Tuesday, March 7, 2017

1980 - Circumnavigating Antigua - Part 1


Our circumnavigation started at English Harbor, on the southern coast.
To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

After returning to Antigua from the States, our plan was to explore the island’s sixty miles of coastline.  According to our cruising guide, the coast abounded in good anchorages that were well worth visiting.  We left English Harbor on January 24th for our circumnavigation around Antigua.  We had the wind at our backs as we sailed along the southern coast of Antigua, and then worked our way up about half of the western coast. It was a nice, peaceful sail in calm waters, on the lee side of the island, leaving the person not at the wheel free to wander about the boat, or sit up in the bow.  The calm waters meant very little spray.  Both camera and binoculars were on deck for studying and capturing the interesting features of the coast.

Coastal shot

Our first destination was Five Islands Harbor.  It was an easy harbor to find, as there are five little islands situated just outside the entrance of the bay.  Five Islands Harbor is a large bay with several inlets.  As we entered under sail, we bypassed the first inlet.  A large "pirate ship" filled with tourists from St. John’s, Antigua's capital, was motoring out of the harbor.  Some people lifted cameras to get a shot of Tropic Moon as we sailed past.  I got a kick out of occasionally finding ourselves a part of the local color.  We sailed into the second inlet.  After taking down the jib, we worked our way forward with just the mainsail.  When Ed was ready to drop the anchor, I lowered the mainsail. 

We could see the masts of a boat in the first inlet.  We saw it sail out shortly after or arrival, leaving us with the whole place to ourselves.  After the constraints of living in the densely populated parking lot of English Harbor, my first thought was that I could go skinny-dipping, and I promptly went over the side.  As you may recall, Tropic Moon didn’t have a shower.  We took our baths in the water, and it was a lot easier to do when I didn’t have to work within the confines of a bikini.

Banana Boats, St. John's Harbor

During the four days we were at Five Islands, just one other boat came in, and anchored near us, but only stayed one night.  One day we rowed to one of the beaches to climb the cliff of volcanic rock that separated the two inlets.  We had wanted a closer look at a waterspout on the far side.  There was a narrow cleft in the rock.  When the waves surged in, they would be funneled up the cleft into a geyser about thirty feet high.  It was really pretty to watch the surge, enjoy the light spray, and listen to the whooshing of the water.

We sailed from Five Islands one afternoon to continue up the coast to St. John’s, the only city on Antigua.  Our chart was rather vague about where we might anchor, showing shallow areas near the town.  Our cruising book (and bible) insinuated that yachts didn't anchor in St. John’s because it's a commercial port.  As we worked our way into the mouth of the deep-set harbor, we could see a cruise ship, and some anchored freighters.  Since it was getting late in the day, we decided not to tackle it, and sailed back around a point to Deep Bay.  Again we sailed in without starting the engine.  (We were getting really good at entering a harbor under sail!)  It took a few tacks, as there was a submerged, 3-masted sailing ship sunk in the middle of the entrance to the bay.  There were also a few anchored sailboats to avoid.

Tug Boat Annie

As we were approaching Deep Bay, Tug Boat Annie, a local excursion boat, was making her way out.  Our sails were up on our starboard side.  Annie was heading for that side when she decided to pass us to port.  That was the proper choice, so we could fall off to starboard if we needed to, but the decision was made a little late, and she crossed right in front of our bow.  I was ready to make an obscene gesture in Annie's direction, but all the tourists were waving.  I lost my nerve and just waved back.  We were recorded on a movie camera that time. 

Street Market, St. John's

We took Tropic Moon around into St. John the following morning, carefully measuring the depth of the water as we approached the town.  I drove the boat, while Ed stood in the bow, tossing the lead line.  We were still a long ways from the dock when we anchored.  The water had shallowed to seven feet, and as we drew six feet, it was as far in as we dared go. 

Street scene in St. John's

We spent the day sightseeing in St. John.  It was a good-sized town, with fairly modern buildings, and a variety of stores.  It was sufficiently well developed that the sheep wandering through the streets looked somewhat out of place!  We saw a sign for a marine chart agent.  We wandered through a garden, and up some stone steps, to walk into a room where a man was typing.  I thought we'd somehow missed the store, but we were in the right place, and spent some time visiting there.  The owner was a retired Commander from the British Navy.  His wife, whom we also met, was Antiguan.  Their business was only two weeks old, and we were the first potential customers to wander up as a result of their new sign, which had been completed just the day before.  We asked what other services they were providing, besides selling charts.  We were told he did marine surveys, while his wife provided secretarial services - as well as offering piano lessons.

St. John's Cathedral

A popular tourist sight in St. John is the cathedral located on a hill over-looking the town and harbor.  We walked through the cemetery reading the ancient stones, and entered the cathedral to hear the organist and some choir members at practice.  The church, which is Anglican, is very large with three altars and beautiful woodwork. There was an old carpenter at work who looked as if he wanted to speak to us, so we stopped to admire his handiwork.  He told us how the church had been damaged in an earthquake, as well as suffering progressive damage from termites over the years.  He had started doing carpentry work in the church eight years before, and was alone because one carpenter was all the church could afford.  His efforts were impressive - he had replaced sections of many of the pews, including the curving carved end pieces, all of which were done by hand.  He turned out to not only be the church's carpenter, but also the major fundraiser, and sold us a book on the history of the cathedral.

I combined two slides (in Photoshop) to get this panorama of the shore in St. John's Harbor.

Not comfortable spending the night anchored in St. John’s commercial harbor, we headed north a short way to Dickerson Bay.  It was the location of several major resort hotels.  After spending three nights in Dickerson Bay, we were ready to continue our clockwise circumnavigation of Antigua.


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