Creating memories on the Bahamian waters

Creating memories on the Bahamian waters
Kat Miller, Matt McAfee with an Abaco Durado

By Nathan & Ted Miller

With summer here, and family vacations in full swing, I wanted to share a summer vacation our family recently took.
Many months ago, we began planning this trip with my wife’s parents and brothers and all the nieces and nephews and cousins. It was to be 17 people total, but we ended up only 15 – missing two key members. We missed them greatly.

Mark Hutto with an Abaco Wahoo

Mark Hutto with an Abaco Wahoo

The trip was planned for the Abacos in the Bahamas, a place where my wife’s family spent many vacations over the years.
My wife and oldest daughter were to fly over on Saturday with my wife’s brothers, their wives and kids. My wife’s parents were making the crossing earlier in the week. My plan was to cross over with my youngest daughter (10) on our 25’ boat alongside another family on their 30’ boat on Friday.
As luck would have it, Andrea, the first named storm of the year, was building in the Gulf of Mexico. Rain bands and high winds were forecasted to be crossing south Florida and into the Atlantic later in the week, so our crossing window was becoming narrower by the hour. If we delayed, it could be many days before the seas would calm enough allowing us to make the 180-plus mile run from West Palm Beach to Elbow Cay.

The marine forecast showed Wednesday morning tolerable for a crossing in a small boat, but also showed the seas building throughout the day. Thursday, Friday and Saturday looked worse, so we knew that if we did not get underway Wednesday morning, we could be looking at a Sunday or Monday crossing.

Sam Williams, age 12, with a fine Bahamian snapper

Sam Williams, age 12, with a fine Bahamian snapper

So phone calls were quickly made to make sure business affairs were taken care of and our cars were packed and boats put on trailers in record time.
We left Jacksonville on a Tuesday evening with a goal to launch in West Palm Beach sometime early the following morning and beat the building weather.
Due to several unforeseen delays Wednesday morning (a blown trailer tire being one of them) we were not able to launch and exit the Lake Worth inlet in West Palm Beach until around noon. By then, the rain bands had already reached the east coast of Florida from the Gulf, and the seas were beginning to build.
With our first waypoint being West End, Bahamas (only 60 miles away) we decided to proceed with caution.
This first leg of the trip on a good crossing day should take no more than two hours. But with the short sequence of the three- to four-foot easterly swells coupled with the choppy conditions from the wind we experienced, it took over four hours.

We eventually made it to West End a little after 4 p.m. By the time we made it through customs, it was 4:30 and the weather had gotten worse. We had no time or daylight left to make the next leg of the trip (100+ mile run to Green Turtle), so we checked in to Old Bahama Bay, got cleaned up and went up to the restaurant to get some dinner and decompress.

The following day, we woke up to more unfavorable marine forecasts. Although our run through the open ocean was behind us, the Bahamas bank (while only 10 feet deep for the most part) is still open water and can become very choppy in windy conditions, making for another wet and long run.

We departed West End around 11 a.m. on our way to Green Turtle. To keep from running aground, the route from West End to the Abacos in which we would need to follow consisted of running in close proximity to a number of  waypoints like Indian Rock, Mangrove Cay, Great Sale Cay, Carter’s Cay, and Crab Cay just to name a few. The run to Green Turtle was bumpy, but we successfully made it in about five hours.

Our plan was to stay on Green Turtle for two nights, as our rental house on Elbow would not open up for two more days. At dinner we ran into an old classmate of mine, a dentist from Melbourne and his family. They joined us for dinner, where they shared their fresh yellowfin tuna catch that the restaurant was preparing for them. The next two days were spent exploring New Plymouth on Green Turtle in golf carts, being hosted by my classmate for dinner the following evening, buying and storing key lime (heavy on the meringue) pies, and counting down the days in which I would see the rest of my family.

Heather Gardner and Andrew, age 11 hold up a pair of snapper destined  for the dinner plate

Heather Gardner and Andrew, age 11
hold up a pair of snapper destined
for the dinner plate

After a couple of great days on Green Turtle, Saturday morning came. We loaded our two boats once again to make the final 20-mile run east from Green Turtle toward our final destinations of Elbow Cay and Tahiti Beach. We exchanged emails and wished my classmate well as they were heading west back to the states.
We made it to Sea Spray Marina around noon, and began the fun task of transporting the provisions via golf cart from the boats to the rental house. Boat runs were made from Elbow to Marsh Harbor throughout the afternoon to pick up family members flying in. One flight was delayed by three hours. By 8 p.m. everyone was safely there (with the exception of two loved ones who stayed home).

June is a great time to be in the Abacos. Although the pelagic fishing season was winding down, we managed to get there in time to catch the tail end of it. Many boats were still releasing a good number of billfish and we were seeing a lot of mahi and wahoo were being brought to the dock.
Each family in our group had agreed earlier on to be in charge of several dinners during our stay. My wife’s and my dinner commitments were centered around catching and preparing edible fish. We managed over the next several days (with the help of Mother Nature) to make the short run offshore to 1000+ feet of water and catch our share of mahi and wahoo.  Fishing the reefs for bottom fish like snapper, grouper, almaco jacks and trigger fish also proved to be extremely
productive.

With plenty of fish to eat, we shifted our focus to billfish.
The first day we targeted billfish, we fished my father-in-law’s boat the Blue Max. We made the run through the south Man O War cut, successfully navigating the reef and made our way to the 1000 foot depth. There we began trolling.

Once we had our lines in the water and with a few modifications to ensure the baits looked natural, the waiting game began. It did not take long.

At the time, I was watching the baits running directly behind the boat in the prop wash. A thick-striped back with a rigid dorsal followed by a tall fluorescent-blue tail fin came from my right-to-left and hit the starboard side bait. Line began peeling off the reel. We picked the rod up from the transom and were in the process of moving it to the chair when the line went slack. She had spit it. We immediately changed the drag setting on the reel to free-spool to allow the bait to fall in the water column in close proximity to where the bait was released. This would allow the fish to eat again. We waited about eight seconds and tightened the drag once again. The line went tight and she was back on.

After a few seconds, she jumped once, spit the hook and she was gone. She was a large blue marlin, barely able to get half her body out of the water. Seeing her jump once was well worth the effort.

Several days later, I took my wife, sister-in-law and four kids trolling targeting billfish. Within minutes of reaching the 1000 foot depth, we had a fish on. It hit the port side outrigger and immediately began jumping. Within 20 minutes we had a white marlin boat side. While keeping the entire fish in the water, we removed the hook, took a few pictures and watched her swim off. This was my first marlin successfully caught, and first billfish on the MaryAnn.

Kat Miller, Matt McAfee with an Abaco Durado

Kat Miller, Matt McAfee with an Abaco Durado

After a few more great days of island hopping, the family vacation came to an end. Many family members went back to the airport for the short flight home. My youngest daughter, brother-in-law and I returned home by crossing on Friday. Fortunately this time, we had a beautiful and very calm day. We made the entire 180 mile run back to West Palm Beach in just a few short hours and made it back in Jacksonville that evening.

Many other family vacations were going on around the same time. Other families from Jacksonville were enjoying the gulf coast of Florida.
Later on in the summer, some are heading toward cooler temperatures in the mountains, while others are heading to the Keys in quest for lobster.
Regardless of the destination, the objective of the family vacation seems to be the same: Spend quality time and to share in new experiences together. And in the process, create memories along the way that will last a lifetime.

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