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!”

A Visit To Antigua’s Capital City, And Nearby Great Bird Island

The holidays were over, and it was back to “normal” cruising life in Antigua. We had packages being sent to Antigua from home, and copies of our clearance papers were required, in order to waive the duty. Ezone, the shipping company we used, was located just outside of St. John’s, Antigua’s capital city, so my friend Di and I decided to make a day of it.

Buses in Antigua are similar to Grenada, in the fact that the price is right, and you can get on and off at any time. The amusing conductors are missing, as is the heart-pounding party music, but it’s still a crowded, hot go. Buses don’t travel through the narrow streets of St. John’s. Instead, there is a station on either side of town, and the routes fan out to the east and west from each station (online photo).

Di and I were lucky enough to board an air conditioned bus in Falmouth, for our 45 minute ride to town…yahoo! Once at the west bus station, we made a ten minute walk across town to the east bus station, where we boarded a bus going toward the shipping company. After a ten minute ride, we got off at the nearest intersection, and walked about five minutes down the road to the shipping company.

Got that? A 45 minute ride, in a/c, thank goodness; a ten minute, hot walk; a ten minute, hot ride and a five minute, hot walk, then reveres…now go hug your air conditioned car.

In less than five minutes, we we finished at the shipping company, and asked how long our wait might be to get a bus back into St. John’s. Di and I lucked out again, as the owner of the company was heading into town, and offered us a ride back.

We spent the next few hours wandering the streets of St. John, perusing the many local shops and stores, as well as the duty-free, but still plenty-expensive stores leading to the cruise ship terminal. There were at least two large ships docked in St. John’s at any given time, sometimes as many as four. The streets were still decorated for the holidays (I borrowed another photo).

We poked our heads into St. John’s Cathedral, which is on a high point in town, offering views back down the city streets, and out to the cruise ship docks.

The building was undergoing a major renovation, and Di and I assumed it was due to recent damage from hurricane Irma or Maria. Once inside, we learned that the church had instead been completely devastated by termites. As a result, the entire interior was being redone. The monumental task was almost complete, and a grand reopening was scheduled for March.

After conquering the city, we cooled off with some gelato, and then made our way over to the west station, to board the number 17 bus back to Falmouth Harbour. Buses wait at the station until they are full. Full means that every seat is taken, including the fold-down jump seats, and the third seat up front, between the driver and passenger. Ten minutes after we boarded the bus, it was cattle-car full, and we were off.

Just before we arrived at the station, Di and I both realized that neither one of us had remembered to bring a vhf radio. Di’s husband, Jeff, had dropped us off at the dingy dock, and we now had no way to call either husband for a return ride to our boats. Back at Falmouth Harbour, we walked over to the yacht club, where the office staff was nice enough to let us use their radio. I was able to reach Scott, and a few minutes later, he arrive to fetch us, ending our long, hot, but enjoyable day in town.

With time to kill before our care package arrived, we decided to visit nearby Great Bird Island, located off of Antigua’s north side. Surprisingly, after only two weeks, we raised the anchor to find some thick sea grass had taken root in our anchor chain.

Scott patiently scrubbed the stuff loose, and we left crowded Falmouth Harbor, with Howard already comfortably settled in for the ride.

Traveling up the coast, we passed off of Long Island, where upscale Jumby Bay Resort is located, as well as several massive private homes.

Just past Long Island, we spotted Dboat, an old freighter that now acts as a floating adult-entertainment barge. Dboat offers a bar, with both covered and full-sun seating, a large slide off of the top deck and several trampolines and floats, to pass the time.

We dropped anchor at Great Bird Island, surrounded by several other cruiser and charter boats. Scott noticed an inviting spot off of our starboard side, with only one boat at anchor. After checking the chart, he realized that there were several coral heads surrounding the area, which may have deterred other boats from entering.

Coral heads can definitely be intimidating, but after our time in the Western Caribbean, we are far more comfortable navigating them than most, so when the lone boat left the next morning, we raised anchor and claimed the spot for ourselves. A sizable reef stretched out ahead of us, and off of our bow was an island full of birds. It was peaceful, a nice change from busy Falmouth Harbour and the water was rippled in shades of blue….awesome.

Scott explored his surroundings, and took our friends Ian and Manuela to their own private visit at nearby Stingray City. It saved paying the fee to come by tour boat, and there were no crowds. However, Manuela was a bit freaked out by the idea of being alone, with the many rays brushing against her. She retreated back to the Aluminum Princess after only a few minutes, leaving Ian to enjoy the rays by himself. Scott was just happy for any excuse to take a boat ride.

After a few days at anchor, enjoying brunch on board with friends, fish-watching at night and quiet time in general, we traveled back down the coast. Our packages had arrived, and the forecast called for increased wind, so we headed for Jolly Harbour. It offered protection from the weather, and easy access to shore, and a rental car office just steps from the dinghy dock(and Howard thought it smelled good).

I must have drawn the short stick, and was unlucky enough to drive the rental…on the “wrong” side of the car, on the “wrong” side of the street and on unfamiliar roads (this was Scott’s payback, for doing all the driving when we visited England). For the most part, I did pretty well remembering to keep the yellow line on my right, as opposed to my left, and only turned on the wipers instead of the turn signal (wrong side of the car), a handful of times.

However, the whole day was like a real-time video game. I had to swerve the many potholes that threatened to swallow the car, and Scott  was like a broken record, telling me that I was too far to the left. What was most challenging, is that drivers in Antigua seemed seemed to enjoy playing a constant game of chicken, traveling right down the center of the road, and only moving off to their respective side at the last second.

We picked up our boxes at Ezone, and then made a stop at the much larger Epicurean grocery store outside of town, filling three shopping carts full of things we needed, and others we hadn’t seen in months and wanted. After perusing a large home store, and several local hardware stores, the car was stuffed full and we made our way back to Jolly Harbour.

We’d taken a mooring ball for two nights, putting us right off the boat yard. The guard at the gate gave us permission to bring our car in to unload, and we parked at the far end of the yard. After five trips back and forth, with the dinghy at full capacity, the car was empty and the saloon was full. I took the rest of the day to put everything in its place, with help and supervision from Howard, and our big provision was done.

With the “winter winds” firmly in place (I don’t know why they’re referred to as the “Christmas” winds, since they don’t seem to know when the holidays begin, or end), weather wasn’t favorable for travel, and most of the anchorages at nearby islands didn’t provide the protection of our location at Jolly Harbour.

For an escape from the crowded anchorage, we literally went around the corner, to Five Islands Bay. Our only neighbor? A 48 foot Kadey Krogen! Ken and Slyvianne escape Canada each year, and spend their winters aboard Silken Sea. We spent an evening on board their beautiful boat, getting to know them better, and swapping cruising and Krogen stories.

Scott explored one of the nearby islands, stomping around a salt pond and old sugar mill. It was a challenging go, as the paths were lined with tenacious bushes full of long thorns, whose branches were resistant to his efforts with a machete.

After a few days of quiet, and a change of scene, we made our way back to Jolly Harbour. Ken and Slyvianne were trying to make Trinidad for carnival, so after taking on fuel, they chose to take their licks and head further south.

We settled back into life at anchor in Jolly, and waited for better travel weather, as we seem to do so often. Here are more photos.

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