Change of plans
28 March 2012 | British Virgin Islands
Guadeloupe, Antigua, Barbuda, St Barths, St Martin, Virgin Gorda, I see we have covered a few islands since I last wrote, time for a catch up.
When we were in Isle de Saintes the weather was windy and a bit wet, we had time to look at our schedule, the miles to go, places we wanted to see and the time we had left before flying out of LA on the 14th of May for NZ. We came to the realization that covering the 1500 miles to Florida in time to leave Tuatara was just about impossible as well as stressful, whereas cruising north and enjoying the islands as far as the Virgin Islands then a 500 mile hop down to Trinidad seemed much more inviting. After making the decision we've been able to relax and stop calendar watching but in doing so I have forgotten to keep up the blog!!
We left Isle de Saintes in a brisk 30knots which sent us flying across the small gap to Guadeloupe and as we got in the lee of the big Island we came to a halt on a flat windless sea. The three nights we had on the coast of Guadeloupe were a mix of gusty wind and peaceful calm. Unfortunately the windiest day was at Pigeon Island where there is a Jacques Cousteau Marine park with reputedly excellent diving and snorkeling. With no diving partner handy Alan went snorkeling but the choppy sea and overcast weather meant a not very exciting experience. After clearing out at Deshaies(Deyhay) we had a great sail over to Antigua where we were looking forward to seeing Mike and Carole on Tashi Delik, last seen in Cape Verdes. English harbor and Falmouth Harbour on Antigua are the two of the main centres of yachting in the Caribbean. Antigua race week at the end of April is one of the biggest sailing events in the Caribbean season. We were rather early to see all the race yachts but the two harbours were still full of fabulous vessels of all sizes and propulsion. English harbor is home to the historic Nelsons Dockyard, a tourist destination, a marina with related services, customs offices and when we arrived a hive of activity preparing for the visit from Prince Edward and his wife Sophie. Tashi Delek had prime viewing seats they were in the marina with unimpeded views of the dock where Leander the large motor yacht bringing the Royals was to dock. Being Brits, Mike and Carole were hoping the marina would not move them, with confidence that they would still be there they invited us for breakfast on the Tuesday morning to watch the pomp and ceremony.
Nelsons Dockyard and English Harbour were important servicing areas for the English sailing ship fleet from the early 1700s until the mid 1800s. The English saw the advantage of the harbor as a hurricane hole and a place to hide ships as the entrance is hard to distinguish from seaward. Nelson was Commander there in his late 20s before he returned to England in 1787 and higher things. Nelson did not seem to have a happy time as commander as the locals wanted to keep trading with their American cousins but as Commander he had to stick to the English law and forbid trading with the Rebels, consequently he was not overly popular. It is said he never slept ashore in the official residence because of this but maybe he was just more comfortable in a ships' cabin. When the English Navy decided that they did not need the facilities, the dock yard fell into disrepair but in the 1950s renovations gradually began and now today the area is a charming mix of historical tourism and working marina. I am not sure whether it is always the case but when we were there all the beautiful old style yachts were moored at Nelsons Dockyard and the modern glitzy vessels were over in the more modern surroundings at Falmouth harbor. Nelson's was all varnish, teak decks, wooden spars, sweeping bowsprits and flags dipping off elegant sterns. Falmouth was sleek modern low profile cabins with shiny stainless, large communication domes balancing on 100ft masts, one way glass for anonymity, huge hydraulically lifted chunks of deck and hulls silently opening to reveal an array of toys. Some of these modern vessels wish to be so sleek that their anchors are laid out from underwater trapdoors in the bow.
The place to be in Antigua on a Sunday night is the Jump up at Shirley Heights. Alan and I joined Carole, Mike and their visiting American relatives for the experience. Sunset high above the two harbours accompanied by a steel band, with a plate of fried chicken and salad in hand, magic. A more refined atmosphere than the Gros Islet Jump up at Rodney bay. Both enjoyable in their own ways. After a visit to St Johns on the Monday we checked with Tashi Delik to see if they had been moved, and no our viewing platform was remaining in place for the Royal visit the next morning.
We walked over to English harbor, through the gates no security checks on foot traffic just cars. Wandering across the parade ground to Tashi Delik we mingled with military uniforms, TV presenters and last minute tidy uppers. The long dock that 250ft Leander carrying the Royal couple, was to dock on had been built specially by its owner Sir Donald Gosling so that his boat had enough depth to anchor in. Leander is generally chartered out at the amazing sum of about 440,000, not sure if dollars or Pounds(that's a lot whichever), a week plus fuel. However as this is the Queens Jubilee year and as there is now no Royal yacht, Sir Donald has made Leander available this year for Royal use, completely free of charge to the Queen and the British tax payer. Now that's a seriously rich and generous man.
