Bahamas - Georgetown, Long Island and Jumentos

 23nd February - 17th March 2005

Before leaving Georgetown to head to the Ocean Cruising Club Rally, we managed to fit in a few more social engagements.....   

Interested in the possibility of using our on-board SSB radio to send and receive e-mail and weather information, we attended a lunch organised by the anchorage's Radio Hams.    An informative talk was given by our radio weatherman, Chris Parker of the Caribbean Weather Centre and we were able to pick up the two books we would need to study, in addition to learning Morse Code, in order to take our Ham Radio exams.   Unfortunately we kept nodding off while reading the books, so qualifying might take some time!

We took a surreal tour of the south part of Great Exuma island with guide Christine.   Amazingly she was the only remaining survivor of her mother's 25 pregnancies!  We should have known the tour would be crazy when we learnt her name!    She began by telling all the married women on the tour that she didn't like them because she'd never managed to get married and that she planned to steal our men from us.  As she picked on each of the men on the bus in turn, Phil was glad to have a safe seat far from the guide!  


The tour began with a visit to an ancient tomb of the island's first inhabitants.   Apparently, the first settlers were a young British couple and the husband had buried his wife and infant child after they died during the birth.  The mystery remained who had buried the husband, the island's only remaining inhabitant and constructed his large tomb!

Every now and then Christine would stop the bus and rush into the bushes, coming back with a handful of leaves of different types.   She demonstrated her knowledge of bush medicine showing us plants to heal all kinds of maladies,  leaves which were once used as soap to wash clothes and dishes and finally she made us "bush tea" with other leaves she'd picked.   As we sampled the tea, we were beginning to wonder (particularly the women!) if we were being poisoned but if less sugar had been added, the tea would have actually been quite pleasant! 


Tour Guide Christine and Lunch Chef Dee-Dee

Old Plantation House

We were surprised at the number of derelict buildings, abandoned by locals who had gone elsewhere to seek their fortune.    Christine explained that some land on the island was "generation land", granted to freed slaves.   There were no deeds for this land and it could not therefore be bought or sold, merely passed down through the generations.

The tourist trail certainly worked up an appetite and we were taken for lunch to a road side restaurant, where Dee-Dee had prepared a delicious lunch of fried grouper for everyone on the tour.

Back at the anchorage, having developed a taste for fish, we tried our hand at fishing from our dinghy and were pleasantly surprised to hook a Spanish Mackerel, which unfortunately wriggled free.   Unperturbed, we tried again and soon hooked another.   Startled by a swift movement below the water, we hurriedly reeled in our catch, only to find that a large but stealthy, thieving Barracuda had left us only the poor Mackerel's head!     Theoretically Ciguatera poisoning in the Bahamas stops the large barracudas here from being edible and as a result they certainly seem to be thriving in the area, their sharp teeth a hazard to fishermen unfortunate enough to catch one!   However, there is a rumour that locals will try a small amount of the barracuda when it's caught and if nobody falls ill, it later appears on local restaurant menus as "grouper fingers". 

Georgetown is certainly a hub for cruising boats and we've run into people we met last in places such as Grenada, Martinique and Tobago amongst others.   We even tracked down another Welshman, Neville on Sassy and he and his wife Sally invited us for drinks along with Carol, a single-handed lady sailor from the US, who we'd last spent time with in Tenerife.   With ocean cruising back in our minds, it was time to head to Long Island for the Ocean Cruising Club rendezvous.

After a peaceful motor-sail of about 38 miles to Long Island's Thompson Bay, we spent the evening on British Catamaran, Catspaw.   Pat and Liz had bravely agreed to host the evenings get together of over 20 people aboard their boat.    An interesting talk was given by the producers of the wonderful Explorer chart books of the Bahamas, Sara and Monty.  We then queued to get into the boat's saloon to sample the selection of appetizers brought along by all the attending members.   It was cramped and chaotic but fun.  Pat and Liz deserved a medal for surviving the invasion.

George and Nancy, organisers of the rally, had put in a lot of hard work getting everybody together and despite their cunning plan of inviting along our own weatherman, Chris,  the forecast for the next day was for strong SW winds.   The anchorage gave no protection from this direction, so unfortunately the rally boats were forced to scatter in search of more sheltered spots.   For deeper draft boats like Anju, this meant turning around and making the 38 mile trip back to Georgetown.   We hadn't even set foot on long island!  It was a real shame after all the effort they'd put in.

