine and headed over to Norman's Cay where we could find all-round protection from the waves. With the wind forecast to go to the North and build to 25 kts I wanted to be somewhere with a little shelter.
We entered the harbor/cut at Normans without problem. But then we drifted left of the channel and went aground. Hard aground! The tide was dropping and we were exposing 12” more of our bottom than usual. We had about 4 hrs to wait for the tide to float us off. When we entered there were no boats there. We thought that might be a sign. When we were here last year the place was full of boats. But by afternoon there were 6 boats anchored in the channel. The rest of the anchorage was just too shallow. Finally the rising tide floated us free and we anchored in the relatively deep water of the channel. We'll stay here for two days and then go to Highborne Cay. Since that anchorage, like most on the Exuma Banks, provides little protection from the west, we'll try to get into the marina.
On the 28th I tackled the outboard. I was sure it was a problem with the fuel lines. So Jane and I brought the engine up into the cockpit to work on it. I checked the filter and it looked OK. Then I disassembled the fuel pump. It was a little dirty but not too bad. I cleaned it and put it back together. I wanted to test it so I got a plastic cup and used the priming squeeze pump on the fuel tank to pump gas into the cup. What I got was half a cup of dirty water! The fuel tank that usually stays in the dink had over a quart of water in it. I used my Baja filter and cleaned that fuel and then put the engine and tank back in the dink. The engine started on the first pull and ran just fine. I should have checked the tank first. But being the rabid pessimist that I am, I started imagining the worse cases right away. I just knew that there was something wrong with the engine that would require a mechanic to fix. But it was just dirty fuel.
The bad thing about that is that Jane didn't get to explore the mangroves. And it was something I could have fixed in a few minutes if I had known. Now, with the wind out of the north and forecast to stay that way for the rest of the week, she doesn't want to backtrack back to Shroud Cay.
The current runs through this cut at 1.75 kts. That plus the 25 kt winds puts a hell of a strain on the anchor. We're watching the GPS closely to see if we drag. The bottom here is sand. And if we drag, with over 100 feet of chain out we should drag very slowly and be able to drop the other anchor or let out more rode to catch ourselves. But so far we've been just fine.
We left Norman's Cay mostly because I was tired of just sitting on Galena. The water was really too rough and the wind too brisk to take the dinghy anywhere. And the current running past us sounded like we were underway. And that's not quiet. The day was not ideal for heading north. In fact it was just about the worse wind direction one could ask for. The wind was from 030° and we were heading 010° and it was blowing 20-25 kts. I raised just the staysail (mostly to steady us; keep us from rolling in the 5-ft chop, and motoring along we tacked into the wind and waves. We averaged 3.5 kts but on the way west to Norman's stake and later east from the banks into the marina (about 3 miles each way) we made 4.5 kts. But on the main part of the run we were heading due north getting beat up and wet. The wave period just about perfectly matched Galena's natural pitch frequency causing her to bounce high in the air and dive deep into the waves.Route from Norman's Cay to Highborne Cay and a detail of the routes entering and leaving Highborne Cay Cut and Marina.
Entering Highborne Cut and the marina was easy. They tucked us way back into the corner. We were dwarfed by 150-foot yachts moored all around us. But the marina is nice and well maintained. There's a little store that carries the necessities (cold beer and ice cream) and a nice beach.
We'll sit here for a few days (at $1.95/ft, $15/day elect, $0.50/gal water) waiting for the wind to clock to at the NE so we can make Nassau.
A lot of sport fishermen stay here and there's always someone cleaning the catch of the day. We wandered down to the fish cleaning station and watch. They can fillet a Mahi-Mahi in about 1 minute. There are always birds and sharks waiting for the scraps.
I started to work on the Aries wind vane. It's caked with salt in the main bearings and is too stiff to work properly. We need the autopilot for the trip up the coast. But I can't get the main shaft out without some serious disassembly of the whole thing. I noticed that two of the four main brackets holding it on the boat were split. The thing needs some major repair work. I hope I can get it to work at least a little and I'll completely disassemble it when we get home.
The wind was very light out of the north when we left our slip at Highborne That made it easy to get out of the marina but I anticipated having to motor all the way to Nassau. Once we cleared the cay the wind picked up to about 10kts out of 030° and we could actually sail our course of 330° with all sails up making over 4 kts. The banks were calm with only about a 1.5-ft chop and we had a very nice, uneventful sail. There were quite a few boats out on the banks today. We could usually see at least 4 sails around the horizon. That's nothing to the BVI were we could always see over 20 boats around us. But out on the banks, out of sight of land it's nice to see a few other souls.
As we neared New Providence (the island on which Nassau sits) I heard someone call Harbor Control for permission to enter. I had forgotten about that little requirement. They want to know: Boat name, registration number, port of entry into the Bahamas, last port of call, destination in the harbor and direction from which you are entering the harbor. We got permission to enter and then called for a slip at the marina.
As soon as we got tied up and checked in, we went downtown and did a little shopping. We had dinner at Subway and got back to Galena by about 1830.
The couple on the boat in the slip next to us went to dinner about then. They left their two dogs tied on deck. One, a large Lab, eventually tried to climb the ladder up to the dock. She of course fell into the water. She slipped out of her harness on the way down. She was then swimming around the boat frantically looking for some way out of the water; there was none. So I hopped into our dinghy and hauled her aboard. She was happy to get dry and shook herself out all over me. Then I lifted her (she was quite large and heavy) onto her own boat and retired her harness and tether so that she couldn't get out of the cockpit. Jane had to go back a couple more times to untangle her and try to calm her down. Finally the couple returned from dinner. Boats and dogs… what are people thinking?