The Sea of Abaco forms the northernmost boundary of the Bahamas, and it’s a compact yachtie playground, perfect for a weeklong powercat charter. The sheltered waters span 60 miles in a crescent shape that runs roughly north/south. Only 200 miles from the eastern coast of Florida, the Abacos are a perfect getaway when you’re looking for sun, sand, and some local Kalik beer.
The Sea is almost like a lake with sheltering islands creating calm waters inside no matter what the Atlantic Ocean is doing on the outside. Great Guana Cay, the longest island, takes a beating on its windward side but provides sandy beaches and calm anchorages to the west. It’s also the home of the world-famous Nippers Beach Bar that has pools and bar service on multiple levels, so you can soak while you enjoy cocktails all day and pig roasts on Monday nights.
Fifteen miles to the north of Guana is Green Turtle Cay where the big draw is the Dollar Bar which is decorated entirely with dollar bills and other currency from around the world. It’s a great place to hear some music and talk fish tales.
To the south of Guana is the rest of the Abaco Island chain starting with Man-O-War Cay, a two-and-a-half mile-long bit of coral and sand that’s still a tightly knit community as it was in the 1700s. Much of the traffic on the island is made up of golf carts. Entering the harbor is like threading the needle if you have a large, wide powercat, but the entrance is well-marked and there are moorings inside just in front of the restaurant. It’s all pretty easy peasy.
The Man-O-War community was known for its Sojer (as the locals are called) boatbuilding expertise that began in the 1880s, and there are still hulls in mid-build at the shipyard. Be sure to hike to the northern tip of the island to watch the Atlantic Ocean mix with the Abaco Sea and create some dazzling water colors and eddies.
Just four miles south is Hope Town on Elbow Cay, a popular hangout for yachties nearly year-round. Settled in 1785, Hope Town is mostly a two-street waterfront of colorful houses and some great restaurants. The centerpiece of the skyline is the 130-year-old candy stripe Elbow Reef lighthouse built in 1862. It’s one of only two manned kerosene-fueled lighthouses still in operation in the world and its light can be seen 23 nautical miles out to sea. A trek up the 200 steps inside is a must for the fantastic views from the top.
Rent a golf cart to visit the Firefly restaurant or make your way to the gorgeous Tahiti Beach that serves up a powdery sandbar where you can park a lounge chair and cooler for the day.
Once your tan lines are secured, head south via a few marked dog legs in the reef to Little Harbor at the southern tip of the Abacos on a pointy outcropping of Great Abaco Island. Pick up a mooring and drop the dinghy or kayak to explore the nearby caves or watch dolphins, turtles, and rays swim by. Go ashore to Pete’s Pub for lunch or dinner and check out the gallery and foundry which may motivate you to ship some local art back home.
There are at least four charter companies in the Abacos including Sunsail, The Moorings, Dream Yacht Charter, and Navigare, so check which ones have powercats available for your timeframe. The best time to visit is April to June and November. December to March can be chilly. July to October is hurricane season and there aren’t many places to hide in the Abacos if the weather gets serious. Prevailing winds are 15-20 knots but can reach 40 knots, so watch your forecast.
The Sea of Abaco is shallow with lots of coral flats and uncharted sandbars. Watch the chartpolotter and also the water’s color for a clue to the depths. Anchoring is easy, although many of the highlight places now prefer that you use moorings including Hope Town, Little Harbour, and Man-O-War Cays.
Flights to Marsh Harbour from Fort Lauderdale are nonstop and only about 45 minutes. All the charter companies are based in Marsh Harbour, so it’s the perfect orientation point. Provisioning is easy, and the local conch salad is mouthwatering. Mosquitos are abundant, so bring bug spray.
With a powercat, you can run a few laps around the Sea of Abaco in a week, but why not slow down and relax into a rejuvenating vacation? Even the many sailboats here just motor from one anchorage to another due to the shallows and the short distances, so a powercat is perfect. Embrace the pace and hoist a Kalik rather than sails. Then, tan your toes in the Abacos.
By Zuzana Prochazka