Antigua: March 11 - April 2, 2009

Click on the above thumbnail for a map during this time period

After the departure of our Norwegian friends, we left the Lagoon in St. Martin and began our journey to Antigua.   We had intended on stopping at White House Bay in St. Kitts, but left too late and so instead stopped at the rolly anchorage in Statia.   I knew that Chris and Yani (Magus) had also left St. Maarten earlier that day, and so while still enroute I hailed them on the VHF.   Learned they had also planned on going to St. Kitts, and that they also had revised their destination to Statia.   So, we had them over for dinner on the night of March 11.   A disagreement developed as to whether or not there would be a green flash that evening, and Chris and I ended up betting $20.   I said "no", and Chris said "yes".  (By a 3-to-1 vote, Chris later won.)  Next day they stayed at Statia and we left early for Antigua.

Magus arriving at Statia

Stakes in a "green flash" bet

Antigua (pronounced an-tee-gah) is about 14 miles long and 11 miles wide, and covers about 108 square miles.  Unlike most Caribbean islands, ownership/control of Antigua did not bounce around among the English, French, and Spanish; beginning in 1667 it became a British Colony, and it remained that way until independence in 1981.  Cricket is a very big sport here.

We spent the first night at anchor in the outer approach to Jolly Harbour, and the next day moved in to the Jolly Harbour Marina, where we took advantage of the opportunity to fill up the water tank, wash down a very salty boat, equalize the battery bank, and use the dock for easy access to the bow pulpit so that I could re-caulk the joint between it and the hull.

On the 16th we left the marina and made our way the short distance up to Five Island Harbour.   There, we simply vegged for a few days, enjoying doing absolutely as little as possible other than reading and relaxing.   But that can only last so long.  We finally got the kayaks down off the deck and went for a paddle over to the ruins of an old windmill.

South shore of harbour, and windmill as seen from Tusen Takk II

Securing the kayak on the south shore

What's this?

"Jumbie" berries growing on low vines

Enjoying the harbour from the large volcanic rock above the windmill

Another view of Barb relaxing on the rock

Windmill as seen from the volcanic rock above it

Rocky shore below the windmill

Barb launching her kayak for the return trip

On March 19 we moved around to the northeast corner of the island, anchoring in shallow water close to Great Bird Island.  We took our dinghy over to a nearby anchorage -- between Rabbit Island and Redhead Island  -- to get re-acquainted with Keith and Susan, whom we had met in the Virgin Islands when we were on the way down to the Caribbean in 2007.  They have since traded in their luxurious Roamer for an even more fabulous Island Roamer.   After an impressive tour of the boat we had drinks and delicious nibblies. 

Island Roamer as seen from atop Great Bird Island

On the 20th we temporarily moved the boat a little closer to the airport in order to pick up Barb's sister Mary and her companion Candy.   Mary arrived with a large "CARE package" of items that we had ordered and had had sent to her for delivery to us on the occasion of her visit.   What kind of items?  Well, that depended upon our current needs, of course.   When YOU come and visit, the package may contain different items.   But in this case the package contained a supply of zincs, a bulky navigational computer that we had repaired in Colorado, a huge supply of foam brushes for eventual use in varnishing, a pair of sandals for Barb and bunches of powdered milk.   As soon as we were back to the boat we moved back to Great Bird for a couple of days, where Mary enjoyed snorkeling with Barb,  I enjoyed photographing the birds, and we all enjoyed exploring the little island.

A Magnificant Frigate hovers over the island ...

... while red-billed tropicbirds ...

... zip ...

... back and forth ...

