By Mark Stevens; Photos by Sharon Matthew-Stevens

Beach WalkA perfect beach to walk off lunch on Great Guana Cay’s windward side

It’s a perfect Sunday morning jaunt.

We’re gliding through green-blue waters, colours so vivid and bright they hurt your eyes. We’re set for a close reach out of a harbour guarded by a necklace of tiny emerald islands decorated by palms that dance in fifteen knots of wind.

Our boat, “Tropical Escape II” (perfect name for both the boat and our adventure), is a 44-foot Robertson and Caine catamaran, chartered from Sunsail’s Marsh Harbour base on Bahamas’ Great Abaco Island.

Sunday Pig RoastManifest includes my wife and I, our friends Ed and Kim North, and John and Judy Kupers, dockmates back at our yacht club in Toronto. Ed and Kim have crewed with us before but this is a first for John and Judy, though John’s king of the fleet on race nights back at Lakeshore.

 – The Sunday pig roast at Nipper’s on Great Guana Cay is a local tradition

The Norths and my wife obviously love the experience: Boat speed’s eight knots; twin hulls slice the surface like a chef carving Thanksgiving turkey. But it’s the looks on the faces of John and Judy that do it for me.

Forget Thanksgiving: they look like kids on Christmas morning.

That’s the way it should be. Back at the Sunsail chart briefing yesterday afternoon, a Sunsail staffer named Rose tapped the screen showing a PowerPoint map of the Abacos with her hand then turned to smile at the assembled bare-boat skippers. “The best sailing in the world.”

Leeward Yacht Club – Leeward Yacht Club on Green Turtle Cay - don’t miss their Happy Hour

I was skeptical at first but only because I hadn’t yet cast off, we hadn’t yet begun our Abacos Adventure. Today, crossing over to Great Guana Cay, I’m convinced.

Maybe an hour in, I turn the helm over to John. Great Guana is dead ahead, two, three nautical miles off, lounging on the horizon, teal and lime cottages splashes of flamboyance against the green background of Australian pine and casuarina trees.

“I could get used to this,” says John, grinning at me. Then, as is his wont, he barks out sail trim commands.

I know his prowess on the race course so I leap into action.

Good thing, too - spectacular as the sailing is, one of the chief Abacos appeals is the wealth of islands here. Kupers will get us to the first one faster.

New Plymouth Tribute – A bit of history here. A New Plymouth tribute to the original Loyalist settlers

Even so, Great Guana Cay is but one port-of-call on our weeklong Sunsail charter.

Here’s the math: Two islands, eighty-two cays, and just over two hundred “rocks”.

Located roughly a 150 nautical miles due east of West Palm Beach, Florida, the Abacos occupy the most northerly reaches of the Bahamas.

In his book, Sailing Away from Winter, Silver Donald Cameron nailed the appeal of this place with the opening of his Abacos’ section.

“Champagne cruising,” he wrote. “The kind of sailing you get in your dreams.”

Once safely bridled on a mooring ball at Great Guana we choose a different libation.

Feet dangling in bath-tub-warm water as we sit on the stern swim platform, the boys raise bottles of Kalik Beer in an Abacos toast. The girls do it with wine.

Just after our arrival a sea turtle breaks the surface, grinning at us in welcome then diving beneath the surface. Now I notice several spotted rays, lurking underneath the boat, wheeling and soaring in the water off the stern.

Ed and Kim North – Crew members Ed and Kim North scout out the best place to snorkel near Hopetown on Elbow Cay

We dinghy ashore and stroll to a collection of multi-tiered decks perched at the top of a cliff overlooking a perfect beach nuzzled by more of those incandescent seas.

Sunday afternoon at Nipper’s: A couple of hundred people, some cavorting in the surf, some up here bopping in bathing suits to calypso grooves, some at rainbow-coloured picnic tables, partaking of the weekly Nipper’s offering - a pig roast.

Pastel-Painted Cape Cod Houses 

– Pastel-painted Cape Cod houses make Hope Town a charming destination

We join the throng for the feast, then stroll the beach and have a swim before heading back to Guana’s lee for a perfect sunset at Grabbers bar, where a guy and a guitar’s doing his best Jimmy Buffett impression, where other cruisers sip Bahama Mamas in beachside hammocks.

