Cruising the Abacos: Green Turtle Cay to Man-O-War Cay

July 18th: We lazed on the morning at our Manjack Cay anchorage, finally securing the dinghy to the upper deck, preparing the boat, and raising the anchor to leave about 11:00. It was a little bittersweet leaving, but we knew we would be back and wanted to see more of this beautiful country.

Leaving Manjack Cay

We cruised just 4-5 miles south to Green Turtle Cay, anchoring just north of Joyless Point (not sure why it is called that, but whatever). We were hailed by a catamaran that had anchored behind us – a family of five came toward us in their dinghy – they are from Westminster, CO – right by where we used to live! It was great to meet them and hear about their adventures and marvel that in all this space we would run into a family that lived about 10 miles from us back in Colorado.

After we got the dinghy in the water, we cruised over to the town of New Plymouth to explore the historical area of Green Turtle Cay. The people here are very resilient, and are working every day to rebuild their town from the destruction of Hurricane Dorian two years ago. It is shocking to see the bulldozing power of a hurricane in its aftermath – buildings flattened, roofs ripped off, palm trees still standing, but with no palm tops to them. The marinas are open, and there are several resorts that are open for business, and most of the flora has grown back. Still. The damage is extensive and these people are amazing in their hard-work and positive attitude to build their home back even better than before.

Taking the dinghy for a cruise into town of New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay

On the 19th, we went back into town (most everything was closed the day before as it was Sunday). Neil bought some tremendous baked goods at “The Daily Bread” bakery, and we hit two grocery stores, picking up some fresh produce (and guava jam, because, well, it’s guava jam). We wandered the various streets (which are basically cement slabs – everyone drives golf carts or 4 wheelers, with very few actual cars or trucks around – there just isn’t room for them). We walked around a large vessel – the Bahama Seas – that was pushed up onto the seawall during the hurricane. There is an interesting sculpture garden memorial dedicated to the “American Loyalists” (a new term for Kathleen), the original immigrants to these islands. These settlers were loyal to King George and Great Britain and it was interesting to read “the other side” of the Revolutionary War. The people who came here left everything (or had it confiscated by the rebels when they beat the British). Some had traveled first to Florida, but ended up leaving when the Spanish got that land in a settlement. Many of the immigrants were freed slaves (the memorial stated that the British guaranteed the freedom of any slaves who sided with them), and they made their homes here alongside the loyalists. Hurricanes, lack of arable land, and just very rough conditions caused many to leave, but obviously, many also stayed, and created the Bahamas. There wasn’t any mention of indigenous peoples already here …

Memorial garden for America loyalists and key figures in Bahamas history
Bahamas Seas wreck in New Plymouth harbour

We lunched at Two Shorty’s, a nice food stand, where we had hoped to get conch (Bill and Leslie swore that it was the best in the Bahamas), but they didn’t have any on the day’s menu. We settled for roast chicken, which was an excellent substitute. Back at the boat after the day’s excursions, we had a leisurely swim, they settled down for a nap (for Neil) and this blog update (for Kathleen). A thunderstorm is off to the west right now, and we plan a quiet evening before hoisting anchor again tomorrow to sally forth to Great Guana Cay.

Another gorgeous Bahamas sunset

On July 20th, we left Green Turtle Cay mid-morning for an easy 14 mile ride to Great Guana Cay. We went “outside” for a bit, but honestly, there was very little to no difference between the Sea of Abaco and the Atlantic Ocean. As we were nearing Great Guana Cay, we spied our first “super yacht” of the trip, coming up from behind us. These huge vessels are luxury in the extreme, and fun to spy as they pass us. The north end of Guana Cay appears to be an area for the well-heeled, with huge estates and private beaches in some areas. We happily anchored not far off the beach, with brisk winds and some less than perfectly steady seas. Neil dove the anchor to be sure that it had dug in. The ocean surface here is often lots of grass with spots of open sand. Grass is not as easy for our anchor truly dig into as mud or soft sand, but so far, we’ve held fast at each anchorage. We snorkeled around the boat, spying several conch, tropical fish, and the ever-present barracuda… They are rather imposing fish, with their teeth and all, but seem very relaxed about us swimming in their areas… so far!

Anchored in Bakers Bay off Great Guana Cay
Swimming with Barracuda

The next morning we got up and breakfasted, lowered the dinghy, and took a ride around the point to the Atlantic side of the cay. We had read that there was some pretty awesome snorkeling among the reefs not far off the shore. After two tries, we successfully anchored the dinghy in sand bottom near the reefs, and went for a swim.

