Antigua & Barbuda…..

March 7th – March 19th, 2014 (-4 on UTC)

Dear F&F,
We were holed up in Deshaies (Guadeloupe) for a couple of days waiting for a suitable weather window to go over to Antigua. The gusty winds finally subsided on the morning of the 7th giving us a great sail (and angle) for the 40nm run into Freeman Bay – just outside English Harbour. Ron and Kathleen on our ‘buddy’ boat s/v \”Lady Amelie\”, were not far behind us and they decided to go into the next bay (Falmouth) to get fixed up with a new anchor, taking advantage of the well-equipped \”Budget Marine\” store which serves the numerous mega yachts here.

Freeman Bay is one of the most delightful anchorages we\’ve been in so far. We anchored with no trouble in 8 ft of water just off the beautiful white sand Galleon Beach. Freeman is also right at the outside of the harbor and just below Shirley Heights where Nikki and I enjoyed the steel band last August when we flew here.

Beaches are what Antigua is famous for – white sand beaches! There are apparently enough in Antigua (and its sister island Barbuda) to visit a different one for each day of the year! We never actually checked this out, but for the tourist brochures, it\’s a definite hit. Antigua & Barbuda has built it\’s tourist reputation on it\’s \”Three S’s\” – (namely: Sun, Sand and Sea). Even the island vehicle license plates tell you so!.

We decided to get customs over and done with before they closed at 4pm and took the short dinghy ride to the Admiral\’s Inn dinghy dock where the lovely old naval buildings have been renovated into their former Georgian glory. Much of the restoration is due to retired British Commander Vernon Nicholson. Nicholson sailed into the harbor in 1947. He dedicated many years to restoring the ruins and making the harbor into a major hub for the yachting industry that it is today. This harbor is re-pleat with history from Admiral Nelson and the great age of sail. English (and Falmouth) Harbors host the annual Antigua Sailing Week Regattas which also form part of the \”Grand Dame\” sailing circuit in the region. We would definitely get a taste of the \”Grande Dames\” when we arrived in St. Bart in a few weeks at the \”St. Bart\’s Bucket Regatta\”.

Descendants of Nicholson are still involved in local businesses, the yachting industry and \”Nelson\’s Dockyard\”. English and Falmouth Harbour\’s are home to many of the major sailing/charter operations in the Caribbean. That evening we took a dinghy ride to a local Italian restaurant right on the waterfront overlooking the Dockyards called Papparazzi’s. It was the best meal we\’d had to date this season! Nikki had a lovely Vongole with home made pasta and I had the Puttanesca Gnocchi. We polished it off with a perfectly chilled Sauvignon Blanc – divine. Yes, still pretty expensive but worth it. Well, let’s just say, a bit pricey for L.A. or even N.Y., but not so much for Perth prices!

The next day we met up with Ron and Kathleen and after a bit of provisioning in Falmouth Bay, Ron and I took a taxi ride to the Budget Marine store to purchase a much needed new Rocna anchor for s/v \”Lady Amelie\”. After much deliberation (and making the poor guy in the shop stay open past closing), Ron decided on the 35kg one over the 25kg as they no longer made the 30kgs (which is the one we have on \”Beach House\”). In hindsight Ron made the right choice as we found out later that another Switch 51 sports a whopping 40kg anchor!

To celebrate their ‘new mooring\’, (What I have taken to call the EVER dependable Rocna anchor), we decided to go and have lunch at Roxy’s restaurant on Galleon beach. This restaurant is owned by the same guy who owns Paparazzi’s and is more geared to the casual beach crowd. We all had great Angus burger\’s and of course more drinks which extended into their Happy Hour – just another hard day in paradise!

