Born of the Sea

Preparing for a phased retirement on the sea. Muirgen (Gaelic for 'born of the sea')

15 April 2024 | Marigot Bay, Saint Lucia
08 April 2024 | Saint Lucia National Parks
06 April 2024 | Rodney Bay / Gros Islet, Saint Lucia
31 March 2024 | Sainte Anne, Martinique
13 March 2024 | Iles des Saintes
10 March 2024 | Deshaies, Guadeloupe
03 March 2024 | Monserrat to Guadeloupe
02 March 2024 | Monserrat
29 February 2024 | Nevis
27 February 2024 | St Kitts
24 February 2024
20 February 2024
17 February 2024 | Jolly Harbour, Antigua
09 February 2024
08 February 2024 | Guadeloupe and Iles des Saintes
18 January 2024 | Seaworth's Bluff, Antigua
09 January 2024 | Barbuda

Barbuda

09 January 2024 | Barbuda
Donna Cariss
On New Year's Eve, the day after I arrived, we went out for dinner at Arlecchino's, a seafood and steakhouse, on the waterfront, in Jolly Harbour. There was no special fancy menu or inflated prices for the occasion and we ate 2 courses and had a bottle of wine for about £120. The food (tuna cerviche, rib of beef and pork chop, with sides of creamed spinach and garlic mashed potatoes) was delicious. We will be eating there again before we leave Antigua to head across the Caribbean. We returned to the boat, out in the anchorage and watched the fireworks at midnight.
I spent the next few days settling in, getting used to the high prices in the supermarket and learning a few lessons e.g. only buy screw-top wine, as 50% of the bottles with corks are corked from standing up in the heat. Rum is ridiculously cheap, at about £8.50 for 1.75 litres but the ginger ale is around £3 for 2 litres and beer is cheaper than coca cola.
After 3 days of sun, sea and swimming, I was getting restless, so we decided to take a trip to Barbuda, part of the same country (Antigua and Barbuda) and about 35 miles north of Antigua. We departed at 0830 hours, on Thursday 4th January with no wind in the anchorage and the forecast showing around 8 knots once we cleared the shelter of Antigua. However, we started to pick up a little wind about 30 minutes after leaving and raised the sails, just as clouds of steam started pouring from the exhaust. We turned the engine off and Pete checked the engine compartments. The engine was red hot and the cooling water had boiled over. Once we cleared the island and were on a clear run, Pete pumped out the engine compartment. We put a long line out behind the boat and as the wind picked up to around 12 knots, we had a great sail. The swell increased as we moved out of the shelter as Antigua, which was to be expected as the easterly wind comes straight off the Atlantic. We had frigate birds soaring overhead, a wonderful sight, with their 3 metre wingspan. It wasn't long before we caught and landed a small tuna. Pete gutted it and put it in the fridge for later.
We were going to Spanish Point, the most south easterly point on Barbuda, which is surrounded by coral reefs and requires a lot of care. As we closed in, we went head to wind and dropped the mainsail. We needed to get as far as possible into the anchorage before starting the engine, in case it overheated again. I was on the helm and Pete was on the foredeck, looking out for the coral heads and reefs. It was a tricky sail, just under the foresail, with the wind almost directly behind us and a 2 metre swell. The boat was rolling with the swell and it was difficult to keep the foresail from collapsing, as we edged between the main reef to starboard and the smaller ones to port. I was relieved to turn to starboard with more wind in the sail and then Pete started the engine so we could motor in and drop anchor.
Some acquaintances from Jolly Harbour, Alex and Jess, were there and we swam over to say hello. They were just readying themselves to leave at 1600 hours on a 16 hour sail north to St Barts, which was a shame. We waved them off and watched them negotiate the reefs to the south and west. An hour later, Alex messaged to say they had dropped anchor at Cocoa Bay, as there wasn't enough wind, so they would wait another day. Pete checked the engine filters and found no blockages, so went over the side with the mask and snorkel to check the water inlet pipe, immediately finding a large, plastic bag, half in and half out of the pipe. We started the engine to check that the water was flowing and all was well.
Pete made tuna cerviche as an appetiser, which was delicious, being so fresh. The sun set and the stars came out. Other than the hotel, about 2 miles away, on the far side of the bay and a faint, distant glow from Antigua to the south there were no lights and the night sky was amazing in the dark.
