Experimenting with George Town.

The wind this year has been relentless – in fact, if last winter had been like this one I honestly don’t know if we would have come back. From what we understand, winter in the Bahamas can be a crap shoot. Cold fronts regularly move down into this region, and it’s a given that the farther north you are the windier it will be. Some winters if you are far enough south (for example, Georgetown in the Exumas), the fronts won’t reach you, Other years there is no escape. This is one of those years.

What does that mean? It means that since we arrived we have typically had about a day and a half of decent weather and five days of winds in the 20’s. A front blows through but instead of the wind relaxing after it passes, ridges cause high wind to stick around for days. Repeat week after week.

A few people have said “Screw it” and gone back to Florida. I’ll be honest, it’s crossed our mind once or twice. Others have debated throwing in the towel all together and selling their boat, realizing that full-time cruising isn’t what they thought and hoped it would be. What about us? We decided to move down to George Town to get better weather protection and revisit it with a critical eye.

George Town is one of those stops that is practically mandatory for first-time cruisers to the Exumas. With daily activities, decent wind protection from virtually any direction if you’re willing to move (also known as the “Georgetown Shuffle”), good grocery stores, and free R/O water, hundreds of cruisers stop there each winter. Some arrive in November, anchor the boat, and don’t raise the anchor again until it’s time to go back north in the spring.

We wanted to know the answer to this question: If next winter proves to have weather as unfavorable as this winter has been, could we base ourselves in George Town until the weather settled down in the spring? We spent a week or two there last year and thought it was ok, but we weren’t sure if we could really see ourselves spending the entire winter in George Town. After almost a month here, the answer for us is no.

Now don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t a bad stay. We spent the first several days anchored in front of Chat n’ Chill on Stocking Island, taking in the atmosphere and participating in some activities. But then as the start date for the the Cruiser’s Regatta approached, more and more boats began to arrive with a count of over 330 at one point. That, combined with an upcoming weather system (what else was new?) sent us scurrying off to Red Shanks where we stayed for an additional three weeks, joined by a mere eight boats at the peak.

Why so few compared to Stocking Island? Well, I think the main reason is that there is a shallow bar that you need to cross to enter the anchorage so deep draft boats can’t make it in even at high tide. We went in an hour before high tide and pushed a bit of sand ourselves in one spot, and we draw 4’4″. The reviews said to favor the starboard side coming in, but I guess I didn’t favor it enough!

Photo of Stocking Island a few days ago from the George Town Cruiser’s Facebook group . . .
. . . and our anchorage. I know which one we prefer.

How did we spent our time? We took the dinghy into town (20 minutes plus a 1 mile walk), we hiked on the cay, we got together with cruising friends both old and new, we played in the water, we hung out and surfed the internet (or wrote blog posts), we did boat chores, we read, etc. Yeah, it was rough.

Crab Key has the remains of an abandoned upscale resort project.
The quality of the work was amazing.

Ahhh, those Bahama blues!
The remaining ruins from a former Governor’s house.

Ultimately though, even with that great anchorage, we decided we’d prefer not to base ourselves out of George Town next winter. For one thing, there are simply too many boats here for our liking. I thought going in that it would be a good way to meet cruisers, but we actually had better luck in the smaller anchorage. With so many cruisers in one spot it’s perhaps inevitable that it has the feel of a floating town in the U.S., and there are a fair number of Type A personalities who haven’t been able to shed the “let’s form a committee and have rules and procedures” mindset that we gladly left behind when we cut the dock lines. So there’s that.

In addition, the water clarity doesn’t come close to the rest of the Exumas. That was the biggest draw back to Red Shanks for me. The water color was closer to Eleuthera green than Exumas blue, and the very fine sand was constantly stirred up by the wind so that you couldn’t see more than 6-8 feet down – again, not at all like the rest of the Exumas.

While the options for groceries are very good, it’s a long, wet dinghy ride in the prevailing winds to get there, whether it’s from Stocking Island or Red Shanks. A larger dinghy and outboard would solve that problem, but we like the fact that we don’t need a crane to lift our “mighty” Honda 2.3 hp outboard onto the boat. There’s no way we could lift a bigger outboard by hand.

Finally, Georgetown is pretty isolated. It’s 25 nautical miles to the nearest Cay with a decent anchorage to the north, and it’s about 35 nautical miles to Long Island to the south. Once you’re here, you’re here. Compare that to Lee Stocking Island and points north in the Exumas where you’re always just a few nautical miles away from a new Cay and a new anchorage. We prefer having a bit more variety in places to go.

So where does that leave us for next winter? We definitely want to be in the Exumas and we adore Staniel Cay, so I think that’s going to be our base if we have a similar winter to this one, weather-wise. While the settlement is quite small it has a lovely feel, super-friendly residents, good grocery stores, we can easily buy R/O water (assuming we don’t get a watermaker which is something we’re kicking around), the water is gorgeous, we are within 25 nautical miles of dozens of anchorages, and we can hide in Pipe Creek in really bad weather. There are also a nice amount of cruisers to meet, but they number in the low dozens vs. the hundreds in George Town. It honestly checks off all of the boxes.

For now though it’s time to take advantage of this break in the weather, wave goodbye to George Town, and slowly head north up the Exumas chain. We have to renew our stay with immigration in three weeks and George Town is the only place in the Exumas to do that, so we may wave hello again shortly, but as always it will depend on the weather.

Off for a return visit to Lee Stocking Island!