The annoying alarm went off early (but aren’t all alarms are annoying early morning?). At 5:30 it’s still dark and I think to myself ‘Why am I getting up this early if I don’t have to go to work?’ Today’a destination, Antigua, is a 56 nautical mile sail from Nevis and Captain Al, likes to get an early start. Setting out early gives us adequate time to cover the miles, find an anchorage and get settled in before dark.
I begrudgingly shook off my dreams of flying (they’re the best ones!) and walked the 10 feet into the galley to make coffee. The day was warm and windy, offering the perfect sailing conditions. As we dropped the mooring ball, the sun came out, more like sprang up from behind Nevis’s peak and warmed the fabric of everything it touched.
No longer grumpy about being awoken so early, I pulled myself up into the cockpit and embraced the spectacular day around me. Impossible to be grumpy out here kids! As the winds were perfect, we sailed for most of the voyage with a reefed main. We dodged between squalls and did not get rained on once. TiSento were also sailing to Antigua that day as well and we could see them in the distance.
Antigua is one of the largest islands in the Leeward chain, attracting travellers of all sorts because of its spectacular beaches, shopping and history. None of the above drew us to its welcoming shores, rather the plethora of protected anchorages favourable to the cruiser. We opted to sail to English Harbour, a check-in point for customs, and a secluded anchorage to protect us from the north easterly winds and swells that were heading our way. Apparently we weren’t the only ones who had this thought as the three anchorages around English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour were chock-a-block full of boats. It took some time to find a spot but we finally put our anchor down in Freeman’s Bay, just outside English Harbour.
English Harbour is old. It seeps history from every crack and seam. For hundreds of years it has attracted boats. In the 1700’s it brought the British navy. Today it attracts yachties of all sorts. Little boats and big boats, classic boats and mega yachts. Antigua Sailing Week, the premier racing event for sailing super yachts takes place here. Oysters were also in abundance, the sailing variety, as the Oyster Word Rally was starting off from English Harbour in a couple of days.
We didn’t make customs the day we arrived but not a problem, we hoisted our yellow flag which symbolizes quarantine, and had an anchor beer. Regulations stipulate you cannot leave your boat until you clear customs but I didn’t think a swim counted so I jumped in, checked our anchor and swam over to check out a nearby submerged wreck. Our anchor looked good but the guidebook said that boats tend to do 360 turns so we deployed our second anchor.
Freeman’s Bay indeed lived up to the description with boats turning all night on their anchors, and sterns coming precipitously close to one another. We decided to reset the next morning before heading into customs, moving to a spacier location. Better safe than sorry and after I dove to ensure we had a good hold, we dinghied into English Harbour.
History and Ghosts
The Check-in at customs was more detailed than other customs offices but we got through it. The officials were a little testy but it was busy and they must tire of getting asked the same question over and over. We were in The Nelson Dockyard, a UNESCO world heritage site, which comprises a significant part of English Harbour. It’s incredibly interesting and well presented. It’s claim to fame – one of the finest examples of a Georgian naval dockyard in its original form. British naval forces arrived in the 1700’s, using it as a base to maintain British control of the trade-oriented colonies around the Caribbean. The infrastructure has been restored and today is utilized for modern day needs. The bakery we visited is the original bakery however they added a modern kitchen.
The Admirals Inn hotel, located next to the Pillars which was the loading loft for large sailing vessels is now a hotel and restaurant. We sat there for an afternoon accessing the wifi. You could practically feel the ghosts walking around in there. I sat and imagined what it was like in the 1700’s. I played a game while waiting for my video to load. The young Italian in front of me smoking and face-timing on his mobile would have been the visiting dignitary from Italy, seeking alliances with the British Navy but he would have been writing a letter rather than talking on his mobile. The two older couples, one man smoking a pipe, the other a cigar, were naval officers and their wives, who sipped on fancy drinks, chatted and snapped pics, were over to visit the colonies for the summer. The black man doing the gardening was a slave who had been brought here from a far away land. It was easy to imagine and I swear if you sat there long enough you’d see ghosts.
Al and I walked over to Falmouth Harbour, a short jaunt across from English Harbour . Falmouth is another protected harbour with a huge anchoring field and mega yachts galore. The Falcon was there and a bunch of of other shiny new yachts but next to the classic sailing yachts, they weren’t as striking. They were trying too hard while these fabulous sailing yachts with wooden masts and expansive decks look cool and classic. Queen Anne tarps draped over the boom, butterfly doors and gleaming masts, they were the epitome of class.
Heading back to our boat we saw Tisento and arranged a hike the next day with Agnes and Bas. The fort at the mouth of English Harbour. is a short walk but gives a killer view. It still has original canons in place and a couple of buildings that were designed to defend the city from pirates and foreigner invaders. The hike extended over to Falmouth and we passed several flocks of goats who were smart enough to have figured out that when they eat all the greenery on the lower branches, standing works well (sadly, no pics). We ended the day sharing pizza, baked by an Italian.
The pizza made an excellent breakfast the following day. Afterwards, we headed into the dock to see the lovely Oysters depart all in a row and then hiked up to Shirley Heights to see the start of their around the world race.
Antigua is lovely and we decided to hang around the island and explore but why does English bread have to suck so much (the French islands have spoiled us)? Aside from the bread, we like Antigua and look forward to exploring more of the history and its ghosts.