"Good Morning, George-Town!"
|The In-Harbor Race (far right), run a few days later, is another spirited affair.|
Over at the scoring table, the good woman in question, Isabel, was busy filling in the brackets and keeping the action moving. "It's our second season coming down here," she said. "We just loved it, so we volunteered to chair an event. Get involved. Do your part. That's the way it is here in George-Town."
The top teams were playing a skilled and spirited brand of volleyball, but after a while, it got a little tiring just watching them battle under the blazing sun. Over by the regatta bulletin board, under some shady casuarinas, I ran into Mark and Gwyn on Ala, a Leopard 40 hailing from Chesapeake Bay, as they scanned the scratch sheet for the next day's race around Stocking Island. It would be their first sailboat race ever.
"We didn't plan on being plopped in this place for so long," said Gwyn, echoing yet another familiar and oft-repeated refrain. "We were warned if we got to George-Town and put the anchor down, it might be a while before we picked it up again."
Over on a picnic bench, George and Toby on Puff, a neat little houseboat tucked up in the shallows, said they felt no desire to pull up stakes. Then again, Puff has no engines and is permanently moored. Like many other cruisers, the couple made a permanent move to George-Town after many years of regular visits aboard their Tartan 37 and, later, their Morgan 44.
"When we first started sailing to the Bahamas, all we heard about were the great crowds in George-Town, how there was no room," said George. "So we ventured on down and found out none of it was true. There's always room to anchor. It's a big, huge, immense harbor. And it's a lot warmer here than in the Abacos."
George and Toby insisted that we meet some friends of theirs, French-Canadians Michel and Louise on Marie-Antoine, a 42-foot trawler. The Canadian presence is very strong in George-Town; in fact, it seems like every other boat in the anchorage sports the familiar red-and-white Maple Leaf flag snapping off the transom.
Like many of their countrymen, Michel and Louise commute back and forth to Canada every six months to meet the residency requirements to retain their health insurance. But Michel, a former executive at Xerox who left the company in 2000, reckons that the time he spends in the islands plays the largest role in his well-being.
"Those last five years of work, from 1995 to 2000, I took quite a beating. I aged quite a bit," he said in a pleasing French accent. "I was looking at my body decreasing. It wasn't good. Since then, I don't feel like I've aged too much at all."
If you stick around George-Town long enough, you begin to hear the same things from different people. Louise's parting comment was one more increasingly recognizable proclamation.
"This place," she said, "is a summer camp for adults."
|At the Chat 'n' Chill's post-regatta awards bash, they give prizes for everything, including Best Baking while under way.|
Yes, if you're patient, there actually is a "regatta" at the George-Town Cruising Regatta. Actually, there's a pair of races, the first a point-to-point contest of about 20 miles, starting and finishing in the main harbor after a circuit out in the ocean and around Stocking Island, and the second, a round-the-buoys in-harbor match. The former drew a couple of dozen monohulls and nine multihulls, the latter about half those numbers.
For the distance race, I scored a spot aboard a St. Francis 50 catamaran, Artemis. The boat's owners, George and Jillian Godfrey, and their son, Greg, had originally sailed to the islands from their home in South Africa. After a career in banking, George started building the St. Francis line of cats and has since erected a multipurpose resort/sales office/bar/restaurant on an arresting parcel of land on Stocking Island, the scene of several regatta parties and gatherings.
Our crew for the race included Pam and Ollie from Let it Go, a Beneteau 41 (Ollie, I'd soon learn, has a serious problem keeping his pants around his waist, particularly when sailing close abeam another boat); Eric and Susan on Elysia, a Formosa 46; and Willis from Whistling Winds, a Contact 35. The actual racing, however, was but a sidelight to the overall proceedings. Other prizes, of equal merit, would be awarded for the Best Photograph, the Best Baking, and the Longest Edible Fish Caught, all of which had to be addressed while under way.
Soon after the start, four fishing lines were streaming astern. "If we run into a school of mahi, we're in trouble," said Eric. Moments later, Pam disappeared into the galley to whip up an incredible chocolate pecan pie-which turned out to be the winner. "This isn't the Jenny Craig Race," she said.
