Sandy and I reside in a small town tucked against the east slopes of the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. Our snowy home is about as remotely located from the soft coral sands, aqua waters, intense sun, and cooling breezes of the Bahamas as one can be in the lower 48 states and yet, in the short space of 6 weeks we hope to be cruising those exotic waters. Our vessel will not be a touristy cruise ship, with its hordes of fellow passengers and rigid itinerary. Nor will we be aboard a chartered sailboat, as the cost of chartering imposes unacceptable limits to the length of time we could afford to spend on the water. Our dream cruise will last 2 ½ months, and we will sojourn aboard our trailerable sailboat, Chinook.
We decided to take up sailing rather late in life, with the purchase of our MacGregor 26X power sailor in 2002. Macs, as they are affectionately referred to by their many owners, are most frequently known as “those sailboats with big outboards which motor really fast.” Owners of more traditional sailboats often look down their noses at Macs as lightly built boats with poor sailing characteristics. Most Mac owners, however, simply love their boats for their low purchase cost and versatility. Being trailerable, the Mac can be “moored” in your driveway when not in use. With its large outboard engine (typically 50 to 70 hp), the Mac can indeed plane at speeds of 15 to 20 mph or more. It can serve as a day sailor or carry a small family on overnight outings. Mac owners love to modify their boats to suit their personal boating interests.
From the outset, we wanted to explore as many different places as possible in our Mac. This would take the form of extended cruising, and thus, we focused on maximizing fuel, water, electrical and storage capacity. Being newcomers to sailing, we read books, hung out at boat shows, and took classes, but most importantly spent time on the water, always with the focus on extending horizons, both in terms of our expertise and the boat’s capability.
We spent our first boating season gaining experience on Puget Sound and various Eastern Washington inland waters. Our second season would coincide with retirement, and the unique opportunity to embark on a year long circumnavigation of the US. Hitting the road in early July 2003 in a pickup and camper, with Chinook in tow, we spent the next year as vagabonds, following the seasons and experiencing scenic and historic highlights. About one third of our time was on board Chinook, cruising such waters as Jackson Lake in the Tetons, Yellowstone Lake, Isle Royale on Lake Superior, Lake Champlain, the coast of Maine, the Intracoastal Waterway from Virginia to Florida, the Everglades and Florida Keys, the northern (Abacos) Bahamas, and Lake Powell.
Subsequent sailing seasons have led us to such varied places as the majestic Inside Passage to Alaska, remote lakes in coastal British Columbia, the classic sailing waters of Chesapeake Bay, and the starkly beautiful Sea of Cortez. When out on one of these cruises, conversations with fellow sailors from much larger boats will frequently turn to questions about our MacGregor. Being somewhat familiar with the speedy reputation of the MacGregor, they frequently ask, “How fast will she go?” I invariably raise eyebrows with, “She cruises nicely at 60…” and then add “while on the trailer, of course.” And that is the feature of our Mac which appeals to us most. Our “home waters” are only limited by the existence of a decent road and boat ramp, and once we’ve launched we’re free to partake of the cruising lifestyle while exploring enticingly new waters.
The idea for this cruise dates back to our initial visit to the Bahamas in early spring, 2004. We had actually intended on heading for the Exumas, but a salty dockmaster at a St. Augustine marina suggested we focus on the Abacos for our first Bahamas cruise. Not so far out, fewer major crossings, yet still outstanding cruising waters. We followed his advice and found him right on all counts. We had a memorable time, but whenever our thoughts returned to the Bahamas we recalled a comment we’d heard more than once. “If you think Abaco waters are clear, they’re nothing when compared with the Exumas.” We just had to return to the Bahamas. And this time, we’d make it all the way out to the Exumas.