After seven months in Vancouver, at the end of January we returned to Freeport to begin our second cruise in the Bahamas. This time we will explore the Abacos, the chain of islands and cays in the far northeastern portion of the Bahamian archipelago.
Before describing our experiences to date, a bit of history and background on the area. As with other parts of the Caribbean, variously the Spanish, French and British explored and attempted to colonize this area of the Bahamas, without lasting success. The Abacos were also home to a variety of pirates during the 17th and 18th centuries, as these islands were well situated for piracy. Among them were ‘Vain the Great Pirate’, who based himself at Green Turtle Cay. However it was not until the 1770’s, when the British North American colonies declared their independence from Britain, followed by the arrival of the first loyalists from New York in 1783, that permanent settlement of the Abacos occurred. This migration included many former slaves granted freedom by the British government.
Life in the Abacos during the 18th and 19th centuries was difficult, with poor soil for farming. Survival in the islands meant that one had to fish as well as farm, and communities were established on the outer cays, which were closer to the reefs and best fishing. Wrecking – plundering the resources of wrecked ships, sometimes deliberately lured ashore – was also a common endeavour. By the 20th century, sponging, boat building, shipping and logging pine trees indigenous to the island were also contributing to the local economy. However, most Abaconians, as hardy survivors, lived at or near the subsistence level until after the Second World War, when tourists from the U.S, Canada and Britain discovered Abaco.
Today the Abacos are one of the most developed and tourist oriented areas within the Bahamas. Marsh Harbour, the business and activity centre, has the third largest population in the nation at about 7000 residents. As a result, the services available to boaters are much more plentiful in this region. With reasonable ‘off-season’ rates, we have spent most of our time in very nice marinas, and are socializing much more with fellow boaters. Many of them are Canadians who enjoy the area so much they return to the Abacos year after year. Fortunately though, being early in the season, it is not at all crowded.
This brings us to the only ‘downside’ of visiting now – the weather. Although plenty warm enough for the Captain and the Admiral (highs in the 20’s, lows in the teens), all those nasty Canadian cold fronts in eastern North America eventually show up here as ‘windy days’. And there have been a lot of them this year. Where the usual norm is a blow for 2-3 days followed by 3-4 good days, this year the pattern has been more windy days and only 1-2 days where boat travel is comfortable. Fortunately His Idea is relatively fast, so we were able to make the 140 mile trip from Freeport to Green Turtle Cay in 2 days. Then the winds had us pinned down for a week, which we didn’t mind at all because GTC is such a great place. To reach Marsh Harbour we then had to traverse either ‘The Whale’, which had 5 foot breaking rollers and a nasty chop – although we tried, fear or common sense turned us back – or ‘Don’t Rock Passage’, a very shallow visual piloting route with smaller rollers. We boldly tried again, and thanks to stubbornness, stupidity or good luck, we managed to get through the shallow passage. That was a ‘whew’ moment that we don’t wish to repeat too often.
Starting with a sketch map of the Abacos, here follows our first pictures…..
We’re very happy to be in Marsh Harbour, and plan to stay for at least a few days before moving on to some of the surrounding towns and cays, including Hope Town and Man-o-War.