In our last update, we had just returned to Liberty at 6 am on December 26th, after celebrating Junkanoo with our new Bahamian hosts in George Town on Great Exuma Island. After a well earned nap on Boxing Day, we settled in to cruising life, George Town style, planning to stay a few weeks. Eventually weather, Dave's travel for work, and our involvement in the cruising community kept us in George Town for most of January and February and into early March.
George Town is a unique cruising community, a destination for some, a waypoint on travels south to the Caribbean for some, and a home base for others cruising more widely in the Bahamas. What cruisers refer to as "George Town" is really a collection of several anchorages in Elizabeth Harbour, bounded on the southwest by Great Exuma Island and the northeast by Stocking Island, including anchorages at Monument/Hamburger Beach, Sand Dollar Beach and Volleyball Beach, plus Kidd Cove and Red Shanks. The settlement of George Town on Great Exuma Island has a couple of thousand residents, plus all the amenities of a decent sized Bahamian settlement - two nicely stocked grocery stores, hardware and lumber stores with marine parts, a Laundromat, a couple of gas stations and a marina with a fuel dock, several liquor stores, a few restaurants, a few hotels and "resorts", a couple of internet cafes, etc. - pretty much everything a cruiser needs to stock up for out island cruising or to sustain a comfortable life at anchor in the local harbor. Many people come here on their boats for the winter season, much in the same way that northerners head south to Florida or Texas for the winter. These cruisers try to get to George Town in December ("George Town by Christmas" is a rallying cry), set their anchors well, and settle in for lots of fun and relaxation. There are many organized activities every day, from volleyball tobasket weaving to bridge, dominoes, and trivial pursuit to happy hours and bonfires on the beach. There are free seminars on serious topics like radio communications, medical concerns, fishing, and coral reefs, and fun topics like how to make a conch horn, art & drawing, and bridge playing. It is a wonderful community of people, and the longer you are here, the more involved you tend to get - and thus the longer you are here!
One of our biggest involvements was Beach Church, a non-denominational Christian worship service. The cathedral is casuarina trees, the altar is a 55 gallon drum with a board on top, and there are plenty of picnic tables and benches for the congregation. Dress is regular beach attire, and some folks even wear shoes! The children are all encouraged to sit high in a casuarina tree, and are known as the "tree angels." Nancy and the boys got involved right at the beginning, on the first Sunday after Christmas when Nancy played flute and Chris joined the choir while Josh passed out songbooks. Nancy and Christopher became regulars in the choir, including practicing sometimes twice a week. Nancy played her flute almost every Sunday, accompanying a keyboard and guitars. A highlight was her accompaniment of a talented soloist on "Eternal Father", the Naval Academy hymn. As Chris became more involved, he was asked to organize the kids to sing one Sunday. Chris was very proud of his charge and gathered 5 children to sing "Awesome God," complete with hand motions. It was the first-ever Beach Church Youth Choir. A few weeks later, Chris was called upon again to organize the Youth Choir. He was able to gather 13 of the 17 kids in the anchorage to sing "Fishers of Men," also with hand motions. As if this wasn't enough, a few of the kids decided that they would like to play their instruments with the choir. With Chris on clarinet, Geneva on saxophone, Erin on flute, and Brie on keyboard, they accompanied the full choir in "Amazing Grace." It was truly wonderful and amazing.
There tend to be more cruising kids in George Town at any given time than in any other anchorage in the Bahamas or the Caribbean. Chris and Josh made many friends and had a wonderful time. All the full-time cruising children are home-schooled (most use the same program as we do, Calvert) and the schedule is pretty much the same for all of them - school in the morning, beach and playtime after lunch. So, every afternoon around 1:30, the kids would meet on the beach. They played volleyball (and even had several clinics), swung from the large causarina tree, played capture the flag, built forts and rafts, sailed in the boys' sailing dinghy Independence, explored the island, hiked over to ocean-side beaches, and generally had a good time together, with a minimum of adult supervision. We enjoyed marshmallow and hot dog roasts on the beach several times, and we celebrated some birthdays on the beach too, with games galore - Frisbee tosses, wheel barrow relay races, water relay races, water balloon tosses, tugs of war, inner tubing, wake boarding and knee boarding. For the boys, George Town was a real hit, and a chance to regularly play with other cruising kids.