As our gathering of Brits, Americans and Kiwis ate croissants and sipped coffee, the shiny blue Leander docked a 100 metres away and we watched the crew scurry around washing the back deck ready for the Royal feet, the ship was dressed with flags, a few last flicks of the polishing rags just before the Lady Governor of Antigua went on board to welcome Edward and Sophie. I did note Sir Donald on the top deck checking the proceedings. Once the local dignitaries and military personal lined up, the army band and military guard of honour had shuffled their feet into the correct places we knew the show was about to happen. The Royals and their entourage walked down the dock and the Prince gave us a wave. He also gave us a cheery good morning as he walked past Tashi Delik's stern, in fact I am sure Prince Edward would have rather come and joined us in the shade for coffee instead of inspecting the guard in his hot suit. Although we would have had to squash up a bit as the cockpit of a 39ft yacht is slightly smaller than that of luxurious Leander.
We enjoyed a couple more days in Falmouth harbor before we moved north for a night at Jolly harbor on our way to Barbuda. Beautiful Barbuda is 30 miles north of Antigua. A low flat island, for 150 years was leased by the Codrington family for one fat sheep a year. When King William III awarded the lease it was conditional on the family looking after the inhabitants who were mostly slaves. With emancipation in 1834 the slave became tenants of the land they had worked on for years. To this day only Barbudans have the right to work and live on the land. The Codrington family benefited from the sailing ships which came to grief on the Atlantic coast reef, some say lured onto the reef by the family , there are supposedly around 300 wrecks around the coast of Barbuda.
There are only a couple of resorts on the island, the people of Barbuda like the island the way it is .beautiful and unspoilt. We anchored at Low Bay which is an 8 mile long vision of blue azure water and pink sand. The day we arrived there were only 8 boats, so not exactly crowded. One day there was 20, spread along 8 miles we still had plenty of swinging room. We stayed 7 days and every morning I looked out and said, "isn't this glorious" to the frigate birds flying past.
Barbuda has a large lagoon separated from the sea by a narrow strip of beach. The northern entrance lets in the sea water but is too shallow for all but small fishing boats to access. A portion of the extensive area of mangroves in the north is taken over by the largest Frigate bird colony in the western hemisphere. Water taxis run across the lagoon to the main town of Codrington where yachts clear customs and have lunch nothing else to do there, shopping is limited, "supermarket" shelves were reasonably bare and restaurants limited. Be well stocked if going to Barbuda for a few days, was good advice given to us. One day we arranged for JR to take us to visit the Frigates then into town for a couple of hours before returning to our side of the lagoon. JR gave us a potted history of his adopted home, he came from Antigua 23 years ago but can never have the same rights as island born Barbudans. The Frigates are used to visitors and did not stir as he quietly poled the open boat around the mangroves past nests with fluffy white chicks. The breeding season is coming to an end a few hopeful males were still puffing out their red chests. In a month or so the males leave the females to finish raising the chicks and fly off to Galapagos Islands to start another family. We had seen nesting frigates at Chesterfield reef but it was interesting this time to hear all the information JR had to tell us about these large black birds. For example their legs are only about 3 inches long they never walk only land on branches or their nests. They scoop fish out of the water with their long beaks as they never dive in the sea. Frigates do not have the oil glands other sea birds have so cannot dive into the water.
The taxi boat dropped us in town for our visit to customs and immigration to clear out as well as a lunch. We enquired at the Green door Pub about lunch but he directed us to the restaurant recommended by JR. The score of the Australian/West Indies match was passed on to us as we walked past the bank. Everyone in the Caribbean is cricket mad and they know all the happenings of every cricket match happening in the world at any one time, including the dismal NZ scores against the South Africans.
We had the company of Tony on Tactical Directions and Bruce and Gina of Wyuna while at Barbuda. Both aussies and catamarans not that we hold those things against them especially as their big back decks were ideal for sundowners. The Canadians from the motor vessel Mariner Sojourner joined us on our Frigate bird tour and invited us for drinks aboard. We had been sharing anchorages off and on for weeks but had never met. The men loved the opportunity to look around the Nordhaven, admiring engines, talking about fuel consumption and trim tabs. We agreed Mariner Sojourner was lovely, but we all came back happy with our own boats and the simple systems of sailing boats.
Beautiful Barbuda our top spot so far in the Caribbean, it will take a lot to beat it. We reluctantly up anchored and headed for St Martins the incentive of well stocked marine chandleries and some retail therapy made leaving the blue water and pink sand a little easier.
Sorry about lack of photos. will put some on at next internet stop.