Far Away but so Close to Home | February
Great Abaco Island is a large, crescent-shape island protected from the Atlantic Ocean along her eastern flanks by a string of barrier islands. Between the dozens of islets and the "mainland" (as some locals refer to Great Abaco) lies the Sea of Abaco, a stretch of azure water that will break the chokehold winter has on many of us in the dreary month of February. It did for me.
The aforementioned geography is key. The barrier islands have helped create protected diving, swimming, and cruising grounds adjacent to a smattering of stunning harbors near tiny, welcoming Caribbean towns. Best of all, I can reach them in just a few hours from my home in the Northeast. And in February air temperatures hover around 80 degrees with water temps in the low 70s; perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
I recommend flying into Marsh Harbor; it's the ideal entry point. At this time of year the tourist season is in full swing, so expect well-stocked markets, decent restaurants, and if you need it, an Internet cafe. There are also a handful of bareboat charter companies here. I chartered a power catamaran because of her great living space, privacy for couples, and a relatively shallow draft that helped keep me out of trouble in skinny waters.
Whether you charter or take your own boat, make sure she has a barbecue. Grilling alfresco is the only way to go while on the hook. The market with the freshest seafood and meat, A&A Foods, is about a ten-minute walk from Marsh Harbor's marina, but has odd hours: It closes at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. And don't forget matches and charcoal; lighter fluid is nonexistent here.
Leaving Marsh Harbor, head first for Great Guana Cay, the largest of the barrier islands. Opt for a mooring just inside of Settlement Harbor. Why? Because it is a short dinghy ride to shore and Nippers Beach Bar & Grill. The bar sits atop a 40-foot sand dune and has incredible views of the Great Abaco Barrier Reef. That barefoot guy behind the bar with the graying beard goes by the handle Easy. Ask him for the house special, a frozen rum concoction and a conch burger with fries. If it's Sunday, you're in luck: Nippers' weekly wild boar roasts bring out a great crowd and a live band. And no matter what you hear about snorkeling on the barrier reef, keep your gear on the boat; there are better, less-crowded spots (and I don't recommend swimming while inebriated).
One such spot is Sandy Cay. Try to arrive there by 3 p.m., as it gets crowded fast this time of year. The next morning rise at daybreak, head for Pelican Harbor, about five minutes from Sandy Cay, drop anchor, and tie your dinghy to mooring balls set up specifically for divers. You won't be disappointed: On my last dive here, leopard rays and barracuda frolicked among brain coral and thousands of impossibly colored fish.
Later, head to Treasure Cay's marina for tasty Bahamian-style pizza, or walk the narrow streets of Hopetown, enjoying a respite from the sun at one of the many oceanfront eateries or boutiques. I was amazed that this place is just an hour flight from eastern Florida and only a few more from the frozen Northeast. I plan to blaze a new path here this winter season while other people are shoveling their own paths--in the snow, from their front door to their car.
January: British Virgin Islands
February: Great Abaco Island / Bahamas
March: Little Harbor Cay / Bahamas
April: Los Sueños / Costa Rica
July: Washington, D.C.
August: British Columbia
September: Montauk, Long Island
October: Hudson River, New York
November: Half Moon Cay / Belize
December: St. Barts
This article originally appeared in the December 2006 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.