A catamaran proves to be the perfect party platform for a reunion of college pals on a charter cruise through the Abacos
Racing against a predicted rain squall, we left early the next morning for Fowl Cay. Although it was just a quick hop to the dive site, the crew was eager to sail, so we hoisted the main, unfurled the jib, and soon were cutting a fine figure across the Sea of Abaco in 16 knots of breeze.
Just as quickly, we doused the sails to anchor in the lee of the small islet. The younger set were all certified divers and set off eagerly in the dinghy loaded with scuba gear. They puttered into the strait between Fowl and Scotland cays, to the day moorings and dive site on the other side. With several other dive boats on station, Sean shuttled the crew back in shifts. Swamping aside, they were exhilarated with their diving adventure.
It was a stormy passage to Great Guana Cay and Settlement Harbour. Moorings were available here and throughout the Abacos on a first-come, first-served basis, at $20 to $25 per night.
Some of the crew napped as the sun broke through, while the rest went to explore the small town, before traipsing the dirt road over the hill to Nipper’s Beach Bar. The colorful open-air eatery is perched on a bluff overlooking an expanse of powdery sand. We enjoyed cocktails at sunset, but meals were pricey. Eating out in the Abacos wasn’t cheap, so we returned to the boat where Valentino whipped up some tacos, and we dined al fresco in our roomy cockpit.
The crew was up early to catch the sunrise off Nipper’s and returned to the boat hungry. Austin made a hearty scramble as we left; a distinctive advantage of a catamaran is a level platform for cooking and relaxing even in breezy conditions. With the wind from the south we decided to peek around the corner of Great Guana Cay as we left, to investigate the dive site to the north.
We gingerly transited the pass, reef to port, rocks to starboard, with the color of the water as our guide. Waves broke on either side as the ocean swell collided with the chop from the south, and we hobby-horsed through the passage toward the reef. We dropped anchor on the sandy bottom near the beach, and from there it was a short swim to the reef that arced around us. The crew deployed immediately off the twin swim platforms, and disappeared beneath the turquoise water. It was a gorgeous morning, puffy clouds giving way to bright sunlight that accentuated the colors. And it was just as beautiful beneath the surface too. The divers returned, bursting with details, including the company of a 9-foot blacktip shark.
“The coral reef is healthy, with an abundance of thriving staghorn,” said Austin, as the crew took hot showers on the swim step. “There are huge conch everywhere, and a ton of sharks.
We retraced our steps a bit, then turned north to the Whale Cay Pass, ducking out into the ocean to avoid an expanse of shoals off Treasure Cay. It was a spectacular day for a sail, the breeze blowing 14 to 18 knots from the southeast—perfect for our passage to Green Turtle Cay.
Green Turtle Cay’s White Sound had another exacting entrance. As instructed, we steered well right of the apparent opening until we picked out the entrance buoys that looked more like party balloons than channel markers and then turned left, into the dredged channel. We nestled up near the Green Turtle Club, with its legendary bar plastered with dollar bills and enjoyed long showers and an excellent dinner ashore. Our own conch fritter taste-testing contest was underway, and we found the best here, with Jamie’s Place in Marsh Harbour a close second. They were light and tasty, with plenty of conch. After dinner, a few of our posse hitched a ride to New Plymouth, on the other end of the island, in search of nightlife.
Later that night the wind howled through the rigging, but the anchorage remained flat and calm. A low-pressure system had been tumbling through, and appeared as forecasted. Regardless, our crew was game to attempt the 30-mile passage to Hope Town the next morning. With 23 knots of breeze already, we put in two reefs, and Valentino took the helm.
Valentino and his wife Olivia own an O’Day 23 that they sail in the bays near their home with their young family.
“This destination is awesome, but sailing was also a big part of the appeal of this trip,” Olivia said. “We’ve wanted an opportunity to learn and get more of a grip on sailing, and once Sean told us where we were going, we were down!”
