Georgetown – third time lucky

After Scott and Marion left us in Staniel Cay, we headed down to Black Point Settlement to do laundry. We put out only our foresail and screamed down there with the wind blowing 22 knots. The wind was still blowing hard after a week and we were no closer to Georgetown and our refrigerator parts than we were the previous week. It howled at 20-25 knots day and night as a strong cold front moved off the USA and settled heavy over the Bahamas and Strathspey. We tried to stay upbeat despite that desperately long-winded cold front and NE winds blowing stink AND a failing refrigeration system. Believe it or not, one thing that raised our spirits measurably was the torrential downpour we had on Saturday. It rained hard for almost an hour; glorious, clean, fresh water rinsing Strathspey clean of salt and grime. It was so wonderful that I actually called other boats to see if they were as excited as we were. After this sojourn in the Bahamas, I’m sure we’ll look at rain in a wholly different light back in Lake Ontario. Up there, it means the sailing isn’t fun, our activities are curtailed and most of all, it means the sun isn’t shining. Down here, where the sun shines all the time anyways, it provides desperately needed water to farmers, fills the island cisterns and water tanks, cleans Strathspey and makes us appreciate all that we take for granted in Canada.

The Captain C mailboat delivering groceries in BlackPoint Settlement

All last week, we listened to weather guy Chris Parker to find a good day to make the trip down to Georgetown to extend our visitor permits and pick up refrigerator parts. In an unusual twist this time of year, the fronts are reaching all the way down to the Exumas and a good weather window wasn’t opening up for us; high winds expected through Wednesday and then a slight moderation and then a switch around so they’d be on our nose with 4-5 foot seas the entire 50-some mile trip down to Georgetown. That would make for an uncomfortable trip although we’ve heard worse forecasts from Chris; once, about a month ago, he actually said “Nobody move, nobody get hurt”. Waiting for our fridge parts to arrive in Georgetown by FedEx, we hung out at anchorages between Staniel Cay and Little Farmers Cay reading and taking lots of walks for exercise.

The islands are covered with this type of bush growing out of rock
Typical vegetation

That’s one thing that’s been hard to get used to in this year of living on a boat – the lack of exercise. Sure, when we’re sailing, we’re burning up the calories, hauling in sails and using our back and stomach muscles to keep us upright as we sway in tandem with Strathspey‘s motion through the waves. But we don’t use our leg muscles much so we try to take in long walks as often as possible when we go ashore. While at Black Point, we went ashore and walked down the King’s Highway, a long paved road with absolutely no traffic. We thought it ran the length of Great Guana Island but it ended abruptly about two miles south of the settlement after the last hydro pole. We continued south on a wide, bulldozed dirt road bounded on both sides by low scrubby bush and not much else. At one point, at the edge of the dirt road, we came upon a cleared swath of hard dry soil where desiccated stalks of corn stood – someone’s attempt at cultivation I expect. In spite of the previous day’s torrential rain, the earth was dry and dusty. This road led all the way down to the beach where we were greeted by three dogs. One was doing all the talking while the other two stood guard behind him so we made a quick turn-around and hoofed it back to high ground as they followed us at a distance.

We stick to well trod paths to avoid this sort of thing

Because we’ve spent quite a bit of time in this area, we’re recognizing quite a few of the boats between here and Georgetown either by sight or hearing them hailing each other over the VHF radio and SSB radio. It’s a small world because quite a few of these boats are the same ones that we traveled down the ICW and through the Abacos with. Some of the boat names are a little odd, some are duplicates and some are just plain memorable: Worthless Wench, Feral Cat, Rum Tum Tiger, Wings of Angels, Wind of Peace and of course the Scottish boat, Sam the Skull.