9th March 2014
Kathleen and Ron knew Nelson\’s Dockyard and some of the locals pretty well having spent a few weeks there last season after they sailed their boat here from the Mediterranean. Kathleen had stayed at the Copper and Lumber Store Hotel and wanted to try their newly opened cabana style bar and infinity pool area over the other side of the waterway. We hailed the hotel water taxi (they knew the driver!) and took a quick boat ride over the bay to check it out at lunch time. It really was a lovely spot and the original house had been modernized and expanded with local materials. They also had an incredible fresh herb garden right outside the kitchen! We had lunch but spent a couple of hours waiting for the unbelievably slow kitchen and service. We used the time to admire the antics of the local holiday makers and \”beautiful people\” sunning around the pool area. It was truly a great \”people watching spot\”. The highlights were the three late 20 something guys and the late 20 something girls jockeying for position with each other moving around different areas in the pool and eyeing each other. They then all got together for lunch. The other highlight was the elderly chap who took 5 minutes to swim one length of the pool for an hour. Each length was less than 60 feet btw! It looked so painful, we didn\’t know whether to laugh or cry!

10th March 2014
We decided to move on from English Harbour and head up to Jolly Harbour. We had been to this area before when we stayed at the very nice Sugar Ridge Resort on the other side of the marina last August when en route to Florida (by air). After a morning of motoring along an interesting coastline, watching the smoke (25 miles away) from the steaming cauldron of Mt. Pelee on Montserrat – further taking in the vistas of more long lovely white sandy beaches – we arrived in the outer bay of Jolly Harbour. We anchored in what we thought was a nice quiet spot. Shortly thereafter, we figured out why we were the only boat anchored there as it became increasingly untenable. A rolly sea swell started to come up and we were uncomfortably close to the lee shore. As such…

We picked up the hook and hailed the Marina who informed us we could pick up any available mooring inside the bay, which we did. We then went to explore a little and find where Ron and Kathleen had moored their boat. Turns out they were only 100 meters away! Jolly Harbour is a massive manmade waterway complex comprising of many canal houses and yet more charter boat operations. It had almost an air of 1980’s boom and bust years about it all. The casino was closed and was up for sale, even Peter – the manager at the local Italian restaurant told us business had become quite slack recently. The Caribbean in general seems to be \”hit and miss\”. Some places are really busy, then bust. It moves around but still speaks to the very slow world wide economic (non) recovery. Often the problems with tourist establishments is that they don\’t respond in price to changing economics. They go higher, stabilize and higher again. This then causes many of them to be abandoned by the clients and out of business they go. It is somewhat astonishing to see abandoned properties almost everywhere we\’ve been.

The next day we moved into a slip for a couple of nights to get some boat jobs sorted. One thing Jolly Harbour does have and that is the best provisioning supermarket since leaving Grenada. Epicurean is a massive market with loads of Waitrose (English)and U.S. items on the shelves. It was great to be able to get food stuffs Nikki liked and recognized. As expensive as food can be \”at home\”, food and fuel are dramatically more expensive out here and we spent a small fortune on provisioning. Typical super market bills can be twice that of Los Angeles and fuel is rarely less than $7.50/gallon. Despite this, I always tell Nikki to “buy it when you see it as you never know if you will get it again”. Nikki has tended to be over cautious in the past on buying too much and lived to regret it later when she never sees the product again. Nikki says she\’s learning – fast!

While here, I wanted to get the electric start back in operation on the dinghy motor and find out why it was continuously flooded after it warmed up.
The dinghy battery, (which we\’d replaced in Martinique), was most likely good as it turned out it was the starting solenoid that was bad and why it wouldn\’t start. The carburetor had some worn parts as well which is why it was flooding. I try to have every spare known to man and indeed had a spare new carburetor for the outboard. In a few hours time, we were back in business. Pushing a button is a dream compared to pulling the starting cord – over and over again!

14th March 2014
Barbuda is the sister island just north of Antigua. Indeed the nation is called Antigua & Barbuda. Barbuda however is treated a bit as the poor step child however. There is \”friction\” when the situation of economic resources is discussed.

This was one of the best sails of the season to date. Steady 15/18 knots apparent wind, with a nice calm sea state – lovely! Cocoa Bay is a beautiful spot and off the charter boat track. We would spend one night here and got together with Ron & Kathleen for dinner. Cocoa Bay has white, almost pink! sand beach as far as you can see and very clear shallow water in the anchorage. We hit it on a really good (read that as calm) day as well. Despite being off the charter boat track, there were still 15 boats here including three mega yachts. The resort ashore strictly did not allow the boats to use their restaurants or facilities. They feel their exclusive clientele wants total anonymity.

