Mon 15th Feb
Our first attempt at anchoring in Freeman Bay, after the Atlantic crossing, found poor holding and we dragged into the fairway narrowly missing a superyacht. We quickly relocated and found some good sand, but it was rather crowded and caused concern to a Norwegian neighbour. R rowed in to Nelson’s Dockyard to check in with Customs, Immigration and the Port office (an arduous process) leaving J to placate the neighbours. Later we moved again, enlisting the help of the Norwegian and his Corsican crew, to lay bow and stern anchors off the beach. Later that evening our new friends joined us for a few drinks. The anchorage was popular and there was always some entertainment as new arrivals tried to find a space to anchor, or worried about bumping other boats. There were people diving to inspect their ground tackle, people in dinghies carrying out extra anchors, and any amount of advice given. This anxiety seemed particularly to affect a few boats with German flags, for some reason, and we named the syndrome Anker Angst.
Ambition II and Tringa in Freeman Bay
R also paid a visit to Antigua Slipways, the boatyard opposite Nelsons Dockyard, to see about getting Ambition II hauled out so we could draw out the prop shaft and replace the cutlass bearing. This had been arranged in advance by email, and Deon, the yard manager, was most helpful and agreed to haul us out on Wednesday.
In the boatyard
On Wednesday morning the anchors came aboard at 07:00 and we tied up alongside the boatyard to wait our turn on the slip. After only a couple of hours delay R was instructed to bring Ambition II round to the slipway, where a trolley had been let down into the water. Only a platform at the front was showing, with a man conducting the boat in. After positioning the vessel, hydraulic arms were raised to grip the hull (the operator dived round the boat to check the pads were correctly placed). Then the trolley was hauled up by cable, the boat rising out of the water. The trolley was transferred to a tractor and taken to a space in the yard where the boat was stood on blocks and chocked up. Given the pot-holed state of the slipway, the operation was done with great skill!
On the slipway
So began 5 days of life at the top of a ladder. We could not run the fridge (which needs seawater for cooling) so had to buy ice each day. Otherwise the boat’s systems ran normally, but it was hot and dusty in the yard, with little wind. J had been ill for several days, and was now feeling much worse, so on Saturday we took a taxi to the ABSAR medical station (at Antigua Yacht Club, Falmouth Harbour) where an excellent volunteer practitioner provided effective antibiotics (our medical kit does have antibiotics but not the ones we needed in this case). ABSAR is a volunteer organisation run on a similar basis to the RNLI, so we were glad to make a suitable donation.
An engineer, L, was assigned to us to advise on the prop shaft work. We spent a lot of time waiting for L, but his expertise was useful and we finally fitted the new bearing on Saturday. Meanwhile we scrubbed the hull below the waterline, and R applied two coats of antifoul. We had some remarks from the guys in the yard as we used three remnants of antifouling paint – two red and one blue!
We had been using Butane gas for cooking since October when our Propane bottles ran out (we could not get them refilled in Europe or Cape Verde). Here in Antigua we could get Propane, and Deon kindly arranged for our bottles to be taken to the local agent, Jane’s Yacht Services. We later picked them up by taxi and craned them aboard. The cooker burns better now and the grill no longer trips the CO alarm!
On Monday morning (22nd) the yard backed the trolley underneath our boat, removed the chocks and slipped us back into the water. We anchored that night in Tank Bay near the dockyard, then returned to our beach anchorage in the morning. Sometimes things happened a little slowly in the yard, but the staff were friendly and helpful. The cost was similar to what we would have paid in the UK.
Transferring the launch trolley to the cable
Provisioning, including a bus ride to St Johns
The never-ending quest for internet access led us on a long hot walk around Falmouth Harbour. It turned out that the local mobile providers had over-sold capacity and had stopped selling SIM cards. It was to be a week before we could obtain one, meanwhile we picked up free WIFI where we could.
Along the way we tried several supermarkets. The best “local” store is Geny’s, but it’s a bit of a hike, so we generally used the Covent Garden store (rumoured to be part of the Jamie Oliver empire) which has its own dinghy landing stage in Tank Bay.
The supermarket jetty in Tank Bay
One afternoon we rowed into the harbour and waited for a bus to St Johns, Antigua’s capital. Busses don’t run to a schedule but come along fairly often. It’s a bumpy ride across the island, the whole way a ribbon development of shacks great and small. On arrival at the SW bus station we walked along Market Road, which was bustling with people and traffic, and colourful with shops and stalls. After googling the way to the Epicurean supermarket (of which we’d heard good reports), we headed for the NW bus station, procured tokens from a stall and hopped on a school bus out of town. An epic journey already!
The Epicurean supplied our needs – replenishing our tinned stock after the Atlantic crossing, tea from China and Ceylon, etc. Fruit and veg would have been better from the market, but by that time we had to head back. Luckily the next bus went direct to the SW bus station, where another was leaving shortly for English Harbour. It was almost full, but we crammed in with our bulging rucksacks and two large bags. More people climbed aboard, and the bus set off. If someone at the back had to leave, those of us occupying folding seats in the aisle had to get off. Some crazy DJ music played loudly as we hurtled along the pot-holed roads, or waited in the frequent jams. An experience not to be missed – and the fares were really cheap!
Trails and Ruins
One morning we rowed ashore and walked up to the flagstaff at Charlotte Point. This was the first exercise for J since her illness. A diverse mix of vegetation lined the path, at the top a few ruins and the flagstaff still used to start yacht races. There are excellent views here of the coast and harbour, with Monserrat in the distance.
