Monthly Archives: July 2011

Abaco Day 1 – Arriving at Marsh Harbour

Tiny Marsh Harbor Airport still retains a bit of a third world feel – there are two “gates” and a couple of benches outside that serve as the waiting room. Don’t be surprised to see a few roosters or a goat wander by. The third largest city in the Bahamas, Marsh Harbour’s protected, deepwater has made it the main supply depot for the out islands and also the base for most of the Abaco ferries and charter companies.

Arrange airport-to-charter base transport with one of the energetic and motherly owner-operators of the taxi vans. You might also consider working out an itinerary between the airport and the charter base that would allow for all of your supply stops – BaTelCo cell phone shop, grocery store, beer and wine shop—and then have him/her return to deliver you with all of our packages to your boat at Conch Inn Marina – or to the ferry base for those headed to Hope Town.

Conch Inn is a full-service 80-slip marina, in the midst of a string of facilities along what has been called the Abaco’s “Gold Coast” and boasts a restaurant, small pool, heads, showers, laundry and a nine-room motel. For those who are pre-boarding or staying ashore, Curly Tails onsite eatery serves three meals a day (dinner $22-50) and has Wi-Fi.


Mangoes Restaurant, Front Street (242/367-2957) The most popular, and some say the best, restaurant on the island. It features Bahamian specialities along with some international dishes. Best bets are always catch of the day. Lunch $13-17, Dinner $14-33.

Wally’s, East Bay Street (242/367-2074) But others say the best eatery is Wallys (certainly the most expensive), run by a pair of sisters who brush up on their skills every Fall in Paris. Not waterfront, it is near the marina in a pink villa. Lunch time is jammed. At Dinner the cracked conch shines. Lunch $9-15 Dinner $27-34

Snappas Bar & Grill (242/367-2278) Lunch and dinner just down the road from Conch Inn Marina.

Snack Shack (242/367-4005) east of Dive Abaco and just serves breakfast and lunch

Angler’s at the Abaco Beach Resort (242/367-2158). Right on the water, the wide-open interior features, not surprisingly, a nautical theme. Their well-prepared, locally seasoned seafood is the best choice. Lunch & Dinner $6-29

Abaco Fishing Regs

Due to over fishing primarily by American sports fisherman (resulting in stock depletion), the Bahamian Government drafted a set of rules effective January 2007. As intended, they primarily affect those fishing aboard a U.S. registered vessel. There will be little impact on the casual tourist who hires a Bahamian guide or fishes off a rental boat. The 2007 rules were revised with a new set to take effect in 2008. These are detailed below.

The Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources, the Hon. Lawrence Cartwright, announced restriction on the harvesting, possession and selling of Nassau Grouper during the period from 15th December 2007 to 28th February 2008. While that is outside our cruise dates, checking on any last minute revisions or extensions would be wise.

The Government of the Bahamas, Department of Marine Resources revised fishing regulations as of November 14, 2007 for foreign boaters in the Bahamas. Regulation 48 now reads:

1. A person shall fish by the traditional method of angling with a hook or lure attached to a line held in the hand or attached to a pole, rod or reel;

2. A person, unless otherwise authorized by the respective permit, shall not use a spear, a fish trap, or a net other than a landing net;

3. Each vessel shall use not more than six (6) rods or reels unless the operator is in possession of a permit authorizing the use of more rods or reels;

4. A total maximum of any pelagic species or migratory fishery resource can consist of no more than Eighteen (18) fish of any kind per vessel. (Kingfish, Dolphin, Tuna or Wahoo etc.) Any resource not intended to be used, shall not be injured unnecessarily but be returned to the sea alive.

5. A vessel shall have on board a maximum of only six conch (see below), sixty pounds or twenty fish of any demersal fishery resources (groupers, snappers, etc.) and at any time, and not more than ten crawfish/spiny lobster per vessel. Turtles are forbidden for capture and possession by foreigners.

The original set of rules included the statement: “Any resource intended for use must not be cleaned (remove the head, tail, fillet) until the fish is finally landed on the mainland (not including piers, jetties) and no longer transported by boat”.

Additionally, many species have specific closed seasons during mating times such as spiny lobster – closed April 1st – July 31st. and recently added, Nassau Grouper see above.

The general public is advised that the Queen Conch (conch) is considered to be an endangered species throughout much of its range within the wider Caribbean area, including The Bahamas. The Government, in an effort to ensure the continued sustainability of local conch stocks, has decided to prohibit the harvesting of the species by foreign boaters (interpreted to mean foreigners – so don’t be in the possession of even one conch unless you have a receipt from a Bahamian.)

Ahoy Out There! Staying in Touch in the Abacos

Being reachable and being able to check in with family and business associates can be one of the most challenging parts of cruising. For some odd reason, the Abaco Islands require a bit more creativity than usual. There is no one size fits all here – so be prepared to use a variety of options.

Phones:  Check with your cell phone service provider to see if the Abacos are covered – and also check on the rates ($1.50/min seemed standard). If you need to be in touch on a regular basis, you may find that the per-minute charge encourages renting a local cell phone or buying an open GSM phone (and buying a local SIM card with minutes – $5, 10, $20, $50 or $100).