As a special enhancement to their daily Calvert school education, Josh and Chris joined with a group of other cruising kids to do a very interesting research project, fondly named "Cast Away Science." Under the tutelage of Katherine, a marine biologist living on board the motor vessel Tortue, the 12 children, aged 9 to 17, met several times to discuss generally the kinds of things that could be researched in the area that relate to our lives as cruisers, as well as the scientific and research methods that would be applicable to such research. After returning to their respective boats to consider different research projects, and using the proper scientific method to create a hypothesis, procedure, and a list of materials needed, the kids met again at a picnic table on Volleyball Beach. In a three hour discussion meeting, guided by Katherine, the kids settled on a project to examine water quality in four different parts of the harbor, performing experiments to determine water clarity and current, and collecting samples of sediment from the bottom in each area. Chris and Josh provided the "water current sampling devices" - basically a coconut shell in the husk (for flotation) tied to a rock (for ballast), that when placed in the water would float just submerged enough so that the local wind would not affect the measurement of current flow. They used a stop watch to time how long it took the coconut to travel 10 meters. To measure water clarity, each of the four teams made "sechi-disks", large white plastic lids colored black in two opposing quadrants, so that when suspended in the water from a dinghy, one child in snorkeling gear could swim slowly away, watching the disk until it was no longer visible, and measure the distance at which this occurred. The farther the distance, the more clear the water at that location. On experiment day, the kids all met at Volleyball Beach, split up into their four teams in four separate dinghies (with parent drivers), and raced away to the four pre-arranged locations in the harbor (two near the north and south harbor entrances and two in more protected anchorages). A couple of hours later, the dingies returned with raw data and samples of sediment. The sediment samples were analyzed and then were placed into sixteen equal sized and shaped vessels (clear Kalik beer bottles, some emptied graciously by parents and other cruisers "for the sake of the children"), shaken and allowed to settle while being timed. The current and water clarity data was compared, and along with the results of the sediment samples, the groups determined the locations where water quality was highest (related to clarity, current and fineness of sediment), and thus where boats could make the best water with watermakers and enjoy the best swimming. Katherine later collected the data on disks, along with photographs of the research project, and distributed them to the participants. This was wonderful fun for all and an immeasurable amount of learning for the kids in such a fun environment that they didn't even realize it.
When Nancy and the boys were doing school each morning, Dave (when he was in town, that is) generally worked on boat maintenance and repair projects, ran errands to town, and occasionally fished. Refrigerator repairs became one of Dave's most important projects. Our Frigoboat 12-volt keel-cooled refrigeration system, generally considered a reliable system, had been giving us problems for some time. For about the last year, whenever we would defrost the freezer, which seems to be required more often than it should be due to lids that do not seal like they should, the evaporator plate in the freezer would not frost up properly after the system was turned back on. Dave was convinced there was a minor leak, and he regularly had to add small amounts of refrigerant (R-134A, the same as is used in automobile air conditioners) to the system to get it to cool properly. After visiting with the Frigoboat representatives at the Annapolis boat show, Dave thought he had a handle on checking for leaks and getting the system back up to snuff. However, it kept getting worse and worse, and eventually, after tightening connections and confirming no leaks, a fellow cruiser (Patrick from Intrepid) helped Dave vacuum all the refrigerant from the system with a vacuum pump, dry it out by maintaining a vacuum for nearly an hour, then slowly refill the system with refrigerant. The refilling process occurred over a three day period, with Dave going into the engine room (where the refrigerator compressor is located) every hour or so to add minute amounts of refrigerant, then waiting for the system to stabilize. Finally, with much advice and encouragement from fellow cruisers, and persistence, Dave was able to get the system operating correctly.
Errands to town took up some of Dave's mornings as well. The trip from our anchorage at Volleyball Beach over to George Town is about a mile. Most days there was enough wind blowing that either the trip over or the trip back involved getting at least a little wet. Reasons to go to town included refilling propane tanks, grocery shopping, filling fuel tanks, and buying supplies for boat projects. Our stove (3 burner, with oven) and Magma barbeque grill both run on propane, stored in two 10 pound (about 3 gallon) tanks. Each tank will last between 3 weeks and a month, so when we switch from the primary to the backup we know we need to start looking for a place to refill the empty tank within a couple of weeks. Not every island has a propane distributor - in some of the out islands, refilling a propane tank involves sending the tank to Nassau on the mailboat to be refilled, and then getting the tank back in a week when the mailboat comes back to the island. This is how the locals in communities like Duncan Town in the Jumentos get their propane. Great Exuma Island is large enough to have a propane distributorship, and in George Town a truck with a large tank comes most Wednesday mornings to a parking lot where people line up with their tanks to be refilled. One day when Dave went over to get a tank refilled, there were over 50 people in line (Liberty was number 52, to be precise, with more behind him). Since the process of filling each tank took a couple of minutes, Dave had to stand in line for nearly 2 hours to get propane. Lots of time to catch up with other boaters, get to know the folks in front and behind you in line, and generally kill time.
