George Town is perhaps the most recognizable destination for cruisers venturing into the Exuma Cays. Located on the western shore of Elizabeth Harbour near the southern end of Great Exuma Island, it’s a winter haven for some, the turnaround point for others or a jumping-off point to southern horizons. George Town itself is a bustling area that caters to land-based tourism as well as the cruising community. With all its amenities, there’s no place south of the Abacos where the needs of visitors are better met.
Elizabeth Harbour is usually approached from Exuma Sound. A direct, inside approach from the Great Bahama Bank is possible but not recommended due to the difficulty of navigating its reefs, rocks and sandbars. From the Sound, the northern entrance is through Conch Cay Cut, while from the southeast, passing North Channel Rocks leads to Three Fathom Channel and on into the harbor. Both entrances are complex and thread through dangerous waters, so consult appropriate cruising references and carry quality charts for proper navigation. The three-mile-long Stocking Island and a series of smaller cays bound the Harbour on the east. In combination with Great Exuma Island to the west, the land forms a protected harbor with many suitable anchorages, both along the shore of Stocking Island and across the harbor closer to town. Exuma Yacht Club has transient dockage and moorings are available on Stocking Island. In the heart of winter, it is common for over 300 boats to be anchored here. Many services including fuel, laundry, groceries, water, and others are readily available in town.
Situated near the geographic center of the harbor on Stocking Island, Volleyball Beach is command central for the cruising community. The sand volleyball courts host infamously competitive games, the Chat ‘N’ Chill restaurant provides food and drinks, and picnic tables on a beautiful sand beach under the casuarina trees mark the spot where everyone eventually meets. Activities in the area include yoga classes, craft lessons, recreational and competitive volleyball tournaments, Sunday church on the beach, and weekly talks by a local historian. The weekly barbecue lunch by the Chat ‘N’ Chill always draws big crowds. It’s easy to stay updated on local happenings as George Town has perhaps the busiest daily VHF cruiser’s net in the world. Every morning, a controlled net covers weather, news, announcements from local businesses, offers to buy, sell or trade boat gear, and requests for advice on nearly every subject. Depending on your cruising style, you may be energized or horrified by the breadth of activities here.
George Town Cruising Regatta
There’s no better time to experience George Town than in late February during the annual Cruising Regatta. This over-the-top celebration of all things cruising lasts approximately 10 days and is organized almost entirely by the cruising community. The already high energy of George Town escalates in the weeks preceding the first event. One of the biggest events of the Regatta is “George Town Has Talent”. Local residents and cruisers entertain with music and dance numbers ranging from sublime to ridiculous. Food and craft booths add an extra dimension to the festivities. At this year’s show, several local youth groups brought the crowd to life with dance and jazz routines, exemplifying one of the Regatta’s objectives: to bring our boating community and island residents a little closer together.
Another exciting component of the Regatta is the poker run, where participants can run in their dinghies to restaurants on both sides of the harbor picking up a card at each stop. The poker run has no time limit and each stop offers specials on food and drinks making it an all-afternoon event. Elizabeth Harbour is notable for the chop it can develop on windy days, which can make crossing the harbor a wet affair—bathing suits are the uniform of the day. Participants pick up a final card back at Volleyball Beach, where the very salty hands are played and the winning hand receives the quintessential island prize—a bottle of rum.
The Regatta also features a pet parade. Dogs of all breeds are dressed in imaginative costumes and paraded in front of a receptive crowd. Although some pets may be embarrassed by their costumes, they put their best paw forward and make their owners proud. The enticements of the harbor and the variety of events on George Town make the long trek worth your while. Whether you like the scene or not, everyone should experience this iconic destination at least once.
Long Island Petroleum in Salt Pond, Long Island, suffered major damage to their docks from Hurricane Joaquin in October 2015. They report that the docks have been completely rebuilt as of June 2016. In even better news for cruisers, the approach and dockside waters were dredged. The staff was not able to confirm exact depths, but they indicated that boats with a draft of 6 feet or less won’t encounter any problems at the dock. Furthermore, most cruisers should no longer have to lug jerry cans for fuel.
By Rex Noel, Southern Boating Magazine September 2016