With renewed energy after a few hours of shuteye, we are off in the dinghy to clear Antiguan Customs and to visit the courteous folks at the Port Authority. The Port Authority exacts a small daily fee for the privilege of anchoring in the harbor. Once the clearance formalities have been completed, we deliver our dirty clothes to the ladies at the laundry and set out to become familiar with our new surroundings.
Antigua and Barbuda were originally settled by the English in 1632. The dominant landside feature in English Harbor is Nelson’s Dockyard, a cultural heritage site and a National Park. Nelson, of course, refers to the man himself, Admiral Lord Nelson, victor of the battle of Trafalger.
During the 18th century, Antigua served as the headquarters of the British Royal Navy Caribbean fleet. English Harbor was selected for the establishment of a naval base because of the protection it affords from hurricanes. Being located on the south coast of Antigua, the base in English Harbor enabled the Brits to monitor activities on the French island of Guadeloupe, some forty miles to the south. Construction of the naval dockyard began in the 1740s.
Nelson lived here from 1784 to 1787 when he served as Commander-in-Chief of operations in the Leeward Islands. Nelson’s Dockyard is now a marina and an entertainment district. Today, a dozen or more mega yachts are docked stern-to the quay. The very buildings that once housed ship repair facilities now function as hotels, restaurants and shops. Each morning, the Dockyard bustles with activity as tourists arrive by bus and taxi from the cruise boat terminal in St. Johns. By mid-afternoon, the cruise boat crowd disappears, the gift shops close their doors for the day and the Dockyard reverts to a quaint, quiet historic village with boaters and hotel guests seated in the pubs and restaurants.
From English Harbor, it is a short walk to the neighboring harbor of Falmouth. Although the harbors are not connected by water, the two communities function as a single destination. Falmouth is the larger of the two harbors. It is less touristy but also less attractive than English Harbor. The business community in Falmouth consists of the Antigua Yacht Club, marinas, bars, restaurants, a small grocery and a variety of marine services. Hidden behind a sports bar are tennis courts (astro turf with sand) that are available to the public for an hourly fee. Carole on Dragon’s Toy is interested in hitting a few balls for exercise. After an hour practicing forehands in the hot afternoon tropical sun, we retire to the terrace at the Admiral’s Inn in English Harbor for an après tennis libation.
Cutter Loose is anchored in English Harbor in order to seek professional help with a nagging electronics issue. Our Raymarine wind speed and wind direction instrument continues to be plagued by gremlins. We attempted to sort this problem out during our stay in St. Martin, but the local Raymarine dealer (Gui at Atlantis Marine) was non-responsive. Since Antigua is an excellent location for yacht services, Wednesday is devoted to enlisting help from The Signal Locker, the local Raymarine dealer. A few short months ago, the wind instrument was rebuilt by the folks at Raymarine in New Hampshire and then re-installed on Cutter Loose. When this did not correct the problem, the masthead wind vane unit was replaced with a brand new unit in January. The system performed admirably for a few weeks, then worked only intermittently. Now, the instrument does not function at all. Deductive reasoning suggests that the cable connecting the masthead unit to the instrument is at fault. After an on-board diagnosis by Cap and William at The Signal Locker, this theory is proven wrong. As it turns out, the culprit is the recently replaced masthead wind vane unit which must now be replaced for the second time in as many months. Apparently, our wind vane failure is not unique. According to Cap and William, these units are failing at an alarming rate, which signals a serious quality control issue at Raymarine. In any event, a new replacement unit must now be ordered from Raymarine in New Hampshire. It will take another five days for the new unit to arrive and clear local customs, which provides an opportunity to set off on a clockwise circumnavigation of Antigua.
Due to the steady stream of cold fronts exiting the US east coast, the weather pattern here in Antigua has been quite dry and settled since our arrival. With winds less than five knots, Cutter Loose is underway from English Harbor to Jolly Harbor on the west coast, a distance of 12 miles. Our course takes us through Goat Head Channel which passes between the southwest coast and Middle Reef. In light of the settled weather and slight swell, we forego a mooring in the protected inner harbor and opt instead to anchor just off the entrance channel to Jolly Harbor where there is a view of Morris Bay beach to the south and a slight breeze to ventilate the cabin. In hindsight, the decision to anchor in the outer harbor was an error in judgment. Overnight, the north swells increase to five feet, turning a gentle rocking motion into a significant side-to-side roll that interrupts our sleep.
