The beautiful anchorage just outside of Hopetown Harbor.
After spending most of our first few weeks in the secluded islands of the Exuma Cays, we were all ready for a little more human contact. We had been told by fellow cruisers not to miss Hopetown and Marsh Harbour, so we were interested to find out if the Abaco Islands lived up to the hype.
The crystal blue water was dotted with these ominous black circles. Do Not Hit!
Before we could start having fun however, we had to make the trek to get there! Our first day from Ship’s Channel Cay to Royal Harbour took us through the Middle Passage, a path filled with coral heads that had to be dodged if we didn’t plan on leaving our boat at the bottom of the bank. I stayed on the bow for almost 2 hours directing Dan around the large black/brown spots on the otherwise crystal blue water. As the saying goes: if it’s brown, you’re going down! Our next day up to Little Harbour was one of the bumpiest we’ve had so far, with 4-5 foot seas on the beam rolling in from the open Atlantic, aka a seasickness party for Carter and me.
The lighthouse is still operated manually and open for self-guided tours every day.
Our first major stop in the Abaco Islands was Hopetown, Abaco. The picturesque harbor town complete with red striped lighthouse was like a scene from a postcard. Hopetown would be a great place to spend a vacation, with the beautiful Atlantic beach and protected harbor and just a short ferry ride to the other destinations in the so-called “Hub of Abaco.” We had a great time climbing the lighthouse and strolling through town. We also had to have a taste of a Vernon’s Grocery Store’s famous key lime pie, which was every bit as good as the guide books claimed.
I’m pretty sure I could go that low…but I wouldn’t be getting back up!
Next on our itinerary was Marsh Harbour, the third largest settlement in the Bahamas coming in at a whopping 5,000 permanent residents. While we wouldn’t consider this one of our favorite spots for visiting, it was fantastic to be able to get some chores done and find parts that would have been nearly impossible to get in other areas of the Bahamas. We did have a bit of a splurge night by attending the weekly BBQ buffet night at the Jib Room, complete with Bahama-style mariachi band and limbo performer (limbo-ist?). The food was good, the company fun, and we all had a great time.
We visited on a weekend, so the workers weren’t in the shop, but it was still fun to see the boats in progress.
The last point of the Hub’s triangle was Man-O-War Cay, a lovely town in which you can slow down. Because the island has a ban on the sale of alcohol, there are much fewer tourist establishments and no traditional beach bars. What they lack in party atmosphere, they more than make up for with the authentic feel of the community that has been mostly supported by their famous sail loft and boat workshop on the island. It was a great compliment to the other settlements in the Hub, especially after a few days of chores in Marsh Harbour.
Picturesque handmade boats were in abundance on Man-O-War Cay.
The Hub of Abaco was a completely new side to the Bahamas that we are glad we got to experience. While the area certainly can’t compete with the sheer intensity of natural beauty in the Exumas, it still has plenty of its own charm and flavor. The proximity of the destinations to each other makes it a perfect vacation destination or charter area and we would encourage anyone to give it a try if you haven’t before.
The last sunset during our time in the Exumas.
We were sad to see our time in the Exumas come to an end, but it was time.
We saw 49 knots on our wind meter when the storm passed through!
After a week of hiding out at Staniel Cay due to the Tropical Low that eventually became Tropical Storm Anna, we were going a little stir crazy to start moving again. Our buddy boat friends were moving on and we were close behind them. After a third visit to Warderick Wells Cay, we left the Exuma Land and Sea Park behind and made it to the famed Norman’s Cay, a former drug runner hideout and all together beautiful place.
Carter loved snorkeling the plane.
The coolest kid on the block!
A lonely plane crash on the inside cove of the island is a relic from the battle between the drug lords and the US Coast Guard; it also happens to be a great snorkeling spot. Carter is really getting the hang of snorkeling now and loved seeing the sunken plane! He also got some dinghy driving lessons from Dad, which he did very well at considering he can hardly see over the front of the dinghy from the driver’s seat.
Our special guest for dinner!
The perfect meal for our 500th mile!
Norman’s Cay marked 500 nautical miles traveled on Horizon and a grouper decided to stop by for our celebratory dinner! A candle-light (just because it was citronella doesn’t make it less special…) dinner of grilled grouper was just the right touch and one of our best meals aboard so far.
Thirteen pounds and 36 inches, a record we hope to beat in the future!
Our last stop in the Exuma Cays was at Ship’s Channel Cay, a great overnight stop before we would head out across the Middle Passage to Northern Eleuthera and the Abaco Islands. That night as I was tossing dinner scraps to the friendly remora under our boat, a huge Crevalle Jack decided he wanted a bite as well. Dan attempted to catch him for half an hour or so, but couldn’t get him to bite. After cleaning up, we accidentally left the pole in our rod holder and went to bed. At about 11 o’clock that night, we starting hearing the whirring of the reel and we both rushed out to discover he had finally gotten his bite! The half hour fight that ensued, chasing him around the boat with me holding the flashlight and Dan reeling him in, will certainly live on as a proper send off from the Exumas!
We loved the Exuma Islands and hope to return to visit again. Our first real cruising grounds will be hard to beat in our future travels.
The whole crew on our visit to Thunderball Grotto.
On our second day in Black Point, Carter had decided that he was bored with Mom and Dad for company and it was time to find himself some new friends. Up to that point in the trip we had seen precious little of other families on cruising boats and even Dan and I were ready for some interaction. Carter attempted to make a VHF call by saying, “Calling all vessels, are there any kid boats in Black Point?” to no avail. Then, as we were coming back from a water run some motion caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. Little people! We saw a few kids jumping off of their boat and swimming not too far from us.
Our crews plus that of another boat family on Del Max.
Carter and I unceremoniously ditched Dan and the water jugs to go check out the action. Sure enough when we pulled up to their boat, Zazen, we found three girls with their parents enjoying the warm water. And thus began our first foray into buddy boating, as we made arrangements to meet at the beach.
The two bambinos!
Dan and I quickly became friends with Fred and Adrienna but not as quickly as Carter and their youngest daughter Paloma. For the next week, the two were practically inseparable partially because we all enjoyed each other’s company so much and partially because the two of them would drive us crazy asking when we would meet up again. Marine, Penelope, and Paloma were a joy to be around and Fred and Adrienna were the type of friends that come quickly but we hope will last a lifetime. (Sorry if we spelled any of your names wrong!)
Oh to be a fly on the wall during this conversation…
We made our way back north with them, seeing sights for a second time in a new light with another family to share them with. On one long hike, we never quite made it to the destination we had intended, but Carter and Paloma managed to have a great time anyway jumping in puddles, picking fruits from bushes, and having the enlightened conversation of four-year-olds. When I asked Carter afterward what he thought about the hike he replied, “Mom, it was very hot and very amazing.” Well put.
While we only spent a week together on the water, it felt like we had known them for years by the time we had to say good-bye. This was the end of their trip and only the beginning of ours so we unfortunately had to part sooner then we (or the kids) would have liked. Such are the friendships made while traveling. We look forward to meeting more cruisers and hope to see the crew of Zazen again in the future.