These reefs are magnificent – so full of color. Hundreds of tropical fish, ranging from less than an inch to a couple of feet, in every color of the rainbow. Coral of all types and colors, along with beautiful fans and sea plants everywhere. We took a lot of footage with the GoPro, while marveling that this whole world was just a few feet under us as we cruised around. After about an hour of playing, we got back into the dinghy and came back to our anchorage. The weather all day was on and off showers, which really was not a bad thing as it a) cleaned the salt off of the boat, and b) cooled the air. The breezes are a wonderful respite in this rather hot and humid time of year.

Anchored dinghy near coral reefs on the Atlantic side of Great Guana Cay

Neil took advantage of a break between rains to try out our hookah dive system – it allows underwater breathing using a regulator, many many feet of tubing, and a compressor. It was a successful test and we plan to use it while cleaning the bottom of the boat in the coming weeks

After enjoying refreshing Cosmo cocktails, dinner was on the light side, fruit salad and hummus with tortillas, but a million dollar view, enjoyed from our forward deck. We got chased inside by yet another thunderstorm, but were rewarded a few minutes later by a huge full, end-to-end rainbow. We really do feel that we have found our pot of gold. Tomorrow, we’re off to Man-O-War Cay for more reef snorkeling….

Nap time under a rainbow

We took a leisurely run down to Man-O-War Cay, as it was only 10 miles away. The day was nice and the wind light, which boded well for a smooth cruise. The trip itself was easy and uneventful, anchoring, well, not so much. It took us three tries, which is never a lot of fun. Our first drop (which set really well) would have been perfect, except for our anchor chain laying right over a power line which is definitely a no-no. So after Neil dove the anchor and saw this (the power line was noted on our charts that Kathleen had somehow missed seeing), we successfully raised anchor and moved a bit farther south. Our second drop was also pretty good, more sea grass than the first, but still ok. Neil dove the anchor again, and this time swam past a clothes dryer and pieces of an outboard motor, not ideal as we did not want to foul the chain when the boat moved with wind and current (although Neil reported that the fish really liked the dryer as a makeshift beginnings of a reef…). Finally, our third attempt was a success! We were both pretty tired after this foray, and after lunch decided that naps were in order. Kathleen jumped in to do a bit of snorkeling later, and then we had cocktails on the upper deck, watching another magnificent sunset and moon rise.

Kathleen swimming laps around the boat

We had a couple of reasons for coming to Man-O-War – the town sounded intriguing, but mostly it was to follow a recommendation from our friends Doug and Sue for some of the best snorkeling in the Bahamas at Fowl Cay (which is 2 miles north of our anchorage at Man-O-War Cay). After a good night’s rest and breakfast the next morning, we launched the dinghy and headed over to the reef. Fowl Cay is a land and sea reserve, with acres (miles?) of reefs teeming with life. We anchored the dinghy in sand bottom, with Kathleen very happily volunteering to dive the anchor (you could see it from the dinghy itself, but always a good thing to do!). The water was jump-in perfect temperature.

This was one of the most beautiful places we have ever been – not just the Bahamas, but anywhere. There were so many fish of every color, with neon-seeming glows, schooling, playing, eating, plants and corals of every shape and size, perfectly clear water. We saw a beautiful ray swimming with another fish when we first jumped in. He (she?) settled into the sand to watch us, and let Kathleen get a little close before eyeing her with what seemed to be a “God, I hate these tourists” look, and gently flew away in the water. The fish here were much less skittish of us, and seemed to like swimming almost with us (Neil made a couple of attempts to swim with schools that seemed to be either trailing him or just off to the side – he never completely got into the middle, but came close). After about an hour, Neil decided to rest topside on the dinghy, while Kathleen continued to explore. As soon as she had turned the GoPro over to Neil and went back under, she saw a sting ray (far enough away to admire and not be afraid of), many more fish (some small electric blue ones that seemed to be very curious now that she wasn’t holding a beeping camera), and five small floating sea creatures that she thinks may have been some type of juvenile cephalopod (not sure what baby octopi look like, but these had a large eye, were about 6-8” long swimming together, and one bravely squirted ink to scare her off.)

When our kids were little, we would take them to the Denver Aquarium, a beautiful place to go, where you could walk through clear tunnels and see various sealife all around. As cool as that was, we always thought about how fun it would be to be actually swimming with the fishes. That’s what this excursion was like – swimming in an aquarium. It is not an experience we will soon forget, and hopefully we will be back here again.