Grocery shopping is another regular chore. Although we left the USA with substantial provisions on board, especially frozen meats, long-lived cheeses and dairy products, and canned goods and staples, we do regularly buy fresh produce, milk, butter and eggs. Since the Bahamas are part of the British Commonwealth, lamb from New Zealand is a bargain and a treat for us. We also enjoy Irish butter. Produce all comes from the USA, by boat, so cruisers try to shop on the day (or day after) the supply boat arrives. When inclement weather delays or cancels a supply boat, produce can get pretty crummy looking. The return trip from a grocery excursion can be quite an adventure - the dinghy full of plastic shopping bags, bouncing through the waves and taking spray, and then getting back to Liberty and handing everything up over the rail before stowing it in lockers or the fridge below.
Laundry is another real chore. Rather than a load or two at a time, in the comfort of our own home and laundry room, here we wait until the laundry bags are full (generally two or three weeks), then head across the harbor. We walk to the Laundromat, with all of us carrying bags or pillowcases full of laundry, then Nancy spends a few hours running the loads through. Doing laundry here is expensive - generally $6 to $8 per load (wash and dry). After folding and hiking back to the dinghy dock, we load the laundry bags into large plastic garbage bags to keep them dry. Our worst laundry experience ever was the day Nancy and Dave left the boys on Liberty to do their school work while the parents went across the harbor to do laundry and run errands. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, light breeze blowing when we left, so Dave put our pillows and foam mattress topper out on the deck to air out. The wind piped up, of course, and a mattress pad and two pillows blew overboard and had to be rescued by a neighboring boat. Then, on the way back to the dinghy, Dave dropped a bag of freshly laundered towels down to the dinghy dock - no surprise here, the bag bounced, then slowly, ever so slowly, toppled over and fell into the (salt) water just out of reach of Dave's outstretched fingers. Arghhh! Drying out the pillows and mattress topper took several days, and Dave had to rinse out and hang dry the towels. What a day!
Nancy and the boys also got involved in selling Regatta T-shirts. Every April since the 1950's, George Town has hosted the Bahamian Family Island Regatta. In the 1950s, a British sailing enthusiast recognized that with the introduction of outboard engines to local fishing boats, a tradition of sailing could disappear from the islands. He initiated the regatta as a way to keep alive the tradition of boatbuilding and sailing. The cruising community that gathers in George Town started having a "George Town Cruising Regatta" 29 years ago, both as a way to have fun and as a fundraiser to support the Family Island Regatta. Each year, one of the cruising regatta events is a T-shirt design contest, with the winning design emblazoned on the next year's regatta T-shirts, which are then sold to raise funds. T-shirts are sold 2 or 3 times a week at the dinghy dock in George Town, both to cruisers as well as to locals and other visitors to the island. Nancy and the boys volunteered several times to man the booth, and Christopher gained quite a reputation as an avid salesman - he would stand on the dinghy dock, offering to take painters (tie-off lines) from arriving dinghies, then he would smile widely and kindly direct folks up the dock to the T-shirt stand and invite them to buy a shirt. The first day he did this, T-shirt sales were more than double any previous day, and his efforts were recognized on the radio net the next morning.
Listening to the "net" every morning was a regular part of our day in George Town. Almost every boat has a VHF (very high frequency) radio on board, and in George Town we all stand by on channel 68 (channel 16 is the international hailing and emergency channel). Every morning at 7:58 am, someone would key the mike on channel 68, sound the "crowing rooster" alarm and announce that the "cruiser's net" would begin at 8 am on channel 72. Most folks in the harbor then switch to channel 72, where the "net controller" announced the day and date (which we often forget out here) and conducted a 30 minute or so session of weather forecasts, community announcements and "boater's general" questions. Nancy volunteered to read weather a couple of weeks during our stay in George Town. To prepare, she would listen to Chris Parker's 6:30 am forecast, then write a summary of weather for the George Town area, including tide information and times. Nancy's weather was very well put together, and each time she read the weather she got daily compliments from other boaters for doing such informative weather broadcasts. After weather and community announcements, the net moves to "boater's general", an opportunity for anyone to ask general questions, offer items for sale (or request items to borrow or buy), or offer advice of interest to the cruising community generally. New arrivals to the anchorage were often welcomed and given a chance to announce their boat names, crew on board, and home port and cruising plans. This was a way we got to know other "kid boats" in the anchorage. Departures were also recognized, giving folks a chance to say goodbye and let friends know where they were headed next. Sometimes the net would drag on, sometimes it was funny, but it was always part of our daily routine while anchored at George Town.