And this is only ‘day one’.

Back at the Sunsail base Rose talked about different float plans but warned us that a push to Green Turtle Cay in the north wasn’t always possible. “Sometimes the weather isn’t your friend up there,” she warned.

The appeal of sailing the Abacos is the fact that waters are protected from the open sea pretty well everywhere except through Whale Cay Passage. Green Turtle reclines on the other side of Whale Cay.

But next day the weather is our friend and we pass Whale without incident then fly past No Name Cay with its infamous swimming pigs (we don’t stop – still remembering the pig roast). Conditions are so good in fact, we actually sail past the harbour opening because we can’t bear to drop canvas just yet.

But we still make it into harbour in time for happy hour poolside at Leeward Yacht Club.

“Could get used to this,” said Kupers, setting a beer down on the table beside me. “This one’s on me.”

And this is just day two.

Next day it’s south then southwest, chased by two monohulls who just can’t compete with our seaworthy crew, pulling in around lunch time to a serpentine channel bordered by lime-coloured waters, picking up a mooring ball at Treasure Cay in a protected harbour, one of the biggest reasons for Abacos’ popularity.

We dinghy in to the docks, we march across the road and I wait for the looks on the faces of my crew. We step onto an arc of sand roughly three kilometres long nuzzled by turquoise waters. Before our charter began my wife and I came up here for a couple of days, staying in a villa fronting a dock bordered by scarlet Poinciana. We walked most of this expanse, encountering maybe fifty people the whole time.

But back to the popularity thing, back to me waiting for the reaction of my crew: Treasure Cay is one of my favourite beaches here but only one of them. And here’s the thing: It’s no ordinary beach. National Geographic’s readers have rated Treasure Cay one of the world’s top ten beaches.

Treasure Cay – Grab a mooring ball at Treasure Cay and dinghy over for dinner at Coco Beach Bar and Grill

Top ten.

Next day we head southeast, with winds off our stern quarter, nudging us toward Man’o’War Cay. Ed and Kim find a great snorkel beach while John and Judy explore the collection of shops.

Sharon and I find a beach to call our own. “Nice beach there,” Rose told us back at the Sunsail briefing. This is an understatement.

Late afternoon we find an ice cream parlour “downtown” and watch the bustle of rush hour Bahamas style. Five or six gold carts pull up to the ferry dock, parents collecting their kids after school over in Marsh Harbour.

Next day we do the quick passage over to Hope Town. It’s a whole village decorated with traditional Cape Cod houses: steep cedar shake roofs with central chimney, places that could hold their own in New England but for the fact they’re painted turquoise and lemon and coral.

We spend a half day sunning on a beach protected by the world’s third longest reef a mere ten metres from shore, we explore the museum, we cross the harbour and climb the candy cane lighthouse that may be one of the most photographed subjects in the Bahamas.

Next day we tarry until noon, when the church on shore sends out a carillon medley of hymns, a nautical musical send-off for our last day.

Winds continue brisk. Conditions perfect yet again.

We tack back and forth just for fun, until it’s finally time to set course for the Sunsail Base at Marsh Harbour.

But first Kim yells and points. Two or three dolphins are splish-splashing in sun-splattered waves, their dorsal fins a velvety sheen.

I twist the wheel so we heave-to. I glance at John and Judy, at Ed and Kim, at my wife, Sharon.

They look like kids on Christmas morning.

John shakes his head like he can’t believe this spectacle. Judy looks at me and smiles.
“Thanks for inviting us,” she says.

“And thanks for arranging the dolphins,” she adds, the smile growing.

And I do feel somehow responsible, as if I’ve personally arranged one last unforgettable moment in an unforgettable Abaco Adventure.

Then I harden the sails and point for Marsh Harbour.

 

FLOAT PLAN
• To book your Abacos adventure, exploring options from boat choice to charter option – bareboat or crewed – click on https://www.sunsail.com/yacht-charter/caribbean/bahamas
• For all kinds of things to do ashore or for even more possibilities when it comes to writing up your float plan, go to https://www.bahamas.com/islands/abacos

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