Helpful Hints on Getting to the Abacos (and back!)

This article written by Mike Houghton (Manta 42, Sunshine 6)

For those who have never sailed to Abaco, this brief should help.  Most importantly, you must have either suitable paper charts, covering the regions of east coast of Florida and The Bahamas as a whole, or of course a reasonably recent dated chart plotter. (Ray Marine, Furuno, Horizon, etc…).

We highly recommend that you purchase Steve Dodge’s “Cruising Guide to The Bahamas”  or his Chart #38A/B,  or any dated annual issue of his “Cruising Guide” ($24.95). It need not be current dated. This valuable Guide is published annually and with the exception of including the tides for the particular year you may have,  or one you purchased, it is a must. ( All are available at West Marine,, Land Fall Navigation, etc…).

No matter from where you originally depart, the 3 main approaches to the north-eastern region of the Bahamas – are referred to as the “Family” or “Out Islands” of Abaco. Here are the most direct and easiest ways to arrive  in Marsh Harbour in time for “Manta Migration 2014!”

The North Route

Step One – Departing from Fort Lauderdale or points north

  1. Coming from the north – via the shortest route across is: ‘The Stream’ – means departing West Palm Beach (Lake Worth (LWOMK) to West End (OLDBAH)- 56.1nm on 99°M) with choices whether to arrive in West End, Grand Bahama, or to continue further on to the ‘Little Bahama Bank’ before landing.  (*See notes below).
  2. Coming from  Fort Lauderdale – (Port Everglades(FTL) to West End(OLDBAH) – 68.9nm. on 236°M)  arrive West End, Grand Bahama or continue on. (*See notes below).

Note: Our preferred choice is to avoid Old Bahama Bay Marina. It is a nice facility, but it is expensive. Instead, upon departing LWOMK, set your course for a waypoint (MEMRKS N 26.55.000 W 079.06.000 2 nm. South of Memory Rock) at the edge of the Little Bahama Bank. This will help you in maintaining your speed (SOG & VMG) and reduce your crabbing angle needed to stay your course. Your next waypoint may still be either Mangrove Cay(MANGR), or Great Sale Cay. (GTSANC)

Step Two – Continue From West End

  1. Continue on to the Banks at IND1, IND2, IND3 and BARRA  to Mangrove Cay 22.2nm., (MANGR), or on to Great Sale Cay 21.4nm.  for (GTSANC)one of the best anchorages on your trip.
  2. The next day you must head out over top (north) of Great Sale on your drive eastward, you want to avoid West End Rocks, Veteran Rock, Hawksbill Cays, and continue on past Center of the World Rock to Crab Cay (CRABCY)  (west side of Crab Cay is good anchoring.)
  3. On to Marsh Harbour – The  remainder about 30nm will get you down the Sea of Abaco to the south and east and finally to Marsh Harbour. (See Note 4A below  re: Don’t Rock passage. If you do not wish to run by Don’t Rock, you must go outside Whale Cay.  (See Dodge’s Guide). There are numerous way stops along the Sea of Abaco as you can choose.  As we are only trying to get you to Marsh Harbour, we are regrettably ignoring the many ‘stops  available so as to maintain your most direct courses.

Note: The approach from Fort Lauderdale also permits you to enter the Banks at the same IND1 – BARRA group of waypoints. Proceed to Mangrove Cay for a timely anchorage. By not stopping at West End, you will save significant money and time, as the charges are simply outrageous. Especially if you have to stop for food, fuel, or dockage!

Step 3 – Checking In

The best places to ‘check in’, we suggest are at one of the convenient stops after passing Crab Cay, along the Sea of Abaco, like Spanish Cay, or our most favorite stop at Green Turtle Cay, (GTC).  Land at dinghy dock east- side right by large concrete New Plymouth Govt. Jetty.  Go up the Main street ¼ mile on right to Customs/Immigration).  Or,if preferred,  when arriving in Marsh Harbour,  anchor by the yellow building  port side of the harbor,  Marsh Harbour Marina where the Customs/Immigration folks  can be called and will come directly to the Marina.

