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Old 05-10-2015, 20:05   #1
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The Keys vs Abacos

I've owned boats for 30 years. Most of my experience is on inland lakes, but I have boated a good bit in the Gulf. I've taken many US Power Squadron boating classes, read Chapmans Boating Bible from cover to cover, do a lot of reading. I'm a shadetree mechanic that has rebuilt multiple marine engines, and one boat from the stringers-up. I know a lot about boating, but have limited blue water experience. So that's a little about me.

I have a new to me, Sea Ray 300 Weekender (twin 350s) with a goal of doing some island hopping. 95% of the time it'll be used for inland boating near home, but I want to take multiple, extended vacations. I've always said I'd go to the Bahamas. And while I certainly will do that at sometime, now I'm wondering if I shouldn't consider spending some time cruising the Keys first. I'm not nervous about making the crossing - I'll be over prepared when ever that time comes.

I'm wondering about time and money. Going to the Abacos, I may have to wait for good crossing weather before I can leave Florida (after towing down from TN). Once over, there are decent length passages to get to the next spot which will require lots of over-priced fuel. And then coming home I might have to wait out for a good weather window again. All meaning that the trip could take much longer and cost more than I budget for.

I don't know as much about cruising the Keys. I don't know if fuel costs are different, I don't know if you need to travel the same distance to get a similar feel to being in a remote, island location like the Abacos.

So I'm looking for opinions and direction. Should I start researching the Keys, or maybe there's no real difference in terms of time and money and I should stay focused on the Bahamas?
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Old 05-10-2015, 22:16   #2
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Re: The Keys vs Abacos

Not everyone has the same definition of cruising so to get a good answer to your question you may need to provide some more details.

To confuse matters more not everyone has the same definition of the Keys. In reality the back country is larger than what I will call the US1 Keys that highway US1 goes through. Then there is the area West of Key West where US1 ends. You could easily trailer your boat to Miami or the Upper Keys, launch and never get more than 5 miles from US1. It would be possible to buy R90 from gas stations on US1 or side streets and take it to your boat with prices not much higher than on the mainland. Or you could also gas up at the docks at higher prices but much less than in the Abacos. You could eat every night at a decent restaurant or shop at grocery stores and buy ice there.

On the other hand you could go to the back country (the Gulf side of the Keys) and even up to the Everglades for a week, or two, or a month or two and not see another boat if you wanted to. You should be able to pick up NOAA weather on CH2 and often times get WiFi and cell reception. Even if you were not that close to US1 you could work it so you were never out of sight of land.

Going West of Key West you can go to Boca Grande and never get out of sight of land as well. Lots of protected anchorages and nice clean water. Even the Marqueas is only 15 miles or so from Boca Grande and with good eyes you can see land the whole trip. The Boca Grande Pass can get nasty with opposing wind and current but as a rule it is an easy passage. Dry Tortugas is about 40 miles from the Marqueas and you not only lose sight of land but need to be aware of the weather window going out and coming back.

All of this is easily doable if you are careful. You should also be able to plan your expenses fairly well.

You are correct about needing a good weather window to get to and from the Bahamas and gas is more expensive there. Not only is food and water more expensive in the Bahamas but not the same quality you get in the US. You have to deal with customs and a few rules like only using simple spear guns. Anchoring in the Bahamas can be harder than in the Keys and multiple anchors are a must at times. You also need to understand eyeball navigation by water color as navigation markers are often missing or non existent. That being said being in the Bahamas is worth the extra money and effort.

Your asking the question suggest to me that your best choice would be the Keys. But if you provide additional details on what you are expecting to do I might change my mind.
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Old 06-10-2015, 05:22   #3
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Re: The Keys vs Abacos

Greetings and welcome aboard the CF, TitanTn.
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Old 06-10-2015, 05:31   #4
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Re: The Keys vs Abacos

Abacos all the way. The Keys are great for beginners, to get their start in the game while staying close to all of the U.S. infrastructure strung along the overseas highway. But IMHO, the best of the Keys rate only a B+, with an average of B, while the Abacos rate an A or an A+.

Marsh Harbour has all of the infrastructure you'll need: Handy airport for flying in guests, lots of marinas and choices of fuel piers keep diesel prices competitive (considering the extra distance from the states).

When you check out places like Hopetown, you will know for sure "It's better in the Bahamas." If you can get there, don't miss the chance.
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Old 06-10-2015, 05:48   #5
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Re: The Keys vs Abacos

To TOMFL:

Thanks for the good post! Nice summation of the Keys option.
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Old 06-10-2015, 06:01   #6
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Re: The Keys vs Abacos

Well, you're right about the possible delays with waiting for weather conditions when crossing to and from the Bahamas, but I can't favor one over the other beyond that.

You can find wilderness anchorages, beautiful diving areas, and a variety of shore resources in both areas.
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Old 06-10-2015, 09:00   #7
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Re: The Keys vs Abacos

Definitely Abacos. It's no farther and much more of a unique experience. Even if you have to wait for a crossing . . . . much better trip.

In the Abacos, you get hundreds of desolate beaches, beautiful water, SAND beaches, people with cool accents, conch to dive for/find/eat, etc.

