March 18, 2020

Antigua: Fun, friends and 365 beaches

After a lovely month in Guadeloupe, we sailed away from Deshaies at first light on January 30 with sailing friends SVs LeefNu and Sarabi towards Antigua and its 365 beaches (one for every day of the year, as the locals say). Winds were forecast for 10-15 knots, but were mostly under 10 knots so we motorsailed the 47 nm in flat seas.

Antigua has beautiful, well-protected anchorages and is a popular destination among cruisers. The nation and its sister island of Barbuda are independent and have a population of less than 100,000.

While Antigua is a very beautiful island and we more than enjoyed our time there, we felt a shift arriving after almost a year in the southern Caribbean — the cultures of the southern windward islands definitely feel more raw and natural than their island neighbors to the north. In Antigua, we started to see familiar US foods and products, and prices at many tourist-oriented businesses were in US dollars.

Jolly Harbor 

We arrived into Jolly Harbor, a huge anchorage at the mouth of a full-service marina and condominium development on the northeast side of the island. The area has a nice chandlery and market and numerous shops and restaurants.

We immediately met new friends also from Wisconsin - Missy and Kyle on S/V Macushla - after they dinghied past and saw Borealis’ Milwaukee hailing port. They invited us to join them and other friends aboard their boat that evening for sundowners, which kicked off several amazing weeks of fun with friends old and new.

Cruising friends from last season sailed into Antigua from the north AND south, and we got together almost daily for happy hours ashore, crashing the Antigua Yacht Club to dip in their pool, hiking, and other fun. The few weeks we spent in Antigua were likely some of the most entertaining and memorable experiences we'll have of cruising — our cheeks were sore from smiling and laughing, and we enjoyed every minute of it!

New friends Missy and Kyle on SV Macushla 

The Captain’s Birthday 

On February 3, Nick celebrated his birthday aboard Borealis. Earlier in the week we'd discovered a lovely German woman who sells delicious homemade baked goods out of the trunk of her van; the morning of Nick's birthday we bought as many as we could carry and invited friends aboard for sweets, Bloody Marys, and mimosas.

Six hours later we finally moved the party into the water with an impromptu raft up hosted by friends Kevin and Cheryl on S/v LeefNu. It was an amazing time and such a fun way to celebrate Nick for an entire day!

Borealis’ flags flying for the Captain’s birthday

Carlisle Bay

The following day on February 4, we sailed out of Jolly Harbor on a broad reach toward Carlisle Bay on the south coast of Antigua. We furled the headsail as we rounded the southwest point of the island and straight into the 15-20 knot headwinds.

We spent a few lovely days in Carlisle Bay, which is home to a resort with the same name. We were one of only a few boats each night (a contrast to our time in Jolly Harbor), including the Maltese Falcon, among the largest sailing vessels in the world.

After a busy first week in Antigua it was a quiet escape and where we enjoyed snorkels and swims and lazy days aboard, as well as an awesome coastline hike to nearby Rendezvous Beach.

Lots of great snorkeling under the boat in Carlisle Bay 
The Maltese Falcon, one of the world’s largest sailing vessels, anchored in Carlisle Bay 

Falmouth Harbor

After recharging and a few days rest, we weighed anchor on February 6 and beat upwind in 20-25 knots winds and 4-6 foot seas 5 nm around the corner into huge Falmouth Harbor, our favorite anchorage in Antigua for it’s protection and access to town for restaurants, activities and stores!

We dropped anchor next to several friends right off Pigeon Beach

Falmouth is home to some unbelievable mega yachts; more than we’ve ever seen on any other Caribbean island (including St. Barts!).

Nelson’s Dockyard 

That afternoon we toured historic Nelson's Dockyard, which was built in the 1740s and has been beautifully reconstructed; today it houses a marina, numerous shops, hotels and small restaurants. 

The SV Maiden — A 2019 documentary told the story of this boat and it’s all-female crew, the first to tackle the grueling 33,000 mile and 9-month long Whitbread Round the World Race
We also came across and learned about the annual Atlantic Rowing Race, where singles and teams of 2-5 people row in small boats some 3,000 miles from the Canary Islands to Antigua. The teams departed December 12, and were slowly arriving into Antigua; the winning team arrived in 32 days and the last in 76 days!

While we didn’t personally witness any teams arrive, we saw the boats and crew around town and were so inspired by their bravery. 

