Trailering Magazine Archives - Destinations
A Unique Trip to a Unique Place
When Elliot Free and his wife Joan first thought about taking a trip to the Abacos in their 26-ft. Grady-White, there was a pause in the conversation. But only for a moment.
"We had done it before, in 1998, in our 18' Boston Whaler center console," says Elliot, owner of a Cullman, Alabama insurance company and a longtime member of the BoatU.S. Trailering Club.
Yes, you read that right. A Boston Whaler.
"It can be made, but 18' just is not sufficient length to cross the Stream and was a major factor in our looking for and acquiring a larger boat," says Elliot. "Joan and I did not hesitate a ' New York' minute to say, 'let's go'. In fact, most of the time Joan is always on the ready - sort of like have boat, will go."
The "Stream" is the 55-milewide Gulf Stream running at about 3 knots just offshore from Lake Worth Inlet at Palm Beach, Florida. It has been described as a warm water river in the Atlantic with a current flowing to the north and flowing faster than a boater might first think.
The trip is actually an annual voyage sponsored by Edgewater Powerboats in DeLand, Florida and Hontoon Marina as a way to encourage owners of 22'-26' trailerable boats that a 170-mile crossing to Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos is doable, so long as they are smart, check the weather and have the proper equipment. During the June 2005 trip, the owner of Edgewater Powerboats traveled in a 22-foot boat built by his company. In all, a dozen Edgewaters, three Grady-Whites and five other boats carrying 80 people made the expedition. Many of those making the trip trailered their boats to Palm Beach. For the Frees, it was a 750-mile trip just to get to the water.
"As we do for all trailering trips, we checked lights, tire pressure in all tires including the spare for 65 lbs., tightened the bow-ratcheted strap in addition to the winch strap, and topped off the truck's diesel tank," says Elliot. "Our pull vehicle is a 2003 3/4-ton Chevy with the Duramax diesel engine. This handles St. Joan- a 26' Grady in yeoman's fashion. In fact, the biggest problem on the pull to and from West Palm was a place to park the rig. Diesel fuel is available most places. Our fuel economy was 10 mpg, which was OK with me considering the aluminum trailer, boat, twin 150 Yamahas, 200 gallons of gasoline, 32 gallons of water, and gear for a week all combined for a pulled weight in excess of 8,000 lbs."
When they arrived in West Palm Beach, the remnants of Tropical Storm Arlene (remember when tropical storms began with the letter "A"?) forced a one-day delay in making the crossing. St. Joan was launched at Phil Foster Park on Singer Island (arrangements had been made to keep the trailer there) and their plan was to meet the other boats by the sea buoy just south of the Lake Worth Inlet and make the crossing in two groups-ten would leave first and stay together, and then the other ten would leave and stay close. It was done for safety reasons. The seas were running between 5' and 9', making the crossing uncomfortable. "I stood or used my captain's chair as a fanny rest for the entire four-hour crossing," Elliot says. "Although I have never ridden a bull, this is what I imagine it would be like-though not as intense. We wore our PFD's the entire time. When asked, I've described those four hours this way: It was real and it was fun but it wasn't real fun."
The Gulf Stream is closest to shore at West Palm Beach (about 20 miles out) so it wasn't long before the boats entered the warmer current flowing north. "It was overcast," Elliot remembers, "and I don't think I even noticed the bright blue water of the Gulf Stream. The height of the waves, the attention to the helm and maintaining a visual contact with the other boats diverted my attention. In fact, I heard very few radio transmissions until we saw the top of the pine trees at West End in the Bahamas," (57.4 nautical miles from Palm Beach).
They cleared customs quickly and made the remaining 120 miles across the Bahama Bank to their base of operation at the Bluff House on Green Turtle Cay. The seas calmed down and made for a more comfortable second leg of the trip. Every evening the boaters met at the marina's restaurant for dinner, went their own ways during the daytime making day trips to Great Guana Cay, Nippers Bar, Elbow Cay's Hopetown (site of the famous red-striped lighthouse built in 1863) and Man-O-War Cay. Lunch usually included an Abaco staple: fried conch sandwiches.
Besides adventure and seeing new sights, one of the reasons for making the trip was to deliver much-needed school supplies to Amy Roberts Primary School on Green Turtle Cay. The school was damaged during a pair of hurricanes in 2004 and the globes, art supplies, laminators and DVD's they brought were quickly put to use at the school. The Bahamas is a tourism-driven economy and the tax base had been unable to replace the lost items. These trailer boaters were happy to lend a hand.
"All of us that made the crossing had a sense of pride that we accomplished something," Free says. "It's not that we defeated Mother Nature, because man just cannot do that, especially in 26' trailerable boats. But the trip was not dangerous or foolish, and it did show that people in seaworthy trailerable boats could cruise to the Abacos. I remember having a discussion with the captain of a 60' pleasure boat who delayed his crossing to Green Turtle a day more than we did. He seemed impressed that all 20 boats made the trip with only minor equipment damage-loose screws, broken wind gauges, banging bow pulpits, and loose rub rails. But this captain was most impressed that in 1998 we made this same crossing to Green Turtle Cay in our 18' Boston Whaler."
- I'm going to remove my 33-lb. Bruce Anchor from the bow pulpit for my next rough crossing, as it seemed to strain everything. This anchor, plus my 200 feet of chain anchor rode, does add weight in the bow.
- Parking was difficult because many, perhaps most, motels do not have parking for a truck and a boat trailer for a 26' boat. This is more pronounced at the congested interstate interchanges and even more so in tourism-dominated Florida like around Ocala and Disney World. It appears that the State of Florida is using the land for condos and tourism at the expense of marinas, boat repair facilities, and trailer boat parking.
But I imagine that this is pure economics and supply and demand. Next year I will plan my overnight destination on the trip to West Palm and call ahead for parking space.
This is more difficult on the return trip because the time of departure from West Palm is dependent on time to transit the 170 water miles from Green Turtle Cay, load your boat on the trailer, secure all the gear for trailering, and clear customs. I will have, in the future, some options for motels with phone numbers for the trip home. -Elliot Free
If you decide the Abacos are a destination worth visiting but crossing the Gulf Stream in a trailerable boat isn't your idea of "fun," consider flying into Marsh Harbor Airport (not Treasure Cay). Keep in mind there is a weight limit of 40 lbs./person for luggage and you'll be charged for any overages. The Abacos are part of the Bahamas, which are British. You'll need a passport or two pieces of identification (driver's license with photo, notarized birth certificate). Take a 15-minute cab ride to Rainbow Rentals and rent a 22' center cockpit with an outboard for a day, or a few days or a week. If you are staying on a nearby Abaco Cay, you can go there by boat and avoid traveling by car altogether.
Day trips from Marsh Harbor include a 26-mile run north to Green Turtle Cay (this is where the Edgewater Boats Rendezvous group stayed). Halfway between Green Turtle and Marsh harbor is Guana Cay, which is known for spectacular snorkeling.
South of from Marsh Harbor is Little Harbor Cay. You'll find almost 2 miles of sandy beach. If you intend to enter the harbor, have a chart. This is home to Pete Johnston's Gallery, Studio and Foundry. He is the son of an internationally acclaimed bronze sculptor and has successfully taken over the family business. From Marsh Harbor, ferries make daily runs to Green Turtle Cay, Man- O-War Cay, Elbow Cay and Guana Cay.