The entire Bahamas archipelago is big-- 500 nautical miles from the Abacos to Inagua at the southeast side of the island country. Another 200 miles to the Turks and Caicos, with the same geology and Brittish history. We had thought we'd go to the central part of the Bahamas-- George Town, Exumas; Long Island; and other islands around there. Now, we're not motivated to travel that 250 miles-- each way. Other cruisers we've been meeting up here say that the Exumas are more crowded than the Abacos, and it's harder to find protection when a front comes through. Winter in the Bahamas is not continuously idyllic-- just often enough.
And the Abacos are classic Bahamas, with a 100 mile long barrier reef to the north and east of the cays on the ocean side of the Sea of Abaco, the snorkelling and abundance of sea-life is astounding and the surrounding water is crystal clear. A quick mention about all of the plastic pollution washed up on the beaches and other shores; It gets picked up in the resort areas of course, but plenty of locations are not convenient to a disposal location. Albert was here in the early 80's, and he agrees with everyone we asked about its, its gotten worse over the years. if we didn't know about the micro-plastic pollution reality in the oceans, it would just be interesting flotsam and beach finds, but... [We could also go on about the poor solid waste disposal pracices here, but an open burn landfill is the cheapest thing I'm sure, and I'll spare the photos.]
The people are laid-back and friendly. At the restaurants and marinas, no one seems to care about geting paid until you make them give you an accounting. It's always good to discuss the fees up front, of course. Food and eveything is fairly expensive (like all of the Bahamas), but there are good marina deals. There are also plenty of fancy places that want more than $2.00/ ft/ night, too, but we didn't go to those places in the US, either. We're paying $11.00/ night for a
mooring in Black Sound on Green Turtle Cay, but we've anchored out a lot too.
The Abacos have some tourist infrastructure, with a range of accommodations and services for visitors, but no high-rises or crazy stuff. Much of the "infrastructure" serves the locals as much as the tourists-- like the ferries, local stores, and marine services. And the whole scene is very Bahamas-- the village on Green Turtle Cay is compact with narrow roads perfect for golf carts; neat landscaped yards; the restaurants have outside decks, some with roofs; the good ones have screens or maybe even clear plastic wind blockers. The regular restaurants are basically inexpensive, considering the cost of food at the stores; no doubt the fancy places have fancy prices. Other than very basic stuff, supplies are hard to get. If it's not available in Marsh Harbor (which is not easy to reach from GTC,) you need to figure out a shipping system, and there's customs and fees and all that. So, as close the Abacos are to the US, it feels like a world away.
As I write this, we've been just hanging out for a month in the vicinity of GTC. This area is west of Whale Cay and the channel that must be taken into the ocean and back onto the bank to the east. This passage is not safe in strong north to east winds, which are common this time of year. We expect that it will be more crowded to the east of Whale Cay; the "Hub" of Abaco is the area around Marsh Harbor, Hope Town on Elbow Cay, and Man-o-war Cay. But I'm sure all of the Abacos will have the same charm and beauty. These are all places where people live year-round. Sure, there are some tourist-oriented services and facilities, but the people here are friendly and happy to share their special place in the world.
PS- We have read the book "Abaco- the History of an Out Island and its Cays" by Steve Dodge. The book is also a basic history of all the Bahamas, and it includes stories of the same pirates that we read about in a great book picked up earlier, "St. Augustine Pirates and Privateers" (by Theodore Corbett.) The early colonial times were hard, with plenty of shipwrecks and slow communication and other dangers. None of the native Lucayan indians survived, of course, and the early settlers in the Bahamas lived a subsistence lifestyle, with no dependable commercial transportation. There is still that element to life here, as noted above.