It is a Friday afternoon and my brother Jim has arrived in Marsh Harbor after a very long flight from Seattle. We have a late lunch at Curly Tails over in Conch Harbor Marina overlooking the bay, then spend the evening catching up. Next morning we departed Harbor View Marina for HopeTown on Elbow Cay. We know these waters well but our experience has always been in shallow draft runabouts. Tivoli draws nearly 6 feet so we tend to setup waypoints and routes following the Explorer charts recommendations. Of course, many others tend to do the same and it is common to see approaching boats on the exact same track, so following the course precisely can be hazardous given the accuracy of modern GPS systems. A recent software update to our AP70 autopilot allows us to establish an offset; I’ll have to refresh my memory on how to use that feature as I believe it will come in handy. We time the departure so that we will arrive in HopeTown at high tide. The entrance to HopeTown is shallow and Tivoli would likely run aground at any other time than high tide. We also looked into tying up in the mooring field, a much less expensive option, but the guides seemed to indicate boat length was restricted to 45 feet. So, we made reservations at a new marina in the harbor, HopeTown Harbor Inn and Marina. It is lovely; relatively new, nice cottages, pools, fountains, landscaping, etc. The iconic red and white striped HopeTown lighthouse is just down the road. Of course, once we are settled in we notice there are several boats moored in the bay that are longer than 50 feet. Doesn’t matter; we are a heavy displacement boat (88,000 pounds fully loaded) and I would rather err on the side of caution. Besides, the marina is the best we’ve seen in the Abaco.
The only downside, other than cost, is it is located across the bay from the settlement and requires a short ride on a shuttle boat. Though one can call the boat at any time it is still a bit of a hassle. Nevertheless, we spent a couple of lovely days at HopeTown Harbor. We rented a golf cart, the usual form of land transportation, and explored our old haunts. Drove the length of the cay with stops at Abaco Inn, Sea Spray and Tahiti Beach where Deanna and I were married 15 years ago. The entire island is in great shape. New construction at various locations, nicely paved main road, freshly painted houses and business, streets clean and yards tidy. It is looking the best I recall in 15-20 years of visiting this place. The bay is chock full of boats. We stop at the Abaco Inn and notice it has been spruced up and has a large deck out front. This is a terrific spot on Elbow Cay; it is on the crest of the island with views of the Atlantic beaches on east side and White Sound on the west. We’ve stayed at a cottage here with the same views; it is a beautiful spot.
We also stop at Sea Spray Resort and Marina; again it is in fine shape with many boats at the dock. I talked to the dockmaster and learned Tivoli would most likely be on the bottom at low tide so we opt out of moving the boat to Sea Spray. We stop for lunch at the Firefly resort, which is new for us. Lovely venue overlooking the Sea of Abaco. We return to town and stroll the streets with their picturesque pastel colored homes and businesses. A visit to Elbow Cay wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Mr. Vernon’s grocery for pie. Mr. Vernon’s pies are world-renown among the sailing community. Mr Vernon is also the Methodist minister in town who married us. Seems everybody here works multiple jobs. When we were here several years ago we stopped by to say hello and reminded him he married us many years previously. A man of few words he said “great, glad to see it stuck”. This time I introduced us and reminded him he married us 15 years ago; he said “great, glad to see it stuck”. I imagine he has married hundreds and needs a canned response. We stopped by Capt. Jack’s with its deck over the water and boat tenders tied up with their owners enjoying lunch. Alas, since we’d already stopped for lunch I did not get a grouper burger…the best in the islands in my humble opinion.
We returned to the marina and hiked over to the lighhouse (officially named the ”Elbow Reef Lighthouse”); via a rather convoluted route through a boat yard and a hole in a fence. One would think visiting this piece of history would be made easy but it isn’t; you get there by boat or this path from the marina. This lighthouse is one of the last remaining manually operated lighthouses in the world. It was built by the English to keep ships off Elbow Cay reef, much to the dismay of the local “salvagers” that would prey upon hapless vessels aground on the reef. We climbed the 102 steps to the top for the best view of this little piece of paradise. The lighthouse was built in 1836 and is still operating. It is lit by pressurized kerosene and a mantle much like a Coleman lantern. The 8000 pound light floats on an oil bath and is rotated every 15 seconds by weights that must be hoisted to the top by the lighthouse keeper every 2 hours. The Fresnel lens projects the beam 17 miles out to sea. After many photos we head back to the marina for Deanna’s fine cooking and Mr. Vernon’s Key Lime pie on Tivoli; very nice.