The following morning, the 2 catamarans in the anchorage departed and we raised our anchor to move to the spot they vacated. An American woman, on the only remaining yacht (Idril), asked us if we were leaving already. Katy and her husband, Jerry, later came over to introduce themselves, as they headed out to snorkel on a reef beyond us and they invited us to go for a drink on their yacht around 4pm. We also spent an hour snorkelling on the reef, primarily looking for a lobster, which we didn't find. The reef was quite battered, probably from Hurricane Irma, a few years back but it was showing signs of recovery. There were colourful reef fish and lots of massive spiny urchins. I didn't have fins, so had to make sure I kept my feet well away from the reef and the seabed. In places, it was shallow enough to stand up. I saw a nice grouper, backed into a hole in the coral and on our way back to the boat, we saw four stingrays, one of which was right under the boat. Pete snorkelled again, later, on a smaller reef and found a lobster but it was lobster 1, Pete nil, as he lost his gaffe trying to hook the lobster from its very deep hole in the coral head. A speed boat came hurtling through the anchorage, in front of the boat, while Pete was snorkelling and I screamed at it, pointing to where Pete was. Luckily, as he was on the reef, they didn't hit him.
A British flagged cat came in and touched the bottom, just around where our anchor was lodged. This was followed, shortly after, by a yacht called Blue Moon, which also touched the bottom, before turning round and heading further afield. As he passed between us and Idril, I realised the man was naked, so perhaps he was just putting on a performance. Three people from the cat came over to say hello, Jamie and Jill, plus son Jack. Julie and Sophie remained on board. We assumed Sophie wasn't related, as her name didn't begin with a J!
Just after 4pm, we rowed the dinghy over to Idril for drinks with Jerry and Katy. It turned out that we were all planning to move to Low Bay, on the northwest side of Barbuda, the following day and they said they had booked a guide for the frigate bird reserve on Sunday, if we wanted to join them. The government set fee was US$50 for up to 4 people. However, we would need to go by dinghy from the anchorage at Low Bay, through the gap in the reef and across the bay to Codrington, a distance of over 2.5 miles and we had no fuel for the outboard, as the fuel dock at Jolly Harbour had run out. It would be impossible to row that distance.
On Saturday, Idril left before us. We departed at 10am, under engine and wound our way through the reefs until we hit clear water and then raised the foresail only. Cocoa Bay looked lovely as we passed by. Pete put out the long line again, in hope of catching another fish and after making an 8 degree turn to starboard, there was a might struggle on the end of the line. We had caught an 18 inch barracuda. It had impressive teeth and it was difficult to get the hook out of its mouth safely. Eating large barracuda can be dangerous, as they harbour toxins from eating reef fish. We decided that this one would be small enough to eat, so into the fridge it went. As we were approaching Low Bay, passing on the inside of Nine Feet Bank, with our shoal draft keel, a bottlenose dolphin, with her calf, passed directly in front of us, very close to the boat. Pete also saw a large turtle but I missed it. We sailed behind Idril, anchored south of the gap in the reef, created by Hurricane Irma and continued beyond the hotel which was devastated by the hurricane. The roof and terraces lie in pieces on the shore. We dropped anchor in 2.8 metres of water, about 150 metres off the beach, having motored in to see how quickly the depth dropped off. It was an idyllic setting. We had barracuda, potato and bean soup for lunch, delicious and then swam ashore. It was very hot on the beach but we were able to dip in and out of the water to cool off as we walked north, to the end of the bay. This coast is famous for its pink sand and we were lucky enough to see this towards the top end of the beach. The swim back to the boat was quicker and easier, with the tide behind us. The evening sunshine was lovely and the sunset beautiful but we didn't see the green flash. Just before sunset, Jerry and Katy moved to anchor beside us, ready to go to Codrington in the morning.
Katy was unable to contact the guide, so we went ashore in their dinghy, with the 15 horsepower outboard. There was quite a swell and we were soaked. It was a challenge finding the gap through the reef, as the buoy marking it wasn't very large but we made it through and across the lagoon to the dock. There we found a guide with a boat, Kevin, who could take us to the frigate bird colony, for the price if US$60. It was a fast ride out, heading north to the mangroves and we spent about 30 minutes touring around, almost within touching distance of the nesting birds. The males were puffing up their red voice boxes and making a drumming sound, to attract a female. The males build a nest and the females choose their mate based on how well the nest is constructed. We saw two new-born chicks, one still being kept warm by its mother and another just old enough to sit beside its mother on the nest. The sight of the birds soaring in the air over the colony was amazing. It was a great trip and lovely to be the only people there. On the way back, Kevin showed us how much of the mangroves were destroyed in the hurricane, also taking the lives of many birds.
