Our Southernmost Point – George Town, Exumas
Our geographical goal was to sail from Northeast Harbor in Maine to George Town in the southern Exuma Islands in the Bahamas. Check. Done. Completed. Another mile stone! We got to the southernmost point in our trip and have turned around to head back north again. That almost makes me sad to write it. We knew this year would go fast, and no kidding on that! But was George Town really going to BE our southernmost point????
We actually got there a couple of weeks earlier than we thought we might! We were amazed! A day after we arrived, I started making noises . . . hey – we’ve got more time than we expected. Let’s go a little further south!! Let’s move out of the Exumas and go to Long Island (seriously, there’s a Long Island). And then we started talking with our traveling buddies and someone suggested , “Hey, then let’s go further east to Conception; it’s not that far!” All of the sudden, it seemed like we shouldn’t limit ourselves to George Town.
But other forces were at play…
1) We were ready for a vacation from cruising. Now, many people think that cruising IS a vacation! And there are moments that are idyllic and vacation-like. But I recently came up with the OB-JB Scale . . . the “Outward Bound – Jimmy Buffet Scale.” If you’re not familiar, Outward Bound is an organization that provides learning experiences in challenging outdoor environments that push you out of your comfort zone in order to build character and develop leadership skills. So I now rate days using this scale. One side isn’t better or worse, they are just different. So let’s call the extreme Outward Bound side a “1” and the extreme Jimmy Buffet side a “10”. (Those can also equate with more stress and less stress days). In these nine months of cruising, I think we’d probably say that 75% of the days are a 6 or below. It is mentally, physically and emotionally challenging and we’ve learned a lot about ourselves and each other. That is a wonderful outcome from this experience! And I’ve likely written more about the 25% than the 75% on this blog. That said, you need some 8s, 9s and 10s on the OB-JB Scale from time to time. Getting to George Town provided an opportunity to stop and enjoy life for a while and to take a real vacation, not just a long weekend.
Let me describe George Town. It is a fascinating place. While some cruisers consider it to be “the” destination, many other cruisers consider it anything BUT. Feelings are very split about the place. At the peak of the season, around 300 boats can be anchored at various points around Elizabeth Harbor, either on the “town” side or across the harbor off of Stocking Island. Some people will anchor there for the whole winter. An entire city of cruisers is created. Some people go there year after there, and so an informal hierarchy has even developed within the cruising community. Stocking Island is the main hub for congregating and activity for the cruisers. There are a few private homes and one resort on the island, but otherwise, it’s like hundreds of American, Canadian, French, British and Australian boaters got picked up and dropped around a private island. Every morning you can tune in to the “Net” on the VHF radio and hear a series of announcements about activities, classes, speakers, sports, basket weaving, etc. They’ve even formed their own Beach Church. There are committees (shudder). There are also lots and lots of helpful boaters, so if someone has a need, they announce it on the “net” and plenty of boaters respond with help at the ready. There are a core of cruisers who are committed to giving back to the George Town community and will hold fund raising events for the local schools, clean the beaches, clear the trails, so it isn’t a parasitic community, and it certainly helps the local economy. It’s a great place to have fun, but you’re going to have a limited Bahamian cultural experience since there are almost no Bahamians on Stocking island other than the ones who work there.
Oh, there are trips into town while you’re there to provision and to take advantage of the many services, so you can get a little taste of the culture while you’re on “that” side of the harbor, but few boats really stay on that side for any length of time.
Each boat has to decide if they like the environment or not. Some use the term “adult day care” to describe it. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be interested in being there more than three or four days. Frank was looking to stay put for longer than that. Similar discussions were taking place on Magnolia and Mandala, our traveling companions. What would happen? How long would we stay? Would we head south? Would we go back north? And suddenly, it was two weeks later. Yup, two weeks. Nearly every day we were there, the OB-JB scale showed an 8 or 9. Suddenly, we were playing volleyball on the beach, going to dances (okay, only one dance), hiking, snorkeling, meeting other cruisers, having dinner on friend’s boats every night and making music . . . we were on a two week VACATION! Frank mused that he has never taken a full two week vacation. We weren’t worried about the weather forecast . . . we weren’t poring over charts every night figuring out our next route . . . we weren’t losing sleep over the skinny cut we were going to have to go through the next day and when slack tide is. We were enjoying a little R&R. Frank, who bears the brunt of the mechanical and captaining responsibilities, was especially happy for the break. And suddenly we realized, we didn’t have all that extra time on our hands any more. Two weeks was – poof! – passed.
2) There were also the forces (heart strings) tugging at us to get closer to better internet and airport accessibility. Being so far away from family and with with limited connectivity isn’t easy and we’re ready to get closer to home. We’d gone far enough. We did what we set out to do. It was time to turn around.
This decision came with a price, too. Our compadres on M & M (Magnolia and Mandala . . . we had taken to calling to each other on the radio hailing the “M’s-Q Fleet”) had divergent plans (always had) once we got to George Town. Magnolia was staying in the area through at least the 23rd because friends were coming to visit. Mandala is hoping to keep heading south for a while longer. And so, the difficult day came when we said goodbye to our “water family” and started heading home. Can’t figure out why I’m having a hard time seeing the keyboard right now.
And so, we enjoyed two weeks of 8s, 9s and 10s on the OB-JB scale with our dear friends. Here are some of the highlights.