Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Barbuda – All Beaches & Birds ….. Dec 2014

13 – 19 Dec 2014:  Cocoa Point to Low Bay, Barbuda – 17 39N 61 51WPC130010


Race On

We spent most of our 30 mile sail from Jumby Bay, Antigua to Cocoa Point, Barbuda trying to run down Ruffian who had slipped away before us.  Then as we got closer we realized the boat we were chasing wasn’t them at all, it was friends of theirs on Flight Plan.  We had taken a shorter route through a reef cut and didn’t realize we were in front of them and they had been trying to catch us!!  Need I add that they are front a racing background too!!

First the Marketing Board Version!

As we anchored, a truly beautiful vista filled the horizon, this was definitely the destination avid sun lovers who search out remote paradises would yearn for.PC130009 
Commercialism is heavily controlled on Barbuda, all the inhabitants collectively own the island and have the final say on what is built and how many tourists visit.  This has caused some problems over the years with the government in Antigua giving building rights to developers without consulting the locals so the people of Barbuda basically demolished works daily to hinder progress, good for them, they have kept their island how they want it.
There are two exclusive resorts, one is just south of the anchorage at Cocoa Point, cruisers are not welcome to visit but that is fair enough, PC130013those looking for peace and solitude pay thousands of dollars to stay here (it was a favourite of Princess Diana), the motley grotty yachty  fraternity might just lower the tone of the place if we all rocked up for happy hour!!  Although we may have added some much needed life, there were just 3 couples staying while we were there and we talked to two of them on the beach,  they were enjoying the remoteness, peace and warmth, a welcome break unwinding from hectic lives in New York.  They marvelled at our lifestyle, amazed that we had spent 11 years onboard Balvenie exploring the world, while they struggled to snatch a couple of weeks vacation each year.  They certainly have more money, but who is the richer?
A Double Dunking

We are always keen to get off Balvenie, explore ashore and get exercise but when Iain on Ruffian suggested a day long hike around the bottom of the island, including a picnic lunch and snorkel we agreed with a degree of apprehension.PC140023  Firstly there wasn’t a cloud to be seen, or a tree even for any sort of shade, and there was just a zephyr of breeze  – only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, where were the mad dogs?
Then there was the small matter of the surf, the lovely long sandy beach had a few small rollers pounding on the shore, they looked relatively harmless but as we had found out the previous evening when gathering for happy hour some of those rollers came with a right little kick, slap and for Mark & I, a triple somersault, flip and dunking.  PC140014
We packed everything in our drybag “just in case” and set off ashore, biding our time watching the waves then making our break for dry land – hmm, need more practice,  who’d of thought after the hundreds of beach landings we have done we would have two dunkings in a row (actually I got out sort of ok but skipper went flying again!!), having salty bottoms was not such a good start to the walk.
Not Featured in the Brochure

So off we went with the Ruffian’s and Flight Plans, Iain forgot the map but I doubt it would have made much difference as this was definitely “offroad”.
Early highlights included smelly salt ponds,  slippery mud underfoot, piles of glass bottles dumped under thorny shrubs, the total disappearance of the track, trekking over hot sand dunes and then at last we saw the south eastern coast, the surf crashing on the reef, the surf still crashing over the reef and into the lagoon area, and onto the beach – and then we saw and smelt the beach! 
PC140019 PC140024 
The beach was covered in seaweed as far as we could see, and in pockets it floated on the seas surface over 50m deep.  This Sargasso seaweed is becoming an ongoing problem on many of the Caribbean islands, especially in the past 3 years, the more articles we have read about it, the more opinions learned professionals havePC140034One thing is certain, it just keeps on coming, takes quite some time to decompose, smells awful and looks dreadful – and it keeps getting caught on our fishing lines!  In addition to the seaweed there was also a large amount of plastic litter all along the beach, a common problem we have seen on the windward side of many islands all around the world.
 So any thoughts of snorkelling along this coast were quickly cancelled & instead a shady spot was sought for lunch, no success there either, best we could do was a relatively seaweed free zone in the blazing sun.
We found a dune buggy track which made the walk back to the dinghies much shorterPC150081 - 6 hot, sweaty, thirsty and tired little cruisers returned to their respective boats after a full days walking tour of the parts of Barbuda way less visited! 
 Snorkelling – Take 2
Next day was another full excursion, Vince and his dad Ralph kindly offered to take Flight Plan around to the sheltered reef area on the southern coast, Flight Plan is a catamaran and only draws 3 feet, therefore she can go to all sorts of places out of our reach.
So another picnic lunch was packed, snorkels & masks retrieved and we were off.  We had a super day out with two snorkelling stops along the way, for the remoteness we thought it may have been better but it was ok, some good soft corals but only a few fish.
Frigate Bird Spotting