Back at the dock, Kevin directed us to the town store and we bought a beer and some biscuits, which we consumed sitting on the steps of the old tourist office. We asked a local man, Olsen, about a taxi and guide to visit the Darby Cave, a 300 metre wide and 70 metre deep sinkhole that has stalagmites and is full of palm trees and other tropical plants. Olsen went off to find his friend who could guide us. Olsen's van had 3 little seats in the back and a wooden box. Pete sat on the box. We haggled the price down to US$25 per person and off we went. It was slow going, as the roads are terrible. We passed many coloured houses, including one in bright yellow with red trims; very attractive. There were donkeys roaming everywhere, including on the lawn in front of the police station. We turned off route 1 and the road became a track. Eventually we parked up and started the 30 minute walk to the sinkhole, pausing at an old fort to take in the view out to sea. It was a winding walk, in and out of bushes, cacti and small trees, over red earth and rocks. I ended up with three holes in my left knee after being stabbed by sharp plants but they didn't bleed for long. We arrived at the edge of the hole and it was a great sight. We elected to descend down into the hole, a tricky climb down over rocks while holding onto tree branches. There were lots of hermit crabs, called dragons, bright red with sharp claws. The climb back up, taking the same route, was easier. We were decidedly hot and sweaty by the time we arrived back at the van for the bumpy return to Codrington. The sea had flattened with the turn of the tide so the journey back in the dinghy wasn't so wet but we did encounter a single wave of well over 1 metre in height that could have turned us over. Back on board Muirgen, we all had a beer and then a swim to cool off and wash off the red grime from the earth. Pete saw a large turtle at the stern, which surfaced, burped and the dived after spotting Pete. It was a slightly roly night at anchor.
Monday was an uneventful day at anchor, swimming, reading and relaxing. Jerry and Katy took the sea taxi into Codrington to check out and left for Saint Croix before lunchtime. At teatime, we were swarmed by flying beetles, so I retired below with my pasta. As evening fell, the bugs were everywhere on deck and in the cockpit but luckily not down below. Pete hoovered them up as best he could. Despite the flying insects, I had my best night's sleep yet.
Next morning we were up and preparing to sail down to Cocoa Bay. As I removed the sail cover, I was showered in the flying bugs, that had been caught inside last night. I expect we will be finding them for weeks. At 0900 hours we lifted the anchor, which was well dug in and raised the foresail to sail south, back through the inside of Nine Feet Bank and through the reefs. Pete had wanted to stay another night at Low Bay but I wanted to see everywhere on the island. However, when we reached the point, I realised that Pete was right and it would be a hard sail, into the wind, with a decent swell, to go east. I could see Antigua rising in the distance so suggested we just carried on and found somewhere there to anchor overnight. Pete sulked for the first couple of hours, as we hadn't prepared the boat for the open sea and we didn't have the mainsail up, which would have given us a bit more stability. Ideally, we would have raised the dinghy higher at the stern of the boat. We added extra lines to tie it down and stop it moving side to side. The trip was definitely exhilarating; a bit like the north sea but warm and sunny! Eventually Pete cheered up and forgave me my sins. Due to the wind angle, we went round the west side of Sandy Island, so didn't go into an anchorage, just straight to Jolly Harbour, where we filled up with water and outboard fuel at the dock. It was 1602 and they closed at 1600 but they agreed to serve us eventually; just this once. We anchored next to Freedom Girl, Jimbo and Lil's cat and headed over in the dinghy to pay our dues for the beer and gas they had brought us while we were away. We had a couple of cold ones, sitting on their foredeck in the sun, recounting our trip.
Comments
Vessel Name: Muirgen
Vessel Make/Model: Westerly Typhoon
Hailing Port: Hull
Crew: Donna and Peter Cariss
Muirgen's Photos - Main
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Photos of Muirgen preparations
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Photos are limited as the weather was dreadful and was mostly a white out. Photos are from the phone as too wet to take the cameras.
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The Beautiful Kvitsoy
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Weekend with Hommersak Divers at Kvitsoy
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Mad creatures
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Getting to Norway and waiting for Donna to fly out
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Buying Muirgen
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