... over the island

Mary and Candy explore a grassy low spot

Mary along the upper ridge

One of the two small beaches on the island

Looking toward the capital St. John's from atop Great Bird

On March 22nd we went the long way (to the west, since the east side is cluttered with reefs) around to the south end of the island where we nudged in with a gazillion other boats in Falmouth Bay.   The girls took the dinghy in to shore in order to catch a taxi up to Shirley Heights for the famous Sunday night barbeque.   I stayed on board toiling over a devastating failure of the onboard heads (toilets).   The vacupumps were tripping the breakers.   Suspected a blockage in a hose, and first took apart a joint in the hose near a low point.   (That sounds so easy, doesn't it?  "First took apart."   The joint didn't want to come apart, and it took much grunting and swearing and tugging and swearing and growling and swearing to finally get the joint apart.)   No joy.   Messy, but not clogged at the joint.   Further "upstream", there is a "Y" fitting that merges the output of the two vacuflush pumps -- one for each head -- into the hose that leads to the holding tank.  Getting the hoses off that fitting was another long and frustrating session of tugging, etc.   Much much later,  when the hoses were finally off, it was revealed that the fitting was completely clogged with crystallized "stuff".   Many many hours later I had completed the cleanout and had reassembled the hoses.   Everything seemed to work fine.   Went to bed about 2 AM, tired but pleased at having solved a messy problem.   Next day the systems again failed.   The manual said that pumping against a blocked hose could destroy the duckbill valves.  So I returned to the basement and spent hours replacing the four duckbills in one of the units -- the guest unit, since that seemed the most important while we had guests.   Next time will be much quicker, but the manual didn't make it clear (to me, anyway) just HOW to dissemble the input portion to the pump that contained two of the duckbills.   Tested the unit with the four new duckbills installed, and again everything seemed to work just fine.   But then later once again the unit bogged down and tripped the breaker.  By now I was developing some intuition about the workings of the system.   Clearly, I had yet another blockage on the hose leading from the "Y" to the holding tank.   Back to the joint near the low point.   Much less grunting and swearing on a "fresh" joint, and now a closer examination of the rest of the hose to the holding tank.   Pull the end out of the basement and get it up high enough to flow downward to the tank.   Pour in water.    Know what a pipe sounds like when it is being filled with water?    Glug glug glug at a higher and higher pitch?   That is what my hose sounded like.   Not the sound of flowing water, but the sound of a pipe being filled.   Complete blockage.   Much grunting and swearing, etc., later, I was able to get the other end of the hose off the holding tank.   Then by alternately using a plumber's snake and beating the sides of the hose with the wooden handle of a hammer, I was able to extract tons of crystallized "stuff" from the hose.   Flushed the hose with water, put it back in place, and tested the unit.   Everything seemed to work fine.  Furthermore, the other unit also seemed to work fine.  Days and days later, they still do.  Everyone else on board seems to accept the fact that the problem has finally been solved.  Me?  I hold my breath every time someone flushes.

While in Falmouth Harbour we walked the short distance over to Nelson's Shipyard in neighboring English Harbour.   The dockyard was built to provide the English Navy with a secure base from which to maintain their ships in the Caribbean, and was completed around 1745.  Restoration began in 1949, and the Shipyard is now a national park with an admission fee.   Many of the original buildings have been restored, and now house hotels, restaurants and businesses associated with yachting and/or tourism.   On the day we were there the place was packed, apparently with passengers that had been bused in from cruise ships that had landed on the other end of the island at St. John's.   While Barb, Mary and Candy poked through the gift shops, I hiked up to the trail to Ft. Berkelely, whose task it was to protect the entrance to English Harbour.

Pillars from old sail loft

Nelson's Dockyard as seen from Ft. Berkeley

Cannon on Ft. Berkeley

Wall on approach to the Fort

Fort powder magazine on the right

On March 25 we returned to Jolly Harbour, where two of Barb's five living brothers arrived to join our cruise.   Barb caught a bus to St. John's to meet them at the airport, as she had said she would in emails**.   Later that afternoon, as I was working on the computer, I heard a voice down below.   "Anyone home?"   Here was Tim, Barb's brother from North Dakota.   Soon, the youngest brother Hugh, from Minnesota, also appeared.   "Where is Barb?" they asked.   "We caught a taxi and have been up having a beer and pizza while wondering where you were", they explained.  

"Oh, oh", I thought.  "By now Barb has reached boiling temperature in St. John's."

In the interests of diplomacy, I'll cut this short.  Mary succeeded in contacting Barb -- still waiting in the airport -- by phone, and although Barb was indeed an unhappy camper, she had had enough time on the taxi ride back to the marina to become reasonably gracious when she greeted the boys.  While both the girls and the boys were with us, we did some lolling around the Jolly Harbour area and we rented a car for a tour of the island.   Hugh was under the weather, but the rest of us spent a day seeing some of the island.   See pics below, first of Jolly Harbour, and then of our tour.

[**Addendum April 4, 2009:   at the insistence of Hugh and Tim, Barb has gone back and reviewed her pre-visit correspondence.   Turns out she did NOT mention meeting them at the airport.   Barb apologizes to all concerned, but points out that she has diminished responsibility, since she is suffering from the early stages of Mad Cow disease.]

Jolly Harbour

Tim shows Barb some of the North Dakota pics on his camera

Barb shows off some of the beads she got by trading with the Amerindians of the Orinoco



Mary and Hugh ham it up at Jolly Harbour beach

On the beach at Jolly Harbour for drinks and dinner

Tour of the island

Betty's Hope (partially-restored sugar and rum factory)

Stencil used to label hogsheads containing sugar to be shippped to England

Foundation of distillary

One of the two windmills at the sugar/rum factory

The vanes have been removed ...

... and are stored in a nearby pile

The inner workings of the restored windmill

Boiler used when the factory switched from wind to steam

Weed on the factory grounds

Tim finds touring to be exhausting

Antigua Rainforest Canopy Tour

We arrived too early to see anyone on the cables that stretch back and forth across the gorge at this attraction that isn't really in a rain forest and isn't really a canopy tour.   Just about the time it looked like a batch might be ready to be strapped to the first of many short wires, our group lost patience and I had to join them -- with my lower lip hanging out -- back at the van for our further travels.

