Our 3 month visa for the Bahamas was close to expiring, and we returned to George Town to visit Immigration to get these extended, which we had been assured when arriving at West End would be straightforward at any port of entry.
We had a good tip from our good friends and long time cruisers, Pete and Reg, to always treat such visits as important – dress smartly, take as much documentation as possible, and be deferential and respectful. So wearing polo shirts and looking like super yacht crew, we dinghied into George Town, tied up the boat and walked to the Immigration office. Forms were required and we were then grilled about how long we intended to stay in the Bahamas (till June when our cruising permit expires), where we planned to visit next (don’t know, depends on the weather), when we would be back in George Town (don’t know, depends on weather), and where we would be exiting for the US (don’t know yet). The officer then turned her attention to the fact that we were on a NZ vessel, and whether Ted also held a NZ passport (the one document we didn’t bring). Not sure what purpose the questions served, but eventually we were provided with our 3 month extensions.
With another bit of weather approaching, we were in our usual anchorage off Sand Dollar beach. The following day, we looked again at my two US visa applications, one for the re-entry to the US on a private vessel, which I needed to have as the ESTA on my NZ passport does not apply to private vessels. The other is my Immigrant visa/Green Card application.
The first was critical, and we had agreed that as I had to visit Nassau for the “visa interview” it made sense for me to fly up from George Town for a day and do this. Unfortunately when trying to book the visa appointment time, only early morning times were available, which would mean an overnight stay in Nassau. The other option was for us to take the boat from George Town to Nassau, a run of over 100 miles all the way back up the Exuma islands, and then spend a couple of nights docked in Nassau.
So we bit the bullet, booked flights and a hotel, and taxis from George Town village to the airport, and from Nassau airport to the hotel. An all up (and unbudgeted) cost of around $800 including visa fees for something I should have thought to get while in Auckland.
I stayed at the Hilton, directly across the road from the US Consulate in Nassau, and joined the queue about 45 minutes before my interview time. Through an initial screening and document check (no cellphones, ipads, or electronic devices such as carkeys), then through the first security check – full bag search by hand, bag through scanner, Jenny through scanner. Then through the compound to another door, further bag search by hand, and further pass through scanner for Jenny.
Directed to an officer at a window, I was told the photos I had brought were not acceptable – hair must be completely off the face and tucked behind the ears. I was sent to a Mr Photo shop about a ten minute walk away to get new photos taken, and had to return within 30 minutes or would lose my interview slot. Raced off and had the photo taken before getting caught in a thunderstorm on the way back – fortunately the bag with documents was waterproof. Re-entered the Consulate with the three security checks again, and back to the officer who approved photos and send me for fingerprinting.
Then had to wait another 45 minutes until the actual interview with another officer. He assumed I was superyacht crew (same white polo shirt and khaki Bermuda shorts) so I explained we were on our own vessel, I already had an ESTA, had an onward ticket returning to Auckland, etc, etc. I got my visa and asked if I could delay picking it up until we returned to Nassau the following month. He produced a form, saying I needed to make another appointment to come in, and then send an email a few days prior to enable them to prepare the visa and they can then insert in my passport while I wait. This was a bonus as I was reluctant to be without my only passport while in a foreign country.
Back to the hotel to enjoy the use of the great fitness centre (all to myself) and lovely pool (overlooking 5 monster cruise ships in dock) before my taxi collected me for the return flight to George Town. My taxi driver who was booked to meet me at George Town forgot about me, so I was waiting over an hour before he finally turned up. Poor Ted was waiting at the dinghy dock with no way to contact each other. I was so happy to get back to the boat and a glass of wine.
Two days later we left for Long Island. We had heard great things about Calabash Bay, and Jo and Robbie had an amazing photo of Southern Star anchored there when they passed through last year. We had a lovely 25 mile passage which included a couple of mahimahi, one a monster. We anchored off the most gorgeous white beach in beautiful turquoise water. It was calm, but there was some surge and we deployed one flopper stopper, then later deployed the second one – big difference. We still swayed a bit, but nothing like the few sailboats around us. We had thought about going into the resort for a meal but the beach had quite a swell breaking on it and decided against it.
The second day we took some beers into the beach further down, and then took a long long walk along the beach. It was hot, sunny and idyllic, with fresh mahi back on the boat for dinner.
We spent three nights at the stunning Calabash Bay, waiting for the wind to diminish enough for us to venture over to the relatively exposed Conception Island. As we were going to be diving there, we did a short dive on the reef at Calabash. Loaded up the dinghy, hoisted the dive flag, suited up and Ted assembled his camera equipment.
One of the key reasons we decided on a Nordhavn was its suitability as a self sufficient dive boat. And Southern Star came equipped with a dive compressor and tanks. So it was really exciting to be finally using the boat for this purpose. The practice dive wasn’t spectacular in terms of coral or life, but the equipment all performed and it was a good refresher for me before what we knew would be much better diving at Conception.