Georgetown, the Mafia of the Bahamas
March 17, 2019
The cast of Gilligan’s Island set out for a three-hour tour. The crew of Music & Lyrics set out to visit Georgetown for two-weeks. Both cast and crew were dead wrong about how long it would take to get off that island.
Which is why I consider Georgetown the Mafia of the Bahamas.
In our case, we were simply thrilled to keep heading south and away from all these crazy storms that kept interrupting our exploration of islands. Storms that kept forcing us to take shelter and hunker down, sometimes for days on end without ever leaving the boat. With all the services and shopping we expected to greet us in Georgetown, we were beyond happy to point our vessel in that direction.
The added bonus for us was that so many of our new sailing friends were either already there, or on their way. I was missing socialization and couldn’t wait. Plus, this was the last weekend of my vacation and I was determined to make the most of it.
We arrived on Friday at midday and decided to anchor a bit away from the crowds at Chat N’ Chill and instead, anchored off Sand Dollar Beach. This was great, until we took our crappy dinghy and pitiful outboard across the harbor to meet up with some friends. The chop in the harbor is no joke. And if your dinghy is dinky like ours is, then it’s downright uncomfortable. And wet.
A few days later, we moved off Chat N Chill to be closer to our pals. And that is when things got seriously fun, and incredibly dramatic.
As I look back on the last SEVEN WEEKS, I cannot tell you exactly what we did, but I will tell you I drank way too much on weekends, we bought a new outboard and dinghy, and we spent many nights at anchor rolling around in the uncomfortable swell. But we also met some of the most amazing people, especially at the Wednesday night dance party. I mean, everything is right there, you could almost swim ashore, play volleyball or do beach yoga, or take a hike to the Atlantic. And stub your toe on exposed roots, but that might just be me.
As this was Regatta month, so many cruisers joined the harbor and the excitement really kicked into full drive. The area is so popular, they have their own cruiser’s net on channel 72 at 8a daily, where you can find out who is coming, going, and what they are doing, selling, or trading. It’s the epitome of water-cooler chit chat.
In January, my boss asked me to come back to California for an important planning meeting in March. Initially, I thought we’d likely be in Eleuthera by then, and with Erik likely single-handing M&L, I thought Rock Sound would be a great place for him to chill for a few nights while I’d be away. But by the second week of our stay in Georgetown, we’d decided we had to buy a new dinghy, a new outboard, and it’d probably be easier doing this from Georgetown, so why not go see some nearby islands and come back for the March trip to Cali?
Sounds easy enough, until a series of squalls hits, drags our anchor, ties a line around our prop, and breaks our boat.
Think I’m kidding? I’m not. We’d had a few minor squalls while here, I mean c’mon, this is the Bahamas, but the early morning squalls on Feb 13 brought heavy rain, winds close to 35 knots, and in a crowded anchorage, they brought drama. And lots of calls on the radio reporting the dragging, kind of like the CNN of the sailing community.
It was 7a when our anchor alarm went off. Thinking it was a failed GPS signal (again), Erik got up to see what was going on. Our boat had turned 180 degrees. All boats had. No big deal. He comes back to bed and a few minutes later, I get up bleary-eyed to make coffee.
I turn to look at our neighbors boat’s, and see that they are now all facing one direction and we are turning, rapidly, the other. I alert Erik and we immediately toss clothes on, grab the headsets, get them paired, he grabs the keys and runs upstairs to the helm.
I make my way forward (did I mention this was DURING A FREAKING SQUALL) across the deck and remove the anchor snubber. Erik has the engine started and starts squaring us up to the chain. I start lifting the anchor chain, and it locks up not once, but twice. This (^&@!#)$ windlass will be the stress that causes my heart attack, I’m telling you right now.
I get the chain unwound and the anchor up to about 8” before breaking through the water. Holy smokes, she is full of muck and grass. No wonder she couldn’t bite back into the ground and hold when we turned.
By now, I’m hearing a weird noise, and so is Erik. The drives don’t sound right. There is an odd whirring noise. It sounds painful if I’m being honest.
Erik tells me through the headset that he can’t turn the boat easily. There are boats everywhere, some parked too close, and others just in our path given the lack of navigational flexibility.
I race toward the starboard aft deck and that’s when I see the line we had cleated off – the one that holds our noodles so we can hop out and not get caught in the current. I see the line, and it is INCREDIBLY tight against the cleat. But the line disappears under the hull. I see no sign of the noodles.
