Saturday, 13 September 2014

Travel Report No 69: Family Visits in the Abacos, Bahamas


Exploring in the Abacos

For all the photographs and picture captions:  Picture Gallery No 69

We arrived in the Abacos on the morning of 23rd March and were expecting our first visit on 4th April. This was an unusual luxury to have such good time to prepare, and we decided to use this period to reconnoiter and find the best anchorages for kids, and as always to do the small jobs on the never-ending list. There was now a bad weather forecast for a couple of days with strong northerly winds, so the next day our port of call was Hope Town, which has a round, fully protected harbour, where one has to pick up a mooring or lie in a marina. 
Safe in Hope Town, Elbow Cay

We picked up what seemed to be the last free buoy in the middle of the bay, obviously many boats were making for this shelter, and here we were safe from the strong winds and heavy squalls which raged for about three days. This was the perfect place to be in this weather, another charming spot with a colourful little town, marinas and restaurants along the water-front and the red and white striped Elbow Cay Lighthouse. This is very special as it is one of the last functioning paraffin ones in existence.


Hurricane Lane, Hope Town

We noticed a Swedish flag across the bay, and sure enough not long afterwards we heard a friendly Swedish voice calling to us, wondering who the Norwegians were. This was Magnus SjĂžberg, who with his wife Charlotte, live on a big motor boat ‘Swede Dreams’. They moved to Charleston, South Carolina many years ago, so for Diana’s sake we spoke English together. We enjoyed their company and had dinner together on our totally different types of vessel. 
Enjoying a borrowed cycle for a trip around the quiet sand roads of north Elbow Cay.
They let us use their bikes which was great for cycling around the island, especially on the small paths where otherwise  there were only golf carts.  After three days the weather quietened down, even so we had a brisk 20 knot breeze which gave us a quick sail over to Marsh Harbour, the main town of the area where we wanted to do some shopping.

Marsh Harbour has a great big area for anchoring, but the holding is not great. This we realized when we were quietly sitting having breakfast one morning as a woman passed by in her dinghy. She charmingly asked in a French accent if we knew that our boat was moving! This made us jump into action, we discovered we had indeed moved during the night, fortunately not bumping into anyone else, and we motored into a new position where we re-anchored and made sure we were holding.  This was a working stop, we had been here before and it is a charmless town, but the supermarket is great and there is a good hardware store where we could buy the things we needed for the boat.

Our next stop was at a deserted island, one of a little group called Fish Cays. We found there was a nice white beach but it was surrounded by very sharp coral stones, so not a place to return to, but we enjoyed the peace after Marsh Harbour. From here we sailed across to Man o’ War Cay, this time finding the perfect children’s beach and also another interesting community which lives on boat building. Never have we seen a cleaner and tidier industrial area, where they make launches and ferries of different types and lovely little sailing dinghies. The locals are known to be hard-working and God-fearing people, and the island is the only alcohol free one in the Bahamas. We found them very friendly, for example when we were looking for fish to buy and we asked at the hardware store if they knew of any possibility, they phoned round everybody whom hey knew fished regularly before having to tell us there were none to be had as the weather had been too bad.

By now the weather was beautiful and calm again, so we motored across to Baker’s Bay on Great Guana Cay. This has a huge beach, two or three kilometers long with soft sand and shallow water to splash around in. There were a few houses and a new marina at one end of the beach and we went to have a look. Here we found a closed community of rather paranoid rich  Americans, with security control at the road entrance, but we managed to slip in from the beach side. It is a beautiful resort with all the facilities one could wish, but it is not open to the public. We were not even able to use a restaurant unless we came into the marina for a night at a cost of 4 dollars per foot. No thank-you! Another hour’s motoring brought us to Fisher’s Bay on the same island. Here there was much more of a party spirit, with cheap, brightly painted restaurants, and a short walk over to the Atlantic side of the island where one can walk for miles admiring the breaking surf.

