The Abacos

Nipper’s: A beach bar with a view

What to say about the Abacos part of the Bahamas? I’ve been here a couple of weeks now and there’s been a lot of new stuff, not least of which is the locale.

For starters, I’ve continued the solo sailing that began when my crew departed in Spanish Wells. That’s been wonderful, I must confess. Yes, I like having friends around but it’s also great being on your own. And as for having friends around: I’ve had two different visits from friends back home in the past few days. The first was a solo traveler who came down for a quick weekend; the second was a group of three buddies who jetted down for a taste of the Bahamas. And both visits were great. But let’s get caught up, shall we?

For starters, as mentioned in the previous post, my foot was feeling a lot better after getting stung by a sting ray so I did not head straight to Marsh Harbour and civilization—namely, a medical clinic. After a nice, quiet anchorage midway between Lynyard Cay and the Marsh Harbour area, I opted to head straight to another popular place in the Abacos: Great Guana Cay.

I had a delightfully mellow sail from the waters around the Parrot Cays near Hope Town all the way downwind to the anchorage in Fisher’s Bay on Great Guana Cay. I had only the genoa rolled out and the wind was light, but it was a sooooooooper mellow broad-reach sail that I thoroughly enjoyed. And after a couple of attempts at anchoring in the thick turtle grass of Fisher’s Bay, I finally got things settled and dinghied off for dinner at yet another Bahamas beach bar. Grabber’s is right on the beach at Fisher’s Cay and it was fine—as I’ve come to realize all the beach bars are. They’re fine. The menus are identical, the scenes are identical…only the visuals change. And Grabber’s was, as I say, fine.

The next day I hit the other beach bar on Great Guana Cay for lunch. Nipper’s is a short walk from the dock at Fisher’s Bay and is perched high on a dune overlooking the open Atlantic Ocean on the north side of the island. The view was mesmerizing and the beach, as it curled away toward the east, reminded me of the ending scene of “The Shawshank Redemption.” Morgan Freeman was not walking toward Tim Robbins sanding a derelict boat, but the beach sure looked like the setting. And from a personal perspective, the outside reefs on that side of the island definitely looked like they had the potential for surfable waves. Something to file away for future reference. The food? And Nipper’s itself? Say it with me: it was fine.

The view of Marsh Harbour from atop Further’s mast

After lunch, I took Further over to a marina in Marsh Harbour, the better to meet my inbound friend. I was a little bummed because I couldn’t get into the marina next door, which people had talked up a bunch. I needn’t have worried as the Harbour View Marina turned out to be stellar, mostly due to the great folks who work there; I enjoyed it so much that I cancelled my reservation next door for the next visit and ended up returning to the Harbour View.

My visiting friend and I enjoyed a stellar (if slow, even by Bahamas standards) meal across the street at Wally’s, and then the next day we departed. Because we had only one night, we were headed for Hope Town, a few miles east of Marsh Harbour on Elbow Cay. Hope Town is a quaint little town with brightly colored, tiny homes, great beaches and a strong tourist industry.

The challenge to Hope Town is getting a boat as deep as Further into the cozy harbor. The channel into the harbor is narrow and shallow, and Further can only go at from mid-tide or higher. With an early morning high tide, we left the marina as soon as possible (after settling up) so as to get the channel. But what I spaced out on was that there are two recommended channels to get across the shallows TO the entrance and I chose poorly. Further wound up hard aground (in soft sand, thankfully) just outside the channel entrance, with a good hour-and-a-half before dead low tide.

I’m not the first person to run around outside the channel to Hope Town Harbour, and I won’t be the last

Well, nothing to do but settle in and make the best of a bad situation, so that’s what we did. Fortunately for me, my guest wanted nothing more than to savor some warm, turquoise water and soothing time on a boat—and the location of our grounding made that easy. We enjoyed swimming all around the boat in beautiful scenery and tremendous sunshine. In addition to the hedonism, I took advantage of the fact that the water was only as deep as I am tall: I stood on the sea floor and finished the hull-cleaning I’d begun in Spanish Wells many days before. Talk about making lemons out of lemonade…

When the water returned, as it always does, Further floated free quickly and easily, and we made our way into the harbor. We grabbed a mooring ball and, after our little side adventure, decided we needed an afternoon cocktail. So it was off to Captain Jack’s, a beach bar-type place that is located, in this case, overlooking the harbor itself. We enjoyed the scene there so much that we stayed until 9 p.m., digging the food, the jovial staff and customers, and, in my case, a little NHL playoff action on the TV. In fact, the day turned out to be exactly what the doctor ordered, for both my guest and for me.

The next morning, the tide was still rather early—only an hour or so later than day before—so we dropped the mooring ball and were out of the channel before most people were even up. And this time, we took the deep-water access channel and had no problems. In fact, as soon as we cleared the shallowest of the banks, I unfurled the genoa and my guest got to enjoy a fabulous broad-reach sail down to Fisher’s Bay—the same sail I’d enjoyed a couple of days earlier, but this time with a stronger breeze that made for more fun sailing. My guest and I anchored (got the anchor to set first try this time) and then wandered over to Nipper’s for lunch, before heading back to the marina in Marsh Harbour and a final evening dinner in town. The next day, my friend departed and I did some work on the boat. A day after that, the first of my three buddies arrived and we got that party started.