It was a spectacular passage, navigating around the various islands and shoals, the Sea of Abaco spitting white foam our way. Valentino grinned as we reached 10 knots of boat speed, and raced the front to Hope Town. The wind was expected to intensify, and I wanted a secure spot for the night.
But with all the moorings taken, we opted for a slip at Hope Town Marina. Our nights would be secure, with no need for soggy dinghy rides. But we practically needed a shoehorn to get into our berth. Later Sean remarked we looked like a ship in a bottle, or as if the dock had been built around the boat.
But the boat was snug and as the wind swirled outside we began a veritable marathon of biking, jogging, hiking, shopping, climbing to the top of the lighthouse and of course, dancing at Cap’n Jacks.
Finally the storm eased and two days later we squeezed out of our slip, several of our dock mates lending a hand.
“Remember: no more than three blasters!” yelled Gus, as he tossed us a bowline.
“What’s a blaster?” we asked.
“You’ll find out!”
Everyone had been enthusiastic when we said our next stop was Little Harbour, a cozy nook on the eastern shore of Grand Abaco. Pete’s Pub was legendary, and so, apparently, was their signature drink, the Blaster.
But first, a detour to Sandy Cay for more diving. We nosed up to a mooring, an atypical northwest wind blowing us away from the reef, and enjoyed a brief layover at the sea park.
“This is an absolutely amazing way to vacation, with the freedom to bounce around paradise at our own pace, and participate in the unique activities each area offers,” Austin said. “Remote beaches, fun towns with bars to dance and party, mellow harbors, renting bikes all on a variety of small cays. It’s got a little bit of everything, and really raised the bar on how I want to vacation in the future.”
We continued to Little Harbour, keeping in mind the shallow entrance that is just over 5 feet of water at high tide and grabbed a mooring in the midst of the small bay.
Little Harbour is on the main Abaco island, so the patrons at Pete’s Pub were an odd mix of cruisers, tourists and motorcycle club members. It had a BVI-style vibe, and we mingled beneath the T-shirt strewn rafters, enjoying a few blasters. The blaster, a secret blend of fruit juices and rums, was simply delicious. After enjoying our quota, Olivia showed off her new dinghy driving skills, and shuttled us back to the cat for a late-night barbecue.
Blasters aside, an early departure was required to make it through the channel before low tide. Besides, our next stop was eagerly awaited, the crew had been asking to anchor in an isolated spot, and finally the wind had settled down enough that we were willing to try the anchorage at Snake Cay.
It took a few tries to secure the hook in the patchy bottom, north of the curved finger of land that separates the anchorage from a cut with a strong current. Soon the crew was exploring this shallow rivulet, floating through an underwater Garden of Eden with the incoming tide, past turtles, rays, coral and sea stars.
Our crew of eight was getting along swimmingly. Sean, who grew up sailing Hobie Cats, Lasers and racing on a family boat, was the mastermind of the trip.
“Being able to get the guys all together was a bit of a roll of the dice,” he said. “But this has turned out to be the best possible case scenario.”
Through the night the wind was nil, but the current evident, and Bob and I took turns on anchor watch. At one check, the chain was fully visible in the still water, illuminated by the moonlight. It swept in a huge semicircle to port—we had swung a full 180 degrees, but remained secure.
From this final anchorage to the charter base it was six miles as the crow flies, but we were no flock of gulls. Our circuitous route, around points of land, shifting sands and shoals, was nearly 15 miles. With the clock ticking, we left early, but I had one more surprise in store for the crew.
We eased into Matt Lowe Cay, and with the shallow draft cat, we were able to inch up to the beach to enjoy this small crescent of sand all to ourselves. We spent a final few moments alone in paradise before rushing those last three miles to the marina where taxis were waiting to speed us back to the real world.
“The contrast with everyday life has been great—no phones ringing, no email,” Sean said. “The boat sailed well and was so comfortable, even with eight on board. It was like a hotel room on the sea, surrounded by incredible natural beauty, and all your best friends.”