Elisabeth and family visit

On Friday 4th April we were back in Marsh Harbour, boat restocked and ready to receive Elisabeth, Hugh, Finn aged 5 and Soren aged 3. We had put White Admiral into one of the marinas for the night so they could walk on board. It is an hour’s walk from there to the airport, a good distance for daily exercise so we briskly walked to meet them. The plane from Nassau arrived about half an hour after schedule. We took a taxi back to the boat and two tired children were quickly asleep.  The next morning after a swim in the marina pool we were ready to explore the Abacos together and the weather was looking good. 
First breakfast aboard at Conch Marina for Hugh, Elisabeth, Soren and Finn
No wind, so we motored again, about two hours to Tahiti beach. Here it is easy to entertain children, warm, shallow water and soft white sand – a paradise! From here we decided to go south, first visiting Sandy Cay which we heard was good for snorkeling. Unfortunately the wind had now blown up and it became a bit rough for snorkeling, but with Stein’s help Finn managed well enough to be thrilled at the amount of fish he could see through the goggles, and Hugh saw a big shark swimming just behind his son! (They have never been known to attack swimmers here.) The rougher weather meant also that we could not anchor for the night so we went on south to Little Harbour, a favourite stop from earlier, and picked up a buoy in the secluded harbour. This little bay was first settled by the disillusioned American artist Randolph Johnston when he sailed in here with his wife and three sons in 1951. They first lived in a cave, gradually built not only a home but a bronze art foundry behind the beach. From never having sold an non-commissioned work back in USA, he gradually grew into fame. His son Pete took over eventually, and now also a grandson works in the foundry, keeping up the artistic tradition. Another family income is from the picturesque bar and restaurant and for the $20/night buoys in the harbour.
Lunch at Pete's Bar, Little Harbour,South Abacos
This is a laidback place with an informal bar and restaurant at the water’s edge with sand underfoot, a great spot to eat, drink and chat to locals and yachties. This time we go to know a German family with their two little boys out on a year’s sailing adventure, who were now on their way home and had come the more unusual way via the Bahamas.
After two days here we got news of another cold front with a northerly wind on the way.  As the wind was still from the south, we decided to use it to sail back up north to Hope Town. This time we could sail and with just the genoa had a brisk three hour sail to get there. Again boats were seeking shelter and there were no free buoys, but luckily we got a nice quiet corner in a small marina beside the light-house.  
Soren loved the lolly-pop like Elbow Cay Lighthouse
The kids loved the trip up the many steps inside the light-house and the great view from the top. Otherwise the family enjoyed the swimming pool and restaurant at another marina a short walk away, open to all, unlike the snobbish one we had encountered further north. Three days later we were able to get on our way again, and the weather was back to fair winds and sunshine. Now we could visit the places we had found suitable for the children, the pleasant anchorage at Man O’ War Cay, the huge beach at Baker’s Bay and the friendly pool and restaurants at Fisher’s Bay. 
Elisabeth and Finn in Baker's Bay
The snobbish marina turned out to be better than we had thought as there was a children’s playground and playing field where Finn and Soren were able to play with nobody objecting. At Man O’ War Cay, Diana did a little geocaching, just to have a find from the Bahamas, and Finn got his first geocache! (If you do not know what this is, look up geocaching.com.)
Finally we crossed over to the west side of the sea of Abaco to visit Treasure Cay, new for us all, where we had a night in the big marina, making it easy to use their facilities, especially the swimming pool. From here we could walk to a nearby beach which is proudly advertised as one of the world’s top ten beaches. It was certainly soft and lovely and boasted a friendly restaurant where we had a last evening meal together, most of us enjoying fresh grilled grouper.  


Coco Bar and Restaurant on Treasure Cay provides a meal with a view, 

Here is the view!

Soren borrowed Yellow Teddy for the flight home: Come back soon, both of you, please!
On 15th April it was time for Elisabeth, Hugh and kids to get back to the airport, they were going on to Nassau for a couple of days before flying home to London and back to work. We motored out of the marina late morning and had to drive for three and a half hours into a light contrary wind to get back to Marsh Harbour, this time we anchored and took the family ashore in the dinghy. After our goodbyes at the airport, we walked briskly back to the boat feeling happy that they had had a good holiday.
Now we had twelve days with just the two of us aboard, time to relax, shop, do small jobs and get the boat ready for the next group of visitors. We spent three days back in Little Harbour which has the best internet connection that we had found, and a good place to work on the boat, this time we had some torrential rain. Stein was keen to do a dive and had bought a second hand buoyancy control jacket from the diving shop in Marsh Harbour, so with a calm weather forecast we sailed to the best diving site at Fowl Cay. It was not as good as expected, the forecast was not accurate so it was quite rough, the coral reef was rather dead although there were plenty fish, and a valve on the newly bought diving jacket broke!

