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Last Updated on September 13, 2023 by Amy
We were so glad to escape the rapidly dropping temperatures of the Chesapeake Bay and head south. Finally, finally, on December 19th we dropped anchor in Georgetown, one of the busiest sailing ports in the Bahamas.
I was very excited to get to Georgetown – it’s family tradition! My dad sailed there in 2008, my uncle Jim decades earlier. What makes Georgetown so exciting is that it’s a cruisers town in that there’s aren’t cruise ships that come in, very few major hotels (Sandals up north), and lots of activities and amentities for cruisers.
Since we arrived early in the season, it wasn’t too crowded. Thanks to a weekly report, we know that there were something like 120 boats in the area. Later, in peak season, the numbers hit over 400!
We were in and out of the Georgetown area from mid-December till mid-April. That’s four months of these wonderful islands! During that time, we took trips to Conception Island, Long Island, the Jumentos/Raggeds, and went up north to the Lee Stocking area.
The Bahamas, but especially the Exumas, are just stunning. It’s easy to cruise, with good anchorages, lots of cruisers who share and help each other, and good supplies. Sure, a big marine store would be nice, but it’s manageable now.
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VHF Net & Cruisers Activities
The Georgetown area has a cruiser’s net every day at 8 am on channel 72. It was just getting started when we arrived, but it’s in full swing in peak season. It’s a time for cruisers to make announcements, ask for help, organize events, and for local businesses to advertise.
Otherwise, if you are at anchor, keep your radio on channel 68. That’s where everyone hangs out to be social during the day. It’s especially good for days when a storm rolls in – in such a crowded place, boats will drag.
There are a whole slew of activities one can partake in around Georgetown: yoga, water aerobics, beach volleyball, basket weaving, etc.
One special event I attended was a lesson in how to make a conch horn. I need to find a really good conch shell, but when I do…I’ll know how to make a horn.
So many boats are coming and going into Georgetown all season long. It was amazing how many people we got to meet that we’ve been in touch with or known online for a long time, plus how many good friends were in the area.
Georgetown is also a great place to fly in and out of. We had two sets of guests come visit us in Georgetown, our friends Sara and Todd and my Uncle Jim and Aunt Melinda. We had both sets of guests fly in and out of Georgetown. A lot of cruising friends had their guests fly into Georgetown and out of Staniel Cay or vis versa, but they were always running up and down the island chain and stressing about weather. There’s plenty to do in Georgetown, so we kept it easy.
Georgetown for Christmas
Since we were here for the holidays, we got to see Georgetown’s cruising community at its best. First, the town was decorated for the holidays.
Christmas morning, Mr & Mrs Claus drove by in the dinghy and brought everyone little bags of candy.
Then, Christmas day was a potluck lunch. Chat N Chill, which was closed for the day, allowed the cruisers to use the picnic tables and facilities for the feast.
Anchorages: Stocking Island
Stocking Island has four main anchorage spots from north to south: Monument Beach (the largest), Honeymoon Beach (the smallest), Volleyball Beach/Chat N Chill (the busiest), and Sand Dollar Beach.
We anchored at all of them. Honeymoon Beach is lovely and small, easy to get to Volleyball Beach to the south or Monument to the north. Volleyball is directly in front of Chat N Chill, which means you can hear the music and loudspeakers during the day, in addition to the tour boats coming in. Monument is best for access to the hiking trails – there’s even a dock to use.
Because the island runs NW-SE, these anchorages are great for the east trade winds. On a calm day it’s easy to dinghy 1.25 miles to Georgetown for provisions. Most boats are going to be anchored in these spots, and some drop the hook and never leave all season!
In a southeast wind, which blows right up the channel, the further you can tuck into Honeymoon or Monument, the better.
The Stocking Island anchorages have very little northerly protection, and in the winter months northerlies are fairly common. Some people ride it out, but there are better options, especially for shallow draft boats.
Across from Georgetown, there’s a channel that leads to four blue holes. Some of them have mooring balls in them, and some are pretty empty. It’s a beautiful place to paddle on a calm morning.
Anchorages: Georgetown (Elizabeth Harbour/Kidds Cove)
The wide, shallow area just southeast of Georgetown is perfect for a quick visit. While you could anchor there for longer, in the east trade winds it’s not very protected. But, we stopped in quite a few times to anchor SH briefly and dinghy in for supplies. If the winds are blowing from the west, which is rare, that’ll be a popular spot!
