The Sea of Abaco is surrounded by Cays at the north east corner of the Bahamas just 67 miles east of Florida. A chain of Cays protects the Sea of Abaco from the Atlantic Ocean that drops approximately 2000 feet deep on one side, while a few larger islands protect it from the Gulfstream. The whole aqua-blue Sea of Abaco is only 1 to 12 feet deep. It’s calm, yet breezy, providing the perfect boating destination.
Last spring, my wife Brenda and I were fortunate to join the thousands of North American boaters—many from Canada—who regularly cruise this southern paradise.
We found the climate more agreeable and dependable than that of Florida, yet it seems like a different world. Any competent boater with a cruiser more than approximately 35 feet can cross over and relax here for months at a time.
This unspoiled, natural boating haven boasts warm temperatures, calm seas, light breezes, reasonable prices and varied attractions to suit all interests. The locals are very friendly and more than happy to have boaters visit their small islands.
The taxi delivered us from Marsh Harbour airport to the local Harbourview Marina on Great Abaco Island, where the aft cabin trawler “Sonsie” was berthed. We arrived just in time to enjoy our first spectacular sunset. We wandered next door to “Curley Tails”-an open-air second story bar that overlooked the hundreds of yachts that were at the slips or anchored in picturesque Marsh Harbour.
Curly Tails Restaurant & Bar
Day 2 – Marsh Harbour to Sandy Cay
Anticipation of snorkeling a local popular reef woke us early. By 10:30 a.m. we finished breakfast and headed to Sandy Cay. After a two-hour cruise at eight knots, it only took a few minutes at Sandy Cay to anchor and load up the dinghy.
We glided across the clear, blue water to the reef, where we tied the dinghy to a mooring ball, joining many other scuba divers and snorkelers. Seconds later we were below the surface and the beauty of the ocean floor revealed itself. Hundreds of multi-coloured fish swarmed around peering into our facemasks eyeball to eyeball. Tropical underwater plants decorated the coral reef, creating the perfect giant and natural aquarium.
Suddenly, Brenda started kicking her flippers wildly and was heading back to the dinghy. A stingray had decided to venture a little too far in her direction and, as it turned out, the stingray was more frightened than she was and returned to a resting place on the sandy bottom.
Most of the day was shared with the fish and the most memorable underwater environment. It was so magnificent–no wonder the locals are fighting any development they think might harm the reefs.
Following an enlightening, yet exhausting day in the water, we voted to stay put on the hook overnight–just us and the sea.
Day 3 – Sandy Cay to Little Harbour
The next morning was beautiful. Birds were peacefully singing, and it was sunny with a light breeze. Before heading out, we decided to enjoyed breakfast and spend a couple of hours walking the beach. Tide was low giving us an opportunity to bring home two beautiful dried Purple Sea Fans as souvenirs.
After a leisurely lunch aboard Sonsie, we took a one-hour cruise to Little Harbour, which is circled and protected by low coral hills. With the boat securely moored on a ball, we took the dinghy and tied it to the verandah of a local pub on the sandy shore. Pete’s Pub has no windows, no doors and no floor. The sand massaged our feet as we walked up to the bar, watching ducks wander through.
Pete’s Pub Steps (visible at low tide, underwater at high tide)
Pete told us that when the last hurricane hit, the wind filled the bar with sand up to the roof. Recovering from the hurricane took a week of shoveling to reveal the boat bow, which is the main structure of the bar, and they were back in business. No need to rebuild walls, or replace windows and doors. The bar only has eight supporting posts and is decorated with t-shirts (along with a few bras) signed and dated by transient boaters. Pete’s Pub has Wild Boar Roasts every Saturday night (in season), which we enjoyed that evening. Our overnight mooring fee on a ball was only $18. It was added to our dinner tab.
Day 4- Little Harbour to Tahiti Beach
By 10:00 a.m. we let out the dinghy, dropped the mooring ball and traveled north for two hours to Tahiti Beach. It was an amazing long, curved sandbar that changed shape and size with the tide. At high tide, it was tiny, yet only knee deep, while at lot tide it was probably ¼ mile long–ideal for beach combing. We saw small starfish and sand dollars and collected all kinds of small shells as fish swam between our feet.
Anchoring in the nearby cove was free and we dined aboard–a big contrast to the $150 per night plus dinner at the marina that we paid on our first night.
Day 5 – Tahiti Beach to Hope Town
Wakes from the early fishing boats heading to the ocean woke us early as they passed. Another gorgeous day in Abaco.
We hauled anchor after breakfast and set out for one of the more popular island hideaways on Elbow Cay.
The 120-foot high Hope Town red and white striped lighthouse stands guard over the picturesque harbour. It’s one of the very few mechanically operated lighthouses in the Western Hemisphere. Since 1863, the light has floated on a bed of mercury, powered by a “grandfather’s clock” type chain mechanism, with pirate cannon balls as the powering weights. A climb up the lighthouse’s 101 steps to a breathtaking view of the outlying Parrot Cays and Elbow Cay’s enclosed harbour is well worth the effort.
Hopetown Street With Lighthouse in background
There is no motorized traffic in Hope Town and the hilly narrow streets must be explored on foot. Water is visible on both sides of this long and narrow island–the blue Atlantic Ocean on the east side and the green harbour and Sea of Abaco on the other.
