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TackingAg
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Joined: 02/07/13
Posts: 455
Loc: Austin, TX
Abaco and BVI Comparisons
      #1640117 - 03/23/15 11:29 PM (68.203.9.120)

There was a thread awhile back asking for feedback into how the Abacos, Bahamas compares to the BVIs. Just returned from sailing charter there, so I thought I would offer this trip report. I’ll break it out into a few different topics and then run through several specific stops for those who may be considering a charter in those waters. But first, this is NOT designed to be a “which is better” type of report. Just wanted to share some experiences for those who may be thinking about trying another location.

Charter Company - Cruise Abaco; www.cruiseabaco.com

Cruise Abaco is a family-run charter company based in Marsh Harbour. Mark and Patti Gonsalves are great people and very focused on customer satisfaction. At first, I struggled a little with trip planning emails and had to realize that this isn't a red-and-blue-logo corporate charter company with a full-time reservations staff. I would get somewhat partial answers when I asked questions months and months in advance, but things picked up as the trip drew closer. And once we were on the ground in Marsh Harbour, it was evident how helpful and friendly all of the Cruise Abaco staff were to each other and their guests. It was then I appreciated that they were a family-run operation and didn’t have to worry about getting lost in the shuffle with hundreds of boats in the harbour. The Cruise Abaco base is technically on Lubbers Cay, but they run all of their boats out of Boat Harbour on Great Abaco Island. Boat Harbour is also part of the Abaco Beach Resort, which gave us access to all of their amenities including a swim-up bar, clean showers and rest rooms, restaurant, gift shop, front desk services, ice for purchase, free resort wifi, and more. Easy 10 minute taxi ride ($5 per person) from the MHH airport to the docks. And close to other offsite restaurants. Head down Dock C and Cruise Abaco has a small office set up there with the boats on shore power and ready to go. Again, very friendly staff always on call via VHF and cell phone. And while I can’t say that this is the norm, Cruise Abaco also went out of their way to host a beach party mid-week for all of their charter guests. We moored right off of the owners’ home in their private mooring field and they had a stack of wood all ready to go. Lit it up and their Captain Joe (more on him in a bit) played guitar for us. What a great evening! They also hooked us up with mooring balls throughout the week (again, more on this in a bit).

Boat - 2014 Lipari 41 “Reef Dodger"

This was our first step up from a mono to a catamaran, and I’m not sure we’ll be going back to a mono as a family. We had 9 (5 adults, 4 kids ages 8, 11, 13 16) of us on this cat and were always very comfortable. Reef Dodger came with great amenities including a generator, A/C, microwave, and TV/DVD. The boat is owned by a couple who spend most of their time in the Abacos, and we coincidentally met them at the Annapolis Boat Show last October.. I got the sense that we kicked them off of their boat for that week, and we ran into them at the beach party during the charter. My wife slightly recommended that they get a few more forks for the boat for future charters. The next day, they came boating up to us while moored with new forks in their hand! Again, very family friendly operation. Strange enough, we lost the starboard prop heading into one of the mooring fields. Mark, the Cruise Abaco owner, was out to repair it while we were on land and all was good within a couple of hours. The winds were pretty light that week, so we did a fair share of motoring on a few days. Returned the boat after a week and filled up 26 gallons of diesel ($4.90/gl) and water. Total check-out bill was about $145 for the week. Nice!

Captain - Captain Joe

My wife and I have always bareboat chartered with our two kids. But I decided to hire a day captain for this trip for a few reasons. First, I mentioned this was our first move up to a larger catamaran. Second, I’ve been swamped at work with no time to really plan for our routes and pour over charts. Third, we were going to have nine people on this trip and I just wanted to hang out with my parents instead of having to be the nervous skipper the whole week. And finally, I expected the waters to be very shallow and thought it would be good to have a guide take us through the Abacos. We lucked out and got Captain Joe as our day captain for the week! We had also met Joe at the Annapolis Boat Show and looked forward to our week together. Talk about stories to fill up the days of sailing! Joe was a very, very accomplished musician heading into his 40’s. Then he made the break and has been living the life of a pirate the past 20 years. Seriously, he was a pirate stand-in actor in Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3! Very helpful throughout the trip and showed us snorkel spots we would have definitely passed right by. Joe had friends on each of the Cays that we stopped at, so he typically just went onshore and came back in the mornings. Or he would take the ferry back to Marsh Harbour to sleep aboard his boat. I’ll also admit that I was happy we had a day captain when we lost the starboard prop so he could explain it to Mark. :)

