25 Marsh Harbour, Abaco


The water clarity changed as we sailed into Marsh Harbour (British spelling). It was still bright blue, but you could no longer see bottom even though it was only 2 feet under the keel. As the locals indicated, there was a lot of local pollution from sewage both from the land, and from the boats pumping out into the harbor. We still use our holding tank and pump it out once we go out of a harbor. Pollution wasn’t real bad, but you really didn’t want to go in the water unless you had to. We found an open spot among the maybe 100 boats anchored out and dropped the anchor.

At 8:15AM every day the Cruiser Net goes on the air on VHF 68. It’s very popular. Most cruisers within radio range listen. Weather, new arrivals, cruisers leaving, cruisers looking for other boats, general discussion and general announcements all take place in about a half-hour. We announced our arrival and soon had made contact with many of the boats we had met and cruised with on the ICW.

Marsh Harbour has maybe 3,000 people in the immediate town area and is the biggest town in the Abaco’s. It’s a good place to resupply, but lacks the charm and character of places like Green Turtle Cay (Cay is pronounced Key). We dinked ashore and went off on a quest to find a place to send e-mail. Both the local marina and telephone company indicated we couldn’t send e-mail because the phone lines weren’t set up for computer access. We knew from our voice calls that the lines are very noisy and many times didn’t work. The Phone Company did refer us to one of their technicians who they though had some way to fake out the system. In three days of trying, we never could catch up with him. We kept scrounging and finally talked the local tourist information office into letting us try their fax line. We paid for the call and managed to get the computer connected at 2400 baud, normally were at 9600 baud or higher. Chapter 24 of the journal went out at a very slow transmission rate.

One afternoon we tried lunch from the station wagon lady. She parks her station wagon along the side of the road each day. No visible advertising, just her station wagon with the back filled with pots of hot food. Word of mouth generates her business. She stays until she sells out, usually in a couple of hours. She serves her hot lunches into Styrofoam containers, leaning into the open tailgate window to dish up a lunch of rice, macaroni, cold slaw and your choice of chicken, fish, or pork chops. We got our lunches and walked down to the waterfront to enjoy our excellent $6.00 lunches sitting on a rock overlooking the harbor.

A series of fronts went through. They brought winds, rain and cool weather for the area. However, the temperature went up into the 70’s every day, and we always wore shorts. While the locals complained about the coolness, we thought the weather was comfortable.

After a week, the weather improved. The wind moved to the northeast blowing 15-20 mph. We couldn’t resist going sailing and took off for Treasure Cay joining Eriskay who was also itchy to see new territory. With our big genoa up and full main sail, we were overpowered. The lee rail was underwater and Ruth was having difficulty holding course. Ruth handles the helm. I’m the deck crew. I went to work on reefing the genoa and we soon had Tranquility back under control and moving at hull speed with the rail back out of the water. We were both delighted in having our first great sail since October in the Chesapeake.

The Bahamas does not have a Coast Guard. Buoys are rare and the charts are incomplete regarding accurate information about depths. We used the aerial photograph next to the chart and the written description indicating we should steer a compass course for a white house and turn once we could see a bush in the front yard to get into the harbor entrance.

Treasure Cay is a study in contrasts. Someone dumped large amounts of money into developing the harbor a number of years ago. Looked like they expected to develop a large community of shore front homes, condos and a major resort area. The lots didn’t sell and 95% of the land is still vacant. There’s a small resort and a marina. What we found was a nice small anchorage in the outer harbor. We dropped the hook in crystal clear water in the company of just 3 other boats.

Exploring ashore we found the beach on the other side of the island that extends in a beautiful 3-mile crescent. Spent the late afternoon walking the beach. We decided to stay awhile. Eriskay, our traveling companions for the last few weeks shoved off the next morning to explore some of the other Cays. We spent a number of delightful days exploring the area both on foot and by dink. Found the local bakery and treated ourselves to yet a new variety of homemade bread.

The weather forecast talked about an intense low just north of the Abaco’s. Gale warnings were up for parts of the Atlantic. Just after dark one evening, the winds from the low hit the harbor. The winds were never under 20 mph. We learned later that gusts of 48 mph had been recorded by cruisers in a near by harbor. Using visual bearings to lights on shore, and the tracking feature of the GPS, we confirmed the anchor was holding. However, Tranquility was dancing like crazy at the end of the anchor line. We’d swing through an arc of 90 degrees. It was like riding on a giant swing at the end of the 70 feet of anchor line we had deployed. There would be a moment of stillness as Tranquility paused at one end of the arc. Then you could feel the acceleration as the boat began the swing to the other side only to pause, reverse direction and begin the swing back. Each swing took a few minutes. Perfectly safe, but always giving you the feeling the boat was moving. We rode out the night on our giant swing, getting up a number of times to confirm that we were indeed just swinging and not dragging. Made for a long night.

We took advantage of the anchorage to do some of the routine things boats required. Ruth used the dink as a base to clean the sides and wash the growth from the waterline. I put on fins, mask and snorkel and gave the bottom its first cleaning since we had launched 9 months ago. Four fish, about a foot long kept me company. I think I was their afternoon’s entertainment. They’d watch from 3-4 feet away and seemed to be very curious. Followed me the entire time I was down.

“Urgent message for Tranquility, call Steve Gillespie immediately” came over the Cruiser Net. We acknowledged the message and headed for shore to confirm what the logic of my brain was trying to convince the emotion of my heart had happened. My heart wanted desperately to win, but lost. My dad had died. We motored back to Marsh Harbour, found a dock, and 2 hours later we were on a plane heading for Detroit.

The funeral is over, we’ve taken care of personal items and we’ll head back shortly to resume our life afloat. The sense of loss will always be there.


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