George Town is on Great Exuma Island about 150 miles southeast of Nassau and 300 miles from Miami (as the crow flies not as Maraki sails). The harbor (called Elizabeth Harbor on charts) for George Town is defined by Stocking island to the east, Great Exuma to the west and reef with small cays to north and south making for an area of 6 miles N to S and 1.5 miles E to W. It is in this area that the racing was held. George Town is a center for winter yacht gatherings for southern Bahamas and we estimate that easily 150 yachts of all sizes and nationalities were at anchor in this harbor during the time we were there. We hear that at peak season which is Jan-Feb the number swells to double that. There are a few marinas in the harbor also but most of the boats are anchored. Most services can be found here including repairs, shopping for basics food stuff, restaurants, bars and services like laundry. We timed our arrival to be there for the Family Island Regatta which we last attended in 1983. My sister Cook and her husband Geoff joined us then and Cook sent me photos of what the area was like back then. The only noticeable difference is the number of cruising boats in the harbor. The history of the regatta dates back to March 1954 while the Bahamas was under the British flag. The purpose as state d in the original memorandum was “to give a sailing regatta to encourage the building and maintainence of the sailing fleet. The races are exclusively for working boats of the Bahamas island and the timing was scheduled to not interfere with the fishing season on which the livelihood of the fisherman depends”. Today the fisherman get paid to bring their boats here and the winner gets prize money. Most of the boats from farther islands were brought as deck cargo on 3 local freighters. Quite a sight seeing these boats arrive. All boats must be made of wood in the traditional manner. All sails are made entirely of cotton. The boats are placed into 5 different classes based on a few measurements. They are not one design. Today the boats do not have to be actively used in the fishing industry. Class A for example are sloops about 28 feet long and have up to 60 foot mast and 32 foot boom carrying a large main. They sail with 12-15 crew members and they can have up to 4 non Bahamian crew members. Class B sloops are 21 ft on deck, Class C,D and E are cat rigged and of smaller lengths (17 ft and less). All the boats are brightly painted and proudly display the island of which they are from-Acklins, Long, Abacos, Staniel Blackpoint, Nassau, e Boats use a pry board( or up to 3 boards for class A) for hiking the boats. The board is slid from side to side when tacking and however many crew are needed to balance the boats are on the board. If the boat tips over, as happened in one race after a collision at a buoy rounding, it will sink quite quickly. However the bay is never more than 15 or so feet and the water is crystal clear so recovery was just a matter of time and effort. For the sailors reading this we wanted to give you an idea of the type of boats and Rules/Regs of the regatta. A quote from the original NOR “We believe the good sport of sailing should be fun and the complicated racing rules used in Yacht racing are more conducive of acrimonious argument than they are of fun.” Maybe something to learned from here???? Therefore the basic rules of racing are the same (like port/starboard rules) with changes like a downwind boat must pass 3 boat lengths to windward of opponent and the leeward boat is not allowed to luff up another off the course. The race committee could be heard enforcing these rules during the races much like on the water judges would be during stateside racing. Each class sailed one race each day for 3 days and the course was generally a triangle with 2 or 3 laps. A major difference is all starts were from anchor with sails down along a defined line. The starting sequence was a one minute gun for warning and then a gun to go. At that time the anchor(4 pronged grappling hooks) was hauled up as quickly as possible and the sails hoisted. No winches on these boats, used only manpower. Many Bahamians enjoy watching the races from shore and are very animated including betting on who wins. They are happy to share what they think about who is best, who is winning and show fierce pride in their favorite. The noise of the crowd gets loud and spirited at key moments like the starts and finishes. Onshore a regatta village was constructed and featured continuous loud music from speakers from late morning till dawn but we were anchored far enough away to only be aware of it, not annoyed by it. The village featured food and drink by locals and was well attended by local and tourists. Conch salad, fish, chicken and pork were sold and was delicious. We met a well known BOC raceboat designer named Roger Martin here and shared stories over local Bush Crack beer. He sailed to the Bahamas on a lightweight shallow draft (about 18 inches with boards and rudder up) cat ketch that he trailers to Miami from Rhode Island. On the final day we attended the parade which was the local all age school band complete with majorette and a team of dancing girls. Following that were the Bahamas Police Band from Nassau that the Bahamians referred to as world famous! They are on the $1 bill too. They were a great performance to watch and hear. Those are leopard skins worn over the shoulders. Trophy presentation at night turned into many political speeches by the various party members and then a brief awarding of the winner trophies by class. John stayed through all the presentation while I returned to a friends boat for cocktails and dinner. We also spent a bit of time each day exploring the islands around the harbor. Good hikes up to Momument and over to the ocean beaches were part of our daily exercise plan. We attended a very good talk by a local Bahamian on the history of the Exumas and the Bahamas. He also talked about local herbs and their usage for medicine to heal stomach aches, head aches, and any other ailment. At the Chat and Chill we played checkers outdoors and bocce balls. A permanent volleyball net was available and had regulars who played on that beach. The signpost already had an entry for Muskegon Mi on there and stated that it was 1,485 miles away.
Many cocktail hours and dinners were spent with friends. Gary and Kathe on Tribasa Cross.
LaVonne and Donald on Cats Meow, a unique 76 foot catamaran from Virginia. This boat was bought in Miami at auction after it was seized for drugs. The then owner had run marihuana and hash oil from Jamaica to Georgia for about 20 years before getting caught.
We enjoyed hearing their stories and making new friends. LaVonne is a collector of “unique” art she finds on her beach walks. I learned a new way of looking at collectibles from her.
Carina Rose with Wil and Loes(she is named Louise but called Loes just like me!) from Curacao. They will be traveling back to Curacao after a cruise up to Maine and the east coast so we hope to see them again.
So this is what cruising is all about and we have enjoyed our time in the Bahamas very much. We have made the 350ish miles in a south east direction to Luperon, Dominican Republic. This looks and feels like a whole new world from the Bahamas. We are excited to be exploring here and will spend a week or so here. Next onward along the north coast of DR to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. That will be for the next post. Hope all is well with our family and friends and we miss you. However spring time has come we hear to the USA after a long tough winter so time for all you sailors to get your boats out and go racing and sailing again. Fair Winds to you!