Next day Jim rents a 20 foot Albury (locally built boat) and we tour the area by water. We hoped to run down to Sandy Cay but the waters were rough past Lubbers Quarters so we turned back. We entered White Sound and stopped again at the Abaco Inn. I was intent on sampling a Pina Colada. We, and Don and Linda Rooker, had spent many an hour sampling Pina Coladas at every spot on the island many years ago and determined that the Abaco Inn version was by far the best. Sad to say, things have changed. While still better than others we’ve tested this trip, it was not as good as we remembered. Fortunately, I think Don has the recipe so hopefully it isn’t lost to posterity.
After lunch we took the Albury over to Man-O-War Cay. We toured the lovely harbor from one end to the other and also strolled down Queen’s Highway; a very grand name for a small golf cart street. But, it is at least concrete and smooth the entire way. Stopped at the renowned canvas shop as well and marveled at the prices…didn’t buy a thing. Headed back to HopeTown after a lovely day enjoying the runabout.
We had intended to take Tivoli and anchor out near Tahiti Beach but the weather wasn’t cooperating; strong westerlies were predicted making that anchorage there a lee shore. So we stayed in HopeTown another night…tough duty but somebody has to do it. We tune into CruisersNet each morning at 8:15 on VHF channel 16 to get the latest weather, crossing conditions, passage conditions, local happenings and cruiser news. We also tend to use barometerbob.org for the same weather data if WiFi is available.
Next day we departed at high tide, bound for Treasure Cay; about 18 miles north. Deanna and I had marveled at the beautiful beach there and wanted Jim to see it. Of course, it was overcast when we arrived and the colors were not nearly as spectacular as we had seen. We enjoyed lunch at the Coco Beach Bar and Grill and then walked the beach. Later in the day the clouds lifted and we returned for a proper view.
Thursday we ran back to Marsh Harbor. As we were leaving the Treasure Cay marina the bow thrusters failed. These were worked on at Palm Beach so I’m wondering if there is a connection. This will likely cut short our stay in the Bahamas as we will need to get the thruster fixed before heading north for hurricane season and we’ve learned the hard way that any such project will take longer than anticipated. Always something.
While enroute to Marsh Harbor we are humming along nicely, all is well. Deanna is down in the galley and she shouts “OMG…there is water on the galley floor” – in a panicked sort of way. I trust my blood pressure shot up a point or two as well. Jim runs down to the galley and soon I hear laughter. I assume this means we are not sinking. We had chosen to store a few bottles of wine in the dishwasher (of all things) since we don’t use it for washing dishes and the racks nicely house a number of bottles. What we didn’t anticipate was that the contents could get hot. Several bottles had blown their corks and the “water on the floor” was Chardonnay. Deanna then spent quite some time cleaning up. Not sure but I think she scooped one glass out of the dishwasher into the sink and the next into her mouth until she finished the job. Fortunately, they were not expensive bottles of wine. Live and learn!
Arrival in Marsh Harbor was uneventful. Though I was somewhat concerned docking without bow thrusters the wind was light and the docking went smoothly. We pulled in and tied up without a hitch. The new steering pump has had a remarkable effect on my ability to maneuver the boat; much improved given the quicker response times.
We lounge around the afternoon; have a lovely lunch at Wally’s across the street, and enjoy another beautiful sunset up on the boat deck. We are surprised to note the number of boats in Marsh Harbor had dropped precipitously in a week. Good weather undoubtedly led many to depart and make the crossing back to the States. Several cold fronts are moving through so crossings may be limited for a few days.
Jim left Friday morning and we were sorry to see him go. We had a blast showing him around. It was also great to be back in the Abacos on our own boat and relive the many wonderful experiences we’ve had here. A great place and a great shake-down cruise for Tivoli and crew!