Update - Week Ending 1/30/00
A Second Week in George Town
Going on our second week in George Town, we find ourselves getting anxious to leave. We've really not much to say for ourselves except that we had lots of fun. It's rather been like one long never ending party. We've managed only a few small projects, even managed to sneak out of the harbor to go snorkel fishing a couple of times but in the end what we've mostly done is play volleyball, take long walks on the nice beaches, happy hours and/or beach barbecues just about every night. All in all, we find ourselves tiring quickly of the George Town scene. It's been great fun, but it's just not what we came to the Bahamas for. Unlike a lot of other folks who are content to sit in George Town for the season, we want to get out and explore different places, take advantage of sailing in beautiful waters, and meet other cruisers and locals.
Perhaps I could digress from a moment or two and describe our fishing expeditions. Despite what I may have led you to believe, there are some rules in the Bahamas. Certain ones pertain to how, when and where you may fish. First rule is that you may not fish using scuba gear. So instead you free dive, that is you snorkel and dive down to the fish only as long as you can hold your breath. With a little practice, one can dive down 20-25 feet, search around under coral head for the quarry at least for a moment or two, before being forced to ascend.
Second, spear guns are not allowed. The only allowable way to spear fish is with a pole spear or a Hawaiian sling. The former is nothing more than a 4-6 foot long pole with a surgical hose on one end and a sharp metal point on the other. To shoot, one stretches back the rubber band like surgical hose and when you are close to the fish, you release spearing the fish. (Quite effective at poking a hole in a rubber dinghy as well as we've heard happen accidentally.) To wit, the pole spear never leaves you so the range is rather limited. The Hawaiian sling operates more like a sling shot; i.e. you shoot a steel spear at your target from an elastic sling. This method, while more effective, requires a bit of practice to achieve any measure of proficiency so most amateurs prefer the pole spear.
Mark Twain once remarked how many things looked like nails when you have a hammer in your hand. One could make the same analogy when so armed with a fishing spear. We've always enjoyed the pleasure of snorkeling simply to see the splendor and variety of reef fish. I know people that would not go deer hunting to save themselves, myself included. But put a spear in their hand and the under water world is quickly divided in two; game fish or not. I like to think that our enjoyment of snorkeling is undiminished by fishing. Rather like having a fishing pole in the water without really being altogether serious about catching a fish. It's something that gets us out there even if the weather is not perfect or the seas calm. And by spending the time, you get to see some really rare and unusual things. Like the odd turtle, eagle ray, octopus or shark. And if by chance we see something really good like a lobster, well, all the better; at least for us that is.
Thus far, the water has been consistently clear and relatively warm. Only when the air temperature has dropped down a bit have we been so inclined to wear the light wet suits that we brought. Without the wet suit, at the 72-75 degree water temperature, we can usually remain in for about an hour before becoming chilled. For snorkeling, the shallow reefs are better seen and reached when diving down. While these shallow reefs do not produce the spectacular coral formations as found in deeper water, most places have been quite attractive and sufficiently interesting with the variety of fish. With perhaps the exception of a well tended flower garden, I do not know where else in nature provides such brilliant and variegated colors. The colors patterns range from the sublime to the ridiculous. From the sharp contrasting yellow and black of the Rock Beauty, to the rainbow patchy hues of the Parrot fish, to the perfect camouflage of browns and tans of the Nassau Grouper, it's all there to be seen in water so clear that you'd think you were swimming in an aquarium.
Back to the business at hand. Our weather this week has not been particularly good either. This may be partly to blame for our wanting to move on. You see, the harbor is rather large and open, offering fine lee anchorages (if you want to move the boat when the wind direction changes). But it's almost always a wet dinghy ride should you wish to cross it, especially with our small 2 Hp outboard engine. And things are a bit spread out around the harbor. On one side is the George Town proper with all its amenities and on the other are the nice ocean beaches as well as the volleyball beach. The prevailing winds being as they are, the protected anchorages are almost always across the harbor from town in the lee of Stocking Island. But we do like to get in from time to time to purchase groceries, pick up water, do laundry or get some ice cream. So we usually get wet doing it if we choose to attempt it. Joyce has taken to wearing her foul weather gear in the dinghy and I sometimes wear a bathing suit tucking some dry clothes into a zip lock bag. Standing up in the dinghy helps a little as then only the bottom half usually gets wet. And Joyce and I have mastered steering the dinghy simply by shifting our weight from side to side, somewhat as you do on skis.
As I mentioned, our weather has not been very nice this week, having been windy almost every day and cool besides, making it difficult to get off the boat and do things. I'm sure those readers in more norther climes have but little sympathy for us where on a chilly day it's still 70 degrees. And of course we've no real reason to complain as the weather back home has been so much worse. We hear from my brother Rick that his snow blower is getting quite a work out!
We did try going out to snorkel and fish a couple of times despite the weather. But the condition of the reefs around George Town and the poor water clarity have made for disappointing diving. Appalling as it may sound, we have heard that some people use chlorine around the reefs to drive the game fish and lobster out from their hiding places where they can be more easily gathered to make a quick buck. While apparently effective, it does have the rather atrocious effect of killing the coral on the reef, the very habitat and food of many of the reef fish. The end result is of course a dead reef, no longer able to support or sustain many fish.
We were successful in getting our mail sent to George Town, our first mail since Thanksgiving. And even then, nothing particularly exciting. After hearing other cruisers waiting for mail for a month or more, we learned the best way to have mail sent was by UPS air which we received in less than a week. Our envelope-type package weighing less than 2 lbs. ended up costing almost $30. We've heard of horror stories of other's receiving box packages of goodies from home resulting in hefty duty fees upon arrival. Like having to pay $20 to receive a box that had 2 month old fudge inside, while another had to pay $75 to receive an electric blanket sent as a gift! It also gets tricky receiving boat parts as you have to prove it was a replacement part by including a copy of your cruiser's permit. Often it gets ripped off the package in transit, leaving the recipient to pay duty of 50% of the purchase price, plus a 7% stamp tax, plus shipping costs.
We also learned that Joyce's parents have made arrangements for a visit with us while we are in Marsh Harbour in the Abacos late March. So we'll probably wait to have mail delivered personally, hopefully giving us enough time to figure out our taxes. It will be great to see family and familiar faces again. And as they will be staying at a nearby hotel we are also looking forward to the prospects of taking a long, hot shower...
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