Strong vote for cross to Abacos.
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Old 06-10-2015, 09:17   #8
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Re: The Keys vs Abacos

What tomfl said is completely accurate. You yourself made a good point, however, about the crossing and the weather and how they impact your decision. Destination alone, as much as I love Florida (and it's a lot; all you haters are entitled to your opinion, leave me mine), I would choose the Bahamas for a cruising holiday. But you can't go wrong either way. I think in the final tally, the Keys are cheaper since you will not have the costs of the long run to/from Bahamas, and you won't pay the substantial entry permit fee. They both offer vast remoteness as well as access to services. But they are apples and oranges in a way that is hard to put into words. Either way you will remember your time there. Pete
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Old 06-10-2015, 09:38   #9
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Re: The Keys vs Abacos

I vote for the Abacos as well. Above and beyond what everyone else said, the Abacos are: FREEDOM!!!! The Keys are a police state, with 5 different police agencies in boats chasing a problem, most of which doesn't exist.

You'll need a fish library or fishing lawyer to defend yourself from confiscation / fines / Nazi boarding techniques to justify each fish you touch or thought of touching. Rules, rules and more rules, that change frequently.

The Abacos - NO SUCH THING!! The Bahamians basically have no police (maybe a cab driver or two deputized). Their objective is for you to have a wonderful time, spend lots of money and please come back!! However, don't ever try to enterprise making money there, that will really piss them off, unless you employ lots of Bahamians to do it.

Only downside of the Abacos is now the Haitians. Abaco blacks are great rural, honest, friendly people. I never locked anything for 40 years going there. Now it's different. The Haitian illegal immigrants steal everything they can get their hands on. They are so blatant about stealing, that a friend of mine who had his house cleaned out in Elbow Cay, saw the Haitians all walking around with his stolen cloths on in Hopetown, Elbow Cay. So far, to my knowledge, it's mostly stealing and not violet crime. Although everyone brings guns with them, including me. Be sure to declare your guns though, it's not a problem if you declare, but a big problem if you don't.

Plan on leaving your boat in a marina when you're gone and the marinas will usually protect you from theft.

After 40 years of doing it, my best advise for crossing the Gulf Stream is: weather reports are 50/50, here's what ALWAYS WORKS - go to the Beach before you cross and look at the horizon. If there are elephants marching on the horizon - don't go!!! If the horizon is smooth - HALL ASS!!
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Old 06-10-2015, 09:48   #10
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Re: The Keys vs Abacos

I assume you have a shallow draft boat - since it is on a trailer - and that is a must for the Keys if you want to get to some of the more remote locations on the Bay side.

I agree with Tomfl and other about advantages to both.
I would suggest you consider the "step-wise" approach my wife and I have followed. The purpose is to incrementally expand your "comfort" level with cruising. So -

first I would do a circumnavigation of the Keys - all the way around both outside - Hawks Channel / offshore and inside - Gulf side/Florida Bay side. this can take two - three weeks. It is easy and there are plenty of remote places as well as those with restaurants, fuel, groceries, marine supplies etc. You are never more than five miles from the main highway. (Cape Sable is an interesting side trip - a bit shorter than the Dry Tortugas.)

second - having done the Keys I would do a crossing to Bimini. With good weather it is very easy. Bimini is great and there are plenty of remote places to go without having to make the longer passages to/from Abaco - Gun Cay, South Cat Cay, snorkeling Bimini Road, the Healing Hole etc. This can be a week or even two.

third - could be same trip as Bimini - is to go to the Berry Islands - +/- 75 NM east of Bimini. Not a hard trip but it will get you to a more remote location without the long passages to/from Abaco, and you will learn some things about anchoring in current, making ocean passages, and navigating wind/currents in the cuts - all of which will be very useful in the Abacos. this adds another week to the Bimini trip.

fourth - if you want - skip the third trip and take that trip to the Abacos - they are great - both remote places and great places to party. Personally I prefer the northern portion - Hope Town and points north. By the time you make this trip you will be well-prepared for the passages and different conditions you will find in the Abacos. Personally I think three weeks is minimum - you could easily spend months there!
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Old 06-10-2015, 10:11   #11
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Re: The Keys vs Abacos

you have received very good information, I too would recommend the keys to start, not only will you build your weather skills you will also understand what the boat and you are up for, I would not be surprised after a year or so that twin IO boat will be more maintenance then you bargained for, trust me on this I know and I too worked on everything as a kid and the reliability and maintainability of IO's is endless.
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Old 06-10-2015, 10:35   #12
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Re: The Keys vs Abacos

Quote:
Originally Posted by TitanTn View Post
I've owned boats for 30 years. Most of my experience is on inland lakes, but I have boated a good bit in the Gulf. I've taken many US Power Squadron boating classes, read Chapmans Boating Bible from cover to cover, do a lot of reading. I'm a shadetree mechanic that has rebuilt multiple marine engines, and one boat from the stringers-up. I know a lot about boating, but have limited blue water experience. So that's a little about me.