The next day, Ron & Kathleen arranged for us to get a tour of Codrington (main village) and the Frigate Bird nesting site. We motored up to Barbuda Outback Bar\’s beach to do a tour of the island. This Island (together with Montserrat) were the friendliest islanders of the Caribbean. So many of these islanders seem jaded with the tourists or only interested in servicing the mega yachts which abound these waters! The island in many ways reminded me of the Yasawa\’s in Fiji. Long pinkish/white sandy beaches with no one around.

Claire Frank, local ex-pat Brit and owner of a local crafts shop in the main (very small) village of Codrington, tells us some recent history about the construction site huts pushed over the cliffs. The main man behind this was George Jeffery and his daughter!!! George as it turns out is our tour guide. Seems that some (what the islanders call) \”crooks\” were trying to more or less change the entire tourist structure here without the permission of the local council. As such, they took action. The \”crooks\” closed shop and went away after the locals (led by George) pushed all their temporary construction trailers over the side of a cliff! The island has a ruling council and is as close to a socialist government as you can imagine. Effectively, no one owns any land; the entire group of islanders own it all. But, much like many socialist paradises…well, turns out you can \”control\” your land and turn it over to your dependents after all…:-) The island attempts to act collectively and as such, things move at a slower than snails pace.

George had to borrow a boat to take us to the Frigate site, which gave us much more time than needed to explore Codrington. Our tour of the Frigate site was very interesting and educational. We learned that flying fish (the flies of the seven seas), are the main diet of the Frigates. Also, they cannot land on water! There ar about 20,000 Frigates on this island. The last time I saw a colony like this was at Isla Maria with Cindy in the southern Sea of Cortez, Mexico. One of our \”splash screen\” shots on the website home page is a photo of Cindy at the sulphury lake on Isla Maria.

After the tour, George\’s brother found us some local lobsters and Ron got him to cook them on the beach. We went back to the boat and had lobster lunch aboard \”Beach House\” with a simple salad and lemon butter sauce. Even I, (the world\’s only sailor who doesn\’t eat fish) ate one! Another bottle of lovely wine was provided by Ron and Kathleen, great end to the day.

Barbuda Outback Bar Beach anchorage was GREAT till 2am. Then the swell got big and we felt like we were surfing at anchor. We did wonder why when it was so calm on our arrival, George had insisted we pull the dinghy way up the beach! Now we know why. Where we left it the previous morning might have seen it swept out to sea!
We were up early and off before we found ourselves beached on Beach House too. As the conditions seemed worse everywhere, we decided to sail back to Antigua and go to Green Island\’s – Ten Pound Bay.

Ten pound bay – what a lovely, lovely spot with only one other boat on a mooring! This is how we imagined the Caribbean would be – hard to leave this anchorage in 6ft water! We went snorkeling on the reef and Scott took a SCUBA tank and cleaned the boat bottom while standing in the sand below the boat! The inner side of the lagoon had about 15 boats, but also in a really nice anchorage with wind and kite surfers. This reminded us of Tobago Cays in the Grenadines but with about 10% of the boats and people. On our way back to English Harbour where Nikki wanted to do a quick shop, we passed the cliff side estate of Eric Clapton. He owns an entire bluff overlooking two bays and just a mile or so from English Harbour. Yes, we took pictures…:-)

18th March 2014
We didn\’t stay long at English Harbour and kept on to Jolly Harbour for 2 nights.
We went to an Italian Restaurant on our last night, called \”Al Porto\”. We checked out of here and did a final stock up at Epicurean getting ready to be on our way to the volcano island – Montserrat. We\’ve seen Mt. Pelee on Monteserrat – smoking for the last few weeks. The adventure continues. But as Jimmy Buffet says, \”I don\’t know where I\’m a gonna go, if the volcano blow!\”…:-)

Scott and Nikki