Thursday, February 24, 2011

Georgetown, Williamstown and Barraterre

After a quick provisioning stop in the chic Emerald Bay marina we headed off to Georgetown.  Georgetown in located on Great Exuma Island and is absolutely full of cruising boats.  Georgetown offers everything a cruisers wishes with yoga classes, chart and equipment swaps, beach volleyball tournaments, Trivia nights, poker games,  medical lectures, weather courses and much more all advertised every morning on the VHF net. Many people head to Georgetown at the beginning of the season, drop their anchor, and do not pull it up until the end of the season. Seb and I were both feeling a little wary and planned to stay for just 2 days before sailing south.  Weather prevented us from a timely trip and we ended up staying in Georgetown for 6 days.  And it was fun.  First was the cruisers welcome reception where we met up with (among others) two crews that Seb met during his solo sail in Nova Scotia, then Seb fixed the dinghy propeller with much help from Pat from the S/V The Artful Dodger, we played volleyball games, had good walks, Emma had play dates with a 5 year old girl from Vancouver, and there was a fabulous windy beach and much more to keep us busy.
We also spent a day touring Great and Little Exuma with a rental car.  There is one highway that runs up and down the two cays connected by a small bridge.  The narrow roads are flanked by trees and broken only by stunning sea vistas or the occasional small groups of houses in a town. 
As you drive through tiny Williamstown you can’t miss the huge Doric column up on the hill. This column was used to let passing boats know that salt was available for sale on the island.  There is an enormous shallow salt flat where you can see the remains of the sorting walls.  Information boards remind us of the torturous conditions of the slaves working the salt flats to reap 300,000 bushels of salt per year.  Raking salt was terrible work.  It meant standing in brine with the hot sun reflected off the white sand and salt.  The result was often blindness and ulcerated cuts that would not heal.  
Williamstown also has the ruins of the Hermitage plantation.  This site is virtually unmarked and you can wander among the overgrown ruins of the houses and tombs but there is no information to indicate what was where.  I guess that this is something that nobody really wants to remember or glorify in any way. 

From Williamstown we drove up to Barraterre, at the top of the island.  This was the sight of the Barraterre sloop regatta.  This is an incredibly competitive local sailboat race on traditional Bahamian wooden dinghies.  The Barraterrre children’s orchestra came out to cheer the boats on and the entire town had a festive air.  

These small boats generally sail with a skipper and 3 crew members.  The crews’ main role is to balance the tippy boat against its huge sail.  They do this by perching precariously out on shifting 2”x8” boards about 2 metres over the water.  Each race begins rather chaotically with the dinghies starting at anchor and pulling up anchor and hoisting sails simultaneously just after the race boat shoots off a huge rifle. 
Seb was incredibly lucky to be the only non-local to crew on one of the boats for the final race.  His dinghy was skippered by Huey Lloyd, who is over 70 and a legendary wooden sloop builder and racer in the region.   Their boat was named Hog Tusk and while Macsen and I enthusiastically cheered him on to win Emma supported the more elegantly named Golden Girl.  Hog Tusk returned victorious adding the icing to Seb’s already incredible exciting cake.

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