Abaco Islands Offer Best of the Bahamas

"Chartering News" from our November issue

The closest subtropical cruising ground to North America lies in the Bahamas, yet the charter industry in those islands hasn't developed nearly as quickly as that business has in the Virgin Islands, which are some 1,500 miles away. With about 700 islands and small cays spread over 500 miles from Walker's Cay, in the north, to Mayaguana Island, in the south, the Bahamas constitute a huge cruising ground. By comparison, it's only about 55 miles from the western end of the U.S. Virgin Islands to the eastern end of the B.V.I.

The absence of industry and river runoff in the Bahamas allows the warm seas to be some of the clearest in the world. The transparent waters are often tinted in a spectrum of colors ranging from turquoise and aquamarine. Sea life is abundant, the fishing is great, and you can snorkel just about anywhere. In the southern Bahamas, marinas, parts, and assistance can be hard to find, so sailors here must be experienced and self-reliant.

However, in the northern Bahamas, only 180 miles east of Palm Beach, Florida, lies the area commonly known to sailors as the Sea of Abaco. It's protected from the open Atlantic by an 80-mile-long chain of cays that stretch from Walker's Cay, in the north, to Little Harbour, at the southern end. The cays sit atop the world's fourth-largest barrier reef, which creates an ideal place for sailors of different skill levels to charter boats safely and sail them close to shore. And perhaps surprisingly, it's not very crowded. All of these favorable circumstances convinced my wife, Trish, and me to start our chartering business, Sail Abaco, here.

Most Abaco charterers stay within the lower portion of the Sea of Abaco, between Little Harbour and Green Turtle Cay, as there are many delightful cays with villages within this 40-mile stretch; farther north, the cays have fewer settlements, and they're smaller. Cruisers can explore eight very pretty cays with shops, restaurants, and bars, or they can search out many more uninhabited destinations with white-sand beaches that are all within easy sailing distance.

Sail Abaco, in Hope Town, on Elbow Cay, offers a choice of either bareboat or captained packages on either a 32- or 36-foot PDQ catamaran. Other companies can provide similar boats and chartering amenities; see their websites listed below.

The Abacos offer the best of both worlds, both for cruisers who seek the freedom of lonely anchorages and for those who prefer to go from place to place meeting some of the friendliest locals anywhere.

Charter-Companies Contacts

Abaco Bahamas Charters Ltd. Hope Town; (800) 626-5690, www.abacocharters.com

Abaco Multihull Charters (MaineCat):Hope Town; (888)832-2287, www.mecat.com

Abaco Sailing: (various bases); (242)375-8313, www.abacosailing.com

Florida Yacht Charters: Marsh Harbour; (800)537-0050, www.floridayacht.com

The Moorings: Marsh Harbour; (888)952-8420, www.moorings.com

Sail Abaco: Hope Town; (561)202-8163, www.sailabaco.com