From Deshaies, it was just a short day’s ride to Antigua, where we would celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Scott caught a mahi along the way, but it broke free just as he was preparing to scoop it into the cockpit…skunked again.
He reset the lines, and went back to..ahem…”fishing.”
We planned to anchor in Falmouth Harbour for the holidays, but first headed for Jolly Harbour, further north. Falmouth is part of a national park, and boats are charged daily anchoring fees, in addition to clearance fees, when checking in. Clearing in at Jolly Harbour would save us the anchoring fees, and there was also a large grocery store across the street from the dinghy dock. Our plan was to clear in, hit the grocery store and then immediately continue on to Falmouth Harbour. The winds were predicted to increase in the next day or so, and we wanted to be in place when they did.
Scott had used Sea Clear, an online service offered in many of the Eastern Caribbean islands, that allowed him to fill out our clearance paperwork ahead of time. In most islands we’ve visited, officials are quite happy with this system, as it saves time, and avoids having to decipher handwritten forms. As has happened several times before, Scott was waived to the front of the line, past cruisers who hadn’t pre-cleared. Howard wasn’t an issue for the officials, and Scott soon returned to the boat.
Next up…groceries. On our way across the street to the store, we said hello to the many cats who have made a home in the large, abandoned casino building along the waterfront. They came in all colors, and had usually slanted eyes.
Most were pretty timid, except this guy, who took a liking to Scott.
The Epicurean grocery store at Jolly Harbour was large, stocked with good produce and had many familiar items. Behind it was a home store, run by the same company.. one stop shopping.
The bag boys were happy to help wheel our many bags, bottles and cases across the street and onto the dinghy dock, a service that was well worth the tip.
With a full dinghy, we headed back through the marina, and were reminded that Christmas was just around the corner.
Back at the boat, we unloaded our provisions, raised anchor and left Jolly Harbour to head for Falmouth.
Along the way, we passed some large houses on the cliffs above the shoreline. You could definitely smell the money on this island.
Just two hours later, we made the turn into Falmouth Harbour, and were smacked in the face by a mass of fiberglass and stainless.
The marina was at the back of the harbour, but the huge wall of yachts was visible clear across the large bay.
Scott was trying to focus on navigating, while eyeballing the unusual boats at anchor, as we made our way further into the harbour.
I snapped photos as we traveled closer to the mass of behemoths. My head was on a swivel, as I shouted to Scott, “Good Lord, look at that!”
And, s@#t!, do you see that one?!?” It was so much to take in, that I completely missed our friends, Jeff and Di, waving to us as we went by them.
Howard was intrigued as well.
In the 1700s, it was hard to find secure ports that were easily defensible, with immediate access to the trade winds. Falmouth and nearby English Harbour, side by side and almost touching at the closest point, met all these requirements.
In the early eighteenth century, the British Royal Navy recognized the strategic importance of English Harbour for protecting ships from hurricanes, and its position at the south of the island for monitoring French naval activity. Throughout the century, the dockyard grew in importance, as it was the only harbour in the Eastern Caribbean large enough for safe, naval ship repairs.
From 1784 through 1787, Horatio Nelson, was sent to Antigua to enforce British laws in the colonies (Considered a British hero, he was noted for his inspirational leadership, superb grasp of strategy and unconventional tactics, which together resulted in a number of decisive British naval victories). During his time on the island, work was begun on the English Harbour Dockyard, and was completed, looking much as it does today, by 1789.
The Dockyard was abandoned by the Royal Navy in 1889, and by 1947, it was in ruins. A massive restoration began in 1949, and the area was turned into a beautiful, but functional monument. When complete, the area was renamed Nelson’s Dockyard in honor of the years Nelson spent in Antigua, and in 2016, it was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. I found this small photo online, that offers a good overview of the property.
Today, the restored buildings in Nelson’s Dockyard house hotels, restaurants and businesses, and both harbours are part of Antigua’s National Parks Authority.
Not only is it Antigua’s yachting capital, but English Harbour is also a major Caribbean yachting center and destination.
The harbours attract hundreds of cruising yachts each year. English Harbour is more scenic, but small, with less room for boats at anchor, and has become the Caribbean’s main base for beautiful, sailing superyachts. Falmouth Harbour is considerably larger, surrounded by hills and offers more facilities than English Harbour. Because of this, it’s favored by most charter yachts, superyachts and larger cruising yachts. With more room to anchor, an easy ride to shore and many conveniences within easy walking distance, we chose to anchor in Falmouth as well (located at the top of this online photo).
There were three grocery stores not far from the dinghy dock, as well as several restaurants on the marina grounds. The short stretch of road between Falmouth and English harbour was lined with many more restaurants and shops.
High up on a hill above Nelson’s Dockyard, Shirley Heights is a restored military lookout and gun battery. The military complex, within a short distance of the Dockyard, is not named after the fairer sex, but after Sir Thomas Shirley, Governor of the Leeward Islands, who strengthened Antigua’s defenses in 1781. At approximately 490 feet, it offers amazing views of English and Falmouth Harbours below. The buildings on site have been adapted to function as a restaurant and bar, and it hosts a famous, Sunday evening sunset party each week.
We hopped in a taxi with our friend, David Smylie, and headed up the hill for drinks and sunset views, arriving to music in the air, and a crowd full of people.
We wandered over to the nearby picnic grounds, which allowed more open views of the harbours below.
As the sun set, English Harbour and Falmouth Harbours lit up below us. We looked forward to spending the upcoming holidays in this historic and beautiful place.
Here are more photos.
“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”