The author reflects on the magical time her full-time cruising family spent in the now hurricane-ravaged Abaco Islands.

In February and March of 2016, we were fortunate enough to spend six weeks in the Abacos with our daughters, Molly,12, and Madelyn,9. At the time they were 9 and 6 and they still remember every minute of that experience. We traveled to the Abacos as a side trip from the Great Loop. My girls have been to Mexico and Dominican resorts but that was a different world from being on the ground (or water) in the Abacos. From our start in West End we made our way to Green Turtle Cay, Great Guana Cay, Treasure Cay, Marsh Harbor, Hope Town (Elbow Cay), Little Harbor and Man O’ War Cay. We traveled as far south as Little Harbor and then turned around and did most of these places a second time.

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During these six weeks we dove into studying marine life and exploring all the creatures around us by dinghy and beach. My girls were able to touch, see and study marine life in a way they had not before. Each day we’d then return to the boat and research what they found that day. Some examples include sea cucumbers, huge starfish and sand dollars. A fellow boater at Tahiti Beach on Elbow Cay told them all about how when a sea cucumber is nervous it will expel all its insides and grow new. She then picked one up out of the water and they watched it happen. Gross, but fascinating!

The marine life was memorable but the Bahamian people were also amazing and made such an impression on us. Our first real stop was Green Turtle Cay. We went to the bar and restaurant at the marina and a local came up to me and told me that my girls were beautiful and then went on to assure me they were safe. He said I could pin $100 bills to their shirts, send them into town alone, and they would be returned safely. This could just be some guy at a bar telling stories, but by and large we found the people to be this good. They welcomed us, they wanted to show us their culture and we were happy to help stimulate their economy.

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Those first few stops were about exploring and getting a feel for the Abacos. By the time we got to Man O’ War Cay we dug in a little deeper. We first visited the famous Albury’s Sail Shop. We walked past the boatyard and watched them work on building boats. And then spent a long time walking around the sail shop and talking to the older ladies working there. This is their life. The pride in what they do was easy to see. My girls talked with them and walked around trying to choose which bag to buy.

Once back at the marina I chatted with another American boater who volunteered at the local school. She was taking a group of students out on the water for a field trip the next day but encouraged me to go to the school and talk with the principal. I trekked up the hill and knocked on the door. The principal was a lovely woman who welcomed me in. I told her we homeschool and live on our boat and she invited me to come to school the next morning. So off we went to meet the students of the Abacos. We were shown around the classrooms and school. The classroom with grades third through eigth presented their science fair experiments for us. We moved onto the kindegarden to second grade classroom and the little kids came running up for hugs and to see my girls. We took pictures with all their smiling faces. The girls were invited to spend the full day there, but they were too shy. Some things Molly and Madelyn noticed—they had Jansport backpacks and the same lunchboxes kids in the U.S. have. The power of the internet! They were studying space and the solar system—the same types of things we were covering in science. It was so cool for them to see other kids and see that their schooling is largely the same as ours.

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Fast forward to September 1, 2019 and Hurricane Dorian. As humans, we were devastated. As boaters, we were devastated. As people who had been lucky enough to spend 6 weeks in the Abacos with these amazing people, we were devastated. We all watched in horror and then we waited for the reports to come out about damage. I subscribe to quite a few of the Facebook pages in the Abacos and was relieved to see updates coming in, no matter how horrible.

On Man O’ War Cay all people accounted for and alive. GREAT! Only one house on the island still had a roof and all ferries sunk. Then came the pictures of the marina with all the sunken boats. We just stared in awe. We were there. Our boat was on that dock. We spent time with those people. We went to that school. All those kids. Those amazing kids. Where were they now?

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The bad news kept coming. Great Guana Cay: We had to explain to the kids and show them pictures of Nippers, where we had tons of fun playing on the dunes and enjoying the restaurant and bar. It’s gone—the dune collapsed. The girls couldn’t wrap their heads around that.

Onto Hope Town—more places we visited and enjoyed—completely demolished. It was hard to even match our pictures up against the pictures coming across the news. We quickly went from devastated to heart warmed when we saw the relief efforts pouring in. We desperately want to help more than just financially. I was excited to see the school supplies request lists come out because that’s near and dear to my heart. But as we watch the cleanup and rebuilding process continue, we hope we can take our boat over again (maybe next spring!) and see how we can help.

The people of the Abacos are special and I have no doubt they will rebuild. And be stronger.

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