Put into Tropical time-out
The blue bar on the computer's download window stalled, and these words appeared: Estimated download time: 14 hours 32 min 19 sec. "Uh-oh," I muttered aloud. "That's not gonna work."
Huddled over my laptop at the nav station, I sat mere feet from a tempest brewing inside the main saloon of our 38-foot catamaran. The hatches and sliding door were dogged tight against pea-sized raindrops. It was another day of this lousy squally stuff, and although our two families-Matthew and Kimberly and their 4-year-old son, James; Dana and I and our two kids, Amelia, 6, and Timothy, 4-had logged three remarkable days hopping through the Bahamas' Abaco Islands, the moms were showing signs of early-onset cabin fever.
The children had thus far rolled superbly with our little bareboat adventure. But now they were getting mutinous. The tub of Legos was no longer a source of peaceful entertainment. Now it was fuel for belowdecks bedlam.
To prevent the Lego skirmish from escalating, I was grasping for the tech-age pacifier: a movie. We intentionally didn't bring any along. This was supposed to be an unplugged vacation, but upon finding a wimpy WiFi signal in the far outpost of Little Harbour, I promptly paid the connection fee, logged on to iTunes, and clicked Buy Now with bated breath.
But just as I whispered the interminable download time to the others, Lego mayhem erupted, then a chorus of wailing sobs. Dana chuckled menacingly as she reached for a nearby bottle of Gosling's Black Seal rum. She poured a generous shot into her coffee mug. "Anyone?" she asked before tossing her head back and downing it like a lady. The rest of us followed her lead before exiling the warring parties to their individual cabins.
With peace established, we took stock of where we'd been and where we were headed. And despite the utter absence of deep-blue sky and white puffy clouds, the beauty of this tiny, barren, sea turtle-filled harbor brought us back to clear heads: We were here to have fun. So just roll with it. The Lagoon 380 we'd chartered from Sunsail was named Island Time, but the truth is, we were on Their Time-and by "Their," I think you know of whom I speak.
The Abaco Islands, pearls on a brilliant blue sea, are one of the most accessible and vast cruising grounds north of the equator. A lot of cruisers get here and never leave. I can see why. The Sea of Abaco, all 1,000 or so square miles of it, averages 12 feet deep. Everywhere you go you can see the bottom, a kaleidoscope of sea grass, powder white sand, and giant sea stars. Sailing distances, particularly those recommended in charter itineraries, are casual and short and bring you to a variety of anchorages with small settlements, resorts, and casuarina-lined harbors.
If an isolated cay with a palm tree on it looks good and there's enough water, you can pretty much park there, too. In fact, you can anchor smack in the middle of the Sea of Abaco, if you so desire. It's a novice bareboater's dream: shallow, protected, and there's just enough navigation-waypoint hopping on the chart plotter, really-to keep it interesting. And as we'd come to find out, with so many resorts welcoming bareboaters into their poolside bars, it also makes for a no-brainer family sailing destination. You can pretty much pool-hop your way down the Abaco chain. You'll love it, and the kids will really love it.
In my experience, the only way to start a charter is to get there a day early, which gives the airlines more time to get your luggage to you. Our early arrival also allowed me to cajole the Sunsail staff into letting us aboard sooner than the standard 6 p.m. check-in time. Once we got the OK, Dana and I hit the provisioning while Matthew and Kimberly entertained the kids-poolside, of course. We got out of the grocery store for about US$600. We planned on having all of our meals on the boat, so that wasn't bad given what we'd been told by our cabbie: "Everything's expensive in the Bahamas. Everything."
With our provisioning out of the way, we stalked our chart briefer, Holly, a young, raspy-voiced, and sun-kissed Brit with eyes the color of the Sea of Abaco.
"So what is it you guys want to do this week?" she asked, as my first-mate designate Matthew and I sat with her at a picnic table, chart and guidebook splayed out before us.
"I don't want to see a single marina," I said.
"In that case, you want the bottom," said Holly. "The stuff up north is more developed. The islands down this way"-she pointed to a map of the lower Abaco Islands-"are quieter and more natural."