Abacos and BVI Comparisons

Topography - As you would expect, the Abacos is surrounded by low lying cays. Therefore, it took me awhile to get my bearings without looking at the chart. All of the islands looked the same to me whereas it’s easy to point out Tortola, VG, etc. For that, I preferred the BVIs for the island scenery.

The water - Wow, the Bahamian water is amazing. We were cruising over 12-15 feet of water and I could pick out blades of grass on the bottom. Found many spots where we could dinghy over to 3’ of crystal clear water and hang out with the cooler. Tons of starfish, conch, and more for the big and small kids to hunt down throughout the week. My first impression about the Abacos was that it was mostly dangerous shoal waters, but I didn’t feel intimidated at all sailing around the Abaco Sea. There were a few spots of shifting sand, but it was clearly marked on the charts and easy to navigate through. On average, we were clearing about 10’ of water with depths up to 20+ feet. The Abaco Sea is about the size of the SFD Channel and well protected by reefs and cays. So it’s great grounds for a ~25nm sail on some days and then shorter jaunts on others. As expected, the water temperature was a few degrees cooler than the BVIs, but we didn’t even notice it after a day or two of snorkeling. The air temperature was around 77, but it definitely felt warmer than that.

Sailing skills - I would definitely recommend the Abacos to anyone who is still new to sailing, has sailed in the BVI’s a few times, and is now looking to put more of their skills to use on a charter. Typically in the BVI’s, the wind is coming from a consistent direction (+/- 60 degrees). In the Abacos, you have to really pay attention from day to day on what the wind forecast looks like. It can swing 180 degrees on you in the same day. Also, the tide in the BVIs typically rises in a 1' range, whereas in the Abacos it swings as much as 3.9’ for high tide and -1' in low tide. Considering that the entrances to many of the harbours are already tight, you will want to plan your entry/exits closely with the time of day and the tide. All fun stuff!

Mooring fields and harbors - First, there are MANY more options in the Abacos to throw the hook and just sit outside of a harbor. But given our large group, we preferred to be closer to the action and most of the crew preferred sleeping on a ball. The mooring fields in the Abacos are different in that they are typically a collection of privately owned moorings. Cruise Abaco actually owned 1-2 balls in each of the fields, and we were able to use them during our trip. This was VERY helpful for some locations like Hope Town where it’s usually full. But we could roll in later and grab the ball reserved for Cruise Abaco. Again, not sure this was the norm or just Captain Joe hooking us up! The moorings are also rigged slightly differently with two painters typically coming off the ball. In some cases, you can run each of the painters directly to the cleats without rigging up any other lines. Better yet, the mooring balls were all $20 per night! The harbours were typically a little tighter, surrounded by both commercial and private docks, and the dinghy docks were accessible via ladders down to the water. Given the 3+’ tidal swing, it was recommended that you throw a stern anchor to leave space for others and make sure your dinghy isn’t caught under the dock if you’re on land for awhile.

Wifi access - While you’d expect to find bar wifi options, Bahamas WiMax also offers a reasonable plan that covers all of the Abaco Cays. Pretty nice to have a consistent plan that was also accessible from the boat each night. No need to rig up receivers for the trip.