On our walking tour of the unique streets, we stocked up on supplies finding them more expensive even than in Florida. Everything is shipped in, then transferred to smaller ferries, off loaded and transported by small pick-up trucks to the store or restaurant–lots of handling.
Then, we walked a block to the east shore beach were we enjoyed a wonderful swim in the ocean. We didn’t want to leave. Since we were moored in front of Captain Jack’s Restaurant, we cruised the dinghy to this deck dining room for a seafood dinner and paid $15 for his mooring.
Day 6 Hope Town to Man-O-War Cay
Following breakfast, we dropped the mooring and headed out of Hope Town on a rising tide due to the shallow entrance.
We arrived at Man-O-War Cay after a relaxing one-hour cruise with a breeze on our stern. Tide was almost in, so the water was deep enough to idle around the tiny, protected harbour. It is known locally as the safest place to be in a hurricane, due to the position of the hills for wind protection and the location of the two entrances allowing the serge to flow through.
Boat Building Facility
Our first encounter ashore was 80-year old Lola on her golf cart with her famous delicious cinnamon buns. Then, we walked to see the open air boat building facilities, souvenir shops and a hardware store. Mrs. Albury at Albury’s Sail Shop admired my old hat, which I had bought from her way back in 1988.
Locals here left the Carolinas during the American Revolution to establish a new life in the Bahamas. Man-O-War Cay was settled in 1780 by the Loyalists. Long before the steamship and airplane linked the Bahamian Out Islands with world trade, Man-O-War maintained self-sufficiency through boat building, fishing and farming.
Our night was calm and peaceful. Internet signal was strong and included in the $18 mooring fee.
Day 7 – Man-O-War to Fishers Bay
After a restful sleep, I took position on the bridge at 6:30 a.m. to watch the sun rise. By 7:30, Brenda was up listening to “Cruisers Net”, the local VHF news and weather service. All forecasts were good.
At high tide, we left traveling an hour to Fishers Bay, at Great Guana Cay–another wonderful island in Abaco to visit.
We picked up the mooring closest to shore and jumped in the dinghy with our bathing suits and snorkeling gear. Five stingrays escorted us to the dinghy dock at Grabbers.
After lunch at the Art Café, we changed into our bathing suits and headed for the beach on the Atlantic shore–just a short walk over the hill. It was very hot, so straight into the ocean we ran. Refreshed, we wandered several miles along the sandy beach in and out of the water, snorkeling along the way. In only a few minutes, we had the seven-mile long beach all to ourselves–heaven.
On the way back, we took pictures of each other in front of the coral with the monster waves crashing in behind–lots of laughter.
Dancing in the waves
We admired the bright multi-coloured tables, fencing and hula skirt umbrellas as we arrived at Nippers and chose a table on the top deck overlooking the ocean for dinner. Wahoo, Grouper and Conch satisfied our appetites and a couple of Nippers drinks quenched our thirst. An absolutely gorgeous day.
Day 8 – Fishers Bay to Settlement Harbour
For a change of scenery, we idled for 15 minutes around the peninsula from Fishers Bay to Settlement Harbour as the sun rose.
Great Guana Cay has been hit hard by several vicious hurricanes. Some places were still in shambles, while others were repaired. Settlement Harbour has two marinas-Orchid Bay with the upscale resort for large yachts and the no-name place–“Earl’s Docks” as we called them. Earl collects the $20 dockage fee from his old outboard powered houseboat. The hurricane ripped out all this marina’s facilities and services, but the bare docks were strong and safe.
Coffee and breakfast on the flybridge at Earl’s docks was a great spot to observe all the action in the harbour. Ferry boats delivered workers to the government dock, the barge with transport fuel truck on deck pulled into Orchid Bay Marina. It is so amazing to watch a single engine tugboat push this huge barge with such precision around all the moored boats at the marina.
While still there, a freighter called “Legacy” entered the harbour and tied at the government dock to unload pallets of groceries and boxes of other freight, picked up by local businessmen in a few small trucks.
After another day on the beach, we walked to Grabbers pot luck dinner and were joined by all the boaters from Earl’s docks and those anchored out in front of Grabbers in Fishers Bay. Everybody brought something to add to Grabbers huge tray of ribs and, of course, the bar served plenty of ice cold drinks. We met power boaters and sailors from all over North America including several from Ontario. All during sunset, shutters clicked and an impromptu collection of folks played and sang Blue Grass.
Palm trees leaning across the path necessitated the use of flashlights on the way back to the boat for the night.
Another Sunset at Fishers Bay
Day 9 – More Abaco
We awoke to a light northeast breeze. It was still clear. We enjoyed fresh fruit and cereal for breakfast on the aft deck and by 10:00 a.m., we were changed into our bathing suits and had our bag packed with water bottles, sun tan lotion, shoes, towels, and camera ready for the beach.
There was great reason to smile as we headed out. This was the beginning of the next 40 days of our vacation in Abaco–more sun, sand, swimming and relaxing before our 120-mile cruise across the top of the Bahamas to Florida.
Brenda with RoadRunner (laptop) on the beach – Goodbye!