Can you imagine sailing 3,000 miles across an ocean in this...and alone!?
Photo of a boat and crew arriving from friends SV Sanitas
On our way back to the boat we took the trail to Fort Berkeley Point for some great views of the harbor. The trail ended at Pigeon Beach, where we happened upon several cruiser friends celebrating at a potluck. Since we'd arrived empty handed, Nick was quickly roped into carving one of the three roasted turkeys!

The legendary, magic cooker of SV Sand Star

Red Dress Hash 

The next several days were a mirror of our time in Jolly Harbor with friends and fun galore!

Hash hiking was a favorite activity of ours in Grenada, and the Antigua Hash House Harriers club happened to be hosting its annual red dress hash to raise money for a local hospital. We joined friends clad in our red attire as the hash group made its way around the island (with stops through several of the mega yacht marinas) collecting money, hiking up and down hills, and stopping at local pubs for drinks.

Even pouring rain couldn't dampen our fun and we ended the night at a local pub, Life on the Corner, where prizes were awarded to the best red-dressed gentlemen!

Shirley Heights and English Harbor

Sunday nights at Shirley Heights Lookout are the place to be for great food and music. We hiked up with friends one Sunday evening and enjoyed the steel pan music, barbecued chicken and perfect sunset views over English Harbor.

As we were walking home a truck stopped our group and all 10 of us hilariously piled into the back for the ride back down to Falmouth Harbor.

A pile of legs from 10 people in the back of a pickup truck!

Shirley Heights Hike 

Inspired by the previous night's magnificent scenery, on February 10, we hiked back up to Shirley Heights and followed the 5-mile trail that snakes along the ridge line and down into English Harbor.

After an exhausting hike, we started back on the road towards Falmouth and were almost immediately offered a ride from a local headed into town - hooray for free rides two days in a row!

The following day we met up with friends Jen and Mike on S/v Sanitas (who we met and toured Luperon, Dominican Republic with last spring) to dinghy across the bay to the north shore to hike Monk's Hill. It was steep and had very little shade, but we were rewarded with some more great views of the harbor below (and some ice cream upon our descent!).

Hermitage Bay

On February 12, we sailed out of Falmouth Harbor in gusty winds and big 6-7 foot seas downwind toward the west coast of Antigua and Five Islands Harbour, a wide and deep harbor, where we anchored off of Hermitage Bay and the fancy Hermitage Hotel.

It was pretty windy during our entire stay so Nick wasn’t able to fly the drone for an overhead picture of the anchorage, which has happened less than a handful of times!

It was another lovely, quiet anchorage where we caught up on projects and bucket laundry. We hang our swim wear and other washed items out to dry almost daily, and after 1.5 years on the boat we finally lost our first laundry item overboard when a big gust floated away with one our pillow cases! Sadly, it was light blue - the same color as the water - so a perimeter snorkel around the stern of the boat was fruitless.

What we did find were these incredibly large seed pods hanging from a sausage tree while walking into town one afternoon! They are apparently edible but weren’t tempted enough to try.

Pardon me, sir!

Antigua's annual Valentines Day regatta was taking place while we were in the bay, and the starting line and a marker were positioned in the bay, so we had a front row seat to the boats racing in and out of the harbor.

We got a little too close to the action the following day when we unknowingly raised our anchor (and sails) at the same time as a megayacht anchored in the bay, which pushed us further into the course than we would have liked! We succeeded in staying out of the racers' way, and got some close-up shots as they quickly sailed past.

Staring down the culprit of the crime :)

Deep Bay 

Our next stop, on February 16, was Deep Bay, only 3 nm around the corner from Hermitage, which we sailed into on the headsail in 15-20 knots of wind.

Deep Bay made a nice stopover for a night as we prepared to head to Barbuda; before the sun set that evening, we walked the long sandy beach, snorkeled the wreck of the Andes right in the middle of the bay, and took a short hike up to Fort Barrington for some nice all-around views.

Green Island and a quick exit 

We spent the next 10 days sailing around Barbuda (blog post coming soon), but aimed Borealis' bow back south on February 27 to Green Island on Antigua's easternmost tip since we needed to return to check out of the country before heading to our next island.

Unfortunately, we didn't get to explore that popular area for very long, as the following morning we woke up and realized we had a great window to meet friends in Montserrat and needed to get back over to Falmouth Harbor for land access to immigration/customs and the grocery store.

Somehow, another month had passed by and it was time for us to continue on north, so on February 29, after so many enjoyable days of fun and friends, we waved goodbye to Antigua and sailed away.

See ya, Antigua!

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