What to Expect from a Sailing Holiday in Abacos Post Hurricane

White sand beach in Abacos

Abacos, Bahamas is renowned for being a sailor’s paradise with a 120-mile-long island chain of unspoiled natural beauty situated southeast of Florida in the Caribbean. However, in September 2019, the north-eastern Bahamas was battered by Category 5 Hurricane Dorian, the most powerful storm to have ever hit the Bahamas and one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record. Shortly after this natural disaster, the Bahamas was faced with another crisis – COVID-19.

Despite a turbulent 2 years, the Abacos infrastructure is now restored and operational, and the Bahamas is allowing travelers into the island (must abide by entry requirements and rules) with restaurants, bars, and activities open for business.  

Sunsail’s return to this extremely popular destination is a rewarding and exciting development, and we can’t wait to welcome back guests in August 2022. 

So what can you expect from a sailing holiday in Abacos now? Well, let's find out. 

Where is Abaco?

Great Abaco is the second-largest island in the Bahamas located 55 miles north of Nassau, the capital of Bahamas, and 175 miles east of Florida’s Palm Beach. The Abacos are comprised of two main islands: Great Abaco and Little Abaco, with multiple cays just off the mainland. The Abacos and its cays cover over 130 square miles of water. 

Great Abaco is home to the capital, Marsh Harbour, and Sunsail’s new base – Abaco Beach Resort.

Abacos Lighthouse

When did the Hurricane hit the Abacos?

Category 5 Hurricane Dorian swept over the Abacos on September 1st, 2019, focusing largely on Elbow Cay and the commercial hub, Marsh Harbour, before making its way west to Great Bahama. The severity and intensity of the hurricane caused mass destruction, lingering over land for 48 hours destroying thousands of homes in the northwest islands of the Abacos and Great Bahama. The winds went from 185mph up to gusts of 220mph and waves were more than 20ft. Not only did this tragic storm wipe out the Abacos Islands, suffering around 87% of the damage, it also caused deaths and hundreds of missing persons.

Are the Abacos recovered from Hurricane Dorian?

As a nation that depends on tourism - its biggest economy accounting for half of the country’s GDP - attracting travelers back into the Bahamas is key to the continued recovery of the islands. 

With Dorian causing visitor numbers to drop, Bahamas had to then face COVID-19 causing visitors to disappear altogether, slowing down recovery.

Even with the continuous challenges, Abaconians are resilient with the drive and focus to rebuild better and encourage travelers back to the islands. The easing of Covid restrictions has brought about significant progress with the reconstruction of the Abacos, including the docks at Elbow Cay which are better designed to withstand storms, as well as the re-opening of restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, inns, dive, and fishing sites, which follow covid-19 rules such as social distancing and mask-wearing. In addition, airlines have added more flights, meaning tourism is on an upward trajectory once again. Currently, there are direct flights out of Miami, West Palm Beach, and Ft. Lauderdale, with American Airlines, Bahamas Air, and Silver Airways. Delta is to commence direct service out of Atlanta on June 6th, 2022.

What to expect from a Sunsail Sailing Charter in the Abacos Now?

We are excited to welcome guests to our new Sunsail base, Abaco Beach Resort located in Marsh Harbour, which re-opened in November 2020. Boat Harbour, the resort's marina has had a complete rebuild of its 200 slips, and is twofold, via North Bar Channel to the Southeast and North Man o’ War channel to the Northeast. The latter of the two is preferred and recommended channel as it is the deepest and widest. The resort is located just five minutes from the Leonard M. Thompson International Airport and is only a 50-minute plane ride from Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach.

In addition, the hotel has undergone a renovation of its 94 guest rooms, suites, and residential areas, with hurricane-proof windows fitted throughout the resort. There are also multiple amenities including showers, toilets, free Wi-Fi, ATM, fuel station, dive shop, hotel, restaurants, and bars, two pools, white sand beach, non-motorized water sports, and 24-hour security and front desk team. 

