April 5, 2020


We left Antigua on Monday, February 17 for the 30 nm sail to Barbuda. We'd had several days of squally weather and bigger seas, and expected that conditions would be a bit salty, but the forecast for 15-20 knot winds and "mostly clear" skies couldn't have been more wrong! We sailed on half reefed main and head sails in 20-25 knots of wind and 6-8 ft seas - we even had a few waves break on the boat and douse us in water! Within an hour we were hit with our first squall, which brought winds upwards of 35 knots. The squalls continued for the next five hours, and the last hour of sailing we had steady 25-30 knot winds and sailed along on only the half reefed mainsail.

Back in 2018, sailing in those stormy conditions would have been scary for us, but with a year of ocean sailing experience under our belts and more practice in bigger seas and higher winds, we now feel so much more confident in ourselves and the boat when sailing in heavy weather.

As we approached the southwest coast of Barbuda, we reefed in the mainsail and anchored as one final squall with 35 knots of wind passed over us, and then of course, the skies cleared for the remainder of the afternoon!

30 minutes after anchoring blue skies appear on the horizon 

Paradise Destroyed 

Barbuda is a small, 62-square-mile, stunningly beautiful island, 30 miles north of its sister island of Antigua.

Barbuda was devastated by Category 5 Hurricane Irma in September 2017; the storm's eye passed directly over Barbuda, a small, low-lying island with its highest point being only 125 feet high. More than 90 percent of structures were destroyed and the island was rendered uninhabitable for its 2,000 residents. A few weeks later as another Category 5 hurricane (Maria) bore down on the island, the remaining 1,600 Barbudans were evacuated by ferry to Antigua, leaving the island completely deserted, save for a few wild horses and donkeys.

The foundations of homes is mostly all that is left

Today, only about a thousand have returned to live on the island, and small steps have been taken towards a recovery. In the main settlement of Codringron you can find a small grocery and a few streetside cafes, but there are no resorts or fine dining restaurants on the island. While Barbuda is a bit rugged and wild, it has the most brilliant turquoise water and endless pink sandy beaches and is a true tropical paradise. 

Shack-a-Kai, a new and popular beach bar that opened in late-2019

Cocoa Point 

We anchored Borealis off Cocoa Point, facing miles of white sandy beach. The Cocoa Point Lodge ashore was destroyed in the hurricanes and they are in the process of building custom million-dollar homes; in the meantime, they've constructed a temporary tent village ashore to host potential buyers with private tent rooms, a restaurant, a workout facility, and an array of water toys including jetskis, kite boards, sea bobs, and hover boards. The resort even had an amphibious boat to pick up guests from landing sea planes and deliver them ashore.

A sea plane landing between boats in the anchorage
An amphibious boat that shuttled guests from the landing sea plane to shore
With little else to do on the island, we enjoyed the most of Barbuda's natural wonders with daily swims in the clear blue water and long walks along the miles of pink sandy beaches, combing for beach treasures.

The water in Barbuda is pristine, we haven't seen water as clear anywhere else in the Caribbean, except for the Bahamas! The first day we went ashore, the water was so clear that Sara mistook it for being shallower than it really was and jumped off the dinghy into what she thought was waist-deep water...she would have gone completely under if she'd have let go of the dinghy! 😂

Low Bay 

On February 20, we sailed downwind on the headsail in 15-25 knots of wind around Palmetto Point and up to Low Bay, and we even had a large sea turtle and dolphin swim alongside us (isn't Barbuda amazing?!).

With high winds continuing from a tropical low, there weren't many boats anchored off the island. We spent a day as the only boat anchored off Low Bay and it's stunning 11-mile beach; the south end of has the most stunning pink beaches, and we went ashore and walked for hours in solitude, marveling at the blue water and pink shelled sand, and added some nice shells and driftwood to our nautical crafts stash. As we made our way back to the boat a group of French charter guests were just coming ashore and humorously apologized for disturbing our private paradise!

Nick was forced to leave his beach treasure ashore :) 
The following afternoon, we dinghied out to Tucson Rock to snorkel the reef and saw every kind of tropical fish.

One day we also braved the breaking waves over the reef into the lagoon (the hurricane helped open a narrow passage in the reefs) to explore the town of Codrington, which is very rural with no paved roads and still shows so many signs of hurricane damage with ruined buildings and homes in every direction. The town was quiet, with a small market and a few food roadside vendors, and we saw only a handful of cars and people.
A break in the reef from the hurricane now allows dinghies and small boats into the inner (darker water) lagoon and access to the settlement of Codrington (upper right)
Lil Lincs market in Codrington

Gravenor Bay (Spanish Point) and we hit 4,000 nm!

On February 23, the week of strong tradewinds finally subsided, but a large northerly swell was headed our way, so we motored in light winds the 12 nm to the south coast of Barbuda towards Gravenor Bay and Spanish Point.

On the trip, we celebrated 4,000 nautical miles sailed (about 4,600 miles) since we left the Chesapeake Bay in October 2018!

The Spanish Point anchorage is shallow, littered with reefs, and not well charted so it's important to enter with good sunlight and conditions. We anchored in about 7.5 ft of water tucked behind several large reefs, but swung into shallower water when the winds died to nothing that afternoon. Nick dove under the boat and found only about a hand length of water under Borealis' 6.5 ft keel, so we pulled up the anchor and reanchored in slightly deeper water.

Borealis (bottom left) anchored in Gravenor Bay

We woke up the next morning in flat calm water from the lack of wind and were so suprised to follow the anchor chain and find it off Borealis' stern.

Borealis’ anchor buried deep in sand off the back of the boat on a calm morning
The snorkeling in Spanish Point is excellent with so many reefs; we saw large string ray, turtles, all kinds of tropical fish, and even large spiny lobster.

Back to Antigua we go

We spent a few more wonderful days of relaxing and exploring, but we'd only planned to stay for a couple of days, and as the 10-day mark was upon us, we were starting to run low on fresh food!

So on February 27 we made our way out of Spanish Point and pointed Borealis' bow back south to Antigua to reprovision and check out of the two countries. We had lighter 8-14 knot winds and 3-5 ft seas, so it was slow but nice sailing conditions for the 30 nm sail. Along the way, we sailed passed the last of the racing boats competing in the annual RORC 600 and saw several whales breaching on the horizon.

One of the last RORC 600 racers sailing past and to the finish line
Our Caribbean cruising guide said "for the dedicated into-the-heart-of-nature diehard, Barbuda is heaven on Earth," and we couldn't agree more! The island will definitely remain a favorite of ours and we loved our time spent there.

No comments:

Post a Comment