Barbuda has the largest frigate bird sanctuary in the Caribbean, thousands of these magnificent birds migrate between here and the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific (I wonder if we will recognise any when we get there!)PC170017
We motored in glassy seas up the west coast 11 miles north to Low Bay and anchored off another stunning beach.  We had moved up here so we could organise a tour into the very shallow lagoon to visit the frigate bird colony. 
There was more apprehension aboard Balvenie as we saw the waves crashing on the beach, but luckily it wasn’t to be 3 in a row and we successfully made it ashore all dry! 
The Lighthouse Bay Resort kindly organised a water taxi to come and take us the 4 miles up the lagoon to view the birds, it was a fast and wet trip but we were lucky to visit during the mating season. PC170021 The male birds perch in the mangroves and inflate their bright red chests, hoping to outdo their competition and catch the eye of some cutie flying overhead looking for a new partner.
The male also drums a tune to make himself even more attractive and once mated the pair sing duets – or so the brochure says!!  There is no denying it was a spectacular sight and the cacophony of solos and duets was overwhelming. 
On our return through the mangroves we chanced by a fisherman hauling in his net, the juvenile frigate birds were stealing the catch before he could get it aboard. 
Codrington – Somewhat Untouristy
The water taxi dropped us in Barbuda’s only town, Codrington, so we could have a quick look around and do our outwards clearance.  The Customs Office was a ramshackle affair, a rusted chickenwire fence fringed the plot, long grass and weeds were overgrown in the garden, a closed sign hung from the door.  PC170046Skipper wasn’t deterred by the sense of permanent closure and knocked on the door, a bloodshot eyed dishevelled chap opened then immediately closed the door again.  While we were deciphering what this meant an adjacent door opened and Skipper was ushered into a room full of overflowing cardboard boxes and our check out was processed!!
The condition of the customs house set the scene for most of the dwellings we saw, little care appeared to be taken, and only a handful of houses showed any sign of love or pride by their owners.  But the people we met and spoke to were very helpful and seemed happy, they have the opportunity to exploit their island and increase their wealth but maybe they are just happy enough the way it is now.

PC170049 PC170051
Back to the Tourist EditionPC170011
We had thoughts of dusting off our best clothes and enjoying sundowners at the resort but when Vince was charged USD10 for a small bottle of water we decided happy hour on Balvenie would be just as good, plus we wouldn’t have to risk another dunking.

It was time for a final farewell to the Ruffians who were now heading south, we had had loads of fun with them and maybe one day they will sail into Auckland and we will meet up again.

                             So Barbuda – Beautiful Beaches & Lively Landings!!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Another Week in Antigua ….. Dec 2014

