Considered the ‘boating capital of the Bahamas’, the Abaco Islands form the northern part of this Commonwealth and are located about 180 miles east of the Florida coast. In 2019, Hurricane Dorian directly hit and severely damaged many of the Abacos. The good news especially for this upcoming season is that much of the islands’ infrastructure has been rebuilt and is ready for visitors.
“We are delighted to report that the Abacos have almost completely recovered from Hurricane Dorian, with the majority of shops, restaurants and bars open and operating with full service,” says Patti Gonsalves, who with husband Mark own Cruise Abaco, offer captained and bareboat charters on their nearly dozen vessel fleet, including sailing and power multihulls and sailing monohulls. “Marsh Harbour is almost completely rebuilt. However, we find the beauty and appeal of our island paradise is mostly reflected in the outer Cays where there is so much to see and do.”
The Abacos, grouped into North, Central and South islands, spans 120 miles. There are nearly as many different possible routes for a week’s charter. This sample itinerary will feature a round-trip route from Marsh Harbour. Marsh, in Central Abaco, has good airlift from Florida, plus a wealth of services from accommodations to grocery shopping, laundry, post office and shops. Marsh Harbour is also home to several marinas and charter companies. These include Cruise Abaco, as well as MarineMax Vacations, Dream Yacht Charter, The Moorings and Abaco Yacht & Charter Services.
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Arrive at Marsh Harbour. Head to your charter yacht and receive an orientation and charter briefing. Those who are bareboating can go to Maxwell’s Supermarket & Home Store where there are a variety of foods, from chicken to Cheerios, as well as sundries like toothpaste, shampoo and flip flops. Charter outfits such as Cruise Abaco are located near the Abaco Beach Resort, while MarineMax and the Moorings are at the Conch Inn Marina. Both have on-site bars, restaurants and amenities like swimming pools, which are an ideal place to relax, overnight at the dock and launch off fresh the next day.
Hope Town, Elbow Cay. It’s an easy 8-mile sail east to Elbow Cay. This is a great fishing area, so be sure to troll a line for a fresh catch. Elbow is an 8-mile-long cay first settled in the late 1700s by British loyalists fleeing the newly created United States. Hope Town is the biggest settlement here, and one of the most famous sights here is of the century-plus-old, red-and-white-striped, 120-foot-tall Elbow Reef Lighthouse. Hike to the top of the light for an incredible view. The town is best explored on foot, or by golf cart, the most popular form of transportation. Those who want to peek into the past can visit the Wyannie Malone Museum, where there are exhibits of the Loyalist era and on the Amerindians and Spanish who arrived here before the British. Enjoy the beaches on Elbow Cay, and either eat on board or in one of the many restaurants ashore.
Man-O-War Cay. Cruise north some 6 miles to Man-O-War Cay. This is the boat building capital of the islands, says Raul Bermudez, vice president of Clearwater, FL-headquartered MarineMax Vacations, which offer Aquila power catamarans for charter. “The Albury family continues in the boat building business today and you can see Joe Albury building his handcrafted boats from his workshop. This is a must-stop for those who enjoy seeing old-world craftsmanship or are maritime historians. Moor in the calm cove at the south end of the island and explore by renting a golf cart, bicycling or walking. The cove is a great anchorage to spend the night as well.”
Green Turtle Cay & No Name Cay. Take a 23-mile sail northwest to this 3-mile-long barrier island reachable only by boat. This is a great base for exploring spectacular marine life, especially snorkeling and diving along the island’s outer reef. New Plymouth is the name of the settlement here. A site to see is the Loyalist Heritage Sculpture Garden, where there are 24 busts of prominent Bahamians. Take time to hop over to nearby No Name Cay, and swim with wild pigs.
Manjack Cay. Two plus miles north, this privately owned and undeveloped island is the northernmost point on this itinerary. This is the spot to play Robinson Crusoe for the day, walking on often deserted beaches, swimming and snorkeling, and shell hunting. Pack a picnic to enjoy ashore.
Great Guana Cay. Make it a shore and sea day. Anchor in the protected coves by Orchid Bay Marina, then walk through the quaint streets and end at one of the beaches on the Atlantic Oceanside. Stop in at the popular beachfront Nippers Beach Bar and Grill. There are lots of conch on the menu, including cracked conch burgers. Then, when swimming and snorkeling, look for abundant marine life. Sea turtles nest on the beaches, white-tailed tropicbirds do the same in rock ledges and rays often swim nearby.
Marsh Harbour. Enjoy an early morning breakfast on board or ashore, and then go for a swim, before sailing south 10 miles to Marsh Harbour. Make plans to return and cruise the North and South Abacos.
EXPLORE THE NORTH ABACOS
The North Abacos are more off the beaten track than their fellow islands Central and South. For example, Walker’s Cay is nearly 100 miles north of Marsh Harbour. Yet, this is an area with spectacular fishing, especially for billfish and bluefin tuna. An investor purchased the Walker’s Cay a couple of years ago, and despite hurricanes and the pandemic, the marina there opened this year. There’s a small airstrip, but no accommodations, restaurants or public facilities.
“This season, we have added a 78-foot Northavn (trawler-style motor yacht) for expedition-style adventure charters to the Northern Abacos,” says Michael Dillon, who with wife Francesca, owns and operates Abaco Yacht & Charter Services, based in Marsh Harbour. “We have PADI crew so guests can get dive certified while on charter. The diving is amazing here, with huge barrier reefs several stories high. That’s what makes the fishing so good as well.”
Charter guests can meet the Nordhavn in Marsh Harbour, then spend a day heading north. Or, the company works with Tropical Ocean Airways, which has a floatplane and can coordinate to fly guests in to meet the boat and get started fishing and diving right away. Grand Bay, Moraine Cay and Spanish Cay are other out-of-the-way islands near Walker’s ripe for exploration and each with its own personality.