Wallings Reservoir

Pleasant little park at the site of what was once an important source of water, to judge from the remnants.   Certainly had an impressive spillway.


We stopped for lunch at Long Bay, where we found a busy beach, several restaurants, and too many T-shirt and trinket stands.   Our guests' first experience with local food, with its emphasis on "provisions".

This guy will have an unpleasant evening.

Devil's Bridge

After lunch we sought out the Devil's Bridge, which we found at the nearby Indian Town Point.

Tim, Barb, and Mary cautiously approach the bridge

Taxi driver entertains his fare ...

... but puts on more of a show than he intended!

Some waves really cause a geyser!

Looking down under the bridge

St. John's

No tour of Antigua would be complete without a visit to the capital of St. John's, with its teeming hordes of cruiseship passengers, and the inevitable street performers.   And then, back to Jolly Harbour for a homecooked meal of Chuckie's mahi-mahi, caught on the way from Statia to Antigua, and saved for just such an occasion.

Shirley Heights

As I've mentioned earlier, Barb, Mary, and Candy caught a taxi up to the famous barbeque on Shirley Heights on March 22nd.   Barb took a number of pictures; here are a couple of them:

Then, on the following Sunday we (Barb, her brothers Tim and Hugh, and myself) met Devi and Hunter (Arctic Tern) at the dock in Nelson's Dockyard.   There, we learned that the peculiar boat at the bulkhead had just arrived that day after being rowed across the Atlantic, some 2950 miles from the Canary Islands to Antigua.   Yes, a 19' rowboat, manned by a 25-year-old, Paul Ridley, the third and youngest of Americans who have accomplished the solo and unsupported feat.  It took him 88 days.  You can read about it at his website:   (By the way, his boat's name is "Liv", Norwegian for "life".)

Paul Ridley by his boat

Note the extra padding Paul used on the seat to combat -- not entirely successfully -- sores on his rear

(Remarkably, we learned later that there is another rowboat at Nelson's Dockyard.   This one, a 24' rowboat, has been used for four solo and unsupported traverses of the Atlantic.   The last was by "Tiny", who completed the journey in May of 2005, and who donated the boat to Nelson's Dockyard for permanent display.   Alas, at the moment it just sits out in the weather behind some of the historic buildings.   You can read about Tiny's trip at

But I digress.  We then all caught a water taxi across English Harbour to the shore below Shirley Heights.  After a long false start we found the steep path that avoids the several-mile-long road up to the heights by ascending right up the slope.   The crowd was sparse when we got there about 4:30, but things were really hopping by the time we ate shortly before sundown.  The spectacular sunset was a big hit -- although any chance of seeing a green flash was spoiled by a distant hill that was in exactly the wrong spot.   The entire place was wall-to-wall people (virtually all of whom arrived by taxi) by the time we left at o-dark-thirty -- many of them dancing to the lively music of the steel pan band, not withstanding the sloping stones that pave the entire area.   Here are some of the pictures:

Hugh and Tim arrive at the top of the path

Barb takes their pic ...

... which turns out this way

"Century" plant actually takes about seven years to bloom

English Harbour, with Falmouth in the distance

English in the foreground, Falmouth behind; can you spot Tusen Takk II?

Nonsuch Bay

On March 30th we ventured around the west side of the island to visit the reef-protected Nonsuch Bay.   We anchored between Bird and Green Island, and ventured out for a snorkel along the protected side of the reefs.   Somewhat disappointing.  Not many fish, and much of the reef is dead and covered with a layer of sand.   There are some healthy small hard coral heads, however, so maybe my grandkids will someday show their grandkids some nice snorkeling there.

The next morning, on the way back to Falmouth, Barb and the boys tried again on the south side of Green Island in Ricketts Bay.   They saw more fish and critters, including a rather large octopus, but reported that the coral was in the same sad shape.

Looking west into the huge Nonsuch Bay

What goes around ...

... comes around

Heading out for some snorkeling in Ricketts Bay

Is Hugh jumping out or jumping in?

Snorkeling ...

... is tiring

Hike from Pigeon Beach to Ft. Berkeley

On April 1st, no fooling, we joined Hunter and Devi (Arctic Tern) for a walk up and then along the ridge from Pigeon Beach in Falmouth Harbour to Ft. Berkeley in English Harbour.   Afterwards, we had delicious pizza before saying "so long, for awhile".   They will sail south to Guadeloupe, and we'll soon be heading north to Barbuda.

Up on the ridge overlooking Falmouth Harbour

At the other end of the ridge, looking across the outer bay of English Harbour and over to Shirley Heights

Barb pauses to remove a stone

One last attempt to picture Ft. Berkeley -- powder magazine on the left and guard house on the right