First, we found several blogs helpful, but none more so than Moondance38’s Weblog by Harriet & Skip Hardy. Thank You!
Cruising Guides/Charts: We relied heavily on Steve Dodge’s “The Cruising Guide to Abaco Bahamas 2012” * We used the “Explorer Charts.”* We accommodated to their use of meters for soundings, but did not adopt the convention for any of our instruments. Our minds are habituated to feet; simple as that.
We found “Waterway Guide” useful for shore-side information. Skipper Bob’s guide for the Bahamas was also useful, but we found some of the comments about the Bahamians unnecessary and at least from our experience, untrue. We bought Stephen Pavlidis’ “A Cruising Guide to: The Northern Bahamas…” It may come in handy for the Exumas, but for the Abacos, we could have spent the $60 to better effect.
*One important note. Both Dodge and Explorer provide waypoints and routes. Where routes passing near reefs, obstructions, and shallows are concerned, it is unwise to mix the waypoint/route sources. It is best to use Dodge-Dodge or Explorer-Explorer. I inadvertently followed a route from a Dodge waypoint to an Explorer waypoint and found a 6.5 foot reef where I was expecting 9 foot water. Fortunately using water color piloting even while following a route, we avoided the hazard. But it was after we were at anchor I realized the error.
Customs & Immigration: We cleared in at West End. Mr Johnson could not have been nicer or more efficient. We were allowed a 90 day stay because that was what I asked for. I might have gotten more had I asked. Extensions can be obtained within a few days of the expiration of one’s stay. These are more easily obtained on the more populated islands. And we are told the New Bahamian Government will be looking into ways to improve the process.
One note: We arrived with the amount of wine and rum individual travelers are allowed at entry. We could have brought much more as “Ships Stores” which is what one writes on the Cruising Permit Application form.
Ships Stores, Electricity, Water, Fuel and Funds: The Bahamas are funded almost 100% by Customs Duties and practically everything is shipped there or requires petroleum to be burned. These alone can multiply a price by 1.3X to 3X.
We carried three months of food with us and are glad we did. We found groceries to run from 0.8X to 4X what they cost in Fort Pierce — with 2.5X to be the norm. We found “Class Six Stores” (Rum and Wine) to run from 1X to 3X depending on the remoteness of the Cay. Beer — Kalik — ran from $2.50 a bottle to $6.00 with $5.00 the norm. We liked Kalik but we didn’t drink much of it. Two items were reasonable and useful>>
delicious, boxed, long shelf life lactose free Parmalat milk. No more big cartons in the reefer. &
“Hill’s Ginger Nuts” (Snaps)
We paid from $27.50 a day for marina electricity (no break for sailboats or size) to $12 a day (break for sailboats/size) to ~$2.00 a day (metered at $0.60/KWH (10X what we paid in VA at our house)). Our solar panels were an immense source of financial comfort. Silent, (unlike most of the wind generators we were too near) they would restore 24 hours of consumption in 4 hours. Only two times were we required to run the generator to charge the batteries (and that’s because I don’t want the batteries ever drawn down more than 30%). We only needed air conditioning four times and all but once was to mostly drown out loud/bad music. It ran us about $4.20 a night when we were on metered power — so you can see the other daily rates were a serious rip-off/subsidy of much larger powerboats.
The Abacos are a desert. They are arid. Most domestic water is now Reverse Osmosis (“RO”); we never paid more than $0.25/gallon (still cheaper than bottled water in a US grocery). The best deal was $60/month while in Marsh Harbour. We had no qualms about drinking local water. Our tank water for drinking runs through a hospital quality filtration and treatment system. We carried two jerry jugs of this filtered water as a hedge against tank contamination.
We didn’t buy any fuel. We carry 200 gallons and arrived with most of that, and we left with most of what we arrived with. In two and an half months for propulsion and genset we used about 30 gallons. The trip from Mangrove back to Fort Pierce used another 15. Prices were about $1.00 above US. We did not encounter any horror stories about bad fuel on the Cruisers Net or the dock. [We actually used 53 gallons from Lighthouse Point Marina near Pompano Beach to Halifax Harbor Marina Daytona Beach. This means our consumption in the Abacos was closer to 24 gallons. Update 25 May]
The only place we found a surcharge on credit card purchases was for fuel and at Harbour View Marina. We found Mastercard to be widely accepted. Visa was less so, Amex less than that and Discover barely at all. We attempted to use ATMs. The only one in town that would accept our card was at a supper club. I was advised I would not be a welcome visitor there. So, we had to get one cash advance from a very helpful bank that cost, well, too much. The only reason we went that route was the store’s credit card modem was down and the boat was farther than the bank.When I came back with the cash, the modem was working. Count on getting Bahamian currency as change. A few places asked first, but not many.
