So my options for Abaco are to:
1) Break the trip into 2 chunks. Perhaps the weekend before everyone arrives, I make the gulfstream crossing with a friend over to West End. Park the boat at the marina at Old Bahama Bay, which should be $1 a foot since it will be offseason. Thats $250 for the week. $70 cab ride to Freeport airport, and $100 for the flight back to Fort Lauderdale. We then can all fly to Freeport and pick up the cruise from there
2) Shorten the trip. Would making it to Hope Town and back be too much for a 9 day itinerary. I'd like to do Little Harbour, but that seems too far. If not Hope Town, what would be the recommended turning around point to give us a reasonable chance at stopping and smelling the roses. What cays/locations are must-do (i hear nippsers).
3) Perphaps a different itinerary altogether. Bimini + Cat Cay + Berry's possible? I dont hear much about the Berrys. Are they good cruising grounds?
Last year we sailed to Man-O-War Cay from Lake Worth. The trip over was simple and easy. But returning (early May) was a lot more challenging. I had given ourselves 4 days from Man-O-War back to Stuart. We stopped in Green Turtle the first night then left early to try to sail back to Stuart overnight. It's an easy trip but we ended up limping into West End to get some rest because we were hit by so many squalls, especially during the night, that we were simply exhausted. The shallow water on the Little Bahama bank can turn into steep and short spaced waves that are just a pain to pound against... I ended up flying home from Freeport with my son home and came back to pick up the boat.
My point is that in the summer time, and living in South Florida you know that, the thunderstorms are simply hard to avoid and they are very big and nasty. So, depending on your search for thrill and especially your boatmates', the trip home when trying to keep a schedule could turn into a very uncomfortable and possibly frightening experience for some folks. Seeing lightning for hours around you at night is not my favorite
I'm my opinion, 9 days is very short to make it to Hopetown and back unless you have a diehard crew willing to sail through anything to get there and back.
I agree that Bimini doesn't have much to offer but it's a much easier trip with more schedule flexibility. Then, doing day trips to some of the surrounding islands, including overnightning in the Berries is worth it.
If you want to truly enjoy the Abacos, I believe you need more time otherwise you will be constantly focusing on getting back in time and possibly be forced to make some poor choices weatherwise.
If you could take the boat to Marsh Harbour, Man-o-WAR or Hopetown on you own time and leave it there (inexpensive moorings), fly home and come back at a later with your crew and take the nine days to work your way back, it would be more enjoyable.
Just my two cents...