Provisioning - Hands down, provisioning in the BVIs is much easier. We could not find any online provision options to have heavy items delivered directly to the boat. So the group dropped our bags at the boat and half of us took a taxi to to the supermarket (Maxwell’s) and liquor store (A&K). All easy enough and the selections were great, but just no Riteway options to have most of it delivered to you. Food and liquor is comparable to island costs, but beer was pretty expensive. Plan to drink rum. :)

Flights - We took American Airlines from Austin>Houston>Fort Lauderdale>Marsh Harbour (3 legs). Flight cost was comparable to flying into St. Thomas. Then just a short taxi to the boat - no ferry. The MHH airport is nice, but pretty plain. Don’t plan on grabbing lunch in the terminal or waiting to buy a magazine. Nothing there but a few gates, but it was easy enough.

Our stops along the way included...

Hope Town - Cute town with 300+ rental cottages, a few restaurants, shopping, and other amenities. We hung at the Marina pool one night and then also let the kids play on the beach until it got dark. Walked up the lighthouse. Like most of the cays, you’re typically moored in a very closed off harbour and then can walk just a couple hundred yards to the other side of the island to watch the big breaking waves coming in from the Atlantic.

Guana Cay - Spent the day snorkeling Mermaid Reef off Great Abaco. Not a large coral reef, but packed with fish. Fantastic stop. Then sailed to Guana Cay, which has two main harbors with only 5-6 mooring balls each. Walked over to the famous Nippers bar, played on the beach, splashed in the pools, and enjoyed the great drinks. Watched the turtles from the boat.

Man O’ War - Well protected harbour that can be dangerous when entering at low tide. Not much on the island but a few shops, groceries, and a restaurant. Could have really skipped the island all together, but we had a great time taking the dinghy down to about 3’ of clear water and hanging out with the cooler. One of my favorite times on the trip.

Treasure Cay - Spent the evening at the marina in a slip with power. Treated the family to air conditioning, great showers, the marina pool and very good bar. Again, just a short walk to the other side of the island for the Treasure Cay beach. Wow. Wow. You start to walk over the sand and begin seeing this amazing blue water waiting for you. Probably one of the best overall beaches I’ve ever been on. Coco’s beach bar is also right there if you need a refreshment. Paid $1.50/ft for the slip, $25 for power, and $12 to fill up the Lipari 41 water tank. Bought a couple of pies from the lady that walked the docks around sundown.

Tahiti Beach - Set anchor and began to drop the dinghy when we saw a 6’ shadow swim right below us. I thought for sure it was a big shark - reef, bull, who knows. But then looked up and saw a pod of dolphins playing around us. Pretty awesome. On that note, one of the biggest surprises for the trip was that we did not see a single shark. Nurse, or whatever. I thought we would be surrounded by reef sharks while snorkeling. Tahiti Beach is cool because it’s big at low tide and then disappears with high tide. Be careful to anchor far enough out into the channel. Two cats thought they’d try to get right up to the beach, and they found themselves completely dry docked in a couple of hours. Oops. Great starfish and conch hunting there. We then motored across the channel to Lubbers Cay, where the Cruise Abaco owners live and run their operations. They have ~6 moorings set up right in front of their house. This is where we had the beach party and stayed the night. What great service!

Hope Town (again) - For our last night, some of the crew wanted to go back to Hope Town to hit the shopping. We first ran down to Sandy Cay for snorkeling. Fantastic coral! I enjoyed seeing the coral more than the fish that day.

IN SUMMARY

As noted before, this isn’t a “which is better” type of trip report. Just a highlight of some of the comparisons as I saw them. The people of the Abacos were VERY friendly throughout the trip. I really enjoyed everyone I met. The waters were amazing. Prices were a bit better. And it was fun to experience a few small differences in mooring etiquette, docking the dinghy and such. But I did miss some of the “tourist” feel that you get in the BVI’s. For all the complaining about how the BVI’s aren’t what they used to be, it is nice to have your pick of beach bars to pull up to, to have a standardized presentation of mooring fields (though they’re more expensive), and to see the beautiful landscape of the BVI’s as you’re sailing through the waters. And it’s great to have a resource like TTOL that is unmatched in the Abacos for people who like to bareboat charter. I can’t wait to return to the BVI’s again in January 2016. But if you’re looking to try something a little different and not set on the next location, then I’d recommend the Abacos and would definitely recommend Cruise Abaco! Feel free to PM me if you’re planning a trip there and have any specific questions. I'll add my trip video to this post when I get it together.