Playing sardines on Catspaw, Chris the weatherman at lower left of photo.

Anju surfing towards Long Island (again!).

We made the best of things and after picking our way through shallow coral heads into Georgetown's Master's Harbour anchorage, we managed to prolong the party by getting back together with two other rally boats for drinks aboard Anju.

Next day the cold front passed over, clocking the wind around with surprising speed and we found ourselves in the anchorage we'd selected for protection from SW winds, rolling badly in strong NE winds behind the front.   Finally we decided to seek out a more sheltered spot and gingerly picked our way back through the coral heads, now much harder to see in the waves, and headed back to Georgetown's main anchorage with a flotilla of five other boats.

Two days later we tried to return to Long Island but the wind was right on the nose, so we delayed by a day, arriving just in time to join Pat and Liz aboard Catspaw , together with George and Nancy from Trumpeter, for dinner.   If we'd known we'd be making the trip from Great Exuma to Long Island on such a regular basis, we could have offered to deliver the mail!

Next morning (very early next morning for those of us with 2 metre drafts), the three boats set off for the planned cruise of the Jumentos or Ragged Islands, which lie from the south of the Bahamas towards Cuba.    The channel over to the Jumentos was shallow, so our early start was due to the desire to arrive with at least half tide for the 12 mile crossing of the shallow channel.

The motor sail to our first Jumento island, Water Cay, was uneventful.  However, once we arrived we had trouble finding good holding until our third attempt at anchoring, when the clutch on the windlass seized.   So, our first job was to take the windlass apart and free the seized clutch, a job with which we are now very familiar.   Our engine room cooling blower had also died on the way but we'd have to manage without it.  However on checking over the engine, Phil spotted a diesel leak, which was quickly remedied by tightening a loose hose, then a more worrying oil leak was spotted.   It seemed we had a leaking gasket.   We cleaned off the engine and the leak didn't seem too serious.  Finally after all our chores, we got to visit the island, little more than a speck on the chart, and were pleased to find a perfectly preserved sea-biscuit whilst beach-combing.   Later we got together on the beach with other cruisers for happy hour.

We'd planned to move on further south next day as the wind was forecast to turn south west, leaving the Water Cay anchorage exposed.    We were woken at 3 am, as Anju started to roll when the wind began its turn and at 5 am our anchor drag alarm went off as the boat swung around into the new wind direction.    We weren't dragging our anchor but it certainly got us out of bed quickly.   About 6 am we decided we may as well press on to our next destination of Flamingo Cay, which was only 8 miles away but unfortunately straight into the SW wind.   The sea was uncomfortable, the wind quite strong and we didn't enjoy our trip at all.   We got wet and almost everything we own seemed to end up on the cabin floor as we bounced around.    We were glad to approach the cut into Flamingo Cay, until we saw the big standing waves in the entrance.    With a lump in our throats and our engine on full power, we managed to achieve 2 knots as we rolled our way through the waves, between two rocks about 100 metres apart into the calm of the anchorage, a blessed relief.

We set off next morning through the now calm cut back into deeper water.   The plan was to head to the south of the island and chain and seek out a more sheltered spot before the next cold front was expected to pass over, the following day.   Phil went into the engine room after a mile or so, to check on our oil leak and was alarmed to notice that we now had a cooling water leak to add to our collection.   At this point we decided that rather than pressing on further south into more remote areas, it would be prudent to head back to Georgetown to work on the engine.  Our first worry was whether the engine would get us back there!   We certainly wanted to make it back before the west winds of the cold front due the next day, so we had to explain the situation to the other two boats and make our farewells on the VHF radio before turning around to head north again.    

Route from Georgetown via Long Island to the Jumentos and back again!

We began to notice a strong smell aboard but couldn't spot anything wrong in the engine room, so put it down to the oil seeping onto the hot engine block.   However a short time later we realised our alternator was no longer charging the batteries and feared we'd burnt it out by piling in power from the engine which had nowhere to go.   To conserve power we rushed around boat switching off everything electrical which we could manage without, including the autopilot, which had in any case decided to have a funny turn.   So we found ourselves with the joyous situation of steering by hand, with 70 miles to go to Georgetown, heading for a channel which was too shallow for us at low water when we would arrive!    There was no point in rushing, for the later we arrived the more water we'd have in the channel and debated whether to drop the hook and wait another hour before heading across.   Yes, we were having a bad day!

