We just got back from a week charter in the Abacos, and here are our thoughts, in case anyone is interested.
Weather. We probably won’t charter in the Abacos in February again. The weather often is great, but there is a good risk of a cold front blowing through, they certainly can last a week, and with a one-week charter that means you risk having your entire trip overshadowed by cold weather and high winds. That pretty much was us. Everyone kept telling us it was the coldest winter they’d ever seen, they couldn’t believe the low lasted so long, etc. All well and good, but that didn’t help us this particular week. It actually wasn’t that bad, but if you’re thinking of a guaranteed sailing, beach and sun vacation, the Abacos in February ain’t it. We did hit 70 one day, but otherwise we were in the 60’s. Sometimes low 60’s and sometimes mid, but the 60’s. During the night, it obviously was a bit colder. We also had consistent 15 to 25 knot winds out of the west just about the entire week (our second day there we were between fronts so we had light winds, and our last day a high finally moved in, but of course that was while we were packing and heading to the airport). Now, as I said, it really wasn’t all that bad, as we had great sailing. Plus, of course, it was a whole lot better than the 30 and 40 degree days that waited for us back home in NY. But, no snorkeling and no real swimming (tried to go in the pool at Nippers -- MISTAKE!!!).
The Boat. We chartered a Moorings 4000, which is otherwise known as the Leopard 40 catamaran. We had the owner’s version, which turned out to be great. The kids each had a cabin in the port hull, and we had the starboard. It took me a little while to warm up to the boat, but by the end of the week I really grew to like it quite a bit. It was great sailing along at 6+ knots totally flat, with the kids just hanging out in the saloon playing games at the dinette. My wife liked some things, but she wasn’t a fan of her inability to see where we were going while underway unless she was up at the helm or standing up somewhere. She couldn’t see forward just sitting in the cockpit, and she didn’t like that. But, she sure did like the lack of heel. Also, we found ourselves in a bad harbor one night for the wind conditions (I’ll come to that below), and though we bounced a bit, we sure didn’t roll the way we would have had we been in a mono. But the real piece de resistance was under power around the docks. Wow. I thought my bow thruster made me look like I know what I’m doing, but with twin screws I started to believe my own BS and actually started to believe I do know what I’m doing. I’m sure I’ll be cured of that my first day pulling away from our yard in about a month or so. Regardless, it was our first real experience on a cruising cat, and even though it was a charter and she was equipped as a charter, I certainly would charter one again and I definitely can see how someone could become a multihull devotee, particularly if you’re cruising in the Bahamas or other thin water locales.
The Abacos generally. It wasn’t our first trip to the Bahamas, but it was our first trip to the Abacos. Loved them! The people were wonderful, the water was spectacular, great harbors, lots to see and do. Two thumbs up. I might go in November/December or March/April, just to lessen the likelihood of a low/norther for any given week, but I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to cruise the area, and we plan to.
We flew into Marsh Harbour on Saturday, got our briefings, and slept on the boat at the dock at the Conch Inn. The trip from NY to Marsh Harbour was long for us. It was the school break week, and every flight was packed, expensive, and inconvenient. Suffice it to say that after getting to the airport at an unholy hour, waiting a few hours for our connection, lugging our bags to the marina, and stowing everything, we were pooped and passed out moments after our chart and boat briefings. We couldn’t have left the dock that first night anyway, as the Moorings has a strict no-night sailing rule, and this time of year they want you ensconced in your harbor of choice by 5:30 each day. In any event, the Moorings’ staff really were great, and incredibly helpful with a great attitude. I highly recommend them.
Hopetown. We left early the next morning and went to Hopetown to hook up with some cruiser friends on Interim, a Gulfstar 44 motorsailor. It’s a very short trip to Hopetown from Marsh, but it was a perfect one for us to get to know the boat and get used to sailing full speed with merely 1 to 5 feet of crystal clear water under the keels. Awfully cool to look over the side and see the bottom as you race by. Like everything else, it was fine once you got used to it, though I will admit I was a little weak-kneed as we approached the entrance to Hopetown. I said aloud on more than one occasion that we would have been aground in our B49. Seeing the depth sounder start to read in the 4’s and 3’s is not for the faint of heart, at least not if you’re in a craft that relies on sails for propulsion. Hopetown is a great harbor and a wonderful settlement. It’s no surprise so many cruisers select Hopetown as their base during a winter in the Abacos. There are restaurants, shops, a great beach, and it’s a very well protected harbor. And of course, it’s got that candy-striped lighthouse (which we climbed and took some great shots). Two thumbs up for Hopetown!
Shell Island. On Monday morning, we woke up and, with Interim coming along, headed for Shell Island, just off of Baker’s Bay on Great Guana Cay. Shell Island is the man-made spoil island created by Disney when they dredged a channel in anticipation of their resort and cruise ship destination. This was the one light wind day we had, so we ended up motoring the 11 miles in flat water. We anchored about 75 feet off the beach of Shell Island in crystal clear water (everywhere down there is crystal clear water). The kids had a blast exploring and collecting shells. We then had lunch with our friends on the Cat, after which we went our separate ways for a little while, as they headed back to Hopetown before the next front arrived, and we went to Treasure Cay about 7 miles away.
