Wed, 3 Mar 1999   Georgetown, Eleuthera, Bahamas

We finally arrived in Georgetown, the main cruising destination of the Bahamas, on Saturday, Feb. 20, one week before the annual Georgetown Cruising Regatta week.  We expected to be here for about a week and then continue, but of course we are still here and having a great time.

Georgetown is called the mecca of cruisers, but it is also called  "Chicken Harbor".  For many boats, it is the destination of the winter cruise, and they head here as fast as they can.  They settle in at one of the many good anchorages and stay for months.  Each of the main anchoring areas has a different kind of focus --Volleyball Beach has volleyball every afternoon at 2, kids everywhere, aerobics or yoga in the morning.  Hamburger Beach is a resort beach in the day for the Peace and Plenty hotel which is in town.  When the hotel restaurant closes and the guests go back to town at 4:30, the boaters take over the tables and beach.  They are famous for pot lucks and cocktail hour.  The most protected anchorage and also the furthest from town is at Red Shanks.  They even have a quasi-real yacht club called the "RSYC" and are known for having an official cocktail party ashore every single afternoon, unless high tide coincides, in which case there is no beach.  We have moved around on the fringes--not a part of any group but everyone has made us welcome.

The "chicken harbor" name comes from the fact that every year boaters arrive here with plans to continue on to the Caribbean, and every year many turn back.  Maybe it is a broken part, or the weather is never good enough, or...  It probably is just that cruising is not for everybody, and some folks recognize that when they get this far.  Others just find they like the more protected cruising and the beautiful islands and don't see any reason to go on.  We are definitely continuing. We love it here, but there are still so many other places to visit.  And we are looking forward to some open water sailing again.

Last Sunday morning we decided to go to the Anglican church in Georgetown, and it was an experience which epitomizes what we have found here.  The church  was founded in 1802 and is on the ridge at the highest point in town.  A beautiful white building with blue shutters, it is the first thing you see when you get close to town.  Inside, the church is bright and breezy, with ceiling fans going and sun and wind coming in the many windows.  The church was filled with local people of all ages, with cruisers scattered throughout.  The locals were mostly well dressed, but the cruiser dress ranged from what I would call "nice" to shorts and T-shirts.  The service started in normal, kind of "high church" fashion, with altar boys in red robes with white surplices swinging some powerful smelling incense, followed by three priests.  Then came the readings, formal and stately, interspersed with hymns sung at full voice with maximum energy--and what I would call "Baptist-style" hymns to boot.  At one point after the offering the choir sang and then everyone was singing along at the end in the gospel way a-a-amen, a-a-men, a-a-men-a-men-a-men.  Somehow this became part of the passing of the peace part of the service where everyone greets each other, and as music played and people sang the priests and lots of other people walked up and down the aisles and pews and hugged everyone--literally everyone!  We could feel the joy and the welcome was sincere.  It ended with the service of communion, then a final hymn and an invitation for everyone to come to the social hall to share a free lunch.  We were urged to go, and so we did.  The lunch turned out to be coffee and cookies, but we talked to a lot of people and left feeling that we had really been privileged to be a part of the life here.  These are truly the Friendly Islands.

This week is Regatta,  a huge event put on by the people who spend the whole winter here on their boats.  They built a new stage which will remain in Regatta Park for many years and be used later this spring in the Bahamian boat regatta festivities as well as for all kinds of local events all year.  We participated in the scavenger hunt on Tuesday morning, on a team with couples from two other boats.  The items were tough to find but we had a great time.  The talent show on Tuesday night had acts ranging from the little kids doing a song with hand and body actions, to the local high school band, to an 80 year old woman leading us in all three verses of the Star Spangled Banner (did you know there were three?), to a chicken dance, to a closing act by a cruiser/singer named Eileen Quinn who writes and sings about living and cruising.  It was great.

Today was the first of the actual regatta events, and the wind obliged by coming up to almost 20 knots during the race.  There was one broken backstay and one broken forestay (Harry helped rescue the people on that one.  They couldn't get their jib in, the main sheet got wrapped around the propeller, and then their anchor wouldn't hold; they drifted all the way across the harbor and through a crowded anchorage before everything was under control.) We were planning to leave tomorrow morning, but a front is coming through mid-morning so we will just have to wait until the next one.  Maybe Sunday or Monday.