When you flip through the Bahamas telephone book, it’s divided into districts; Grand Bahama, New Providence (that’s where Nassau is), Abacos (the northern islands) and the Family Islands (the Exumas). We think the name Family Islands is apropos of the Exuma Island chain. There’s a tangible family feeling down here, a level of trust not found anywhere else and a feeling of a being part of their give and take way of life if you let yourself “go island” enough. In Black Point we’ve stopped for laundry, groceries and sharing of music at the school and church quite a few times so at this point, the locals know us; the kids walking back and forth to school, skip up to us and yell “Bagpipes” at the top of their lungs. Lorraine of Lorraine’s Cafe is storing some of our sails so when our children visit, there’s room aboard. Lorraine’s mom said they’ll be safe there, “If anyone would take them, it would be a stranger from away”. Lorraine expects you to help yourself to beer and soft drinks and internet services in her absence – just leave a note with your boat name and a list of what you’ve taken from her cooler and come back to pay her when she’s in. On our end, we’ve never bothered to lock our dinghy and in Little Farmers Cay we had a warm fuzzy over a lobster purchase from two fishermen who stopped by Strathspey. Jeff and Nick had a boatload of lobsters and tied up to Strathspey when I didn’t say no to a few lobsters for that night’s dinner. Jeff asked me for $6 for each lobster but, being without anything smaller, I offered him $20 and said maybe he could just give me whatever fish he thought was fair to make up the difference. Jeff picked out three Lane Snappers and as Nick cleaned them for us, he said he’d swung by Strathspey because he could smell the curry I was making. Without even thinking, I asked them if they’d like some curry and they must have been hungry because they both accepted without hesitation. So I dished out bowls of curry along with a bottle of beer each. These guys ate up the curry, drank the beer, and filleted our snappers for us while sitting amongst a pile of at least 20 lobsters and 30-40 conchs; all that while tied to Strathspey. Jeff said “Oh that curry she’s good, I be putting another lobster in the bag for you”. So there you go … a little give and take and a little island mojo we’re thinking.

Pretty unusual rental agency here in Barreterre
Car rental agency

This past week, we took a fast boat from Little Farmers Cay to Barreterre at the northern tip of Great Exuma Island and then rented a car and drove south to Georgetown which is at the southern end of the island. We decided to do this water taxi thing rather than take Strathspey down to Georgetown because of the chance that we’d get stuck down there and not get a weather window to go north for our next set of visitors. Madcap joined us for the trip and with Hallen Rolle at the wheel, we made the trip down via the scenic route in his fishing boat Little Jeff, a green runabout with a 150 hp engine. We took the shallow route south as it was high tide but at low tide that afternoon on the way back, we skimmed north out on the banks making wide curves around all the sand bars. Hallen says he’s never looked at a chart in his life, “I just knows da water”. It was a quick one hour ride down to Barreterre and then less than an hour’s drive to Georgetown. With Madcap and Strathspey taking separate cars to ensure everyone’s errands got done, we stopped at Emerald Isles shopping center at the Mailboxes Etc to pick up our refrigerator parts and then at the Napa store for refrigerator hose fittings. At Georgetown, we went into full bore linear fanout mode with stops to get our visitor’s permit extended another 60 days, pick up groceries and the all important stop at the bank for cash. The Bahamas is about as far from a cashless society as you could imagine. ATMS in the Exumas are almost non-existent and payment by credit card, if accepted at all, results in an automatic markup of 5%. We pay for everything with cash, no receipts and for every U.S. $20 bill we hand over, the change invariably handed back is in Bahamian dollars.

Blair was able to extract this beastie without damaging the shell

We stayed three nights at Little Farmers Cay and this cay means fish to us. We took our first Bahamian fishing trip out of Little Farmers and here is where we know we can buy fresh fish or lobster, any kind, any day. Every other male in Little Farmers is a fisherman. Our water taxi guy Hallen, tells us it’s a really good living too. Hallen says they could fish every day of the week and still never provide enough fish and lobster to satisfy the restaurants and distributors in Nassau. When we arrived back from Georgetown, we dinghied ashore and for $8, picked up four good-sized Lane Snappers, caught just hours before. Excellent!

Once cleaned, this winch purrs
Winch Surgery

In anticipation of another cold front coming through with higher winds, we left Little Farmers Cay at high tide and had a fast sail up to Staniel Cay in 20 knots of wind and the biggest waves we’ve yet to see on this bank side of the Exuma Islands. Normally, this side of the islands provide for pleasant, relatively flat-water sailing but when the fronts come through, the winds clock around and set up big waves on the bank side. So we’ve tucked into the north end of Big Major’s Spot to sit out this front and to do some boat chores. This morning, Blair took apart, cleaned and greased one of our larger winches; who knew it had so many little gears and washers? Well actually Blair probably knew because this is the second time he’s worked on Strathspey‘s winches. The first time was five months ago in Portland, Maine where we’d begun to notice a harsh grinding noise as we cranked in our sails.

All this and a 3 foot tide to take into account
Bahamian docks

In anticipation of the front, this morning Staniel Cay Yacht Club made a general announcement on VHF 16 to say that they were out of diesel fuel and with the approach of this front, no-one will be allowed to use their docks until tomorrow morning. Both of these announcements are not unexpected; marinas down here routinely run out of fuel and kick boats off their docks in high winds. The docks are simply not built to withstand the strong winds usually associated with cold front passages. No matter, we have lots of diesel and we’re anchored just around the corner in a good spot. So, we feel pretty good right now: We’ve made the run to Georgetown, picked up parts and groceries. After our visit to Customs and Immigration, we’re legal and with the run to the bank, we’re flush again.