Half of the boaters who walk the planks at Boat Harbour Marina in Marsh Harbour, Abaco, to set sail for Guana Cay, Mano-War or any number of islands in the Abacos with Cruise Abaco, do not own a boat or yacht. The other half who may have their own boats choose to go chartering in The Bahamas because their craft is not suited to cross the Gulf Stream.
It might seem counter-intuitive that many active boaters are not boat owners, but Mark Gonsalves, the owner of charter company Cruise Abaco, says the Abacos are filled with many such enthusiasts and that they are the bread and butter of the charter industry. They don’t fly down on private planes to meet up with their mega yachts. They can’t take three months off to spend in Treasure Cay or Hope Town, and not just because they don’t own a second home in The Bahamas as yet. To travel with their families, believe it or not, some still need to take blocked vacation time.
By no means, however, are these cruisers novices on the water. They’ve chartered around the world, whether in the Chesapeake Bay or across Europe, says Gonsalves. They know boats, and they crave a destination that has the best and most modern boats the industry has to offer, one with modern facilities, happening beach bars, upscale restaurants, barefoot-style island food joints, events, and a diverse range of boating
activities. “Everyone wants the latest and greatest. They have dreams of owning their
own boats and they island hop looking at the different marinas. They charter a boat that
they might want to own one day. They are looking for everything the area has to offer,”
Cue the Abacos: the boating capital of The Bahamas, where there is actually no need to bring your own boat. Whatever the reason, whether boaters want the convenience
of leaving their boat behind, or simply don’t own a boat, the Abacos not only has the highest concentration of marinas in The Bahamas, it undoubtedly has the highest concentration of charter boat availability.
Two of the largest international yacht charter companies—Moorings and Sunsail—operate in the Abacos, along with dozens of Bahamian charter companies. There is an abundance
of boats, from small 20-foot day rentals to large catamarans, sailboats and power yachts that are 60-foot plus, and they are all available for captained and barefoot charters. “There are more boats in the Abacos for charter availability because the demand is here. It is not [here only for the] summer but it is here year round, especially in the catamaran areas,” said Stephen Kappler, president of the Association of Bahamas Marinas.
Charter companies often design pre-planned cruise itineraries to make it easy for their clients. A seven-day cruise might include snorkeling in the Sandy Cay Park or the Fowl
Cay Underwater Park; beaching at Tahiti Beach; kayaking around the Tilloo Cay Banks; exploring local settlements like Hope Town and Green Turtle Cay; scuba diving on the Great Abaco Barrier Reef; fly fishing on the flats or deep sea fishing on the ocean side; and of course, bar hopping at Nippers on Guana Cay, the Tipsy Seagull Dockside Pub on Treasure Cay or Cracker P’s Bar and Grill on Lubbers Quarters Cay. On a charter itinerary, boaters with powerboat experience could seize the opportunity to learn how to sail on a single hull vessel or a catamaran.
The Sea of Abaco, a 62-mile saltwater lagoon, is where all of the activity takes place. This marine highway is sandwiched by mainland Great Abaco to the west and a chain of barrier islands running parallel to the east, and it’s easily accessible from the U.S. The Marsh Harbour airport has direct flights from six cities in Florida, including Tampa, West Palm Beach, Orlando, and Jacksonville and direct flights from Atlanta. Treasure Cay has direct flights from Fort Lauderdale, so the proximity factor makes it particularly attractive to boaters.
The boating industry of Abaco has also proven to be a feeder for the second home industry. Kappler, who is also president of the Treasure Cay Property Owners Association,
a residential community of 1,300 homes, says their research shows the average homeowner purchased a property in Treasure Cay after their fourth visit to the Abacos.
Because the Abacos is a unique multi-island destination with a vibrant boating culture and diverse activities, it will always be a draw for boaters who have that insatiable love
for the pristine waters only found in The Bahamas.
Navigational Tips for Chartering in The Bahamas:
Moorings at Lubbers Quarters Cay are free to use for charter companies on a first
come, first serve basis during full moon parties at Cracker P’s Bar and Grill.
When entering the White Sound channel toward Green Turtle Cay, boats that draw
more than six feet should avoid entering the channel at low tide.
The Little Harbour channel leading to the popular Pete’s Pub has gotten slightly
deeper. Previously marked for boats with 6 feet of draft, the sandy bottom channel at high tide can accommodate boats that draw up to 6’5″. Pete’s Pub operates 13
moorings in the area.
There is a hard rock bottom in front of the popular Staniel Cay Yacht Club that is reliably marked on charts. However, there have been several sailboats running aground. Boaters should follow their charts and pay close attention when entering this marina.
By Noelle Nicolls, Southern Boating February 2018
PHOTOS: COURTESY OF THE BAHAMA OUT ISLANDS PROMOTION BOARD