I have a new to me, Sea Ray 300 Weekender (twin 350s) with a goal of doing some island hopping. 95% of the time it'll be used for inland boating near home, but I want to take multiple, extended vacations. I've always said I'd go to the Bahamas. And while I certainly will do that at sometime, now I'm wondering if I shouldn't consider spending some time cruising the Keys first. I'm not nervous about making the crossing - I'll be over prepared when ever that time comes.

I'm wondering about time and money. Going to the Abacos, I may have to wait for good crossing weather before I can leave Florida (after towing down from TN). Once over, there are decent length passages to get to the next spot which will require lots of over-priced fuel. And then coming home I might have to wait out for a good weather window again. All meaning that the trip could take much longer and cost more than I budget for.

I don't know as much about cruising the Keys. I don't know if fuel costs are different, I don't know if you need to travel the same distance to get a similar feel to being in a remote, island location like the Abacos.

So I'm looking for opinions and direction. Should I start researching the Keys, or maybe there's no real difference in terms of time and money and I should stay focused on the Bahamas?
===

If you haven't cruised the Keys before, I'd vote for doing that first. They are easier to get to; You don't have to cross the Gulf Stream; No customs or immigration to deal with; No fees; Less expensive food and fuel; Navigation is easier.

That said, the Abacos are wonderful and everyone should go there sooner or later. It's more like being in the Caribbean with new and interesting places to visit on every island. Do it when you can take your time and not feel rushed to meet a schedule.
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Old 06-10-2015, 10:39   #13
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Re: The Keys vs Abacos

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Originally Posted by timbenner View Post
I vote for the Abacos as well. Above and beyond what everyone else said, the Abacos are: FREEDOM!!!! The Keys are a police state, with 5 different police agencies in boats chasing a problem, most of which doesn't exist.

You'll need a fish library or fishing lawyer to defend yourself from confiscation / fines / Nazi boarding techniques to justify each fish you touch or thought of touching. Rules, rules and more rules, that change frequently.

The Abacos - NO SUCH THING!! The Bahamians basically have no police (maybe a cab driver or two deputized). Their objective is for you to have a wonderful time, spend lots of money and please come back!! However, don't ever try to enterprise making money there, that will really piss them off, unless you employ lots of Bahamians to do it.

Only downside of the Abacos is now the Haitians. Abaco blacks are great rural, honest, friendly people. I never locked anything for 40 years going there. Now it's different. The Haitian illegal immigrants steal everything they can get their hands on. They are so blatant about stealing, that a friend of mine who had his house cleaned out in Elbow Cay, saw the Haitians all walking around with his stolen cloths on in Hopetown, Elbow Cay. So far, to my knowledge, it's mostly stealing and not violet crime. Although everyone brings guns with them, including me. Be sure to declare your guns though, it's not a problem if you declare, but a big problem if you don't.

Plan on leaving your boat in a marina when you're gone and the marinas will usually protect you from theft.

After 40 years of doing it, my best advise for crossing the Gulf Stream is: weather reports are 50/50, here's what ALWAYS WORKS - go to the Beach before you cross and look at the horizon. If there are elephants marching on the horizon - don't go!!! If the horizon is smooth - HALL ASS!!
I understand that you are making a distinction between the Haitians and the Bahamians -fair enough - different cultures/ countries/ languages. But what do you mean by "Abacos Blacks"? I agree with what you say, the indigenous Abaconians are fantastic folks (The Abacos has both white and black families that go back to the 1700s, and they are all proud to be Bahamians). But why the distinction? Are you saying the black Bahamians are in a different moral classification from the white Bahamians? I'm not sure it's wise to make broad generalizations based on race, even if you you are talking about positive qualities.
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Old 06-10-2015, 10:51   #14
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Re: The Keys vs Abacos

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Originally Posted by Yukon Cornelius View Post
I understand that you are making a distinction between the Haitians and the Bahamians -fair enough - different cultures/ countries/ languages. But what do you mean by "Abacos Blacks"? I agree with what you say, the indigenous Abaconians are fantastic folks (The Abacos has both white and black families that go back to the 1700s, and they are all proud to be Bahamians). But why the distinction? Are you saying the black Bahamians are in a different moral classification from the white Bahamians? I'm not sure it's wise to make broad generalizations based on race, even if you you are talking about positive qualities.
Hmm, I didn't see that one coming. Surprised it took so long.

Hopefully the statement was innocent, although clearly it could have been worded better. Pete
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Old 06-10-2015, 11:18   #15
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Re: The Keys vs Abacos

I lived in the Keys from '69 to '90 or so and spent anlot of time in the Bahamas in those years. The Bahamas in general and the Abaco area in particular are finest kind: the keys are pretty nice as well. Water clarity in the keys is not quite up to Bahamas standards, but better than anywhere else in the U.S. It's true that there a number of police agencies in Florid who can ruin your day: don't run aground and call for help, as you'll pay a fine for damage to the sea grasses. That said, the keys are a marvelous boating area and a lot less money than the Bahamas, especially if you and/or crew is going to be doing any commuting back north. It's easy and relatively inexpensive to fly into one of the south Florida airports: not so when you start flying across to the Bahamas. You'll enjoy one season touring the Keys and won't see everything there is to see in that time.
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