On arrival, feel free to explore Marsh Harbour, or chill out at one of the restaurants at Abaco Beach Resort. The Bistro offers indoor and outdoor dining with a view of the beach and ocean, where you can enjoy Bahamian traditional cuisine. There is also the Pool Bar and Terrace which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  

You may also want to head to the grocery stores to stock up on provisioning before setting off for the week. The closest and largest supermarket within walking distance (15-20 minutes) to the base is Maxwell’s. You can also get a 10-minute taxi to Abaco Groceries. There are smaller provisioning stores too such as Jimmy’s liquor store, Vernon’s Groceries (renowned for homemade pies), and Calypso coffee house with specialist coffee to get you ready for the day. We plan to launch the pre-provisioning through Shopify soon and will keep you updated when this is available.

We have put together a new 7-day itinerary, which showcases the best parts of the Abacos currently, taking into consideration the re-opening and reconstruction – this can be viewed here

Sailing in Abacos

The sailing conditions have not changed and still offer easy line-of-sight sailing coupled with warm, gentle trade winds (between 5-20 knots). More experienced sailors would enjoy the winter months where there are stronger northwesterly winds.

What are the Abacos famous for?

The Abacos are famous for the gentle sailing experience, making it the perfect destination for families or for those starting out in their sailing journey. As the Bahamas is home to a quarter of the Earth’s coral, the Sea of Abaco is a playground for divers who can experience the famous dive sites including the Abacos Train Wreck, the USS Adirondack, or the Tongue of the Ocean.

Each Abacos Island and Cay on our 7-day itinerary is unique and offers something different for sailors to experience and learn about:

  • Great Guana Cay, a 7-mile-long narrow islet is small however renowned for its 5-mile-long white sand beach, where you can experience sensational swimming, snorkeling, and diving. Stop off at the lively Grabbers Bar & Grill for traditional, delicious food and try out the famous Bahamian cocktail, Goombay Smash.
  • Manjack Cay is home to the healthiest reefs in the Abacos with an array of marine life. Amongst the mangroves, you will discover an abundance of turtles, stingrays, and nursing sharks – go at high tide to get the best experience.
  • Named after the many green turtles found in this area, Green Turtle Cay is known for its picturesque colonial architecture. On the Atlantic side, along with stunning beaches, you will find the village of New Plymouth, which was originally settled by the loyalists who migrated to the island after the American Revolution in the 1770s. By the 1800s, it grew into the second-largest city in the Bahamas.
  • We can’t forget to mention swimming with pigs in The Bahamas, which is a bucket list item and are based at No Name Cay, a short trip south from Green Turtle Cay.

Swimming Pigs in Abacos

  • Hope Town, Elbow Cay is where one of the most recognizable landmarks in the country lies - the candy-striped lighthouse with stunning panoramic views. Originally residents were opposed to this being built in the 1860s as it was seen as a threat to the wrecking trade. However, this landmark is now loved by the community.
  • The picturesque oasis Little Harbour was founded by the famous artist Randolph Johnston and his wife Margot in 1951 and has since become a remote artists’ colony. Many people visit the Johnston’s Art Gallery & Foundry, as well as Pete’s Pub, an open-air beach bar serving fresh fish and creative rum cocktails – well worth the visit! If you have time, dive into the world-famous blue holes to the northwest of Little Harbour and explore the unique submarine landscape. 
  • Man-O-War Cay is the boat-building capital in The Bahamas, with the newer generation of boat builders replacing the traditional wooden vessels with fiberglass boats. Head to Albury’s Sail Shop or Joes Studio to see the residents' craftwork such as wood carvings, sailing dinghies, and canvas items. The island is full of Albury’s, where their family name goes back to the 1820s – they operate many family-owned businesses found on this cay. 

Despite ongoing reconstruction and recovery, there is still so much to see and do whilst on your sailing vacation in the Abacos. Bahamians have done a fantastic job in recovery so far with the re-opening of many businesses ready to welcome tourists. And of course, the sailing conditions remain world-class leaving you with amazing memories and experiences that will last a lifetime – discover more about Abacos sailing charters here.

View the entry requirements to the Bahamas here. We do also advise that you check with your airline on COVID-19 restrictions too.

Author Name: 
Caroline Barbour
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