Ferrytales From the Abacos

August 31, 2009 at 9:12 am | Posted in Bahamas, Caribbean/Bahamas/Bermuda | 1 Comment

by Chelle Koster Walton

No matter where you go in the Abacos, boats are big -- even when they're little. Above, New Plymouth.

No matter where you go in the Abacos, boats are big -- even when they're little

I watched tidily uniformed schoolkids climb aboard as the crew loaded sacks of flour, a boxed microwave, some spare luggage, and various other unidentifiable bundles onto the 50-foot fiberglass ferry boat. Despite the early hour, everyone was cheerful as they made their way to their wood benches, nodding good morning to fellow passengers whether they knew them or not. The captain crawled through the window, gunned the engine, and we began powering our way through the bracing, briny air from Treasure Cay to Green Turtle Cay.


Other seafarers that day were piloting million-dollar yachts that were costing them a small fortune in anchorage fees to travel around the Abacos, a 120-mile-long chain of more than a hundred Out Islands of the Bahamas. Us? We were paying $17 round trip to hop out to Green Turtle Cay, where we spent the day breakfasting at Green Turtle Club, snorkeling and picnicking, and touring the bright little town of New Plymouth (the very model of what a Bahamian town should look like).

It’s my favorite pastime in the Abacos, the Bahamian sailing capital: day-hopping to its scattering of small isles or overnighting on one of the chain’s ten inhabited islands to soak up as much of the character of each as possible. Flights from Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando, West Palm Beach, and Nassau drop you on Great Abaco Island at Marsh Harbour, the third largest town in the Bahamas – but with only one stoplight, mind you. And out here you can find plenty of places to eat and overnight that your wallet will appreciate.

From Marsh Harbour and the Great Abaco Island town of Treasure Cay, ferries depart regularly and dependably for Green Turtle Cay, Elbow Cay, Man-O-War Cay, and Great Guana Cay. The Sea of Abaco crossings are quick – 15 to 30 minutes – and usually smooth.

Elbow Cay’s the most popular excursion because the ferry leaves from the Marsh Harbour municipal dock and delivers you to a fairytale town where the lighthouse looks like a candy cane and the homes cut from gingerbread. Hope Town, like New Plymouth, was one of four early Bahamian settlements created by Loyalists fleeing the turning tide of the American Revolution. With them they brought their architecture, ships, and slaves. All influence the makeup of today’s Hope Town, where motor vehicles are permitted only to those with special licenses.

Daytrippers stroll Front Street and Back Street, stopping to learn the island’s history at the Wyannie Malone Historical Museum, perusing the galleries and shops, and refueling on “conch in da’ bag” at Harbour’s Edge restaurant. To overnight in the midst of the local scene, check in to Hope Town Harbour Lodge (www.HopeTownLodge.com). Tucked into a flowery hillside on the edge of a dune, its accommodations range from rooms in the historic inn to gingerbread-trimmed oceanside cottages, and start at $99 (the Bahamian dollar’s on par with the U.S.). Its tiny restaurant is considered one of the finest in town.

In-the-know sailors know Great Guana Cay for Nippers Beach Bar & Grill, one of the most famous yachtie bars in the tropics — especially come Sunday, when it throws one heck of a wild boar roast. Drink something rummy here, grab a Guana Grabber (three kinds of rum mixed with pineapple and grapefruit juice) at Grabbers Bar & Grill, and you’ll find yourself easing into the rhythm of this island nicely. If you’ve grabbed one too many, Grabbers rents out one- and two-bedroom units (www.GrabbersAtSunset.com) from $100 a night.

The antithesis of Great Guana Cay’s eternal happy hour, on Man-O-War Cay no booze is sold or served. So why go? As the boatbuilding capital of the Bahamas, it’s a fascinating place to watch craftsmen at work making and repairing boats, creating models, and creating ditty bags out of sailcloth. Another car-free, carefree island, it has a few interesting shops and harborside restaurants, plus a wonderful beach that’s nearly always empty.

The Abacos are among those places where you just must get out on the water. And naturally there are plenty of varioius kinds of boats for rent and charter. But if that’s too involved and/or pricey for you, don’t worry, the ferry-boat system will do double duty for you: island-hopping you through mesmerizing seascapes that will send you back home full of ferry tales.

More info: Abacos.net, Go-Abacos.com.


1 Comment »

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  1. Thanks for the nostalgia trip. Loved the Abacos, Man-O-War, Green Turtle, Treasure Cay of the 80’s – the people, food, water, scenery were the best. Time to return.

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