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!!

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