I had a great experience last weekend taking the Tiki 30 Abaco over to the Bahamas for David Halladay, the builder and owner. The adventure began Thursday, with a long delay in the Houston airport that kept me from reaching the boat until almost dark that evening. There was no time to relax, as we had to quickly get stores and fuel on board and get underway as soon as possible. At around 11:00 pm, David Crawford and I untied the lines and motored out of Lake Worth Inlet on a course slightly south of east, heading for the Gulf Stream crossing and the islands beyond.
The wind was on the nose, coming right out of the east-southeast, but was light and in the right direction to not kick up the seas in the Gulf Stream. Predictably, the mightiest ocean current in the world swept us inexorably to the north, but the reliable little 8-hp Yamaha that is Abaco's auxiliary allowed us to make up for the set as we angled our way across on a course that looked like a big curving arch. By mid-morning Friday, we were out of the main current and some 10-15 miles west of the tip of Grand Bahama Island. We corrected our course to aim for the north end of the Berry Islands, and slowly passed the long westernmost arm of Grand Bahama without ever seeing land.
Ship traffic in the Gulf Stream had been fairly constant through the previous night, requiring a careful watch at all times. Sightings of other vessels became fewer and father between once we had passed Grand Bahama Island and laid a course through the Northwest Providence Channel for Little Stirrup Cay, in the Berries.
The headwind against us increased in strength through Friday afternoon and evening, slowing our motoring progress from 5.5 - 6 knots to about 4.5 at times. But there was nothing we could do but press on under power. There was no time to fall off on a course we could sail and beat to windward, as our goal was to reach Nassau by mid-day Sunday, allowing plenty of time to make the boat shipshape for her next crew.
We reached the lee of Little Stirrup Cay by 10:00 pm and by 11:00 we were anchored just outside the cut that leads into Bullock's Harbor on Great Harbor Cay. At daybreak, we picked up the anchor and motored into the harbor, where we waited to clear customs and immigration at Great Harbor Cay Marina. The marina was laid back and quiet, with few other boats and lots of empty slips. The Bahamian officials did not even bother walking down the dock to look at the boat before granting us our clearance and cruising permit. With our Bahamian courtesy flag now flying from the starboard shrouds, we moved around to the fuel dock near the entrance to the harbor and replenished the gasoline we had burned in the crossing.
Leaving Great Harbor Marina, we were able to sail for a few miles as we rounded to the north of Little Stirrup and Great Stirrup Cays. Once back on course to the southeast on the east side of the Berries, the motor was once again needed to assist as we tacked back and forth along the chain, staying as close inshore as possible to avoid the chop that so quickly slows down the boat when beating to weather. Our long tacks took us in and out over the clear, reef-strewn waters off islands such as Market Fish Cays and Hoffman's Cay, in the photo below.
We reached Little Harbor Cay by mid-afternoon, and since we had some time to kill and not enough time to get to Nassau in the daylight that day, we ducked inside between Little Harbor and Frozen Cay, and then entered the well-protected anchorage between Frozen and Alder Cays. This was a place I had long wanted to revisit, having spent several days there cruising with the Olsen family on the schooner Whisper, while on my Caribbean kayak trip 21 years ago. I remembered it as an isolated and idyllic tropical island anchorage, but it has changed since I was last there. The beaches lined with coconut palms are still there, and the water is still air clear, but several modern houses and docks have been built on both Frozen and Alder Cays. Below is a view of the approach to the anchorage, a house and dock visible to the right on Alder Cay. The water here is impossibly clear. Depths under the boat in this photo are 16-20 feet.
When I was here around New Year's of 1989, both of the islands were completely uninhabited and undeveloped, all the beaches looking like these in the photos below:
I remember spending days here exploring the nearby islands in my kayak, snorkeling and spearfishing, and gathering green drinking nuts from the dense groves of coconut palms.
Someone has gone to great expense to build large, modern houses on tiny islands accessible only by boat. The constant sound of a generator running prompted us to leave the harbor between the cays and move around to anchor in a quieter spot off the southern tip of Alder Cay.
The next day we left Frozen Cay and the rest of the Berry Islands astern at daybreak and set out once again to motor into the wind on the final 33-nautical mile leg to Nassau Harbor. We got there just ahead of this summer thunderstorm that blew up out of nowhere just as we entered protected water.
Below, Abaco is safely docked at Nassau Yacht Haven Marina. We spent Sunday afternoon sorting her out, cleaning up, and preparing to hand her over to yacht photographer Onne van der Wahl for his trip to the Exumas.
Onne arrived with his two sons late Monday afternoon, just before David and I had to head off to the airport to catch our flight back to Florida.
Although David gave him a brief orientation on the boat, it was obvious after a few minutes of talking to him that Onne knows his way around a boat, and that he would have no trouble handling Abaco. He and his boys are bound to have a blast cruising the northern end of the Exumas in a boat so perfect for exploring these islands.