On the morning of our last sailing day the sun climbs over Elbow Cay in the Abacos, waking me in my berth aboard Tropical Escape II, a Sunsail 444 catamaran we’d chartered out of Marsh Harbour almost a week ago.
The boat swings on her mooring, revealing pastel-painted historic Cape Cod homes nestled in a green quilt of palms and pines. A red and white candy-cane lighthouse appears.
On that first afternoon in Marsh Harbour, where I attended the Sunsail chart briefing held in an upstairs room with big windows boasting seductive harbour views, Rose, the Sunsail staffer, called these waters the “best sailing in the world.” She said it at least three times.
A week later, in Hope Town – before we cast off and return to the Sunsail base at Marsh Harbour – even the local church conspires in the seduction. At noon a carillon of bells serenades us: a medley of hymns carried on twenty knots of wind.
But this morning I’m still waxing philosophical, reflecting on the past week. I’m thinking about a movie called The Unbearable Lightness of Being, when it hits me: they could make a movie about sailing the Abacos. Call it The Unbelievable Coolness of Bahamas.
Maybe Rose was on to something after all.
Despite my initial cynicism about that Sunsail briefing, halfway through our first full day I’ve come around.
Marsh Harbour to Great Guana Cay: turquoise waters and a romp under fifteen knots of steady wind, full sails, eyeballing our first port and the weekly pig roast on the beach at Nipper’s. We’re making seven knots close-hauled; one tack.
Once in harbor a sea turtle raises its head to greet us, spotted rays swim beneath the boat.
Great Guana to Green Turtle: Rose, our Sunsail briefer, warned us about this area. “Winter can be unkind to boaters,” she said, referring to a passage outside Whale Cay that’s open to the Atlantic and often downright unsettling.
But the weather cooperated. Fifteen knots close-hauled over flat waters, then a broad reach then back to close-hauled on a day that ended when we pulled in to the friendly and convenient Leeward Yacht Club on Green Turtle, doing Happy Hour poolside.
Next day winds are equally amiable. Twenty knots today but flat waters, though they’re crisscrossed with a flock of whitecaps. Reefed main but Tropical Escape II loves it and we love it.
Winds next day are every bit as delightful, though now they’re pushing twenty-plus steady. We fly down in the lee of Great Abaco Island on a broad reach then gybe for another exhilarating reach.
I take the helm for a bit and look over at my friends, John Kupers and Ed North (their wives, along with my wife, Sharon, lounge in the cockpit). “Maybe Rose was right,” I say.
“Pretty good sailing,” says Ed.
“I’d come back,” says John. “Bring the family.”
One of the appeals of this cruising ground is the variety of ports. Do an ambitious sail or just do a couple of hours.
New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay is full of period buildings thanks to the original British Loyalist settlers, along with a sleepy ambiance that makes you want to stay longer.
But then you’d miss Man ‘o’ War and Great Guana.
We check out the legacy of boat-building on Man ‘o’ War, we pick up ice cream cones – world’s best butterscotch (never mind the sailing).
We explore the historic charm of Hope Town and we moor overnight at Treasure Cay.
Two more selling points for the Abacos: unbeatable sailing and ports unequalled for their charm. And unparalleled beaches.
On Man’o’War John and Judy shop, while Ed and Kim seek a beach with their names on it.
My wife and I find our own patch of sand. Just us.
On day one we’d played in the surf at Great Guana Cay, at the foot of a cliff dominated by a beach bar boasting rainbow-colored picnic tables.
On Treasure Cay we basted on an icing sugar beach nuzzled by cerulean waters.
No ordinary beach, that spot. Caribbean Travel and Life has rated it the Caribbean’s best, National Geographic called it one of the world’s top ten.
Sometime between Hopetown and the Sunsail base at Marsh Harbour on our last day, Kim suddenly points. Dolphins.
I later relinquish the helm, joining Judy in the cockpit.
They’re experienced sailors but they’ve never chartered or visited the Abacos.
“Dream come true,” says Judy. “A sailing trip to remember.”
Unbeatable sailing, unequalled ports, unparalleled beaches.
And unbelievable coolness.
To check itineraries, sailing conditions and available boats in the Sunsail fleet out of Marsh Harbour, go to: www.sunsail.com/yacht-charter/caribbean/bahamas
For the other allures and attractions found in the Abacos, Northern Bahamas, visit: www.bahamas.com/islands/abacos
Mark Stevens is an award-winning travel writer whose specialties include Canada, the Caribbean and boating.