The Bahamian Cruising Fees must be paid in cash, but we found that 85% of our other expenses could be covered with plastic.
Food, Glorious Food: We eat well aboard, and we ate well ashore. But generally a meal out was 2X the equivalent in the US with a few outrages — a $12 Margarita, a $6.00 Kalik… Otherwise the food was fresh, well prepared, served hot, and every fish and chicken dish (non Chef special) was offered fried, grilled or blackened. The blackening spices were sweeter than hot. Some conch was pounded and some run through commercial tenderizers — pounded was better. Only once did we encounter something disappointing, and had we wandered into a US beach bar at the same time of day we would have likely encountered the same problem.
We never encountered anything but pleasant service and usually better than that. The one keystone kop incident (dinner with friends, of course) was quickly forgotten.
The People. We enjoyed them. We’d like to think they liked us. They are passionate about their politics. They are proud of their traditions. Everyone we took the time to engage in conversation had stories to tell and clearly liked telling them. They seem to like to share their home with others, but…
There is 15% unemployment. The crime reported in Nassau is starting to show up on the blotter and in the news in the Abacos. We rarely locked up. We slept with hatches and doors wide open (no bugs until the last week). We never felt vulnerable as we walked from place to place. We hope it stays that way.
We hope the new government can solve both problems without putting a clamp on the hospitality as well.
The Place. If you don’t like green, blue and turquiose DO NOT COME HERE. The water tints clouds, planes, even white birds turquoise between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. each day.These low, dry limestone islands are covered with blue green to dark green vegetation. Most is lower than 30 feet because of the wind. Palms are not abundant. The introduced casuarinas (Australian Pines) tend to squeeze them out. The sand here tends to beige and runs from suitable for blasting steel bridges to fine as sugar. The bottom is mostly sand or marl and turtle grass. The water outside harbours is crystal clear open Atlantic water. One can get dizzy looking down into it during rare calms. For the most part, the sea life is out on the reefs and not in the sea of Abaco or the Little Bahama Bank. If seeing sea life is your goal, be prepared for side trips.
Most of the open anchorages here protect from the NNW to SSE. It is hard to find a place to not get beat up in when a front comes through. The four larger natural harbours– Green Turtle White Sound, Man-O-War, Hope Town, and Marsh Harbour rate in that order for front protection. Treasure Cay is best, but is developed well beyond “natural.”
The Abacos are not as dramatic as their volcanic cousins further south, (unless you consider the massive seamount structure they rest upon). However, they are more sailable and definitely more accessible.
The Weather. This year…windy, windier, windiest. All we met remarked upon it. It is normal to be harbour bound here for two out of four days. This year, five out of seven was not uncommon. 20-25knots all day long was not rare. Temperatures were around 75 in the day and 66 at night. Humidities were generally less than 60% with several days below 40%. Rain was rare and came with too much wind to collect any for tanking.
The Boat. We would only change two things, one we can’t and one we will. We would have been happier with 4.5 foot draft than 5.5 — except when sailing upwind. Managing the tides is nothing new to us. It would have been nice to forget about them. We can’t. So what! Second, we would have been happier with roller furling for the staysail. We are making that change this summer. The outboard we used with the dink has a long shaft, and that didn’t work well for a couple of reasons.
It would be nice to have a wind generator’s output…without the wind generator.
It would have been nice to have an electric head…without the complexity and noise.
It would have been nice not to drag anchor in in Green Turtle…but we aren’t ready to embrace a new anchor just yet.
It would have been nice to have 100% assured communications…but every alternative has its limitations and expense. A satellite phone seems best for our style of travel.
So it looks like, roller furling, a satellite phone, and a short shaft and larger cavitation plate for the outboard is all we need to be perfectly satisfied.
Us. We discovered this full time sail-cruising-travel lifestyle is pretty easy to embrace if you have been sailing and cruising together for the better part of four decades. Trapped for six days in a remote, uninhabited cove without comms was a good way to start the Abaco trip. Grumping across a lumpy Gulf Stream on the way back to the U.S. was a good reminder it can’t always be halcyon days with turquoise bottomed cumulus sailing by. We’ll be back and back and back and go beyond.
After Note: We found that two and a half months without the evening news did wonders for our appreciation of life. We feel no less informed…we went online and read what we wanted to and ignored the ranting c**p pumped out by the network talking heads and their advertisers. We found the singing and dancing shows to be much better as online videos sans the “reality stuff.” And our one fairy tale show — well, the same ad repeated six or seven times does afford bathroom breaks…