Exploring the Natural Beauty of the Bahamas

 The Sea of Abaco. Photo by Molly Winans

It's chilly and a bit foggy for the start of the Annapolis NOOD Regatta today, so some of us are still dreaming about the Bahamas. Here's a nice article by Scott Elder from yesterday's Washington Post  about a catamaran charter... fun to read about it from a non-sailor's perspective:

“Make sure you hold onto something,” I say with mock seriousness to Elena as she takes her seat at the bow. “If we run aground, we could fly into the water.” She’s not a sailor — and frankly, I’m not much of one either — but she knows I’m kidding. We’ve both volunteered for lookout duty on our just-rented catamaran. We’re supposed to point out any hazards to the skipper.

As we exit Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas, I blithely take in the colorful scenery — until I catch an extremely clear (and perilously close) glimpse of the harbor floor. I advise Elena to follow me farther back on the boat and to grab a handrail, this time not joking at all.

We skirt over the shallows by about a foot and a half (the captain, my father, was anxiously watching the depth gauge) and enter the reassuringly wide open Sea of Abaco. But even in the middle of this “sea,” about a mile from the nearest shore, the depth reading stubbornly hovers around 12.5 feet. Under a high sun, the water glows a gorgeous aquamarine. To sailors, that blue-green means shallow water, and shallow water means danger.

Our knowledge of the Bahamian Abaco Islands was as shallow as their waters when my father; his girlfriend, Elena; my brother Mark; and I chose them as the destination for a week-long sailing trip. On a map (but not a nautical chart), the Abacos look like the sailing equivalent of a bunny slope. The main island, Great Abaco, and its neighboring arc of cays are separated by only a few miles, short hops compared with the long inter-island crossings we’d made during our previous three bareboat (that is, without a hired captain or crew) charters in the Caribbean.

The only time I’d visited the Bahamas before was a quick getaway to touristy Nassau, so I was eager to explore the natural beauty and culture of some far-flung Bahamian “out islands.” I also figured the quick and easy pinballing between harbors would leave me plenty of time to check two Bahamian attractions off my bucket list: swimming in a submerged sinkhole called a “blue hole” and eating conch I dove for myself.

However, during our pre-sail briefing, when the charter company staffer started talking about the tide — a nonissue in lower latitudes — and something called a “rage sea,” we realized we were in for some actual sailing...