The Abacos are a wonderful place to start or end your exploration of The Bahamas. In many ways, the Abacos are easier to cruise than the other archipelagos of The Bahamas. The most popular cruising area is in the Sea of Abaco near and around the port town of Marsh Harbour (see Central and Southern Abaco Cays sections). A handful of colorful and fun ports-of-call lie within a dozen miles of Marsh Harbour, and the cruising is relaxed on the ordinarily calm Sea of Abaco. There are ferries, locals, charter boats and cruisers all jostling for space in the small harbors. But even with the crowds, there are plenty of secluded beaches and quiet spots to explore on your own.
On the southwest end of the northern cruising ground, the large island of Grand Bahama dominates. Freeport, the second-largest city in the country, is a deepwater port on its southern shore. Cruisers access the island either from the secluded West End settlement or by the bustling marina district at Port Lucaya. These ports are popular spots to arrive and check in or to make your last stop on your way back to the States.
The Abacos and Grand Bahama Island lie on the northern of the two Bahamian sea mounds: The Little Bahama Bank. The Bank is dominated by two large islands, Grand Bahama and Great Abaco, along with hundreds of smaller cays.
The most common route to the cruising grounds of the Abacos passes north of Grand Bahama and onto the large and shallow, yet wide-open waters of the Little Bahama Bank. From here, boats can enter the Sea of Abaco and follow it around the north coast of Great Abaco Island to the ports of Green Turtle, Marsh Harbour, and Elbow Cay (Hope Town).
The Whale is the famous cut that must be crossed between the Central and Southern Abacos. A shallow, shifting sandbank reaches out from Great Abaco Island, blocking passage for all but the most shoal-draft outboard boats. The passage is not difficult at all, but the weather is a factor. Like all Bahamian ocean cuts, a "rage" occurs when tide opposes wind or strong offshore swells roll in. These rages can make any cut an unsafe place to be.
The Sea of Abaco is protected from the mighty Atlantic by a string of jewel-like cays that stretch from Walker's Cay in the northwest to Lynyard Cay in the southeast. These blessed islands have some of the most beautiful beaches anywhere and stunning coral reefs just beyond.
The area that lies on the south end of the Little Bahama Bank, between Grand Bahama and Great Abaco Island, is a large and shallow body of water known as the Bight of Abaco. Vessels with shallower drafts can explore freely, but anchoring options are limited and there are no services at all.
The most popular area to visit is Marsh Harbour. Marsh Harbour is the third-largest town in the nation and has numerous provisioning, parts, repair and marina options. International air service connects Marsh Harbour to the rest of the world, and there is a steady stream of visitors who charter vessels of every description here. The anchorage at Marsh Harbour sees a constant turnover of cruisers who stop by for a few days. Whether restocking the pantry, spending a few weeks making repairs or passing through on their way to points north or south, everyone stops in Marsh Harbour at least occasionally.
Just a few miles east of Marsh Harbour lies one of the gems of The Bahamas. Hope Town, with its candy-striped lighthouse, pastel cottages and stunning beaches, lies on the north end of Elbow Cay. The harbor here is well protected and chockablock full of moorings. Even though it may seem crowded in the description, Hope Town always has a laid back and inviting atmosphere that makes you never want to leave.
North of Marsh Harbour you will find charming Man-O-War Cay. This island sports two well-protected harbors and some excellent marinas and boatyards, thanks to generations of shipbuilding tradition. This residential island is quieter than its neighbors, making for a relaxing stopover.
The next port of call north is Great Guana Cay. Here you will find the popular and sometimes boisterous Nipper's Beach Bar. While known for their beachside tiki bar, live music, family-friendly pool and beach snorkeling, they have good food, too. Treasure Cay lies on the "mainland" of Great Abaco Island a few miles farther north. The beach at Treasure Cay shouldn't be missed.
On the north side of Whale Cut, which lies directly off of Treasure Cay, is Green Turtle Cay. This charming little island is more disconnected from the crowds found around Marsh Harbour. Two harbors offer many options for marinas or moorings. A boatyard, great restaurants, gorgeous beaches and three grocery stores can be found here.
On Grand Bahama, the area known as Port Lucaya lies around The Bahamas' second-largest town, Freeport. Port Lucaya features world-class restaurants, vibrant nightlife, several marinas and many provisioning options. It makes a great stop when transiting the Northwest Providence Channel, the deep water that separates the Little Bahama Bank from its sister, the Great Bahama Bank.The majority of the Islands of The Bahamas lie atop two giant mounds of limestone that rise off the sea floor: the Little and the Great Bahama Banks. The smaller Little Bahama Bank lies on the northern side of the country and contains the large islands of Grand Bahama and Great Abaco as well as the popular Abaco Cays. Its edges are lined with extraordinary reefs. The protected shallow waters of the Bank, the Sea of Abaco and the Bight of Abaco are ripe for exploring by boat.
Interesting History & Facts
- Several of the Abaco cays were settled by Loyalists who fled the U.S. during the Revolutionary War, wanting to remain loyal to the British crown
- Great Abaco National Park is one of the few places left in the islands where you can catch a glimpse of the Abaco Parrot
- The barrier reef that stretches along the outer Abaco Cays is one of the longest in the world. The diving, snorkeling and fishing are superb.
- The lighthouse at Elbow Cay (Hope Town) is the last remaining operational hand-cranked, kerosene-powered lighthouse in the world. Be sure to anchor at least one night nearby to enjoy its unique character and tour the lighthouse in the daytime to see it up close.