After having too much fun on the reefs, we cruised back to our boat, rinsed off, had lunch and relaxed as a storm or two rolled through. Later in the afternoon, around 4:00, we took the dinghy into the Man-O-War Cay harbour. Here is where we could see the real destruction of Dorian. The area had obviously previously been a very cute, thriving area, with homes and businesses on both sides of the narrow harbor. The storm had ruined so much – homes, all the docks, and so many boats. Lots of sailboats were demasted, and appeared to have just been left behind, creating a boat graveyard feel to the area. The main marina dock was new and open, so we tied up there to walk the area. Man-O-War has a long history, a small community with a strong spiritual commitment (no alcohol is sold on the island, all shops close at 5:00, and nothing is open on Sundays. Also, according to our Bahamas Waterway Guide, 70% of the residents can trace their ancestry back to the first Albury settler… not sure how that worked, but suffice it to say it’s a close-knit community.). There is a long history of boat building here, with people from the US bringing their boats here for work. The craftsmen on the island were (are) renowned not only for their high quality boats, but for canvas sail-making. Sail-making has morphed into including canvas bags and hats, which are easier for most tourists to buy.

Town on Man-O-War Cay, looking down to the harbour

We visited the grocery market here, and were amazed at how well stocked it was. We picked up some fresh produce (as well as Raisin Bran for Neil – there is another box somewhere on the boat, but neither of us can remember where we put it – oh well.) Our purchases completed, we went back to the dinghy, carefully nosing our way out the north entrance to the marina (that runs lower than one foot in places.) The winds were picking up, and the evening was cloudy, stormy, threatening-looking clouds looming. We went to bed, having learned to try to keep an ear out for any trouble (like heavy rains as we had open port holes and hatches to improve wind flow, or the anchor alarm going off to indicate that the winds had won over our anchor.) Kathleen awoke in the early hours to an impressive lightning and thunderstorm, but easily fell back asleep – only to realize later that the rain had come in the front hatch – luckily, that is in the guest shower, so no damage.

July 24th: The winds were between 15-20 knots, which is stiff, and the clouds were continuing to look like they were ready to drop buckets on us at any moment. As the water in the anchorage is shallow, the waves weren’t huge (2-3 feet), but they were causing us to rock more than usual. We watched the weather forecasts, and when it looked like there was a slight break (very slight) we worked quickly to get the dinghy up with the davit (loads of grins and giggles when the boat is rocking, the dinghy is heaving next to the boat, and a harness has to be secured to both the dinghy and the davit – good times). We were successful in getting the dinghy loaded without causing any damage to anything or ourselves – no small feat. Once that was done, we quickly got the boat ready to leave, raised anchor, and sailed back north to Orchid Bay Marina, located at the southern part of Great Guana Cay. We made good time with the winds almost off the stern, and after circling the area to see if the most recent clouds would move off (they did – a bit!), we radioed the marina for our slip assignment. We were not terribly encouraged when Neil asked about the conditions in the marina (it is protected by a rock jetty) and was told succintly that conditions were “sloppy”. However, once we got into the marina area, the winds decreased significantly. We had a very able dockhand, and with Kathleen calling out directions and Neil manouvering Granuaile into the slip, we secured with no bumps and no scrapes. The marina had water (yea!) for 35 cents a gallon – so we were able to fill up our water tanks (300 gallons), and Kathleen went to work washing clothes and sheets and towels and anything else that needed a bath after two weeks. The inside of the boat got washed, vacuumed, wiped, and scoured – it felt good to get things cleaned up again. There was a great party boat docked near us, with great music and a fun group on board. After laughing with them a bit, we walked to Grabbers, an outdoor bar/restauraunt/B&B – pretty much the only restaurant/bar that is still open on this end of the island. We had a nice meal, and wonderful frozen rum punches while watching the sunset. There was a legendary place called Nippers, that looked crazy fun (two-level swimming pool? Pig roasts? Tiki bar and semi-annual Barefoot Man concerts…) – unfortunately, it was lost completely to Dorian, with very little of the structure remaining – and Kathleen REALLY wanted to see the two-level pool…

Docked at Orchid Bay Marina on Great Guana Cay
Orchid Bay Marina had been destroyed by hurricane Dorian in 2019. Around half the slips have been rebuilt.
Grabbers Bar & Grille located on beach off Fishers Bay, Great Guana Cay

The next day involved more boat maintenance, and Kathleen made some bread (she has to have Gluten Free and that’s not a thing here), did more laundry, and polished all of the stainless steel on the superstructure (railings, grills, caps, staples – anything stainless) – much had been beaten up by the salt showers from cruising, and needed a bit of elbow grease to remove marks and beginnings of rust, and then polished with wax to protect all of it again. When our chores were completed, we walked to the Atlantic side, to a beautiful beach and swam in the shallows enjoying the magnificent clear waters and small fish that shared the area with us. More storms looked to be coming in, so we walked back to our dock, had evening cocktails and enjoyed some shrimp and andouilla sausage gumbo (we may be roughing it, but we’re not savages…).

Atlantic side beach, a short walk through town from Orchid May Marina

Next we head to Tiloo Cay, then south to Eleuthera …

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