After the net, school, projects, errands and lunch, the daily routine at George Town, at around 2 pm, was to head to Volleyball Beach for playing with other kids, playing volleyball, hanging out and visiting, and maybe even having a beer or other beverage. The occasional happy hour or dinner together would get planned, and we'd all generally reaffirm each other's decision to leave behind our previous responsible lives for our newfound cruiser's lives on the water.
Beach seminars are another aspect of cruising, George Town style, that we enjoyed. Anyone in the cruising community with a special expertise, and an interest in sharing something about it, can get on the net and offer to sponsor a seminar on the beach. A retired orthopedic surgeon offered (twice, due to great demand) a seminar roughly entitled "Things your doctor could have told you had he/she had the time to answer your questions during office visits, regarding ailments generally and orthopedic issues specifically". Nancy learned something about a finger joint problem that has been nagging her for over a year. Dave and the boys really enjoyed attending (along with probably over 100 other aspiring fishermen) a fishing seminar hosted by Mick on Escargot, an avid and accomplished fisherman. And we learned some quick knot tying techniques from fellow Texan Mike on Pagan Chant who hosted a knot clinic. There were seminars on shortwave radios, wi-fi, engine maintenance, and other topics as well. Oddly enough, no one signed up for the "project finance/power plant construction contracting" seminar Dave offered, but oh well . . .
During the first week of the Cruiser's Regatta in early March, George Town was blessed with the presence of Chris Parker, the weather guru we listen to each morning on the single side band (shortwave) radio and with whom we speak when we are planning or making a passage. Chris gave a couple of seminars on basic weather forecasting and advanced weather, attended by both Nancy and Chris. Dave stayed back on Liberty, because of weather - it was blowing 25 knots the day Chris Parker was in town, and he didn't want to leave the boat in that weather! Nancy learned a lot, including about "compression zones" - a subject covered below. We now also own our very own, autographed copy of Chris Parker's book, Coastal and Offshore Weather, An Essential Handbook.
In addition to seminars, classes are offered too. Nancy and Chris took basketweaving classes from Sue on Nice & Easy, and Dave and Nancy took a basic bridge class from Sue's husband Bill. In addition to bridge and basketweaving, there were art classes, volleyball and bocci clinics, kayaking, survival swimming, and many others.
Dave has also continued to work some, including a couple of business trips in January and February, the first for a week and the second for nearly two weeks. During the first trip, our refrigeration pretty much gave up the ghost and Nancy kept things limping along until Dave returned and was able to get the system fixed. During the second trip George Town was squeezed into a "compression zone", a weather feature that dominated life aboard for over a week and the details of which Nancy learned later. Basically, a compression zone can develop between strong low and high pressure systems that linger in an area. George Town found itself in one such compression zone, when the winds blew 20 to 30 knots for nearly a week. In that kind of weather, even leaving the boat for a short dinghy ride to the beach becomes a chore. The upside, if any - in compression zones, the wind generator keeps the batteries very full and happy, so we can make water every day (our watermaker draws 9 amps) and generally not have to ration electricity and water. This was also a time when we were reminded of the closeness and generosity of the cruising community. During Dave's time away, Nancy and the boys stayed on Liberty at anchor. The holding is generally good, we had been set for a while, and we were comfortable here. Fellow friends and cruisers regularly checked on Nancy and the boys - checking the anchor when the winds piped up, bringing her ice from town to keep the refrigerator cold when it was rough to cross the harbor in the dinghy, making sure they got home safely after evening events, etc. When northers blew through, they kept radio contact in the evenings. One morning, after a norther had blown through and winds had been blowing for four hours and many other boats had already dragged, Nancy realized that Liberty was slowly dragging. She quickly turned on the engine, then called on the radio "This is Liberty; we're dragging." Within 60 seconds, five men were on board, helping Nancy and the boys raise and reset the anchor. One friend even dove on the anchor to make sure it had set and came back later to check again. There are not enough words to express our gratitude for such friendship and community, shown not only to us, but to any cruiser in need.