Meanwhile, as event chairman Stuart, in his soothing English tones, narrated the action on VHF Channel 78, the rest of the crew put Artemis through her paces. Skipper George was obviously a very solid and accomplished sailor, and he orchestrated a smart game plan from start to finish. In a fading breeze, Artemis glided past the finish line and the huge, raucous raft of inflatables partying off the race-committee boat, the first cat home.
Pam's pie was an incredible success, but the two smallish barracuda in the fish hold were far less promising. "Maybe we could sew them together," sighed Eric.
Two days later, for the In-Harbor Race, I joined Charlie and Terry on Voyager, their immaculate Jeanneau 43. It was, as they say, blowing the dogs off the chains, and things were definitely more chaotic than they'd been on Artemis. But Charlie had done his fair share of P.H.R.F. racing back in the day, and he managed to (mostly) keep his cool as we negotiated the two laps around the cans. Even though it was 10:30 a.m., the icy-cold beer was a welcome treat when all was said and done.
The dilemma when trying to write a story about the George-Town Cruising Regatta is perplexing: Where do you begin? Where do you end? I mean, all the sailors who've managed to extricate themselves from the so-called "real world" and make it all the way to the Bahamas have a great tale to tell. Nowhere was this more evident than at the post-racing regatta awards ceremony at the Chat 'n' Chill.
For instance, take Charlie and Lizz on Kaya, a Catana 401, who cleaned up in the multihull division. The "Charlie" who everyone on the beach knew was a laid-back dude having the time of his life. But Charlie Ogletree was also probably the best mariner in the harbor, a four-time Olympic cat sailor who'd earned a silver medal at the Athens Games.
Then there was Marc and Angie on a Manta 42, Side by Side, cruising with their children, Parker and Sabrina. The Johnson family was conspicuous in an unexpected way, for the one thing that seemed to be missing from the regatta: a big posse of cruising youngsters. "There were a whole lot of families who rolled back home after their savings tanked," Marc said. "We're on Year Three of a five-year plan, and we can't see a reason to stop now."
Then, at the epicenter of the eclectic gathering, was Kenneth Bowe, better known as K.B., the Bahamian-born proprietor of the Chat 'n' Chill and owner of the nine acres of unreal beach on which many of the regatta activities take place. "I figured out what the people wanted and what they needed," he said. "I separated the wants from the needs and started with the needs. From there, the business has gone straight up."
"Without K.B., there'd be no George-Town," said Rockin' Ron, who, now free of his radio, was hosting the awards gig.
"And without us," whispered one cruiser, "he wouldn't be a multi-millionaire."
The Saturday-night awards ceremony segued into the Rockin' Ron Dance Party, and before long, lots of cruisers were rollicking on the beach. But I decided to head for town to take in the Bahamian Music and Heritage Festival in "downtown" George-Town, at Regatta Park.
A group of cruisers in a band called Folks on Boats (previously known as "White Folks on Boats," but since shortened for perhaps obvious political reasons) were playing, led by none other than the volleyball chairmen, Wayne and Isabel from Cassiopeia. They even sang an original tune called "Down and Out in George-Town":
We packed it up and sailed away,
We'll go to work another day.
I don't want to LOOK at my 401(k)!
Just want to drink some rum,
get some sun,
have some fun,
down in George-Town.
Yeah, down in George-Town.
After their set, I was having a beer with the couple when the boisterous local Junkanoo band came rolling through. Suddenly, a guy with a big, green conch shell was beside us, blowing away. He handed it to Wayne, a natural musician, who gave it a hard look, blew a tentative note, realized he had it, and joined in step with the band, Isabel close behind.
The last I saw them, they were dancing away, jiving and swinging, two more fully grown cruising kids off to yet another George-Town sandbox.
CW editor at large Herb McCormick is now en route on a different camp activity, that of doubling Cape Horn. Catch up with him via his blog at CW's website (www.cruisingworld.com).