Treasure Cay. Many people down there give Treasure Cay a bad rap, calling it the Florida of the Abacos. I sort of see what they mean, but we thought it was a great spot nonetheless. The harbor area is somewhat developed with condos, and it does have a bit more of a U.S. feel than some of the other islands/harbors do. But that said, it’s still very picturesque, it’s clean, it’s got a perfectly fine restaurant, pool, market and other services. And then there’s the beach. It’s an AWESOME beach. Miles of sand so fine it felt like we were walking on velvet. It was cold the day we were there, but that didn’t stop our kids from running around and enjoying that beach.
Green Turtle Cay. The next day, Tuesday, we decided to stay at Treasure, but take the ferry to Green Turtle. The Whale Cay passage was closed due to the weather, so the ferry was the only way we would get to Green Turtle, which is what we did. Talk about a great little settlement. Again it was cold and windy, but we made the best of it. We rented a golf cart and cruised around the whole island, having lunch at the Green Turtle Club. We came back to Treasure late in the afternoon, and chilled out (literally) on the boat for the evening.
Guana. We left early the next morning (Wednesday) to head on over to Settlement Harbor on Great Guana Cay. The front arrived during our trip over and the wind and seas picked up. And that’s when we first started to experience some of the benefits of a cat. As the wind picked up, we just went faster. No heeling, no exaggerated rolling, no stress. Fast and flat. Not too shabby. Anyway, by the time we arrived and got to our mooring, the wind was honking in the 20’s with higher gusts, all out of the west. The forecast called for the wind to shift to the north, and with that forecast Troy at Dive Guana assured us that it would be comfortable on a mooring in Settlement Harbor. I’m sure that’s true, if the wind would only have clocked to the north. Anyway, we got off the boat and went to Nippers while we waited for the wind to shift. We spent some time on the beach, and tried to go in the pool, but it was just too cold. We met a cruising family on a Gemini, “Charlotte-Ann” out of Ontario, and we agreed to get together later for a beer back on the boats. After eating something at Nippers, we headed back to the boat. No wind shift. Again, we got to experience another benefit of a cat. In the exposed harbor, the monohulls were all over the place, and I just can’t imagine being on one of them. On the cat, we bounced a bit, but it wasn’t unbearable. “Charlotte-Ann” came on over, the kids played, and the adults drank beer and got acquainted. Not a bad way to spend some time.
Back to Hopetown. The wind never shifted, and it never lightened, so we spent the night bopping up and down in an exposed harbor with 20+ knot winds. We woke the next morning (Thursday) and decided to make tracks. Our friends on Interim were ensconced in Hopetown, and with the weather forecast to stay as it was (with continued promises of a shift to the north that never materialized), we decided to head there ourselves. We threw off the mooring at about 9:00, and had an awesome broad reach all the way from Guana to Hopetown. It was probably the best sail of the trip, though our last day wasn’t too shabby either. Anyway, we had more fun in Hopetown, tooling around the harbor, eating, shopping, drinking, eating, tooling around in the dink, walking the beach, drinking, eating, etc. You get the idea.
Marsh Harbour. The next morning (Friday) we woke and had a leisurely breakfast on Interim, slumming it on a monohull. Then we set out to sail back to Marsh Harbour for Junior Junkanoo that evening. This was our first day of sailing to weather. On the one hand, no heeling was pretty cool. On the other, these things don’t really go to weather all that well. No surprise there. Nevertheless, it was great sailing. When we got back to the Conch Inn it was time to back the big ol’ cat into a slip on the outer pier. Not sure if you’re familiar with the docking situation there, but the reason they put the cats on that end of the dock is because there’s very little water. Plus, it’s a very narrow runway, with the dock on your starboard side, and mud on your port. And here’s where I couldn’t believe what I was able to do with this thing. Motoring it along the runway, stopping it right at our slip, and simply pivoting the boat in place so as to back her into her spot was amazing. And it wasn’t just backing it into a slip. These are the kinds of slips where the finger is only about half the length of the boat, and you tie the bow to pilings. In a mono that would have been a major hassle. In the cat, you just play the engines and first move one bow over to the piling and place a line on it, and the calmly and gently move the other bow over to the other piling. All with about 12 to 15 knots of wind. Not even a hint of trouble controlling the boat. Anyway, we spent our last afternoon/evening exploring Marsh Harbour, eating at Snappas, buying a few trinkets, watching the Junior Junkanoo, and ending the way we began – passing out exhausted in our berths at the Conch Inn.
All in all, it was a cold, windy trip. And I loved every moment of it!
Here are some pix (assuming I upload them properly):
The boat we chartered, "Just Too"
"Just Too" and "Interim" anchored off of Shell Island
Our boys on the hardtop
Our boys in the cockpit while underway
Two bros just hangin' on the beach