Did I mention beach bars with a view? This is at On Da Beach on Elbow Cay

Not only did Chip arrive on Tuesday, he brought with him a couple of parts I’d ordered and had shipped to his home in the U.S. Of primary importance was the cellphone battery that powers the wireless wind sensor atop Further’s mast. We plugged that in, paired the unit with the navigation station, and then Chip (and the skipper of a neighboring boat in the marina) had the unenviable task of hauling my fat ass to the top of Further’s mast. Winches are a wonderful tool and they got me up there pretty quickly. I snapped the wind sensor into place, snapped a couple of photos and got lowered back to the safety of the deck. All in all, it was about a ten-minute job. And getting it done meant that I once again have wind data on board.

My two other inbound buddies arrived the next day on the same flight from Boston via Miami. It was late in the day so we all just settled in, played a bunch of cribbage and had a good time.

The plan was to take them to Hope Town, too. I had hoped to take them a couple of other places, but a fierce wind was forecast for the Saturday of their visit, and I wanted to be somewhere safe and secure for that weather. Nowhere in the area is as secure as Hope Town’s snug little harbor, so the next morning we headed straight there (and this time I took the correct channel across the banks). I had feared that many other boats in the area would also head to Hope Town for the blow but when we arrived the mooring field as about half-full. Great! We grabbed one of the few mooring balls with a lot of space around it and went into town.

Renting bikes made for a great way to sightsee on Elbow Cay. And it was a lot of fun, too

We hit Vernon’s market (home of the world’s best key lime pie) and then went to the beach, which was high on the guys’ list. To our amazement, we found the beach pretty much deserted. Some swimming, a bit of fun in the small waves and then we walked a couple of miles down the shoreline to On Da Beach—you guessed it: another Bahamas beach bar. This one was like Nipper’s: perched up on a dune overlooking the ocean. The difference is the reefs in front of On Da Beach are known for their surf, and though no one was out in the strong easterly winds, you could see the potential. Another item filed away for future reference.

A long walk back to town was followed by a quick visit to the boat and then we four enjoyed dinner at Captain Jack’s—no hockey this time; we ate on the deck over the water.

Further moored all safe and sound in Hope Town Harbour, as seen from Elbow Cay Light

The next day, we hit Jack’s for breakfast and then visited the Elbow Reef Lighthouse, the only lighthouse in the world still using oil for the light and whose motion is driven by gears hand-cranked by human beings. It’s a beautiful little place and the view from up top was spectacular. That was followed by a long beach day (sunburn is your friend) and a dinner at the Hope Town Inn and Marina which turned out to be a fabulous meal provided by the most professional restaurant I’ve enjoyed in the Bahamas thus far.

With yet another day in Hope Town (now you know why I wanted to take the guys elsewhere, but the wind turned out to be as forecast so I was glad we were in the harbor), we rented bicycles and rode south down to Sea Spray Marina (and, yes, beach bar). It was great to get some exercise and the south end of Elbow Cay was lovely. It’s like another world from the touristy “downtown” of Hope Town. We had some fun playing cornhole at the marina beach bar and, after riding back to town, we hopped a golf cart ride with some folks Chip had met to the Firefly Resort for our final evening dinner. Another professionally prepared and served meal was a great treat and an awesome way to end the trip.

The sunsets in Marsh Harbour are as nice as they are elsewhere in the Bahamas

Not quite end it, really. The tide was with us for departing Hope Town Harbour and the wind was still up quite a bit, so out came the genoa and off we went, riding the easterly blow toward Great Guana Cay. The guys took turn steering and Further just reveled in the conditions. And while the tide was with us for our Hope Town departure, we needed to get back into the marina at Marsh Harbour before it go too low, so we didn’t get all the way to Fisher’s Bay, opting to turn and ride a nice close-hauled sail into the stiff breeze. Spray exploding off the bow and over Further’s entirety made for a raucous closing of a great weekend with some friends. I’m glad Further and the Bahamas were able to get us all together.

Well, those guys took off today and I still haven’t given any insights into the Abacos yet, have I? I’m going to leave that for another post and just let this travelogue stand on its own. I’ll draw conclusions later. Why? Because I have a lot on my mind. There’s a weather window that MIGHT mean I take off for the United States tomorrow. That would be a solo trip—about three to four days—so it’s a big deal. But maybe I’ll stick around here another week or so. Chip said he might be able to come back in a week-and-change (after his son’s college graduation) and help me bring Further north. And another friend has expressed interest, as well. But Ben, the nice guy (from Annapolis) in the slip next to mine here in Marsh Harbour, is heading out tomorrow. He’s a solo sailor and is confident this is a good window in which to go. There are a lot of variables and thus, a lot on my mind. So conclusions are for another day and another post. I hope you’ll bear with me.


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