Greater Abacos

It is widely believed that the name for the island chain of the “Bahamas” was derived from the Spanish words “baja mar” which means “shallow seas”. So it is no mystery that the Spanish treasure fleets avoided the chain as much as our captain intended. The average depths around the individual islands are about four feet, and considering our draft is seven, we were reluctant to even approach Abaco. But we had no choice, our weather reports forecasted severe squalls and thunderstorms between Abaco and northern Florida for the next several days, so we decided to tuck in behind the barrier islands just north of Little Harbor and wait for better weather.

Preston diving for the anchor.The sun was high as we negotiated the narrow cut, and the aqua blue waters made it a little easier to see the coral reefs. The captain had studied the charts in advance looking for a safe anchorage and decided on a hole on the lee side of Lynyard Cay. Once the anchor was set, our own Jacques Cousteau, Preston, dove in to check to see how it was set in the thick grass, and prepared to place an extra anchor to prevent Kai Ohana from dragging since the weather was forecast to get ugly.

After sailing five days, with only a tiny grocery store in San Salvador to provision (and remember, we were in Haiti before that where there were no grocery stores) we were in desperate need of food, especially fresh produce. These items do not last long in the tropics with minimal refrigeration and six hungry crewmembers. According to the cruising guide, the closest destination with a grocery store was Marsh Harbor about a twelve mile, forty-five minute dinghy ride away. Well, the ride there was actually fairly pleasant since the captain and I followed a thunderstorm into the marina. So far, a good wind blown hair day. Unlike in an automobile, a ride in the dinghy forces you to be prepared for weather with plastic tarps, waterproof bags, rain gear, and extra gas. It is not so easy to stop at the corner gas station when you are in the middle of a large body of water with deserted islands all around you.

Once we tied the dinghy off behind the gas dock, we started our walk into town to find a cab and discovered we could rent a couple of cruising bikes with baskets for a nominal fee, which is the best way to stay on your exercise program when living on a boat. So off we went with our lists in search of the grocery store. We found the visitors center first and were happily given directions, saving us time, and upon our arrival I was pleased to discover the largest and most adequately stocked store we’d seen in over a month. Yippee, variety and fresh produce! Since I am not a great fan of canned veggies, and one never knows when we will see fresh produce, I get a little carried away and tend to purchase way more than we can safely carry every time. To my surprise one of the employees was brilliant enough to suggest we load the baskets high enough to just see over them and then taped it all down securely with packing tape. The rest of the supplies we carried in our backpacks and in plastic bags hung from the handlebars. What a sight we were, especially to the cars that had to avoid us as we teetered down the road.

Originally when we arrived in the dinghy the tide was high and getting on the dock was effortless. However, on our return, we discovered the tide had fallen about four feet. Okay, handing groceries down to the dinghy is easy enough, and as I took the bikes back to the rental center, I thought about the gymnastics I would have to do to get down into the dinghy. Hey, if those brassy pirate women could jump down into the wooden dinghies with a knife clinched in their teeth, so could I. To my pleasant surprise when I arrived back to the docks, the fine gentlemanly Captain had all rations stowed and covered with tarps, gas tanks full, and our tiny vessel motored around to a jetty where I stepped down the rocks like a proper lady and gracefully boarded.

Remember the good wind-blown hair day I was having? Ha, there were more thunderheads on the horizon. We pulled out our yellow banana suits, and prepared for the worst. In the Bahamas there is no straight shot to a destination because of all the reefs. Even in a dinghy you have to be mindful so you do not tear up your propeller. The Captain’s timing and variation in the route helped us dodge most of the severe weather and lightning strikes. About five minutes of rain was not so bad.

When we arrived back at the boat, the crew was excited to hear about our adventure (they were as worried about us as we were of them), and as we exchanged stories, they helped us unload the dinghy. I always appreciate this because the dinghy is like a cork bobbing up and down — everything is moving, Kai Ohana is moving, the dinghy is moving, you are moving, and the groceries swing freely in their bags, with the water directly beneath.

Manaray sculpture at Little Harbour.Once we had the galley restocked we could concentrate on matters of exploration. Little Harbor was a short ten-minute dinghy ride to the south. There we found a pub where we could sit and enjoy each other’s company without the movement of the boat. To my delight there was the Randolph Johnson art museum to investigate. Mr. Johnson spent 40 years on Little Harbor producing art as well as building a home for his family. My hats off to his wife, she had to be strong and adventurous as well because when they first arrived on the deserted island they lived in a cave with their two small children until they could build their home. We took time to follow a trail to the windward side of the island where his sculptures were poised along the trail. As we walked over the crest of the hill we could see the whole of the Atlantic stretched out before us. The limestone shore had a moonscape feel. We walked down the stairs to the sand, where we were shocked by the amount of trash strewn everywhere. It comes from all parts of the world and washes up on the windward shores of all the islands we have visited. The trash that ends up on the beaches not only affects the view, it adversely affects the sea life as well. The crew found several plastic bottles that hermit crabs had crawled into then died because they could not crawl back out. This continues to be a part of our voyaging experience that is a constant let down.

The lighthouse keepers home.We returned to Little Harbor often, and one of those trips we visited the ruins of the old Lighthouse. It was amazing to me that a man could live on this island with his family just to manage a lighthouse. But that is how it was back in the day before technology. They would raise much of their own food, collect rain water, maintain the light house, and would be excited when mail would arrive or if visitors sailed into their tiny harbor. Today there is a solar-paneled light that is set up on a galvanized metal stand that takes the place of the lighthouse; not nearly as romantic as the real deal.

