I remember once hearing someone refer to Georgetown as “Trail’s End Harbor,” because it’s as close to the Lesser Antilles as many U.S. and Canadian cruisers ever get.
Not surprising, really. It’s relatively easy to bring a boat this far, playing the wind shifts and weather systems, island hopping all the way. But to continue southeast and east from here mariners face the full brunt of the trade winds. Powerful, relentless and—if you’re heading for the Lesser Antilles, right on the nose—they will quickly teach anyone brazen enough to oppose them the true meaning of “beating” to windward.
Few among the complacent Georgetown fleet ever attempt it. Even fewer seem inclined to take the “delivery skipper’s” route offshore, which takes you east-northeast into the Atlantic Ocean until the Virgin Islands or St. Martin, when you bear due south across the trades, rather than into them. So every year Georgetown on Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas becomes the end of the line for hundreds of boaters. But ... then they discover that’s not such a bad thing.
For one thing, it’s safe. There’s no crime that I’ve heard of—few bother to lock their dinghies or even their boats—and the various harbors and roadsteads, if used judiciously, can provide at least adequate protection from any wind direction. Also, like all of the Exumas it is pristine, with white sand beaches galore. Clear water and good snorkeling are just a dinghy ride away.
Above all, Georgetown is unique, alluringly, captivatingly convenient, offering a host of facilities in a region where they are otherwise almost non-existent. Here sailors enjoy well-stocked grocery stores carrying many of the foods they’re used to back home. Shops, services, and eateries abound. You can get gasoline, diesel, propane and parts. Perhaps most important in this day-in-age, Wi-Fi. Heck, there are even two full-service banks.
The local clinic has a doctor available three or four days a week if you don’t mind waiting your turn, and a well-stocked pharmacy a mile up the road fills prescriptions. There is even free, potable desalinated water at Exuma Market’s well-maintained floating dinghy dock. The island of Great Exuma also boasts a busy, efficient international airport, making it easy for friends and family to visit, and sailors to scoot home to the States if they need to.
To me, though, the most striking and appealing thing about this place is the unfeigned friendliness of the locals. I’ve traveled a good bit in my life and I can’t recall a warmer, more open, considerate and sincerely welcoming people—anywhere. That holds true for all of the Exumas, but it’s especially evident here.
Georgetown is so enticing that dozens, if not scores, of the 200-odd live-aboard cruising boats that you’ll find here mid-winter return year after year, some every year for the past decade or two. This is their paradise and they have fine-tuned it to suit their native suburban tastes. The daily morning Cruisers’ Net on VHF channel 72 reveals the depth of their entrenchment. The net keeps this sprawling, floating community informed about what’s going on, from new arrivals and departures to buy-sell-trade announcements and where-to-find queries to local business’ specials of the day. Volleyball tournaments, water aerobics and yoga classes on the beach, ladies’ luncheons at a local church, volunteer guest speakers—the activities list reads like an upscale summer camp for active retirees.
These are mostly American and Canadian “snowbirds,” as many call themselves, migrating this far south (and no farther) each winter, and then north again every summer, having fun and glad to be here. Trail’s End Harbor? For many, yes, but for them, it’s obviously a happy ending.
Photos courtesy of Tor Pinney