English Harbour from Fort Charlotte
On returning to the boat R stripped down and cleaned the heads diverter valve in the workshop (source of a horrible smell), then went for a swim. He was gone some time having spotted a turtle and explored the outer reef which is home to some colourful fish and corals. J became concerned and sent out a search party! We had frequent swims around the boat where turtles graze on the sea-grass. On the beach and underwater are several old anchors and chains that were placed there by the Navy to hold sailing ships. Now they provide a useful base for a variety of marine life.
Later we took the dinghy across to the ruins of Fort Barclay. Just underwater we spotted the remains of a post and tied the dinghy to it to hold it off the ruined steps, while we explored the remains of the rampart, guardhouse and powder store. This fort guarded the entrance to the bay for the 200 years or so during which English Harbour was a Royal Navy base.
Fort Barclay, with Charlotte point opposite and Shirley Heights above
J by the ruined steps at Fort Barclay
Next morning during breakfast there was a twang as the stern anchor warp parted where it had chafed on a steel fitting. R let out the broken end and dived to tie it onto the anchor chain, then hauled the boat back into position. With an onshore breeze (rare here) we could have been on the beach!
On 31st Jan we got up early to watch the “Supermoon” set behind the hill. The lunar eclipse was not visible from here, but the large red moon was pretty impressive. Later we landed on the beach near the café and walked up the Lookout Trail to Shirley Heights. This path is described as “easy” and “half a mile”, which does not adequately convey its steep ascent through scrubby trees festooned with bromeliads, then up a rocky ridge with great views over the harbour.
Trees festooned with bromeliads
After a brief rest at the top, we returned via the Jones Valley Trail which was “easy” and “1 mile” but was also not for the faint hearted, with extensive stretches of bouldering down a storm-gulley. Both paths were full of interest, being largely through dry forest with many unfamiliar plants. Shirley Heights has commanding views over the coast and harbour, and there are military ruins and abandoned gravestones along the way.
Bouldering (Jones Trail)
Of course, we also walked around Nelsons Dockyard with its historic buildings and remains of carronades and great windlasses, and indulged in a drink at the former officers’ mess. This area is one of Antigua’s main tourist attractions and it was a great place to call home for a couple of weeks, especially since the transatlantic rowing crews were arriving while we were there, with loud blasts from ships’ horns and cheers from the other crews for every boat as they came in. The local wildlife also caught our attention. We saw our first hummingbird while walking back from a swim on Pigeon Beach and R was so entranced by the pelicans fishing off the slipway that he failed to notice his 18 ton yacht coming down behind him!
Classic yachts at Nelsons Dockyard
A fellow Roach sailor, SN, keeps his Nicholson ketch Mystical at English Harbour, and had suggested we try Antigua Slipways. We found ourselves parked four boats along from Mystical, and SN himself arrived at the end of the month. We shared several convivial drinks and meals together and hope to meet up again when Mystical is afloat.
On Friday 2nd Feb after breakfast, we packed up the dinghy, awning etc and attached the genoa to the furler, and generally made ready for sea. The day before, R had checked out at Customs, Immigration and the port authority (an even more arduous process than checking in). We raised both anchors at about 8:45 and motored into Antigua Slipways to fill water tanks (90 gallons). SN took our lines and helped with watering.
We sailed for Martinique, intending to meet the crew of Fortino. We first met them in Funchal, then Santa Cruz, and they had crossed to Cape Verde and Barbados.
Monserrat smoking in the distance
We had a fair wind for the crossing to Guadeloupe, with Monserrat smoking gently to the south of our passage. We passed Guadeloupe in darkness, keeping a wary eye out for the buoys marking the ‘fish aggregation devices’ which were shown on the chart but never seen. There were more ships off this island than we saw in the whole Atlantic, so there was plenty to keep us alert. We emerged from the shelter of the island in the early hours. Still in darkness we passed Les Saintes and crossed the next gap (which was a bit lumpy), into the shelter of Dominica. Dominica is very mountainous and we slowed to 2Kn in its wind – shadow, putting on the engine until we reached the southern end. There were many yachts making an early start along the coast in the morning and also many rubber dinghies offshore – presumably fishing.
Shearwater in flight off Dominica
After lunch we crossed the next gap, heading for St Pierre, Martinique, where we anchored about 17:00 below the ruins. The first photo of St Pierre shows the notorious volcano, Mont Pelee which killed about 30,000 people (all the residents except one in gaol and one in his cellar), when it exploded in 1902. The town is now small and pleasant, the volcano ‘dormant’ and the harbour still contains the remains of ships that sank during the eruption.
St Pierre, Martinique
When we arrived off St Pierre we got an email from Fortino, saying that they were still in St Lucia, so we decided to carry on in the morning to Rodney Bay. We had mostly light winds and motored all the way, pushing to arrive at Rodney Bay in daylight. In the channel between Martinique and St Lucia, the wind became stronger and the sea got up a bit, but we continued motor-sailing. Rodney Bay is hard to make out from this angle so it was a relief to round the point and come into the shelter of Pigeon Island, where we anchored as the sun set.
Next morning R sailed our dinghy round the bay and found Fortino, so we re-anchored nearby and met to compare our voyages.
Fortino (pursued by G the greengrocer) in Rodney Bay, Pigeon Island in the background