Every year cruisers flock to George Town in the Exumas, some returning time after time. Stephen Pavlidis, the author of one of the ‘must have’ cruising guides to the area, calls George Town the ‘cruising mecca’ of the Bahamas. For many it is the culmination of a lifetime’s dream. Everyone heads there at some point, if for no other reason than to see what the hype is about.
George Town itself has all the amenities a cruising sailor might want, but the surrounding waters of Elizabeth Harbour and Stocking Island are the main attractions. Elizabeth Harbour is simply stunning, mesmerising … mile upon mile of breathtaking shades of turquoise blue. It is one of the few places that offer almost all round protection from the seas – albeit with a little chop in some directions. But if you are prepared to play the George Town shuffle, moving your boat to suit the various wind directions, you should be able to find a comfortable spot.
In town the pace is relaxed and you don’t have to travel far to find most things you might need; water is provided free by Exuma Markets at the dinghy dock in Lake Victoria – the small lagoon at George Town’s centre.
Walking about town you will find the usual grocery shops, hardware store, gas station, laundry, bars, restaurants and gift shops that you may require. Street vendors sell local produce or freshly baked goods under flamboyant trees, and the legendary straw market, a shadow of its former self after a devastating fire last year, sells souvenirs. If there is a part you need that can’t be sourced on the island, there are agents in town who can help with the shipping. Back in the anchorage a pump-out boat does the rounds and collects your garbage for a small fee. And every morning, at 8am, the informative VHF net on channel 72 offers all manner of help and information.
But this isn’t all George Town has to offer. There are plenty of spectacular anchorages to choose from – for when you want peace and solitude to when you want to be in the social thick of things. Maybe you want to be nearer to town to pick up provisions or guests at Kidd’s Cove. Or maybe you would rather be anchored off the infamous Chat ‘N’ Chill beach where all the activities take place (it’s like summer camp for grown-ups with volley ball, yoga, aqua aerobics and poker to name a few). When it comes to anchorages, you have many choices such as Monument Beach, Hamburger Beach or Sand dollar Beach. Perhaps you want to get away from the crowds at Redshanks … There’s a spot for everyone.
The highlight for me is Stocking Island, the barrier island that protects the anchorages from the ocean swells. On the east side you have the glorious untouched windward beaches where the ocean pounds its mighty fist. Here you will find rare stromatolites, thought to be over three billion years old and the first living organisms on the planet. They are not in fact coral but formed by macro-organisms that generate oxygen into our atmosphere. On the west side you have the calm protected bays where the seas lap gently at the shore and boats sit happily at anchor. In between, nature trails and paths have been laid throughout the island and signs placed to give descriptions of the trees and plants. There are so many small beaches and coves it’s easy to have a place to oneself even if there are 400 boats in the harbour. It’s simply impossible not to be awed by all the beauty—as long as you like beaches, palm trees and endless shades of blue, that is. Snorkelling is excellent on various coral heads at either end of the bay; some even have dinghy moorings in place. Or perhaps you would like to hang out with the rays that circle the waters near the Conch Shack at Chat ‘N’ Chill waiting for scraps.
If that is not enough to lure you there, then there are the annual regattas. The Cruising Regatta in February/March attracts crowds with heaps of salty fun and festivities. This is closely followed by the National Family Island Regatta in April, drawing Bahamian sailing sloops from all over the islands.
For some George Town is just another place to pass through, while for others it is a fun place to hang out for a few weeks. But for many George Town is a base, a home away from home. It is paradise found; a floating utopia and water playground for all that play in boats and live on the sea.
For more information on what can be found in George Town, visit: www.bahamascruisersguide.com and follow the George Town links.
Rosie Burr and her husband Sim Hoggarth on yacht Wandering Star have cruised the Caribbean and North America fulltime for nine years. Visit their blog: www.yachtwandering star.com