08 –13 Dec 2014: Middle Reef to Jumby Bay, Antigua – 17 09N 61 45W
Solitude & SquallsPC090088
We left English Harbour with clear skies and we motored in glassy waters around the southwest coast of Antigua, our planned destination was Jolly Harbour as we wanted to meet up again with Harmony before they moved on north, and English friends on Ruffian before they headed south. 
But as we passed Middle Reef we were enticed in to this offshore protected anchorage for the night. We had high hopes for the snorkelling, there were a couple of day tour boats anchored and we waited until they left, then jumped off Balvenie and swam over to where they had snorkelled.PC090093  A mediocre underwater display awaited us but our expectations are high, so we enjoyed the exercise instead. 
During the afternoon the handful of other yachts left,  the sun slipped behind Montserrat and overnight we had only the moon for company.  Next morning we watched as lines of squalls marched across from the east at regular intervals, would we miss them? – no we wouldn’t.  For a couple of hours the skies opened, Balvenie was once again sparkly clean, water tanks were filled, spare water jugs topped up and buckets overflowed with soaking laundry …. then we sat and waited for sunny weather before we exited through the reef.PC100097
Rendezvous with Ruffin
We bypassed Jolly Harbour and met up with Ruffian a little further north at Deep Bay.  We had not seen them since Puerto Rico in March so we had lots to catch up on.  We moved on together next morning, when we left the bay the surf breaking on the adjacent beach was quite spectacular – a timely reminder that more sheltered waters should be sought as a building swell was forecast.
We had a leisurely sail under headsail around the top of Antigua, the water was fairly flat, protected by an outer broken reef that shelters the coast.  We turned down the north eastern corner inside more reefs, through shallows and down marked channels whose markers had mysteriously disappeared.  Ruffian was our forward scout, offering to play bumper boat for us – checking the depths along the way.  We ended the day surrounded by mangroves in the large sheltered harbour of Parham.PC110114  
Our Unsolicited Sightseeing Tour
We had found a slice of Antigua that escapes attention from the cruise ships and superyachts.  Local fishermen sat amongst hurricane wrecked boats on the dock, children played in the middle of the empty road, the local historic church was unlocked and the one store appeared to supply the neighbourhood with everything you could imagine (as long as it came in a tin or packet) including a street front grill with bar-b-qued sweetcorn, the only vegetable in sight.
PC110115Next morning we took the bus into St John, Antigua’s bustling capital.  With 3 cruise ships on the dock it wasn’t a good time to be walking around looking like a tourist.  The hordes of touts took quite some convincing that were really didn’t need to do the half day boat tour to all of Antigua's finest secluded bays!!  
We took in the sights on offer, did a run to the produce market and ended our successful morning out with a trip to the supermarket.  While waiting on the bus to depart (no particular departure time) the driver got talking to Mark about cricket, a subject passionate to both of them.
On our return journey the driver detoured from his route to show us the new Sir I. Vivien Richards Cricket Stadium.  Not only did he detour, but he got security to open the barrier to let the bus in to the grounds, then drove to the bronze statue of Sir Viv, and stopped so Mark could read the plague and have his photo taken!!!    The regular passengers didn’t seem to enjoy the detour as much as us, but our driver looked filled with pride as he showed off their fine new stadium.
Back Out to the Boonies
With Balvenie & Ruffian fully stocked with fruit & veg, and light winds forecast it was time to explore more of the east coast inside the reef.  We ventured out to Great Bird Island and made it ashore for a morning walk before all those tourists on their “half day boat tour to all of Antigua's finest secluded bays”  came whizzing at speed across the lagoon.  Those that didn’t head for the beach donned snorkels, masks and noodles and hit the water.  We found the snorkelling disappointing again, the poor water clarity made for murky depths. PC120001PC120003
PC120008Our last stop on Antigua was a night at Jumby Bay, a beautiful sandy beach, azure water and an expensive resort complex ashore.  We admired it from afar and reflected on our time in Antigua.  The variety of anchorages had surprised and impressed us, we had been very lucky with our weather as it meant we had the opportunity to discover all of Antigua’s  delights.  We had met new friends and reconnected with existing ones - all up we had had a great time.
Now We Are Bound for Barbuda 

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Antigua At Last & Worth The Wait ….. Dec 2014