Abaco Pics

--------------------
~~~~_/)~~~~
"The TTOL Member Map Guy"
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stoneyusaf
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Joined: 10/28/12
Posts: 1198
Loc: Venice Florida (Texas transpla...
Re: Abaco and BVI Comparisons [Re: TackingAg]
      #1640762 - 03/26/15 01:16 PM (66.194.83.50)

Wow.....I REALLY enjoyed that report! THANK YOU!! I've been considering just such a trip.

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Chriskal
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Re: Abaco and BVI Comparisons [Re: TackingAg]
      #1640834 - 03/26/15 09:14 PM (64.126.70.11)

That's a great report. One other thing I really like about the Abacos is that going land based still allows you to spend your days on the water island hopping as it much more conducive to small boating.

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jphart
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Re: Abaco and BVI Comparisons [Re: Chriskal]
      #1640847 - 03/26/15 11:09 PM (76.18.240.56)

Love your report. Thanks much. Great feel in your words.

As you know we're doing Abacos in June after 4BVI trips, will forward to my crew.

--------------------
JPH
I spent my money on booze, broads, and boats...the rest I wasted.


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gordaguy2
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Re: Abaco and BVI Comparisons [Re: TackingAg]
      #1640890 - 03/27/15 10:44 AM (206.177.43.74)

Wow - nice report - when we first moved from Vancouver to Toronto friends of ours let us stay in their place in Treasure Cay a couple of times - your report reminded me of the very nice people in the Abacos. We're not sailors but like you fell in love with the BVI's because of its views of distinctive islands - sort of reminded me of the islands off Vancouver Island in BC. Thanks for sharing.

--------------------
GordaGuy2
www.adagiovilla.com or www.facebook.com/adagiovilla


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BEERMAN
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Joined: 06/02/11
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Re: Abaco and BVI Comparisons [Re: TackingAg]
      #1640947 - 03/27/15 05:01 PM (96.255.114.49)

Great report TackingAG Your photo's are awesome. In November we entered Man-O-War cut at night with a passing squall, stood on the bow with a spot light and got soaked, I was happy to step on the docks! Only spent 2 days there, but I to found the people there very nice. We have an offer to sail the Abacos from Miami this spring, I want to see it all during the day with no rain! Thanks for the report

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DanS
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Re: Abaco and BVI Comparisons [Re: TackingAg]
      #1640955 - 03/27/15 05:45 PM (206.49.51.4)

Thanks very much for the report! I now have a much better feel for what it's like to cruise the Abacos. It really helped to use Google Maps and look up all the places you mentioned, so I could see the rough outlines of the protected cruising area.

Dan


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DanS
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Re: Abaco and BVI Comparisons [Re: Chriskal]
      #1640959 - 03/27/15 05:49 PM (206.49.51.4)

Quote:

One other thing I really like about the Abacos is that going land based still allows you to spend your days on the water island hopping as it much more conducive to small boating.





Sounds cool. So are there boats available for day sailing? Something bigger than a Hobie Cat, that would be comfortable for a full day, or even maybe an overnight?

Dan


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TackingAg
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Re: Abaco and BVI Comparisons [Re: DanS]
      #1640978 - 03/27/15 07:25 PM (68.203.9.120)

Hi, Dan. Not sure if Cruise Abaco can help with a short (1-2 night) charter, but worth asking of them. As always, I'm sure it depends on the time of year. I did see a couple of monos that were sitting there (~37ft), but most of the boats were out during our trip. Good luck!

--------------------
~~~~_/)~~~~
"The TTOL Member Map Guy"
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Support Gumption
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TackingAg
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Re: Abaco and BVI Comparisons [Re: TackingAg]
      #1640979 - 03/27/15 07:26 PM (68.203.9.120)

Here is our trip video to help put more into perspective...