Tonje and her family visit

On 26th April, our daughter-in-law arrived with Oscar 10 months old, her mother Selle Marie and her aunt Karen (Selle Marie’s sister). Martin was not with them as he had recently been on a trip to South Africa to take part in one of the world’s biggest cycling events, so could not afford more time off work. This time the plane was punctual and we ended up jogging the last couple of hundred yards as we saw it landing, and were just in time to give them a sweaty hug. We were happy to see everybody, but of course were especially interested in Oscar whom we had not seen since he was 4 months old, and were delighted to see such a happy friendly boy, already able to walk about!


Back in delightful Little Harbour at the Randolph Johnston bronze art foundry and gallery

And at Pete's Bar next door: Karin, Diana and Selle-Marie
The morning after we were off on our next cruise around the lovely sea of Abaco with this cheerful, enthusiastic group aboard. We visited most of the same places that we had been with Elisabeth and family, with the exception of Treasure Cay, and made a new stop at Lynyard Cay, which is one of the long islands between the Atlantic and the Abacos Sea. There are long beaches on the leeward side where we dinghied across to have a beach-picnic. Some Americans have holiday homes here but they are usually deserted, so it is easy to peek into these houses and have a rest on the terrace! For the first few days the weather was lovely, warm, sunny and light winds, so we were fully able to enjoy the sailing and beach-life.
We did make one small blunder as we were leaving Little Harbour, where there is a shallow buoyed passage through a narrow exit. We chose to do this at low tide, which should have been alright except that we got too near the edge of the channel and suddenly we were stuck in the sandy bottom! It was not possible to motor off, so Stein rowed out an anchor and we pulled ourselves back into deeper water. No damage done!

Diana is 70!

The first of May was a special day for Diana, her 70th birthday! 


Prosecco for Diana's Birthday Breakfast!
We had booked dinner at a resort called Firefly on the west coast of the island of Elbow Cay, and the breeze was in the right direction so that we could anchor safely right in front of their jetty and row the dinghy ashore. 
Anchored outside Firefly Resort
The afternoon was spent sitting at the pool-side, swimming and playing with Oscar, then we had drinks and dinner on the terrace, a great sea-food meal. With a lovely present from the others of an opera subscription for next season, a glass of white wine in hand, watching a lovely sun-set in the tropical evening, being 70 didn’t seem too bad!
Boat and people dressed up to go ashore! (Norwegian flag, St. Andrew's flag of Scotland, Kristiansand's  350 years' jubilee flag from 1991) Karin, Oscar and Tonje.

Diana with her lovely grandson Oscar - the visit was the best present for her birthday! White Admiral anchored in the background.
By this time we were in need of water, shopping and laundry, so in the morning we sailed the short distance to Hope Town where this could be combined with an enjoyable stop.  Here there was a change of weather, so our stay was extended to three nights while another northerly blew itself out. This was no problem, we enjoyed walking on the island, and Oscar loved the swimming pool at the marina where he toddled about charming everybody with his friendly grins and ‘high fives’.
It was back to perfect weather for the last couple of days, good for swimming and collecting shells at Man O’ War Cay where we gathered a lot of sand-dollars, then a last stop at Fischer’s Bay where we walked across the island to have a swim in the breakers on the Atlantic side. 
The sea was a little rough on the reef , but below the surface it all looks calm.
Stein also had a snorkeling trip, but the others thought it was too rough. The ladies were delighted to find a dress shop with lots of lovely summer clothes at reasonable prices, and both Tonje and Karen found dresses to their taste.                
Give me Five! At the Sail Loft, Man O'War Village
But everything comes to and end and on 7th May we motored back to Marsh Harbour where cases were packed, taxi ordered, and we had another round of hugs at the airport. As we walked back to the boat we reflected on how lucky we were to have this life-style and to be able to enjoy the company of our friends and relatives on our boat.                               
But now it was time to think ahead and plan our Atlantic crossing!


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