As usual, my better half thinks on his feet quickly, gets her under control, and moves her to the last line of boats before the shipping channel. This is maybe 400 yards, but is still too close to other vessels. We nose her into the wind, and I drop the anchor quickly. We back down on it, she’s set, I snub it off for protection, and Erik grabs his mask and fins.
By now, about 30 minutes has elapsed and the squall is now just drizzling rain. Winds have died. But as I look astern, I see another squall maybe 2 miles away. Time to hurry! Get the line unwrapped from the prop.
In popular sailing channels, we’ve seen this happen. Dude dives in, and hahahaha, he has the line clenched in one fist, and a triumphant look on his face. Riiiight. Seems like “no big deal”, but in our case, it was a big deal. I managed to get the line unwound from the cleat, but it would take every ounce of strength from Erik, and every last breath, to keep diving under the hull in 2’ swells to manually unwind the line that had wrapped itself about 20 times around the prop. But he did it.
We have no idea what happened to the noodles. For all we know, they are happily enjoying life on another boat. What we do know is that we thought this was the last of the drama.
After clearing the prop, we turn the engines back on, we were about to lift the anchor and circle around for a safe anchoring location, but then BAM!! The other squall hits us.
We waited out the second squall, both of us gripping the back of our settee with white knuckles, praying this temp anchor would hold. And like the champ this anchor (usually) is, she did just fantatic. Now it’s time to get our vessel safely anchored away from nearby boats.
Erik fires up the drives again, but the starboard prop wouldn’t engage. It made that same pitiful sound and actually, it sounded even worse now.
With some maneuvering, Erik got us back in alignment for a new attempt at safe anchoring, I drop the hook, but we cannot bear down on the anchor to ensure it is set because we only have the port drive. Stressed out, we attached the bridle, and hoped for the best.
The reality was this: the damage to the prop put tremendous stress on the coupler, so much that the coupler did his job and gave up his life to protect our drive shaft. Rest in peace, Mr. Coupler. We appreciate your sacrifice, and trust me, you won’t be forgotten.
During the shenanigans, we didn’t have our radio on, and apparently we were being hailed by fellow cruisers who were offering to help and concerned about the dragging we experienced. The cruising community is without a doubt, the best community in the entire world.
That afternoon, two cruisers from nearby boats came to check our anchor with their scuba gear, and were prepared to use their dinghy’s in order to set the anchor. Thankfully, the anchor had in fact set, was very secure at this point, and wouldn’t likely budge, as it was buried deep in soft sand below. Again, the cruising community is the BEST!
However, the coupler repair would be a different story. We had expected to leave to visit nearby islands, but were now effectively grounded (so to speak) until we could find the needed part, order it from the states, deal with customs, and repair our broken boat.
To be safe, Erik did the old MacGyver “duct tape and tooth pick” trick to the shaft so that we could engage the drive in the event of an emergency, but had fingers crossed that we wouldn’t have one.
The new part would arrive in 10 days. Meanwhile, I mentioned it was Regatta month right? Considering we were stuck in the sand for a while longer, Erik decided to volunteer to be the Regatta Committee Boat for the big “Inside the Harbor Race”. I still don’t know that I know what the Committee Boat does, other than encourage a lot of sailors to sail by with their pants down, or however you do it, but it was a lot of fun, and seeing so many happy sailors racing through the bay was a fantastic site. And thankfully, the part arrived just in time for a successful repair so we wouldn’t have to bail on volunteer duties!
To say we met a lot of people, made a lot of friends, would be an understatement. One of my good gal pals, also a sailor/cruiser, told me “the friends you make at sea will last a lifetime.” I think that is absolutely true. I won’t call them out by name here, but every single person we met, from the first sundowner’s we enjoyed, to the dance parties at Chat N Chill, to the Coconut Run race, to our beach bonfire and to the final sunset, and everything in between, my best to you and yours, and may the winds always be fair, and the seas always follow.
Our time in Georgetown was just over 7 weeks (51 days to be exact), and while it was great times, it was also way too long to be in one location. It was time to move on. And at the half-way mark for the cruising season, while some would continue south to the Caribbean and beyond, for us, it would be time to start the slow sojourn back to the United States to hide from from the hurricanes.
Next: Cat Island and Little San Salvador
xoxo, Lisa (note: there are so many georgeous sunrises, sunsets, calamities and shenanigans, I’m just gonna drop em all here…)