Wednesday, February 4, 2009


We had heard about people getting stuck in Chicken Harbor, but we never thought it would happen to us.

Chicken Harbor is a nickname for George Town, a community on Great Exuma Island at the southern end of the Exumas. The name fits, because people come here for a few days and end up staying a month or two or three. Some stay because the journey farther south can get a little rough, with overnight passages and high seas. Others stay because life is fairly easy here. For many couples, George Town is a compromise between the husband's desire to cruise the world and the wife's reluctance to leave the conveniences of home.

There are about 200 boats here, reduced by the bad economy from the usual 400 to 500. Along with a decent grocery store, internet cafe, laundry, library, straw market and liquor store, the harbor has many beautiful anchorages, which offer wind protection from nearly every direction.

Lots of folks come here to spend the winter and, as a result, the cruisers have organized many activities. Every afternoon you can choose among volleyball, basket weaving, bocci ball, bridge, dominoes, or just sitting around chatting. Some call George Town an "adult summer camp."

The gathering place is Volleyball Beach. It has a restaurant/bar called the Chat and Chill, many picnic tables, and dozens of lounge chairs for sitting in the sun or under a tree reading a book. A little stand offers fresh conch salad (ceviche), which goes extremely well with a cold bottle of Kalik, the local beer.

Although George Town has been fun, it's not really our cup of tea. If it weren't for this long stretch of bad weather, we would have left a week ago.

For a couple of weeks, the wind has been "blowing like stink" as they say, and the weather forecasters are calling for another week of the same.

Last night was especially exciting. Around sunset, the winds were approaching 30 knots (about 35 mph). According to my chart, 32-27 mph is a moderate gale that puts whole trees in motion and makes it inconvenient to walk against the wind. At that velocity, the wind makes a howling sound as it moves through the rigging. The boat pitches around and strains at the anchor line. Boats that have not anchored properly are inclined to drag into other boats.

The VHF radio was buzzing with nervous chatter. Suddenly, a female voice from a boat near us called to a neighboring boat that she was drifting and needed some help. We watched as the neighbors launched their dinghy, sped to the first boat and climbed aboard. After several minutes, they were able to raise the anchor and motor off to another location and possibly a more secure anchorage.

Within an hour after the first episode, another cruiser announced a "catamaran on the loose" in our anchorage. The owners weren't on the boat. Dinghies came from every direction to try to corral the moving boat. They managed to keep it from hitting another boat. The owners were located, returned to the boat, and re-anchored it securely.

The winds continued to howl all night long. On nights like that one, I have learned there is great comfort in taking a hand-held GPS to bed. Checking several times during the night to make sure our boat hasn't moved outside it's expected range gives me a better night's sleep.

As soon as we have a good weather window, we will join several other friends in a daytime cruise to Long Island, about 35 miles southeast of here.