Georgetown in the Bahamas is a different kettle of fish – or harbor. Georgetown is evidently the Mecca for cruisers in the Bahamas and currently there are over 200 cruising boats anchored here. We’ve heard that in other years, there have been as many as 500. They keep a rough count by having new arrivals check in and by having those who plan to leave “check out”.
This is not the VHF radio we are used to. Same radio. Different Channels. Communication on Steroids. They have created a community here with classes, dances, lunch and learns, and a regatta week full of events in March.
In some ways, the cruisers at Georgetown form a clique and there is certainly that “Starting at a New School” feeling listening to your first Net. You’re in the cool group if those on the net know your first name upon hearing your boat name. You’re in the losers’ group if those on the net miss-pronounce your boat name, and you don’t know the net radio rules.
EW and I don’t have much time to move from “newbies” to the cool group. It will not surprise you to know that we have already attended a seminar on Pactor modems, and got tapped to do a boat count. Evidently they have volunteers count the boats in their anchorage and radio it in to one of the leaders of the cool group. On Thursday, I will begin a series of 4 “Total Immersion” swimming lessons, which will certainly allow a number of boaters to get to know me but could also push me deeper into the Loser’s column.
All through the Bahamas, EW and I have been surprised (stunned?) by the number of commercial establishments who go on Channel 16 and advertise their services. We’ve heard full restaurant menus, gotten phone numbers for numerous taxis and – my personal favorite – heard one business owner list the fresh seafood available at the hair salon across from the Shell Station, followed by a list of braiding, cutting, and styling options available at that same salon. I've come from hair salons wearing the odor of permanent chemicals, but never of grouper.
In Georgetown, they have taken this chatter (or most of it) off of 16 and moved it to 68 at 8:00 AM daily. One of the cool group big deal cruisers gives up a couple of hours or more each day to manage the Net. I’m not sure whether this person sailed/powered here to anchor in Georgetown and run the Net, or whether a number of them switch off so all get to actually cruise the Bahamas. The cruisers’ Net has programming, rules, and testy sounding in-crowd folk who will jump on and scold the newbies and habitual transgressors. The programming for the Net is as follows:
- Welcome and introduction by the gentleman and his wife who run the Net. The gentleman we heard is on the vessel “Hairball” with his wife and two cats.
- Weather. This is provided by a lady from another boat. She sounded mature, accomplished and provided clear and accurate weather, so calling her the “weather girl” would be inappropriate.
- Trade Announcements. Local businesses let us know where we can have lunch or dinner, get our hair cut, fill propane tanks, find taxi services and more.
- Safety Notes.
- Rules. We can’t legally sell items or services in the Bahamas without paying a duty to the country. We can offer goods for free and that is all that we can do on the radio. (Except for one determined newbie who has offered his mechanical skills for two successive nets. I suspect the leader of the pack talked with him mano a mano, as he did not advertise his services this morning.)
- Community. These are “Cool Group” sanctioned or organized events such as a lesson in Kindles (of all things); Bocce Tournaments; Classes in Aqua Fitness, Volley Ball, Knot Tying (featuring making a rug – bring 60 feet of rope you have hanging around the boat); and a Valentine’s Day Party.(This was followed by a pajama party on someone’s boat but that must be a joke, right? Not being in the know, I’m clueless on that one. We will not be attending.)
- Boaters’ General. This seems to be where even the newbies can get on the Net, with dumb questions, or offers or inquiries. Folks going to and from the airport will look for others to share a taxi. We hear announcements regarding a children’s net, requests for party lights, offers of items to give away, even requests for items to be brought in from the states by those who have guests on the way.
- Regatta. During the week of March 7 the cruisers host a “regatta”, a fun-filled week of events, none of which appear to require any of the actual cruising boats to haul anchor. We know they’ll have a talent show, bocce, volleyball, model boat racing, kayak races, sailing and rowing dinghy races and (my personal favorite) a downwind rubber dinghy sailboat race.
- New Arrivals. You check in you give them your boat name – and the name of those on board. If you have guests you announce them.
- Departures. If you are planning to leave that day, you let them know.
There are two ways boats can broadcast on the Net, those really in the know and sanctioned events register with Hairball in advance and he calls on you by boat name at the appropriate time. The rest of us say our boat name and wait to be acknowledged. You announce your boat name again, state your event/request/offer and say that you will be “on 68 after the net”. Have a paper and pen handy when you start listening to the Georgetown Net because you’ll want to write down the name of the offering/requesting boat. A sure sign of a newbie, “This is La Luna to the vessel who had the spinnaker.” What I should have said, “Camelot, Camelot, this is La Luna.” (Never did reach them in time.)
Once you do reach your party, you switch channels to find one where you can converse. In this busy harbor, the accepted practice is to pick a channel and say, “and up” or “and down”. For example, if your contact says to go to “17 and up”, you switch to 17 and if that is currently being used, you go up to 18, then 19, until you find an available channel.
You have to be quick and speak clearly. I didn’t successfully contact the boat with the spinnaker, but did get on the waiting list for the swimming lessons. It’s not acceptable to use 68 after the net to contact a friend’s boat. One lady who did that was scolded by a nameless lady in from the “cool group”. The rules are enforced, but not explained in advance – just like high school.
We’ve also learned that they use 68 as a local “16” all the time. Really.
This is a community – sort of a blend of high school cliques, a networking group, and a neighborhood committee. They offer an excellent service, good advice, and fun opportunities to the boaters who stay here for the season and to those who spend a week or so passing through. We’ll get involved a bit – and we’ll probably come back to Georgetown in a year or two and use it as our base for a more in depth visit to the Exumas and Southern Bahamas, but neither EW nor I expect to spend a winter sailing season on the hook here running events with the cool group – there are just too many places to visit, and all sorts of new folk to know.
(More about the cool dude on the right in a future blog about our Exuma Adventure.)
Here is a photo of one of the anchorages in Georgetown. There will also be a post on anchoring in tight quarters. It’s been a bit of an issue for La Luna. (Well, for me – so it’s an issue for EW. If I’m not sleeping – he’s not sleeping.)