Open GSM phones can be purchased quite inexpensively on the web (rates were roughly $0.15-0.35/min) or your tel co (i.e. Cingular or T-Mobile) may be willing to unlock your GSM phone. The Moorings base and other charter operators can also pre-order rental phones and SIM cards and have them there when you arrive. Or deal directly with BaTelCo or Island Care Wireless in the Barclays Building (367-0429). Our most recent experience was not perfect. While we usually had service, the circuits were frequently busy. So be prepared with multiple methods of communication. On our last visit, Verizon still hadn’t covered the Bahamas outside of Nassau. So check before you go.

Wi-Fi:  Out Island Internet is the primary provider of internet service in the Abaco Islands. They have hot spots in the following AYC cruise harbors: Marsh Harbour, Lubbers Quarters, Little Harbour, Hope Town( Elbow Cay), Scotland Cay and Man-O-War Cay.  Weekly rates are about $40. Check their website for the type and locations of the antennas and service available in each harbor.

Since Wi-Fi is a push-pull service, the “card” in most laptops will be good for about 300 feet line-of-sight. It has been our experience that a more powerful wi-fi card (i.e. 200-400 mlw) or an amplifier coupled with a high-gain antenna (bring duck tape) will improve the service – so the sending hotspot can “hear” your computer. It’s a useful addition to any charter-bag.  Packages can be purchased on the web for $170-250 (or thousands…).

Also look at the all-in-one system by Radio Labs Another suggestion That said, even with higher end equipment, we have found the service in Abaco to be somewhat iffy – so have a back-up plan. (It’s the islands, mon.) 

Skype:  Coupled with a good Wi-Fi connection, offers a remarkable and inexpensive service. All you need is an account, funded with $10+/-, and an inexpensive ($15) headset with microphone (or if your laptop has Bluetooth, the earpiece from your BB or phone might work just as well.) Call anywhere in the world for a few cents. And the quality is often as good as landlines.

Phone Cards:  Yes, there are still pay phones powered by phone cards in Abaco. And sometimes, these provide the most reliable connection. So, if you have to make lengthy calls, that require solid service, this might be the best bet – if not the most elegant. Phone Cards can be purchased at groceries and convenience stores in Marsh Harbour, Hope Town and Great Guana.

Inverter:  Having technology on the boat without an inverter will be problematic – unless of course, you have a 12-volt plug for every device. You will likely need a small, portable one to charge phones, camera batteries, Black Berries, computers, etc. West Marine sells basic 150- watters – and don’t forget a gang-plug. But watch those house batteries, they’ll go down fast….

Stopped-in-Time – the Abaco Islands

Just 135 miles off the coast of Florida, due east of Grand Bahama Island is unsung, oft overlooked, Abaco, the northern tip of the Bahama chain.  It’s a perfect, reef-protected cruising ground with miles of unspoiled beaches, clear turquoise water, quaint villages, good provisioning, professional marine services, friendly locals, superb snorkeling, a wide range of eateries – and predictable 5 to 20 knot trade winds. Little Abaco and Great Abaco Islands – from Crown Haven to Hole in the Wall – form a 120-mile arc that acts as the “mainland” for an outer archipelago of small “cays” in the Sea of Abaco. Abaco covers about 780 square miles.

Barrier islands on the U.S. east coast tend to be overgrown sand bars, but these are coral limestone with a bit of elevation – green with native pine forests and mangrove clusters.  On the ocean side, the cays are protected by a 100-mile reef that rises almost to the surface – from Walkers Cay to Little Harbour. The third largest barrier reef in the world, it offers some first class snorkeling and diving with coral gardens, fish, turtles, rays….

Abaco seems to exist in a time warp. Despite its proximity – and easy air access – from 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 islands still has its own distinct persona and a proud populace. The villages are 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 crystal clear  – fortunately since it is a little on the thin side, even for a cat – and the pinkish white sand beaches are surprisingly under populated.

Our cruise focused on the middle and southern stretch of this archipelago – from Green Turtle Cay south to Little Harbour. The jumping off point is centrally located Marsh Harbour. If you’ve cruised the Abaco Islands before, you know that a lot had to be re-built in 1999, thanks to Floyd. But the overall ambiance is remarkably unchanged over the past twenty-five years – especially compared to everywhere else in the Islands. That is not an accident.  The Abaconians are aggressively anti-development; these fiercely independent islanders like their life exactly the way it is – and if tourism can provide some benefits, that’s great – but they set the parameters.

Many families have lived in these islands for over 200 years. The Abaconians are, in large part, descendants of the Loyalists who fled the U.S. when it appeared that the Rebels had won. Spurred by the Peace of Paris Treaty, that required the evacuation of New York by Loyalists, a group of 600 New Yorkers arrived at Carleton Point on Great Abaco in 1783. Others arrived from the Carolinas after a stop in eastern Florida. Within two years there were six settlements and over 1,000 refugees.

Unfortunately, this highly touted promised-land turned out to be inhospitable sand – not terribly conducive to farming. But, those original late 18th century families, at least those who managed to create a reasonable life as fishermen and, later boat builders, dug their roots deep. Their legacy is very much in evidence – the names on the tomb stones are the same names on the grocery stores, ferries and today’s boat building sheds.  As you will see, the Abaco archipelago is part of the Bahamas in government jurisdiction only – this is a unique and special place that belongs only to itself and tries very hard to answer to no one.