08 –13 Dec 2014: Middle Reef to Jumby Bay, Antigua – 17 09N 61 45W
Solitude & Squalls
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. 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.
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.
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.
Next 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.
Our 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.