Bob and Sandy [KK42 SABO]have asked me to write a few words about our trip to the Abaco Islands last year.
Let me say first that we have been thoroughly traumatized by all of the tales, tall and otherwise, about the Gulf Stream. It is about 55 miles from West Palm Beach to West End on Grand Bahama Island. The Stream itself is about 25 miles wide and flows North at about 3 knots. When the wind blows from the North it is against the current and can create conditions that vary from uncomfortable to downright nasty depending on wind strength. If the wind is from the North and is predicted to be 15 knots or more, wait for a better day. If the wind is 10 knots or so and not predicted to increase you can go for it realizing that you may take some punishment for the 25 miles of the stream proper. (At 8 knots, about three hours of potential unpleasantness).
As Krogenites we have very tough sea worthy vessels that can withstand much more than the average crew. So you can cross in less than ideal weather but why get beat up if you don't have to? The rule of thumb is to have a good look, if there are elephants on the horizon, wait.
Once you cross and get onto the little Bahama Bank all of the fuss is over. The water is 10 to 12 feet deep, there is no swell, only wind chop.so winds of 20 knots or somewhat more are easily tolerated.
The best guide book that we found is "the Cruising Guide To Abaco" by Steve Dodge. It has excellent chartlets and good advice. The Maptech CD for the computer was also excellent and contains many of these same chartlets with pre-plotted way points.
A word about the way points. Things move around, especially after the hurricanes so keep a sharp look out and stay in the blue water. After a time you will become a good judge of water depth by its color. Watch your sounder and the water color and don't be a slave to the GPS and chart plotter. Obtain the paper charts or chart book as well. While we were there a delivery captain tore the bottom out of a large sportfish from inattention. He hit a reef at 28 knots.
We crossed from West Palm. We left before dawn, had an uneventful crossing and crossed onto the bank at Memory Rocks. We proceeded to Great Sale Cay and put down the hook where we had a very welcome libation. From Great Sale it was on to Green Turtle Cay where we signed into the country and began a delightful six week stay.
We anchored out most of the time. The water is shallow and the holding good most of the time. Be sure to get a good set and let out at least 10 to 1 scope. Thunder storms can come up unexpectedly and can have winds in excess of 50 knots. Why this usually happens when you are off the boat or at 2 AM I don't know but it sure seems that it does. Fortunately they are usually short lived.
Anchorages that we enjoyed were the Manjack Crab Cay anchorage, Baker's Bay, Tahiti Beach and off of Hope town.
Marinas that we visited were the Triple J in Roche Harbor, Boat Harbor and Orchid Bay Marina on Great Guana Cay. Our favorite was Orchid Bay because of the excellent dock master and service. Triple J gives great access to the town of Marsh Harbor. Boat Harbor catered primarily to very large sport fishers, we were the poor relations and treated as such. Provisioning was easy. We made several trip to Vernon's Grocery in Hope Town not only for groceries and meat but also for his key lime and coconut pies. They are the absolute best. When in Hope Town the climb up to the top of the Light house is mandatory. The view is beautiful and the still working light house is very interesting as well.
The towns of New Plymouth, Marsh Harbor, Hope Town and Man O' War Cay are well worth visiting.
Dining out is fun. We mostly had lunch out, it seemed that the lunch and dinner menus were about the same and dinner was far more expensive. Not only that but the dinners on the boat were superb, as were the Martinis.
While you are in the Abacos be sure and go at least once to the Sunday pig roast at Nipper's on Great Guana Cay. The food and drink are wonderful and reasonable, the scenery both oceanic and ambulatory is remarkable. Here's Bev at Nippers!
We kayaked around all of the anchorages and took the dingy out to the reefs for snorkeling almost every day. The snorkeling was outstanding, especially at the marine park at Sandy Cay. Diving visibility is wonderful. We took kibbled dog food with us diving and fed the fish. They seemed to love it and followed us around 'till it was all gone.
A word about the beaches and the ocean water in the Bahamas. Both are beautiful. The white sand beaches seem to go for miles and have few or no bathers. I have never seen so many shades of blue as are present in the Bahamian water. The water has been described as being "gin clear" and it is. You can count the star fish in 15 feet of water.
Our six weeks in the Abacos was not enough. We can't wait to get back. No one who has a boat on the east coast should miss them.