Abaco Trip Video

--------------------
~~~~_/)~~~~
"The TTOL Member Map Guy"
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jphart
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Re: Abaco and BVI Comparisons [Re: TackingAg]
      #1641007 - 03/27/15 09:53 PM (76.18.240.56)

How was the transit northwest / southeast from Marsh/BootHarbour? To Treasure?
Specifically, the Whale cay cut?
Didn't make Green Turtle?

Did you go outside, or Sand Bank --> Don't Rock cut? Or v.v

If you did it again, would you hire a Captn?

(We're doing Abacos Sunsail '44 in June)

--------------------
JPH
I spent my money on booze, broads, and boats...the rest I wasted.

Edited by jphart (03/27/15 09:55 PM)


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Chriskal
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Re: Abaco and BVI Comparisons [Re: DanS]
      #1641026 - 03/28/15 12:08 AM (64.126.70.11)

Quote:

DanS said:
Quote:

One other thing I really like about the Abacos is that going land based still allows you to spend your days on the water island hopping as it much more conducive to small boating.






Sounds cool. So are there boats available for day sailing? Something bigger than a Hobie Cat, that would be comfortable for a full day, or even maybe an overnight?

Dan




Day sailing I'm not sure about, but the day boating is pretty great. There are a number of companies that rent power boats in the 17-28ft range by the day, week or month.


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Twanger
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Re: Abaco and BVI Comparisons [Re: Chriskal]
      #1641443 - 03/30/15 05:55 PM (50.193.144.241)

Thanks for this report!
I've been wanting to go to the Abacos, but every time we look into it the price comes out significantly more than going to the USVI and sailing to the BVI or SVI.


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TackingAg
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Re: Abaco and BVI Comparisons [Re: Twanger]
      #1641446 - 03/30/15 06:09 PM (65.36.85.58)

Due to the airfare, Twanger? Everything seems to be expensive out of Austin. I'm constantly jealous when I see what folks pay from the Northeast to get to STT compared to us - even with one hop in Atlanta or wherever. I would go 2x as much to the USVI/BVI if I lived in Maryland so enjoy!

--------------------
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Twanger
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Re: Abaco and BVI Comparisons [Re: TackingAg]
      #1641554 - 03/31/15 10:07 AM (50.193.144.241)

Both the airfare and the boats seemed more expensive as compared to chartering out of the USVI.

It has been 3 or more years since I've looked into this option. maybe things have changed?


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BVIShuga
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Re: Abaco and BVI Comparisons [Re: Twanger]
      #1643058 - 04/09/15 03:51 PM (209.145.84.226)

Awesome! Thanks for posting!

--------------------
Love sailing the BVI's with friends.


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Ontheboat
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Re: Abaco and BVI Comparisons [Re: BVIShuga]
      #1643415 - 04/12/15 02:07 PM (71.96.213.94)

Thanks for the report. Heading back to the BVI's shortly, but just might have to look into the Abacos next year. Moving our boat to the coast shortly in preparation for cruising, but a bit of "recon" doesn't hurt!

Oh, by the way: Hook 'em!

--------------------
Capt D (Caribguy)
s/v Mollie Jean
"When I go to heaven, I want to go from the islands..it's closer"


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beachlvr
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Re: Abaco and BVI Comparisons [Re: TackingAg]
      #1643871 - 04/16/15 11:32 AM (12.53.16.147)

What's the overall feel of safety in the Abacos?

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Chriskal
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Re: Abaco and BVI Comparisons [Re: beachlvr]
      #1643921 - 04/16/15 08:12 PM (64.126.70.11)

I would say very safe. Especially on the barrier islands like Green Turtle, Guana and Elbow. We had zero issues, or really even concerns.

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TackingAg
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Re: Abaco and BVI Comparisons [Re: Chriskal]
      #1644140 - 04/18/15 06:22 PM (107.77.64.18)

Agreed. Folks in the Abacos compared Nassau to "Chicago, where people live with bars on their windows ". Pretty sleepy in the outer islands.

--------------------
~~~~_/)~~~~
"The TTOL Member Map Guy"
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Support Gumption
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