Celebrating The Holidays On Antigua

We had come to spend the holidays on Antigua for one reason, Nelson’s Dockyard’s annual Christmas Day champagne party . Our friends Jeff and Di first told us about the event, while we were all still in Grenada. Champagne, sunshine and cruising friends?!? I was immediately sold.

Shortly after we settled into Falmouth Harbour, Howard went into the water…possibly an attempt at a holiday bath? At our latest count, he’d been in the water six times, in four countries.

Scott trimmed Sea Life in her holiday finest, we snapped a Christmas photo and were ready for the holidays to begin.

On Christmas Day, we walked over to the Nelson’s Dockyard to meet our friends. A crowd of people were already gathering in the midday sun when we arrived.

Under a huge tent, a large, old wooden dinghy was filled with champagne bottles on ice. The process was simple: buy a bottle, and grab some cups for sharing. Prices ranged from $15.00 usd, up to $95.00 a bottle, with proceeds going toward the fight against breast cancer.

I’d brought along two insulated drink thermoses, with a splash of mango juice in each one. I divided my champagne between the two, and voila!…chilled mimosas ready to go! Scott, not being a champagne drinker, had come armed with his own thermoses, filled with vodka and Orangina; let the merriment begin!

As we walked the grounds, I snapped some photos of some people in their holiday garb.

An odd-looking boat was on display, outside one of the buildings. We went for a closer look, and learned that James “Tiny” Little had used it to row 3,000 miles from the Canary Islands to Antigua, in 2005.

Little left the Canaries in January, and arrived on Antigua four months later…looking much lighter. Notice his interesting, daily schedule.

We spent the day in the company of good friends, enjoying the champagne, sunshine….and silliness.

Di and I posed for a photos with one of the many Santas in attendance. This particular Santa was sitting by a case of Heineken beer; it must have been a stressful Christmas Eve.

Our friend Ian was a dancing machine, performing a one-man show as the band played nearby.

Eventually, he took his moves closer to the band, dancing with several partners.

And he still had energy left to take his wife, Manuela, for a twirl as well.

It was a great Christmas Day.

Next up, New Year’s Eve., and our friend Karen (our official cruising visitor), flew in to celebrate with us. As we prepared her room, Howard firmly claimed the pull-down bunk. We thought she wouldn’t mind sharing with him, and officially made them roommates.

Steady rain poured the entire morning of Karen’s arrival, so I sent Scott to the dinghy dock armed with a raincoat for her, and trash bags for her luggage. Thankfully, by the time Scott picked her up at the dock, the rain had stopped.

We spent the first part of our evening up at Shirley Heights. A reggae band played, the crowd was festive, and the view was beautiful.

Karen broke her flip flop on the historical site’s uneven surface, but not to fear…”MacGyver” got right to work with his knife and some cocktail straws. In no time…presto!, she was back in business.

As the night grew later, we left Shirley Heights, and made our way back down the hill to Nelson’s Dockyard, where a large crowd was gathering for the countdown to midnight, and continued our celebration.

As a DJ played music for the crowd, Ian shared some dance move tips with Scott, who caught on pretty well.

Before we knew it, midnight arrived, and 2018 was ushered in with cheers and a colorful fireworks display.

Our journey back to Sea Life was full of acrobatics. Scott fell on the uneven sidewalk, and rolled his way into some nearby grass, and shockingly came up unscathed. I fell soon after, but did not roll, and instead came up with one of my toes bent sideways. A friendly local gave me a  hand off the ground, asking….”Do you people need help?”

We arrived at the dock, where Karen promptly fell into the dinghy. After managing to all acrobats seated, and the motor started, we sped off and ran over a bouy. As he cut away the tangled mass of line from the prop, Scott barked at Karen and me to row. Eventually, we made it back to Sea Life without further issue, and safely climbed aboard. Maybe a bit too much celebrating.

On New Year’s Day, Karen and I spent the afternoon at Boom, a nearby restaurant with a pool on site. We walked the drive leading up to the property, past colorful tropical plants and flowers, and settled into a poolside daybed.

We enjoyed lunch, drinks and some pool time, before making our way back to Scott, who’d spent the day napping.

On Karen’s final day, she and I walked the street leading to Nelson’s Dockyard, chatting with locals and perusing shops as we went.

When we were all shopped out, the two of us made our way out of the dockyard, but not before getting a final glimpse of Boom across the water, while trying not to disturb one of the resident iguanas.

We took a short cab ride to nearby Papa’s for some lunch, before she left for the airport. Scott arrived at the waterfront restaurant by dinghy, with Karen’s bags in tow.

We enjoyed a relaxing lunch, said goodbye to our friend and put her into a cab, bound for the airport.

It had been a wonderful Antigua holiday, as we spent time with cruising friends, and our good friend from home. We wonder what 2018 has in store for the crew of Sea Life?? Here are more photos.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

On to Antigua

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!”