We decided to press on and hope we'd find enough water below our keel, after all at least the tide was rising if we should run aground.  Every minute we delayed meant a later arrival at Georgetown and our ETA was already about 11 pm.   Fortunately we discovered that it was possible for us to run the engine and generator at the same time, without them starving each other of fuel, something we'd never tried before and we were able to recharge the batteries, ensuring we could continue to use our electronic navigation systems for confirmation of our position.    We tried the autopilot again and found it seemed to have recovered from its fit and was able to steer straight course across the shallow channel, leaving us only to worry about the depth of water and persistent strange smells from the engine room.   Luckily there was a little wind if the engine died but later it was forecast to turn west, so we wanted to keep our speed up. 

We were relieved to make it across the Comer Channel with a whole 20 centimetres to spare below our keel before darkness fell!    Of course if we'd had a shallower draft we could have used the cut between Great Exuma and Hog Cay, the smaller, more easterly island and would have reached Georgetown already but instead we had to take the 20 mile detour heading back towards Long Island before we could turn back north of the shallows towards Georgetown.  


All that remained was the small challenge of picking our way back through the coral reefs and rocks into the entrance to Georgetown's Elizabeth Harbour in the dark and then finding a safe spot to anchor amongst the three or four hundred other boats.   We were pleased to have electronic charts of which we'd tested the accuracy on our previous two trips to Long Island, so we could retrace our previous routes.   

On arrival, we found the deck light wouldn't work, so Phil had to fumble around in the dark on the foredeck whilst dropping the hook.  At 11 pm two very relieved people were safely anchored in Georgetown and enjoying a celebratory and much needed gin and tonic!

Next day we endured the rocking and rolling of the promised strong winds of the cold front, during which Phil took a look at our non-functioning alternator and discovered that the main positive output cable had broken off.   We held out little hope but after he'd repaired the cable, hit his thumb with the hammer (!) and refitted the alternator, it miraculously worked fine!   

"Rare Cushion Star Fish, endangered by over collecting" - we keep tripping over them on Sand Dollar Beach.


Such a hardship being stuck back in Georgetown!



After the cold front passed bringing its usual wind shift, we joined what's been christened the "Georgetown Shuffle", where boats move from one anchorage to another offering more protection from the new wind direction.   

The Bahamas winter weather was certainly a challenge.   Having been accustomed to the Caribbean trade winds weather, where the wind was almost always easterly and all the anchorages protected from that direction, we were only slowly becoming used to the Bahamas' "Northers", where the wind can clock right around in a very short time, forcing you to change anchorage.

After the trying couple of days we'd had we were very happy to be invited to eat aboard Nelson's Lady, by our new neighbours Alistair and Orit. 


Although we were disappointed to miss the Jumentos cruise, we were happy to be safely back in Georgetown, tracking down new engine gaskets from the States.   Of course, plenty was happening in "Party Central" and although we'd missed the Cruising Regatta's opening night and the Pet Parade, we were in time to watch the racing, sand sculpture competition and dancing competition amongst other things.

We had to miss the regatta variety show as we'd had a better offer of a delicious lamb dinner aboard Nelson's Lady with Alistair and Orit.  Not only was dinner wonderful but we met Vivian and Chris from Second Chance who happened to have a visitor arriving shortly from the States, who could bring along our engine parts.


Between Regatta events, we kept ourselves busy with a dominoes tournament with our Canadian friends Bob and Connie from Meredith.   We failed to heed their son Jake's warning that Connie could never be beaten at any type of game, which seemed to prove true for an irritatingly long time!   

Another highlight of our enforced stay in port was a visit with Vivian and Chris to Eddie's Edgewater, a local hostelry where they regularly hold a "Rake and Scrape".    This turned out to be an informal dance with Bahamian music produced by local musicians on instruments ranging from guitars to a wood saw!   The rhythm was infectious, inspiring us to get up and dance with the locals!

At least there was plenty happening in Georgetown to keep us entertained whilst awaiting our engine parts.

Finally somebody managed to beat Connie's score!

Return to homepage     Return to index 2005