Monthly Archives: June 2011

Newbies in the Abacos – Early ’80s

In the early 80’s my husband, Richard, and I decided we wanted to expand our one-design “little” boat experience to include some big boat knowledge. We booked an on-board, one week cruising class that might even entitle us to a bareboat certificate – if we passed all the tests. The course was based out of Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco.  We found the archipelago to be unspoiled, peppered with small villages populated by a fiercely independent citizenry proud of its history as a Loyalist refuge during the Revolutionary War. The family histories were fascinating and added a new dimension to the rather parochial version of the American Revolution we’d learned as children.

It was a glorious, if intimidating, experience – and it changed everything.  Yes, we both passed the tests and, as a reward, were given the classroom boat – a beamy, aging Morgan Out-Islander – for a three-day bonus cruise sans instructor.  Since then, we’ve used our hard-won knowledge to sail our own boat up and down the East Coast from her home port in Long Island Sound  and to bare-boat charter all over the world.  This past spring, we decided it was time to go back to the beginning and booked a catamaran – with a nice, safe four-foot draft – to cruise the Abaco islands once again.

Our most amazing discovery was how very little had changed during the intervening two plus decades. Despite its proximity – and easy air access – to the east coast of Florida (through Miami, Ft. Lauderdale or West Palm Beach), none of the razzle dazzle hustle of the more populated Bahamian Islands like Nassau and Paradise Island has crept northward.   Each of Abaco’s islands still has its own distinct persona and a proud populace – the villages are still sleepy – some are quaint and charmingly gentrified, others a little less prosperous – but all are clean and well tended with at least one water-view, above-ground cemetery. The water is still a gorgeous, crystal clear turquoise but still a little on the shallow side, even for a cat.

The two biggest changes seem to be that the old telephone transmission towers – each with a red English-style telephone booth at its base – have given way to cell towers and Bahamian-style double anchoring has given way to mooring balls.  Our most vivid memory from our 80’s trip was the first night on our own. We arrived at cocktail time to a very crowded Hope Town Harbor and – to the amusement of the anchorage – set about executing the infamous and required V-shaped Bahamian double anchor drill.  It took four tries and netted us a standing ovation for determination; remarkably, our marriage survived.  While we are now down to one or, at most, two tries to get a Bahamian moor properly deployed, the new Hope Town mooring balls are a lot more convenient and make room for a lot more boats in the harbor.