26 Jan – 13 Feb: George Town to Atwood Harbour – 22 43N 73 52W
The winds finally settled enough for us to leave the shallow banks of the Bahamas and head south via the deep Exumas Sound. We wanted to be away from Black Point at first light to try and time our arrival through the pass into George Town at high tide around mid afternoon. We were up and ready to go early, but it was still that dark we couldn’t see the boats anchored around us! Finally the skies lightened enough and we were on our way.
We exited through Dotham Cut at mid tide, and had another white water rafting experience through the grade 5 rapids before being spat out into the Exuma Sound. The skies were full of heavy clouds, lines of squalls marched across – some we missed, some we didn’t, we even had the odd water spout form behind us. Not exactly a relaxing days sail but we made good time to cover the 55 miles and arrived through the reef cut at the northern entrance to George Town right on high tide as planned. We had a timely downpour just before anchoring so arrived with a salt free clean boat, always a bonus.
The Home of the Snow Birds
We had hoped to meet up with Jim and Carola on Koza but they had used the same weather window to move on from George Town further south so it might be quite some time before we catch up with them again. But we sure weren’t lacking in company with just over 200 boats in the various anchorages throughout this popular harbour.
This is the “turnaround point” for most of the Canadian and American snowbirds – they start making their way south down the protected waters of the East Coast Intracoastal Waterway system in autumn, most follow that route right down to Miami. (We couldn't do any of it because of our deep keel and high mast!)
Then it’s a long day sail or an overnighter out onto the Bahamas Bank where you can day sail in sheltered waters to within 30 miles of George Town. Why sit in the snow at home when you can be part of this huge cruising community in the warmth? Most of them make George Town their base for winter and the planned daily activities were somewhat overwhelming for those of us just passing by.
Rock n Roll then Rake n Scrape
However we did partake in a couple of evening outings in company with American friends Kathy and Kurt off Five and Dime who we met in Maine in August. First was to the nearby Chat n Chill Bar for an evening of Rock n Roll then another night we ventured over to George Town (a very long and wet dinghy ride) to sample the sounds of a Bahamian Rake n Scrape Band at Eddies Edgewater Bar. Luckily the photos were too blurry so we have no evidence of yours truly looking very pigeon toed and uncoordinated while being whirled around the dance floor, raking and scraping, by one of the locals.
We spent many days in George Town waiting for the next big low to hit the east coast of mainland USA which sucks all the strong wind northward and we get to enjoy a brief lull in the prevailing easterly trade winds in the Bahamas, allowing us to go east once again. Tony and Michelle on Tactical Directions caught up with us again and most days the 4 of us would dinghy into the nearby lagoon, walk over Stocking Island and Tony and I would take a long walk while Michelle and Mark ran for miles.
Back into the Big Blue Wobbly Stuff
Fully stocked up on fresh produce to last a couple of weeks we finally slipped out of George Town harbour in company with Tactical Directions. A forecast 15 knots from the southeast never did quite eventuate, no big surprise, and we sailed hard on the wind with adverse current the 45 miles northeast to Conception Island. However as you can see from the photos it was worth every wave that crashed over the bow, we had found yet another magical spot.
We were barely 50 miles from busy George Town yet we had only a handful of yachts in this magical spot, not that we were complaining!
We only stayed a couple of nights anchored off this deserted island and sadly farewelled Tony and Michelle for the season. We have shared many anchorages with Tactical Directions since Darwin in 2006 but it is likely this will be the last as we head in different directions, but who knows?
While mainland USA got another major dumping of snow we took advantage of the easing of the trade winds and did a few long days to get south and east as far as we could. From Conception Island we headed south 50 miles hard on the wind and with current against us to Clarence Town on Long Island. We arrived just on dark and took three attempts to set our anchor, not what you want after long days sail.
We stayed a couple of nights to let the winds ease some more, then did another 50 miles, which included several extra miles tacking, finally arriving at Pittstown on Crooked Island late afternoon. The wind, of course, was right on the nose but light, the seas flat and apart from a few squalls too many it wasn’t a bad day.
Pittstown was just an overnight pit stop, the next morning we were off again in splendid conditions along the top of Crooked Island then adjoining Acklins Island in flat water and light winds the 35 miles to Atwood Harbour. 51 miles and 11 tacks later (need I mention that we were hard on the wind!!) we pulled into this lovely horseshoe shaped harbour with a long curving sandy beach, just a handful of yachts for company. Yet another top stop in the Bahamas but it was to be our last.
Balvenie sailed into the Bahamas on 07 Dec 2013 and it was now 13 Feb 2014. We had explored from Walkers Cay in the north west to Acklins Island in the south east, covered 662 miles, stopped at 27 anchorages and didn’t run aground once in these shallow waters!!
We were astounded but pleased at how under developed it all was, but we did stay away from the main tourist hotspots. The weather was predictable and generally good, the temperatures around 20 – 25c, the water a little cool for me - comfortable for Mark, the snorkelling disappointing but the anchorages generally superb. It exceeded our expectations, and if we were “snowbirds” we couldn’t think of a better area to while away our cruising winters.
So - That Was the Bahamas ……. Where To Now????