Note: How to get through  the Don’t Rock passage without running aground!  Over 30 years sailing the Bahamas I found that most locales, but not all, sand bars have drifted (filled in) and have  re-enforced some of the previously deeper ones from weather effects or have been man-made in some cases.  The shallows of the Don’t Rock ridge though having been building to the north of that same ridge for the past 12 years, have in fact maintained pretty well the same north-south track we have used for all these years.  It is advised that you stay as close as possible to the course defined here.   In low tides immediately around Don’t Rock, there are sufficient waters for our Manta cats’ (4’+ draft).   The shallowest point of 4 ft. draft is less than 10 meters in width over a north/south pattern (Marked below.) and a long roll of built-up sand bars running southeast/northwest ¼ nm north of the shallows.  ONLY if it is dead low even with a moon tide etc.,  plan your crossing of the area at any time except just at that ‘time’- by about ½ hour.  Pelican Harbour tides are used as the Sea of Abaco tide timer.  You can rely on them in the Tables you’ll find in the 2014 Cruising Guide/Steve Dodge. Your tides and the passage will be a quick and a painless experience.


The actual movement to pass safely.

If sailing south, commence at the X northwest (WHLSW) waypoint. Proceeding further down towards Don’t Rock, you will stay to the west  and avoid the lower tide regions around 4’ to 6’.

Passing the Sand Bank Cays you will find good waters for over 300 yards. The ONLY true low tide is approximately just south of the 2 small cays. From then on the waters deepen quickly and you’re through.

Going north would be done in the same way.

The South Route

Option 1 – No Name Harbor to Bimini and on to Little Harbour via Hole in the Wall

  1. Heading for Abaco from south around, we usually depart from “No Name Harbor” on Key Biscayne (by the light at Cape Florida),  directly to Bimini 50 nm on 098°M.  Depending on wind direction, we anchor close to north end of Bimini’s north island for a quick departure in the early am to Great Stirrup Cay (80 nm.) on 85°M,  and slip around to the northeast on our approach to enter the far east end of the bay(N 25.59.000 /  W078.58.400), and moor in by Goat Cay.
  2. Next day, it will be important to Start early (first light in April is about 5:30 am.) Sailing from Bimini to Hole In The Wall lighthouse (HOLEWL  N25.50.000 / W 077.09.000)  to the southernmost point of Great Abaco will be 40 nm. at  086°M, then turning north to the desired entrance to Little Harbour  (OFFLHB N26.18.971 / W076.58.858)for a further 29.6nm. on a course of 029°M . You really should strive to make the Little Harbour entrance in daylight. Not difficult,  about 70 yds. wide, and the white light standing  is still out.  Little Harbour puts you in to the Bight of Abaco – easy sailing from here.
  3. Day Three is 19nm to Marsh Harbour. It is advised that you have your course charted for MHM as one must be attentive to 1. Tilloo Cay, 2. the passage around the east side of Great Abaco (see Boat Harbour Marina), 3. up and around Sugar Loaf Cay, 4. Matt Lowe’s Cay and then 5. straight on 268°M passing  past the green Marker at Fanny Bay, as well as the second green, then Marsh Harbour. Anchor well into the harbor.

Option 2 – Abaco via Nassau

  1. Proceed to Nassau
  2. Leaving  Nassau for north bound, the simplest route to Little Harbour is a 2 day sail.
    1. Day #1 is: – 23.8nm. The overnight anchorage can be made by setting your course to the west end of Eleuthera by Royal Island. (EGG REEF (N25.31.002  / W 076.55.031). for a safe anchorage near by.
    2. Day #2 –53.3nm. Depart the next morning by coming back around Egg Island and head directly north for the Little Harbour (on 003°M) entrance as above  (shown in 3A above.)  The actual entrance waypoint for Little Harbour is (N26.23.41 / W 076.58.47) going in on 295°M .

Worried about getting to Abaco on your own? We can help. Introducing the Manta Mentor Program. Buddy Boating and On Board assistance may be available.

We sincerely hope this information will be of help for anyone wishing to sail to Abaco  in safety and comfort.

I will be only too happy to answer any questions you may have.

Telephone: 1-905-607-7263 (anytime)

Should you phone about any question it may help if you have your Abaco chart with you. Thanks MLH.

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