Waiting Out Winter Winds In Antigua

In mid January, the wind and swells were still high, making travel both north and south challenging. Some chose to slog on, but many boats at anchor in Jolly Harbour, us included, stayed put to wait it out. We passed time putting around in the dingy, up and down the many nearby canals and through the marina. Behind one of the many houses, Scott noticed a speed boat on a lift, with four motors hanging off the back; I was told to take several photos.

But what really caught Scott’s attention was this distant relative to the Aluminum Princess (or Aluminum Bruce, or Sharky or whatever we’re calling her these days). Needless to say, he was intrigued.

We spent time with friends on the beaches that lined Jolly Harbour. Allen and Francine’s dog, Mizzen, loved to feel the sand between her toes…and on her legs, chest and face as well.

On my visit to St. John’s, I noticed a Burger King just a block from the west bus station, so Scott and I headed to town for a fix. When we arrived, the fish market next to the bus station was open, with people at work cleaning and filleting piles of fresh-caught fish.

As we got closer, it became clear that most of the fish were in fact reef fish, which aren’t supposed to be caught or eaten, and many were very small.  The sight really upset Scott. He said it explained why he’d seen so few fish when snorkeling in the surrounding waters; the locals seemed to be catching anything and everything.

The upsetting fish market sight did not lessen Scott’s fast food craving, so we continued on to Burger King. Sadly, it was not nearly as good as our Cartagena McDonald’s experience, but it did the job.

Back at anchor, our friends Ian and Manuela, and Allen and Francine were preparing to visit nearby Montserrat.  We enjoyed a fun evening with them aboard Sea Life, and they set off the next morning.

Scott and I decided to be a bit less adventurous, and traveled a short distance up the coast to spend a few days in nearby Deep Bay. There were several boats at anchor when we arrived, but overall, the area was quiet, with views of an old fort, and the massive houses we’d become used to seeing on the hills of an Antigua.

We spent the evening in the cockpit, looking at stars, and watching cruise ships pass by, disappearing and reappearing behind rock islands at the far end of the bay.

The next morning, we went ashore to explore the fort.

From atop the hill, we had good views of the anchorage below, and the deserted resort at the far end of the beach. We could also see over to the cruise ships docked at the harbour in St. John’s.

As we wandered the grounds, looking down at the anchorage below, we realized that the boats at anchor near us had left….and we now had the bay to ourselves! After snapping a few more photos, we raced back down the hill, made a mad dash back to the boat and came back ready for some beach time. A couple had arrived by car, but there was more than enough room for us to share the long stretch of beach. We sat back and enjoyed the view of Sea Life at anchor alone in the bay….with not another boat in sight.

Except….for our friends, Alan and Francine, who we again spotted on the horizon, making their way back to Jolly Harbour.

With winds predicted to strengthen, it was time for us to head back as well. On the way, we decided to stop at Five Islands Bay for a night or two. It was right around the corner from Jolly, so getting back would be quick and easy, and it was protected and quiet. Unfortunately, the nearby landfill had set fire to some old tires, and when the wind shifted, a terrible smell filled the boat. The odor and smoke haze was so bad, we had to close up the entire boat. Not enjoyable for us at all, but even worse for the poor folks who lived in houses right next to the landfill. After two days of misery, we admitted defeat, and went back to Jolly.

In trying to find new things to fill our time, I’d read about a nearby restaurant with a 2-4-1 lobster deal, so we met Allen and Francine at the dinghy dock and walked over. The Big Head Lobster Reggae Bar was part of several restaurants built close together, in a small, village-like setting (I was disappointed we hadn’t found this place sooner). As usual, we had the place to ourselves, not being on island dinner time, which is closer to 8pm than 6pm. The price wasn’t quite as 2-4-1, as advertised, but the lobsters were tasty, and we had fun.

Several day later, the four of us rode the bus to St. John’s, and walked just a few blocks to In The Backyard Bar & Grill. Located on a residential street, the bar/restaurant is run out of a lot adjacent to the owner’s home, where he was born and raised.

We settled at a table, and enjoyed some snacks and drinks. John, the owner, came over to welcome us, and when he heard that we were cruisers, he waived over another John. This John, a Canadian, had spent the last ten winters in Antigua on his boat. He had relatives on the island, and recently purchased a house in Jolly Harbour. After chatting with several more regulars, we left feeling like locals.

The wind and swell were finally predicted to ease a bit, but traveling to the northern islands on our list would still be pretty lumpy. While waiting for weather to calm further for that direction, we decided to turn south, and visit Iles des Saintes, off of Guadeloupe, and then Dominica. After two months, our time in Antigua was over. We said goodbye to Allen and Francine, who would wait in Jolly Harbour for calmer seas, before continuing on their journey back to New England, and turned Sea Life south. 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!”