Ashore, Jolly Harbor is a planned second home development complete with marina, golf course, a shopping plaza, restaurants, a hotel and a casino. The casino closed its doors five years ago and most of the shops in the plaza are now vacant. Homes and villas have been developed along dredged canals such that owners can dock their sailboats alongside a seawall in the back yard. The local grocery store is filled with shoppers on Saturday morning. Young people are receiving instruction at the community swimming pool and tennis courts. Cruisers and local residents alike congregate at the Crow’s Nest for breakfast and access to the Internet. Jolly Harbor appears to be in a state of economic decline, but it continues to provide many amenities for the cruising sailor.
The next destination on our circumnavigation of Antigua is Long Island, located on the north coast of Antigua. Our course takes us past Five Islands Harbor and St. John’s, the capital and cruise boat mecca of Antigua. Just beyond St. John’s, a massive reef system lies a few miles offshore, paralleling the north coast of the island. Inside the reef is Boon Channel which provides deep water access to the north coast. Our overnight destination is Davis Bay on the south side of Long Island, home of celebrities and the exclusive Jumby Bay Resort. In contrast to our overnight anchorage at Jolly Harbor, Davis Bay is quiet and peaceful, fulfilling our need for a restful night’s sleep.
On Sunday, we retrace our steps through Boon Channel, before steering north and east to sail on the ocean side of the reef. Our destination today is Nonsuch Bay on the east coast of Antigua, a distance of thirty miles. We welcome the return of the easterly trade winds which keep the sails full on the east coast. The entrance to Nonsuch Bay is a twisty, reef-strewn channel to the south of Green Island. Once inside, the Bay opens up into a tranquil body of turquoise water. Moorings are provided north of Green Island just inside the reef. A short distance from our mooring, waves are breaking violently on the reef, yet the anchorage remains breezy and calm. This is a remote and remarkable place. The only thing separating us from two thousand miles of open ocean to the east is the coral reef located within a stone’s throw from our mooring.
We spend several relaxing days in Nonsuch Bay, swimming, walking the beaches, working on boat chores and watching the sunsets. During happy hour aboard Cutter Loose, we are joined by Charlie and Jenny from Tulsa, OK aka s/v Lady. The robust easterly trade winds funnel through the ports and hatches of Cutter Loose. Overnight, the ambient air temperature drops to 77 degrees, sending Pat scurrying for a blanket in the early hours of the morning. On Tuesday, we travel a short distance within Nonsuch Bay to Brown’s Bay in order to visit Harmony Hall, a small resort with a restaurant, pool and an art gallery. After lunch, a hike to the more upscale Nonsuch Resort helps to burn a few calories.
On Wednesday morning, our 70 mile clockwise circumnavigation of Antigua is completed as we sail downwind from Nonsuch Bay to our point of beginning at English Harbor. Having received word from The Signal Locker that our new masthead wind vane unit has arrived, We are anxiuous to arrange for installation. Cap makes the trip to the top of the mast to plug in the new unit. Voila! The wind instrument instantly comes alive! Hopefully, this new unit will have a useful life of more than just a few months.
This week marked a major change in mindset aboard Cutter Loose, triggered by the confirmation of airline reservations for our return home on May 8th. Those wonderful carefree days of wandering more or less aimlessly are now history. We now have a haul out date confirmation at the marina in Grenada where Cutter Loose will spend hurricane season in the boat yard. A calendar posted in the galley outlines target dates for making southerly progress from Antigua to Grenada. After more than three months of cruising without a schedule, the very notion of a calendar feels confining, albeit necessary.
Our ten day stay in Antigua has been most enjoyable. The Antiguan people are warm and friendly. In particular, English Harbor is a unique historic setting while Nonsuch Bay offers the type of remote getaway that soothes the soul. Having absorbed some of the delights of Antigua, the time has come to move on. Tomorrow we will sail to the French island of Guadeloupe. We can almost taste the croissants!