As February wound to a close and March began, the George Town cruising community was eagerly preparing for the Cruiser's Regatta, a busy 10 days of sailing races, contests and competitions (volleyball, bocci, bridge, etc.). In late February, our good Swiss friends Peter, Monika and Claudia returned to their boat Tauá from their home in France. Tauá had been stored on the hard at a marina in George Town, and they are back for a few months of cruising in the Bahamas! We last saw Tauá in the Abacos in early May 2008, as they were heading south and we north. We met them in Marsh Harbour, when Peter helped Dave fix our watermaker, and then we cruised together in the Abacos for a couple of weeks. We got together several times during their first days back on board, catching up on what we'd each been up to during the last 8 months. We have similar cruising plans for the rest of this season, so we hope to spend more time together.
During our nearly three months in George Town, we did manage to free our anchor from the sand twice and get away for visits to other islands - first to Long Island (in the Bahamas, not New York) for a few days and a month later to Lee Stocking Island for a week with Dave's parents. Those excursions are covered in other updates (Long Island, click here and Lee Stocking, click here.)
As the Cruiser's Regatta was about to begin in early March, we were getting anxious to move on to see other parts of the Bahamas. Weather had been unfavorable for leaving for a long time, but it looked like a weather window was going to open up. We were hoping to head south to the Jumentos with a couple of other kid boats, including Hullabaloo from Annapolis, but it turned out that weather for the Jumentos wasn't looking good. Finally a weather window opened for sailing north, and Liberty and Tauá (and several other boats) left George Town on March 4th, heading northwest into the Exumas.
During our time at George Town, we made many friends on many boats, too many to list. We also met up with boats we had previously met last year in the Abacos and along the East Coast last summer and fall. We expect to see many of these new and old friends along the way in the coming year. It is not untypical to drop the hook in an anchorage as the only boat, and then an hour later a boat you know but haven't seen for weeks or months comes in and drops anchor nearby. Sometimes, you're the boat that comes in and anchors near an old acquaintance. Next thing you know, friends are visiting together on the beach and making plans for happy hours, enjoying what cruising is really about - the community of good people who have chosen this way of life.
LOTS OF FUN
IN GEORGE TOWN!!
View of Stocking Island from the Monument
Dave added this sign to the post on Volleyball Beach
Beach Church under the Casuarinas
The Youth Choir sings
Friends hanging out in the tree
Marshmallow roast on the beach
Josh swings from the tree -
a favorite pasttime
Josh & Colton proudly paddle
the raft they built
Chris wakeboards at a birthday
party for Sam & Ann Marie
Playing in the waves at Oceanside
Discussing the experiment
Kathryn illustrates the Coconut Float
Analyzing the sediment samples
The mailboat comes weekly
bringing fresh produce and dairy
Christopher's entry for
next year's t-shirt design
Josh and his buds Brian and Colton
Chris & Josh with Chris Parker
when all of a sudden there was a violent thrashing on the surface about 200feet behind the boat, the rod bent over again, and the fish began to run again, hard. More fish fighting, and by this time Dave was getting tired so David took over. Once again, when the battle seemed to be won, there was another terrible disturbance in the water and the fish began to run again. Once more the fight was on, and this time the fishermen prevailed - hauling in just the head and part of the body of what would have been a six to seven foot wahoo - a big shark got the rest! There were several big bite marks, but we filleted what the shark left and got several pounds of meat, enough to make four family-sized meals. Wow! Thanks More Cowbell for this great fishing opportunity.
One of our more exciting fishing experiences of the trip happened during our stay in George Town. David, Dana and Sam, fellow Texans on board More Cowbell (if you've never seen the inspiration for the name of their boat, a truly great SNL skit, you should look it up), invited us to join them for a fishing excursion around Stocking Island. We left both dinghies at Liberty, and joined the crew of More Cowbell after the net one morning, bringing with us two fishing rod holders, our offshore rods and several lures and rigged balleyhoo. We sailed out of the southeast cut (Channel Rocks) and turned northwest, sailing slowly along the edge of the drop-off in about 200 to 800 feet of water, trailing three lures and a ballyhoo behind the boat. Suddenly (actually, every time a fish hits, it's "suddenly") the rod with the ballyhoo bent deep over and line began screaming off the reel. Dave manned the reel at first, slowly tightening the drag while the fish ran, reeling in when possible. After a few minutes of fighting, we began to pull the fish in,
Our part of the Wahoo!
The shark took the rest!