Just northwest of the lighthouse, yet within walking distance, there was a beach that was a popular destination for snorkeling. The reef was well developed, and supported a diversity of life including the cutest little sea turtle. I could just imagine it talking like the one in “Finding Nemo”; they nailed that character in the movie. As long as we acted nonchalant it would swim casually along near us. If we tried to touch it, it would look at us as if saying in his California surfer accent, “Dude, that was totally inappropriate!” and would swim away hiding in the reef.

Once sufficiently water-logged we headed to the pub to try the drink Little Harbour is famous for, The Blaster. It is true to its name, and I will spare you the details of having more than one, but during this happy hour adventure, we met Marc Williams and his daughter Rose from Charleston, South Carolina. After Hap Hap Happy Hour, they came to visit us on Kai Ohana where we grilled sierra steaks he had caught the day before. Rose shared her art with Tracy, and Marc, being a fine “old-timey” musician shared his talent and songs with Preston. He also gave us a chart and essential advice about the Charleston approach, marinas and anchorages.

Exploring from a Kayak.After recuperating, the Captain and I decided to kayak to Lynyard Cay on what ended up being a rare, beautifully clear day. The cay (always pronounced “key” in the Caribbean) is a barrier island and on the leeward side there is nice swimming. We visited a few leeward beaches, then explored the windward side, and then an abandon house that was for sale. Surprisingly there were a few vacation homes on this island that were completely off the grid using solar and wind power as well as rainwater collection – more proof that it can be done. During a swim that evening, before we paddled back to the boat, I learned to walk, I mean run, on water when I disturbed a large shark feeding in my vicinity. I had a good laugh at myself back on the beach; it scared me silly.

One evening, the crew who always loves bonfires on the beach with food and music organized a family beach party. We used a fire ring where other sailing adventurers before us had enjoyed innumerable evenings with guitars alongside roaring fires. And as tradition would have it, we left a message about Kai Ohana on a piece of flotsam for the next group of adventurers to ponder while visiting Lynyard Cay.

Many people have asked me what my greatest fear is during this sailing adventure, and much to my dismay, it is lightning. We were in the Abacos because there where forecast to be plenty of thunderstorms and lightning throughout the area – after all, we were in the Bahamas during the “official hurricane season”. Each day we survived the onslaught unscathed was a relief. There is not a heck of a lot you can do while at anchor, and the darn things are striking the islands or the water all around you. But you can only be so lucky. One night while watching a movie there was suddenly a loud bang (the thunderstorm apparently formed right over us without warning) scaring the daylights out of the crew. Of course we all jumped up to examine our boat; we still had our mast, the boat was not sinking or on fire, but to our dismay we lost our GPS, our wind-speed indicator, and our autopilot. Losing the autopilot was not so bad since we never use it, but the real bummer was the GPS. Since we were in the shallow water of the Bahamas, and it showed us exactly where we were located in relation to the numerous reefs, we were in trouble. Okay, so we would have to just become better sailors, and if sailors before us could navigate these waters without today’s technology, so could we.

The window shattered and had to be repaired.During bouts of bad weather, we did spend a lot of time on Kai Ohana relaxing, playing music, reading, watching movies (when we weren’t being hammered by the weather), and studying lessons. Preston also took the time to write and record a song inspired by our adventures on Kai Ohana. And because we do live on a wooden boat, there is always something to tend to, and many times the universe sees fit to add to the list. One of those occasions happened on a quiet late afternoon while we ate an early dinner during a beautiful sunset – “muy tranquillo” as we would say in Mexico. All of a sudden there was the sound of a gunshot, and we all dove for cover. What the heck was that? There were no thunderstorms in sight! Once we had recovered, we discovered that one of our starboard windows had shattered out of the blue. The Captain deduced that the metal frame that kept the tempered window in place was screwed down too tight and the window just couldn’t take the pressure anymore. It was just a freak accident, yet the repair kept Preston and Craig busy for a couple of days.

We finally got a decent weather window to at least leave the island, and the repairs were complete so we left our relatively safe anchorage for the open ocean once again. Preston stood on the bow watching for coral reefs and the girls kept an eye out as well. And once out of the narrow cut, and away from the stress of running aground, we sailed off into the blue Atlantic towards Charleston.

Want more on Greater Abacos?
Check out the Greater Abacos Photos.
And watch the Bahamas Video.

6 Responses to “Greater Abacos”

  1. Dan Boarman says:

    Hi, I have been following your adventures … my wife and I live near Charleston, SC. When you reach here, if you need transportation or any help, or want someone to take you to dinner, we would be thrilled to be of help. Your sailing adventure sounds so wonderful. Email me if you think we could help you. We are both retired and have time, except, we are expecting our fifth grandchild in early June. That will take priority over everything else!!

    Dan Boarman, Summerville, SC 843-873-7310

  2. Robin Gleason says:

    Awesome story! So good to keep up with your wonderful adventures. Love and miss y’all!!!! Robin

  3. Eva says:

    What a thrilling story. I just love it!
    You are sooooo very blessed!
    I love you guys to pieces!

  4. mark williams says:

    hey guys life is fine in charleston come visit

  5. kris says:

    Hello Folks, Kris and Lizane on Tamoure here, good to see it is going well for you. In he photo I notice your clipper bow is in line with your bowsprit. I tried to straighten ours and it cracked, upset me to no end… ah well. Sorry haven’t really put together too many photos yet. But soon.

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