There is also the Exuma Yacht Club, which we have seen boats dock at, and we used to fill up on diesel. It was shallow, but easy access!
Anchorages: Man O War Cay
Several friends recommended Man O War in calm conditions. We went on the first day of calm – the winds had died but not the swell, yet. It’s really beautiful there, and the main attraction is the Man o War Cay sand bars.
We anchored Starry Horizons off the south side of the very northwestern tip of the island. The beach is small, though I hear you can hike up to the top of the island.
I swam out to the sandbar, choosing to swim to the closest point (between us and the beach) and then walked/waded out about an hour before low tide. I probably walked about three quarters of a mile on the sand bar. If I’d waited, I could have gone a whole mile!
David flew the drone to capture some epic pictures, and I found a small eel on one of the sand bars! He was covered in sand and ‘gasping’ so I dug him a channel to get back in the water. It was very weird, I’d never seen anything like that!
Anchorages: Red Shanks
In the winter storm systems tend to roll through and over the course of a few days, the wind spins in 360 degrees. The north wind brings the cold, too.
Because the Stocking Island anchorages are not well protected in all conditions, people disperse and either move to Georgetown or to the Red Shanks area. We ducked into Red Shanks for storms.
When we first arrived, there were a ton of boats in the wide bay that was still fairly open. We entered the Red Shanks channel and promptly dropped anchor, joining more boats in the horse-shoe shaped area.
The second time, we coincidentally happened to be behind our friends Kevin and Linda on Counting Stars, who had said they typically go in further. So we followed them. It was high tide and we squeezed into Blue Hole 2. The entrance showed about one foot under our keel, so it was pretty shallow, but the blue hole itself was closer to eight feet deep. Plenty of room – we had about eight boats there for that blow, but we could have had more.
We also anchored a few times outside the mouth of the Red Shanks entrance, between Red Shanks and Isaac Cay. There’s also a really lovely beach at Moss Cay.
Anchorages: Goat Cay
Despite being recommended Goat Cay by several people, it wasn’t until April that we checked it out. The north side is the best, as it’s got a really pretty beach and excellent SE protection. The water is clear and sandy. But, in a north wind, the south side of Goat Cay would be good.
From Man o War Cay we dinghied around the sand bar and to Haulover Cafe. It is a very cute, family-run waterfront restaurant. The meal was kind of expensive, but very tasty, and the setting is beautiful.
Chat N Chill is okay – I enjoyed their frozen drinks a lot, but the meals we kind of ho-hum. Mostly we went to hang out with other cruisers and eating was not the main attraction. However, if you are lucky enough for the conch shack to be open, I definitely recommend the conch salad. Ronaldo makes it right there while you wait, and you can feed the scraps of conch to the stingrays.
We ate at Island Boy Cafe a few times because it’s convenient, but the food is basically stuff that comes frozen and is then deep fried. Our conch fritters were pretty terrible.
The Snappy Turtle got on the VHF to advertise for their Friday night Bahamian Night. We joined our friends Jamie and Vivian for dinner and it was fantastic! The drinks included were small, but the meal was very tasty and a good price.
Our favorite place with a double whammy of a fabulous view and excellent food is Blu. The biggest issue is that Blu is hard to get to. There’s a dock but it’s fixed and high and unprotected. Getting there by car is a $30 cab fare, and it’s in the middle of no where so be sure to arrange in advance a cab going back. Or, you can do like we did the first time and rent a car for the day (and then run other errands too). The food and service were fantastic – seriously the pan-fried grouper was amazing – but the view of the Man O War sandbars is phenomenal.
Friends on Labmariner recommended Driftwood Cafe for the pizza. Since I’m dairy-free, I was super hyped for the Pad Thai Quinoa but they were all out. Nevertheless, David got a delicious pizza and my club sandwich was good (even without the cheese and sauce!).
Another place we enjoyed was the Splash Restaurant at Hideaway Resorts near Goat Cay. Both times we went I had the lobster tacos and David had the grilled cheese and lobster. So delicious! And the bar is really cute.
We did not eat at Peace & Plenty Hotel, either at the main restaurant in Georgetown or the Beach Bar on Stocking Island. Also, Kalahari has a restaurant on Stocking Island, and there are a few other places on Great Exuma. Next time!
Hiking Stocking Island
Stocking Island has a lovely trail system throughout the island. Behind Chat N Chill is the Middle Trail that goes over to the Stocking Island Beach. This beach is wide and pretty, 1.75 miles long and an excellent location for getting a run in.
