When sailing up and down the 365 islands that make up the Exuma islands, George Town is the place to stop for ATMs, government services and food provisioning. It is located on Great Exuma, the southernmost island of the Exumas, which is about 37 miles long and has a population of 7,500. We needed to come here for two reasons. First, our Bahamas visitor’s visa is expiring and we need extend it. Second, we have some friends from Atlanta arriving to spend some time with us. George Town has an airport with direct flights from Atlanta. There is a Sandals resort on the island helping to increase the tourism and providing jobs. I would imagine that Sandals lobbied hard for direct flights from the USA without the need to connect in Nassau like many other Bahamian islands.
Our sail from Eleuthera to Great Exuma was uneventful. Uneventful is a good thing in our world. It took us a full day to sail on the Atlantic Ocean from the southern tip of Eleuthera to Galliot Cay. Galliot Cay is an uninhabited island about 20 miles north of Great Exuma that we used as a stopover. One of the great things about sailing in the Bahamas is just about every island can be reached without sailing overnight. We don’t mind sailing overnight but we don’t do it if we don’t have to. Sailing directly to George Town meant a night time landing or departure. We picked Galliot Cay as a stopover because the cut from the Atlantic Ocean through to the leeward side of the islands was wide and deep. We divided our sail into two legs rather than do the straight run. Then we spent a couple of days hanging about Galliot Cay on Cream Puff soaking in the nice weather. Snorkeling from the boat passed the day. There wasn’t much to see in the crystal clear water but, I found a ¾” shackle. It was brand new and still had the price tag on it. It was nice to retrieve something from the ocean rather than what I normally do, lose stuff in the ocean. We left Galliot Cay for the quick jaunt to George Town.
Elizabeth Harbour in George Town was described to us as “day care for sailors”. This proved to be very true. When we arrived, the place was packed with cruisers. We estimated about 300 boats were anchored in the harbor. Each morning at 8am on the VHF radio there is a Cruiser’s Net. During this broadcast, cruisers discuss upcoming activities. We heard: yoga, volley ball, beach church, Texas hold ‘em, AA meetings and Active Captain educational seminars just to name a few. It is also a forum where people can swap boat parts, set up a cab share, get help on an engine issue etc. We got the feeling some people arrive here each season and never really leave the area. It is a very socially busy port. All of the boats huddled together made the anchoring pretty tight. We decided to move away from the crowds and find a nice isolated spot where we didn’t have to worry about playing bumper boats when the wind changed direction.
As much as we wanted to jump into the adult day care lifestyle (not really) we had a more pressing issue. Upon entry to the Bahamas, cruising sailors are issued a visa for either 90 or 180 days by immigration. The boat is issued a permit lasting for a year by Customs. It is fairly typical for a country’s Customs and Immigration departments to not align for cruising sailors. In Green Turtle Cay, our point of entry, we requested a 180 day visa and we were told we could have a 90 day. We didn’t argue. Our visas were set to expire and we needed to find the Bahamas Immigration office. This meant launching our dinghy in some windy weather. If you recall, we traded our old inflatable dinghy for an old folding dinghy. The harbor was pretty rough as the wind was blowing 20+ knots. Our little dinghy was about to get tested. Our choices were few as the winds showed no sign of dying down over the next couple of days. So, we bounced our way to shore. It was like a cheap carnival ride. Up and down we went over the harbor chop (about 1 – 2 feet waves). Remarkably, we made it safely to the dinghy landing in town. We are in agreement we need to keep our dinghy options open. The folding dinghy is probably not a keeper. It performs well in calm waters but scares the bejesus out of us in rough chop. We hiked the short distance to Immigration Office only to see a sign on the door that read, “no visa extensions issued today”. A quick conversation at the window revealed the only Immigration Officer was out sick with a hurt back. This was followed by a little scolding for waiting until the day of rather than coming in sooner. The clerk asked us to fill out the forms and return in a couple of days. She said we could come back when the weather was better and the officer was healthy. Filling out and leaving the application for an extension seemed to be enough of an effort to stop us from being arrested during the interim. The visas expired the next day. So for a few days we were illegal aliens in the Bahamas. We returned a couple of days later and sorted out all the paperwork. I am please to say, we are once again legal visitors.
Now that we don’t have to look over our shoulders for the cops, we decided to explore a little. The first stop was the heart of sailor’s day care, the Chat ‘n Chill. This place is famous amongst sailors cruising the Bahamas. We learned a new phrase from some Canadian friends: Toes in the sand bar. The Chat ‘n Chill is the epitome of a toes in the sand bar. It is an all day hangout where people sit at the picnic table and well…. they chat and chill. There are some stingrays that have hit pay dirt. Located on the beach is a hut where conch salad is served. The scraps are tossed in the water. The rays have discovered if they are willing to put up with pesky tourist petting them, they can get daily meals without much effort. Some of the more dossal rays will allow people to hand feed them. Very cool. While we thought about having lunch at the Chat ‘n Chill, the food we saw being served did not look very appetizing. We opted instead to eat at the St. Francis Resort just across the water. While it wasn’t great food, it certainly seemed better than the Chat ‘n Chill offerings.
We are very excited about some friends arriving. Soon to be continued….