Cruising the Abacos, Bahamas
Written by Capt. Jeff Werner
A WEEKEND BOATING GETAWAY in the Abacos may seem a bit of a misnomer, given that Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island is about 250 nm from Palm Beach, Fla., and it is necessary to cross open ocean passages to get there. However, once a boat is in Marsh Harbour, it is the perfect starting point for a long weekend cruise. And Marsh Harbour has its own airport, with regularly scheduled ights to and from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach — so a long weekend of boating is less than an hour away from Florida.
Given that Marsh Harbour is considered a large town, boaters can find provisions, chandleries, laundries and boat repair services fairly easily. Everything that you buy in Marsh Harbour, whether it is a quart of fresh strawberries, a fuel flter or a gallon of bleach, has arrived in the Bahamas by sea or air from the United States. Hence, all those items carry premium prices. That being said, the best grocery in town for provisioning is Maxwell’s Supermarket. Marsh Harbour Boatyards is the major full-service repair facility, and National Marine is a well-stocked chandlery.
Marsh Harbour’s Abaco Beach Resort & Boat Harbour Marina is the best choice for dockage. It offers a well-protected, world-class marina that will accommodate yachts up to 200 feet LOA with a maximum draft of 10 feet. Services include 24-hour security, Internet, TV, full detailing and cleaning, electricity and fueling. On-site Customs and Immigration makes clearance very easy when arriving directly from Florida by sea.
Another option for short-term cruising in the Abacos is bareboat chartering. The Moorings base in Marsh Harbour offers charters aboard power catamarans, sailing catamarans and sailing monohulls. The Sea of Abaco is really a 60-mile-long salt water lagoon that separates Great Abaco Island from a chain of barrier islands known as the Abaco Cays. The Sea of Abaco is very shallow with depths generally between six and 12 feet, and is dotted with shoals and reefs.
DAY 1 - TREASURE CAY
Treasure Cay is about a 20 nm run northwest along the coast of Great Abaco, with Treasure Cay Beach, Marina & Golf Resort the first day’s destination. Why go to Treasure Cay Resort? It’s all about the three-and-a-half miles of secluded white sand beach, which has won the Reader’s Choice Award for Best Beach by Caribbean Travel & Life magazine. Golfers can play 18 holes on the fabulously designed Dick Wilson par-72 golf course, with no tee times needed.
The marina at Treasure Cay Resort has fixed docks with both slips and T-heads. The longest yacht that can be tied up is 160 feet LOA, with an approach depth of six feet at mean low water (MLW), although dockside depth is 10 feet MLW. The marina offers diesel and gas, as well as a protected anchorage and moorings, shore power, laundry and shower facilities, a ship’s store, grocery store, duty-free shopping and cable television.
DAY 2 - HOPE TOWN
Hope Town, on Elbow Cay, is the second day’s port of call, and 20 nm southeast of Treasure Cay. Hope Town is the location of the Elbow Reef Lighthouse — with its red and white horizontal stripes it is the most recognized landmark in the Abacos. It is well worth climbing up the 100-plus steps to visit the top of one of the last manually operated lighthouses in the world.
Tie up for the night at Hope Town Inn & Marina, which is located in the prettiest harbor in the Bahamas and just a short walk from the lighthouse. The marina has 50 deep-water slips for yachts up to 125 feet LOA. Electricity, fresh water, lockers, laundry and showers are provided, as well as a mooring field for boats up to 45 feet LOA. The property’s restaurant offers a complete breakfast, lunch and dinner menu, and Bridget’s Rum Bar has a unique selection of island specialty cocktails.
DAY 3 - MAN-O-WAR CAY
Man-O-War Cay is just 5 nm from Hope Town following the eastern side of the Sea of Abaco to the north. The island is famous for its boat-building history. William H. Albury, who passed away in 1972, was well known for his wooden boat building skills. He built his first schooner at the age of 14. Several of the local boat builders still make the occasional “Abaco Dinghy” in their native Madeira mahogany and other Bahamian hardwoods. They are considered works of art and sought after by those who appreciate fine wooden vessels.
The first settlers of Man-O-War Cay were British loyalists who left the Carolinas during the American Revolution in 1780 for a new life in the Abaco out islands. Their descendants today reflect the island’s heritage as a community of boat builders, fishermen and master carpenters. No doubt some of the original settlers made their living as wreckers, salvaging the cargo from ship’s that went aground on the nearby reefs.
The pastel-colored homes and white picket fences make cruisers feel like they are visiting a New England fishing village. The residents are very proud of their loyalist background and show a great affection toward Great Britain.
Although the island is only two-and-a-half miles long, and very narrow, the ocean beach has excellent snorkeling and scuba diving. A dive shop is available for air tank and equipment rentals. Man-O-War Marina is the final destination for this weekend jaunt. This 28-slip marina has room for yachts up to 90 feet LOA, and a dockside depth of 8 feet. Since the approach channel is only 5 feet deep at MLW, deeper-draft vessels may prefer to enter at high tide. This marina is more of a step back in time, reflecting the values of the Albury family, which owns it. Enjoy their fresh-water swimming pool, use their gazebo with its gas grill to cook dinner, and know that their stem-to-stern detailing services will leave a yacht in Bristol condition.
Whether you cruise with your own boat or charter one in the Bahamas, the Sea of Abaco offers thrilling sailing between Great Abaco and the outer islands. And do remember to watch your depth finder, as there is plenty of skinny water, and sometimes even the local guides run aground.