There are two loops that we did as well: the Monument Loop and the South Loop.
The South Loop start on Sand Dollar Beach, where there is a cruisers shack for social gatherings. The walk along the Art Trail is super fun! Cruisers create art, usually by painting rocks or shells, and leave it along the trail. Next year I will definitely be bringing some paint so that I can leave some art behind.
Once on the windward side, there’s a trail that runs northwest to Stocking Island Beach or a trail that runs southeast to the cut between Stocking Island and Elizabeth Island. This area is actually part of the Moriah Harbour Cay National Park. You can walk along the beach, though there is a stone-lined path further inland. There are two picnic huts along this trail. Eventually you’ll find Basil’s Classroom, a pavilion with educational signs and a small dock. Then you’ll be walking along Sand Dollar Beach back to the hut, or your dinghy.
The Monument Loop is on the north end. It starts at the Queen’s Dock, and there’s a trail just north of the dock marked by a Jerry can in the trees. This trail takes you over to the very north tip of Stocking Island Beach. Walk along the beach for a little bit and you’ll see a plank and buoy hanging in a tree. There’s a steep, sandy path. Take that up and eventually you’ll get to the Monument! There’s a picnic bench that overlooks the salt flat. Cruisers have pulled up rocks and flipped them over, using the contrast of the rocks and the surrounding ground to spell out their names. The view is absolutely stunning. Then you take the other trail down and within ten minutes, you are back at the dock.
Also – full moon? Hike up to the top to watch the sunset from the western-facing bench and then go around to the eastern-facing bench to watch the moon rise – cloud cover pending of course. You probably won’t be alone and the dock will probably be underwater when you get back!
Snorkeling: Fowl Cay
There are three small boat mooring balls at Fowl Cay to use. This is part of the Moriah National Park, and we dinghied over from Man o War Cay. This is a cut between two islands, so it’s best to do it when the sound is calm.
Provisioning in Georgetown
The main dinghy dock in Georgetown is provided by the Exuma Market, a large grocery store. I was pretty pleased with the produce, though there are a lot of things they either don’t have or have a very limited selection of – lunch meat, yogurt, cheese. Sometimes it’s hit and miss what is available, and a lot of people time going in after the shipment comes in.
There is a Shop Rite and a small Farmer’s Market on the other side of the lake. I haven’t been to either. There is also a guy on the road headed south towards Queen’s Highway that sells a few things locally grown, like eggplants and bananas.
Further afield, there is Smitty’s Grocery by Goat Cay and Prime Island Meats near Hooper’s Bay.
- The winds tend to be pretty strong during the peak season from the E or SE. Have a favorite anchorage in mind to duck into if the wind picks up.
- Weather systems roll through fairly frequently, and the wind clocks around 360 degrees in twenty four hours. Be prepared to move if you have to.
- I was impressed by how well stocked most dry goods were at Exuma Market. The produce could be hit or miss, but usually if you return in a day or two, they’re put out a fresh batch.
- The anchoring is really shallow, so be aware of your draft. We often anchored with only one or two feet under our four and a half foot keel.
- A well-functioning dingy is a must! There’s a lot of dinghying around to be done, and you’ll notice we didn’t stay at a marina all season long.
- There are a lot of newbie cruisers in the Georgetown area. Make sure you know how to anchor correctly (ask an expert or get lessons!).
- Join the George Town Exuma Sailors and Cruisers FB Group.
Books for the Bahamas
The Explorer Charts for the Bahamas are a must-buy! Everyone uses these as the best guide for cruising. They are way better than our Navionics.
I also recommend this box set of sea creature identification. I had the Indo-Pacific ones, but David got me this set for our anniversary this year. There isn’t a box set with the newest editions that I could find, so click this link and scroll down to the “frequently bought together” to get all three.
Until Next Year!
We had such a great time in Georgetown we are coming back next year! We liked Georgetown the most during the shoulder season when it was quieter. Next year we hope to arrive even earlier, mid-to-late November, and then spend more time down in the Jumentos. We also did not spend enough time this year cruising up the Exuma island chain, so we will have to come back for that.
We also did not go to Hooper’s Bay to see the sea turtles, nor did we stop in Emerald Bay Marina. Further south, friends also recommended Moriah Harbour Cay and Pigeon Cay. There’s just too many beautiful places.
See you next year, Georgetown!