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With three seasons of cruising in The Bahamas, arriving in this part of the Abacos feels like a homecoming for us. In this article I will give an overview of the area before listing a few of our favorite places to visit.

Cruising in the Central Abacos

The Central Abacos are great a cruising ground, especially for first time visitors, less experienced cruisers, or those with limited time.

The islands are close together, navigation hazards are generally well charted and easily avoided, services are readily accessible, and there’s more than enough to see and do to fill a whole season.

While there are visible reminders of Hurricane Dorian’s devastating effects on the area, it’s largely recovered and new businesses are continually opening.

The area is safe, and the people are friendly and welcoming to cruisers. Most islands have their own grocery stores and restaurants, and fuel is available at several marinas. Cell signal is generally good, and the volunteer-run cruisers’ net (based out of Hope Town on VHF CH68 at 8:15) is a great way to find out more about local goings-on.

The following are a few places we recommend:

Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco.

Marsh Harbour is the hub of the Central Abacos, with a major airport, ferries to the islands, propane, marine services, banks and ATMs. Note that cash is king throughout this region, but there are no banks or ATMs outside Marsh Harbour, so plan ahead!

Our favorite marina is Conch Inn. You will also find lots of good restaurants here; Colors is always fun. For groceries, Maxwells is the closest we’ve found to a US grocery store in the Bahamas and it is a great spot to stock up.

Just outside the harbor is man-made snorkel spot Mermaid Reef. Anchor in clear sand and tie up to the dinghy mooring, or swim out to the reef from shore. While the reef is relatively small, it’s home to a huge variety of fish, whose vibrant colors really come through in the shallow waters.

Great Guana Cay

Great Guana Cay provides easy access to Whale Cay Cut, and between its anchorages and Orchid Bay Marina, it’s a perfect spot to wait for good conditions to round the Whale to head north or spend a first night in the Central Abaco area.

It is known for its two beach bars: Nippers with its commanding views of the Atlantic and famous Sunday pig roast, and Grabbers, where you can take in the sunset over the Sea of Abaco. Both spots have pools and beach access and are loads of fun.

Man-O-War Cay

Man-O-War is a quiet, residential island where quaint homes line its tiny streets. It’s a dry island and as of this writing, there are no full service restaurants open. Snacky Shack offers takeaway lunch/dinner, and there is a fantastic cafe attached to the heritage museum, filled with interesting artifacts from the island’s history.

For stocking up, Man-O-War Grocery is owned by the same person as Maxwells and while smaller, almost always has good a good selection on sale.

The Albury family has been building boats on the island for generations, and Albury Brothers Boats 18’ and 23’ center consoles are still built by hand here today. Wooden Abaco dinghies are also still handcrafted on the island.

While Albury’s Sail Shop no longer makes sails, their nautically-inspired bags, hats and placemats make unique gifts.

We enjoy wandering the streets and beaches or snorkeling the near-shore reefs in settled weather. Even from the dinghy, you’re likely to see turtles, starfish and rays as you head into town.

Elbow Cay

Elbow Cay is the center of the local cruising community, and Hope Town holds a special place in my heart. The sign at the harbor entrance reminds you, “Slow down, you’re in Hope Town”, and it’s advice well-heeded.

We love to walk beautiful Elbow Cay Beach on the Atlantic side, which we often have to ourselves, or anchor off the crescent shaped sandbar at Tahiti Beach. While you are there, you could wade out to the floating bar/restaurant Thirsty Cuda for lunch or an adult beverage.

Candy-striped Elbow Reef Lighthouse presides over the well-protected harbor and is the last hand-cranked kerosene fueled lighthouse in the world. Climb to the top and take in the breathtaking views.

Restaurants range from super casual to upscale with lots of options in between. On Da Beach, Captain Jacks, and Firefly are a few of our favorites, and there is great live music most weekends.

Stop by Vernon’s for groceries, fresh baked-in-house breads, pies and cinnamon rolls, and Vernon’s quirky sense of humor.

If you’re looking for gifts, there’s a variety of shops including Hope Town Canvas, Ebb Tide and the Lighthouse Gift Shop.

Little Harbour

Surrounded by limestone cliffs, Little Harbour is the last protected harbor in the Central Abacos for boats heading south. The channel is shallow, and can be treachrous when strong wind opposes currents. There are three good anchorages here: deeper draft vessels might prefer the West Anchorage. Other optsion include Little Harbour Cut (not good in rolly conditions) or Lynyard Cay.

Pete’s Pub and Gallery is a fun, funky spot well worth a visit. They feature Bahamian seafood and an ever-changing, if limited, menu along with live music and the occasional art show. The Johnston family owns both the pub and bronze foundry, where they make beautiful art pieces, many of which are on display around their property and at the gallery next to the pub.

Outside the harbor in the Bight of Old Robinson, you can dinghy to the blue hole at high tide via a creek filled with sea turtles, starfish and rays. If conditions are right, the snorkeling at the Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park about 5 miles north is supposed to be amazing (it’s still on our to-do list!).  

This is just a taste of what the Central Abacos has to offer – there are many other cays and anchorages to explore and hidden gems to be discovered. No matter where you decide to go, you can’t go wrong!

If there’s something we missed then please comment below and let us know. We’re always on the lookout for new places to explore.

By Melissa Pike

Melissa grew up on Cape Cod, MA, so the ocean was in her veins before she even knew it. She learned to sail on Long Island Sound and cruised locally for eight years before agreeing to give full-time cruising a try. She now lives and works aboard her J/46 Windara and can't imagine life any other way. Currently she's cruising the US east coast and Bahamas along with her husband Chris and cat Captain Jack Sparrow.

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