Thursday, March 9, 2017

1980 (3) - Circumnavigating Antigua - Part 2

Great Bird Island.  Antigua is in the background.

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

Leaving Dickerson Bay, we sailed eastward along the north coast, tacking back and forth between the coast and the outlying reefs.  Off the northeast corner of Antigua is Great Bird Island, where we anchored and stayed for a week.  Great Bird, our favorite stop on the trip, is a small, uninhabited, windswept island.  Only one other sailboat visited Great Bird during our week there, and it only stayed one afternoon.  Great Bird had two beautiful beaches, and a steep hill, which we climbed.  The view was spectacular – Tropic Moon peacefully floating off the point.  The waters were a myriad of blues, greens and browns clearly showing the locations of the underwater reefs, with the mainland of Antigua making a dramatic backdrop.  At the top of the hill we found a large hole that went right down through the island with the Atlantic surging in below.  It looked like a useful spot for human sacrifice, a favorite pastime of the Carib Indians, who originally inhabited the islands.  Lizards scurried through the colorful wildflowers, and all around us were a profusion of succulent plants, reminding me of the jade plants I used to grow back home.


We found good swimming and snorkeling around Great Bird.  Ed did some diving for conch shells - empty ones - as he wanted to make himself a conch horn.  He found two shells, and sawed off the small ends to make the horns. His efforts were moderately successful; neither seemed loud enough to carry very far.  One of the shells had an inhabitant that became our first pet of the trip.  It was a small scallop that Ed installed in a pickle jar filled with seawater, and complete with sand and a couple small shells from my collection.  I christened him Scully the Scallop.  He seemed to be surviving quite well, until we inadvertently got some soap in his seawater.  He wasn't looking his usual pulsating self, and was on the bottom of the jar, instead of clinging to the side.  Ed put Scully in a large bucket of seawater and put it up in the bow.  When we sailed back to English Harbor, the jib sheet caught the bucket and knocked it over.  We found a very fried scallop lying on deck when we reached the harbor.

Great Bird Island

It's unusual to find good anchorages on the eastern side of an island because of the exposure to the Atlantic, and the prevailing easterly winds.  Antigua is an exception because of the extensive reefs along the north and east coasts, which offer protection from the ocean once you’re safely tucked behind them.  Antigua's east coast gives the sailor plenty of practice at eyeball navigation.  It forces you to be good at it, because you seldom get a second chance if you put your boat up on a reef.  According to our cruising book:  "The only problem with Bird Island is that having found your way in, it's a bit tricky getting your vessel out."  The directions, which took us through the reefs with no problems, read as follows:

From the western end of Great Bird, the yacht should pick her way across the shallows heading for the SE end of Long Island.  The channel will soon be seen stretching away to the NE with Little Bird to port and North and South Whelk to starboard.  Two right angle turns, one to port and the other to starboard, follow in quick succession.  The yacht will soon be feeling the effects of the open sea and should be driven ahead with conviction into clear water.  The chart is none too accurate here, and it's definitely up to the watery old eyeballs to keep you in deep water.
We decided to take a break in our island cruise, and sail directly back to English Harbor.  The practical world was intruding - the garbage bags were piling up, and we were out of fresh provisions.  We spent two days in English Harbor, and took the cross-island bus into St. John to do our shopping.  The amount of money we saved just on our fresh vegetables was more than enough to cover bus fare for the two of us. 

That's Tropic Moon at anchor

We had a week left on our month-long cruising permit, and one more place we wanted to visit.  We sailed back around to the east coast to Green Island, which is located in Nonsuch Bay.  Here again we were in the protection of reefs off the Antiguan coast.  We anchored all alone in a small bay on the lee side of Green Island.  I had anticipated another peaceful week, but these illusions were soon shattered; several charter boats came in, as well as a whole contingent of French sailboats that seemed to be traveling en masse. 

One afternoon we rowed in to Green Island, and walked along the windward beach.  Mounds of sun-bleached coral gave the shore the appearance of an ominous graveyard of skeletal bones.  My beach-combing efforts were more successful than usual, and I found a few intricate pieces of white coral that would make pretty pendants.

Our cruising permit expired on February 21st, and we sailed back to English Harbor that day to begin preparations for our passage south to the French island of Guadeloupe.

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