27 Nov – 08 Dec 2014: Falmouth to English Harbour, Antigua – 17 00N 61 45W
The Home of English History in the Caribbean 
PB280049Eventually the strong winds that had kept us in Guadeloupe abated and the anchorage at Deshaies emptied out.  We farewelled Harmony who were bound for Jolly Harbour on Antigua, we pointed Balvenies bow a little further to the east and headed into Falmouth Harbour mid afternoon.  After 3 seasons in the Caribbean we had finally made it to Antigua.
The huge natural harbour of Falmouth sits on the south coast of Antigua, a small headland separates it from English Harbour, home to historical Nelsons Dockyard, and the check in offices so it was an afternoon excursion ashore to clear in, sightsee and then relax with a chilled rum punch overlooking the very grand array of superyachts lining the dock.
PB280053   PB280050
Off To Explore the East CoastPC010006
We moved on the next morning as we had a lull in the trade winds which enabled us to spend a few days around on the east coast of Antigua, the opportunity was too good to miss.    So we headed out and around the southeastern coast to Nonsuch Bay and anchored in behind Bird Island Reef.
PB280071 PB280073PB280079
It was an amazing spot, the reef just a couple of hundred metres away stopping the Atlantic rollers and the swell.  We could hear and see the waves crashing – ending their long journey from Africa.  Even in the calmer conditions the water boiled as it hit an invisible barrier and there we were tucked up comfortably in flat water, just perfect.  PB300095
We explored underwater, the visibility was a little cloudy caused by the surge of the waves but there was a good collection of large brain coral and a few other colourful pieces bloomed in the shallows.  A small selection of colourful fish darted about in the shadows.
Above the surface an occasional kite surfer would whizz by, some even were up foiling- we would hear them coming before we saw them.  This is a world renown site but it wasn’t busy as there was so little wind, bad for them but great for us!  PC070031
We moved on a couple of miles to Ricketts Harbour, a beautiful small bay with a horseshoe shaped deserted white sandy beach.  A thriving turtle population kept us company for a couple of nights, another top spot.
Sunday Night @ Shirley Heights
Everyone that comes to Antigua “does” the Sunday night Sunset and Steel Drums gathering at Shirley Heights, and so would we!  We enjoyed a leisurely downwind sail under headsail and returned to the south coast, slipping into the extremely tight anchorage in English Harbour, rendezvousing with our Canadian friends Jeff & Janet on Truant 3. PC070062 Then much to our surprise a catamaran came in sporting a Silver Fern, after a double take we welcomed Panthera into the anchorage, last seen in La Grazie, Italy in 2010 – the world of us cruisers is a small one.  Plans were made to do the steep hike up to Shirley Heights around 4pm, after the exercise we could then enjoy the sunset, steel band, views, food and drinks – and that is precisely what we did.
The conditions were the best you could ever hope for, clear skies across to the smouldering volcano on Montserrat in the west, glassy waters shimmering far below us, the city of superyacht lights twinkling in the harbours and the brilliant full moon rising in the east, the vista could not have been more perfect. 
PC070042 PC070034PC070049PC070045PC070071PC070056PC070076
We watched the sun set and moon rise, enjoyed the steel drums until they ended, then danced away the evening to calypso and reggae tunes.  When the band stopped and the”doufdouf” started it was time for us oldies to head on home. 
The sensible option was to walk down the long road instead of returning down the cross country track we had climbed up.  Before we had even left the carpark (all 6 of us) we were offered a lift by a rather drunken Englishman. We all know the saying “beggars can’t be choosers”, well cruisers can’t be choosers either so we squeezed ourselves in while Neil Diamond blasted out of the speakers then headed off down the hill, luckily at snails pace. IMG_0409 On the sharper corners Janet coaxed the steering wheel to avoid a close encounter with a tree or two, and after 4 of Neil Diamonds finest we were deposited alive back at sea level.  What a night !!.
Enjoying English Harbour
The annual Superyacht Charter Show was on and both English and Falmouth Harbours were bursting at the seams with fine displays of decadence and wealth.  The crews were constantly working at polishing every surface in sight, the whole harbour gleamed with money; it was a fun time to be there.  We did some more hikes, read more snippets of history and drooled at our favourite superyachts.   But we couldn’t stay forever and the light winds were continuing for a few more days so we decided to move on an explore more of Antigua.
Moving On From Superyacht Cities to Deserted Reefs