Who's Afraid of the Abacos?

The Abacos Out Islands of the Bahamas continue to gain traction in large-yacht cruising interest.
By Chris Caswell ,

Abacophobia. If you’re not familiar with the word, it’s because I just coined it. It means “fear of shallow water.” (Example: The Abacos Out Islands of the Bahamas were once considered out-of-bounds for larger charter yachts because captains and owners alike had Abacophobia.)

Geographically speaking, the Abacos are part of a vast underwater plateau called the Great Bahama Bank, so the water depth is uniformly shallow. The water is gin-clear (something I know intimately), and the very word Bahamas comes from the Spanish words baja mar, meaning “shallow sea.”

But the times are a changin’. The private, members-only marina at Baker’s Bay on Great Guana Cay boasts depths of 12-plus feet (3.6 meters) and can handle yachts up to 250 feet (76.2 meters) at its exclusive “superyacht island.” At the Abaco Beach Resort & Boat Harbour Marina, which hosts a slew of big-game fishing tournaments, controlling depth is 10 feet. Treasure Cay Beach, Marina & Golf Resort has been hosting 100-plus-footers (30.5-meters) of late. Bottom line: Large-yacht charter itineraries no longer need to cold-shoulder this lush aquatic playground.

Conch shells washed up on a beach in the Abacos

“We’re seeing strong interest in the Abacos,” says Nicole Caulfield, charter manager at RJC Yacht Sales & Charter. “Never Enough, a 157-foot (47.8-meter) Trinity, had a multi-repeat client for charter last summer in the Abacos. They had a wonderful experience. The most important thing is to have a crew with local knowledge. With water depth in mind, an experienced captain can create a rich itinerary keeping with the tides.”

For charters of all shapes and sizes, the best way to explore the Abacos is to settle someplace comfortable and use the tender to explore the myriad islands. A quick jaunt northwest is Green Turtle Cay, where, in the village of New Plymouth, Miss Emily’s Blue Bee Bar lays claim to the Goombay Smash. Tread gently with these, and enjoy the zillions of business cards stuck to the walls.

Run the tender southeast to Elbow Cay, where you’ll find the famed candy-cane striped lighthouse that still burns kerosene at Hope Town. Vintage clapboard homes in bright colors somehow withstood Hurricane Floyd in 1999 with its 155-mile-per-hour winds, and a golf cart is a worthwhile rental to explore the narrow streets.

This brightly painted fence on Man-O-War Cay is the norm for scenery ashore.

Man-O-War Cay is a dry island, but you can take your own bottle to a restaurant. Go figure. Don’t miss Albury’s Sail Shop, where chatty seamstresses turn out colorful bags; or Joe’s Studio, where Joe Albury handcrafts wooden Bahamian boat models. Nearby, Fowl Cay is perfect for snorkeling, with a good reef and curving beach of sugar-soft sand.

Colorful home on Man-O-War Cay

Treasure Cay, named one of National Geographic’s “Top 10 Perfect Beaches,” also has a 6,900-yard Dick Wilson golf course with spectacular views for the sporting set. If you prefer the offbeat, venture to No Name Cay for its swimming pigs, which beg you to feed them.

With pale green waters teeming with squadrons of tropical fish and white sand beaches, the Abacos can fulfill many a “South Seas” dream. As marinas and channels continue to be dredged, this nautical Disneyland is more accessible to superyachts than ever before. Time to ask your charter broker about the Abacos. 

An Abacos Itinerary

(courtesy of KC Caulfield, captain, M/Y Never Enough)

Day 1: Pick up at Marsh Harbour. Run south to Tilloo Cay for lunch. After lunch, snorkel at Sandy Cay—one of the top snorkeling spots in the Abacos. Tender to Little Harbour for Pete’s Pub, ‘where the elite drink and eat with bare feet.’

Day 2: Run to White Sound and anchor off. Day on Tahiti Beach, with lunch at Cracker P’s. Afternoon excursion to Elbow Cay for beautiful beaches and sunset view from the lighthouse. Top-notch snorkeling.

Day 3: Run to Matt Lowe’s Cay. Tender to Man-O-War Cay to explore. Albury’s Sail Shop and Joe’s Studio. Enjoy some of the best conch salad in the Bahamas.

Day 4: Run to Fowl Cays National Park for snorkeling. Short afternoon run to Great Guana Cay. Experience the famous Nippers.

Day 5: Run to Nun Jack Cay for a beach setup on Coconut Beach. Incredible diving off Green Turtle Cay. Swimming pigs and stingrays are a must-do.

Day 6: Tender to New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay. Explore the historic town before Goombay Smashes at Miss Emily’s Blue Bee Bar.

Day 7: Run to Spanish Cay, a private island with a 5,000-foot runway for air transport home with customs and immigration. Great restaurant and beaches. Phenomenal diving and snorkeling oceanside.  

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