Our Thanksgiving visit home was full of the typical holiday errands and activities, but they were especially meaningful to us this year. Seeing family and friends when you’ve been away puts your life into a new perspective. We gave thanks with gusto.
We returned the boat in Point-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe with a little trepidation. The flight was fine – it took most of the day, since we had a layover in Miami – but that wasn’t what was making us nervous. The real nail-biter was: Would the boat have made enough solar power while we were gone to keep our fridge and freezer running? 😝 Guadeloupe, being French, does not have U.S.-style power hookups in their marinas. So we had to charge up our batteries before leaving and pray that the solar panels got enough sunlight to keep them energized, so that the cold stuff wouldn’t spoil. You can imagine our response when we opened the main cabin door and there was NO rotting-meat smell. Batteries at 80%. Ahhh, sweet relief.
The next few days involved sailing back to Iles des Saintes for one more night, then north up to Pigeon Island. We would have gone straight to Pigeon, BUT we snagged a fish trap with our port propellor, and what was left of that contraption was dragging prominently behind the boat. We cut power to that engine and diverted to The Saintes, which were closer, to deal with it. Fortunately, once we were moored, Andy was able to unwind everything in a half-dozen dives below the boat. So the next day we carried on to Pigeon Island, where we explored the Jacques Cousteau Ocean Park. This is a very popular site, as you might imagine; on the mainland close to the anchorage there are about a dozen different dive shops, kayak and paddle board rentals, and sailing tour providers. We saw lots of young kayakers rowing past our boat in the anchorage, out to the little islands in the Park. Once you’re there, you can snorkel and swim among the fishes.
Our first day there, we took the dinghy over and snorkeled for a bit – enough to determine that we’d like to come back with a dive shop to stay longer and see more. So the next day we went out with a French dive boat. Our guide had limited English, but luckily diving is all about the hand signals, which are universal. “Low on air” or ‘There’s a turtle!” is understandable to a trained diver from any country. The most notable sight on this dive was a big spotted eel, out of his hiding spot.
The next day we arose at 5 a.m. to make our way to Antigua. We were both excited about this stop, since we’d had to give the island a pass on our way down; we’ve made it a goal to seek out the islands we missed the first time, and Antigua would be our first.
The passage was rough and bumpy. It started out fine, while we still had Guadeloupe to our starboard, but once we got out of her wave-shadow, the fun began. We had 6-8 foot waves hitting our forward quarterdeck, which makes us feel like we are in a washing machine. The winds were no big deal – but the swell! I took an extra Bonine (my personal miracle drug) and we made it to the south of Antigua without incident.
And – Antigua – WOW! We were blown away by her charms. Antigua was mainly British, and is now independent. The government decided to court boaters, and now yachting tourism is the second largest source of their GDP (after hotels). Which makes for a delightful experience, if you are a boater.
Our first stop was English Harbor, where Admiral Lord Nelson was based for years. They have restored a lot of the fort and village, so now you can walk the same path as sailors from the 1700s and get much of the same view. Restaurants and hotels and boat repair specialists now occupy the stone buildings that surround the docks; it is easy to take your dinghy anywhere. Even the grocery store has its own dock!
There are several yachting clubs, and the harbor attracts B-I-I-I-I-I-G yachts – mini-cruise ships owned by Russians and Germans, staffed by professional captains and their crews. We met some of them, as well as the owners of another Leopard 48 just like ours – New Beginnings. Graeme and Simone arrived on our last full day at this anchorage, and invited us over for drinks. They had just finished crossing the Atlantic from South Africa! We were, of course, eager to hear about their voyage, so we spent a couple of hours getting to know them. They were truly delightful. They’ve been cruising off and on for about four years, so they had plenty to tell us about the Med (do visit, but don’t take your boat) and crossing big oceans (hire a crew!) and boat life in general. I wish that we’d been going in the same direction so that we could spend more time with them – but am hopeful that we’ll run into them again.
After a few days exploring English Harbor, and going out for one morning to dive, we pulled up anchor and cruised over to Jolly Harbor, on the western coast. We anchored in a big bay, far out from the marina, which made for long dinghy rides to town but plenty of privacy. Our two big outings from Jolly Harbor were to Sheer Rocks and to go diving.
Sheer Rocks is a restaurant in a hotel complex with its own bar and series of pools. You can rent an outdoor daybed for lounging over lunch or dinner. This sounded too delicious to pass up, and we were so glad we did it! The restaurant serves tapas, which they will keep bringing to your daybed or bar table, until you cry uncle. There was a little plunge pool at the foot of our daybed, which we shared with other guests, and we struck up a fun conversation with Mike and Mary, from Dallas. They were in Antigua to meet some boating friends on a Lagoon 42, and they have some sailing experience. We made friends quickly. Best of all, we could see Gratitude way off in the distant harbor. Gorgeous views, great food, and time relaxing with new friends were definitely rejuvenating.
The next day we went diving again. I am pumped about all the dives we are logging on this portion of our trip. We’re really feeling comfortable and competent with our skills and our gear. The dives we did at English Harbor and at Jolly Harbor had really brisk seas and strong currents – so much so that on the last day we did drift dives, where you just let the current pull you along and the boat picks you up on the other end from where you started instead of waiting for you to go halfway and turn back. We didn’t see anything “new” (to us) in Antigua, but I did enjoy playing with my new underwater camera. It’s the latest version of the one I flooded back in Grenada, but it has some cool upgrades and new menus, so it’s taking a little practice to use it. I did get a couple of shots of some eels and some nurse sharks that were tucked w-a-a-a-a-y back under some reef shelves, so that made me feel a little adventurous.
In one week we fly home for Christmas, and our flights leave from St. Maarten. So, sadly, we had to move on from Antigua. If we were planning to stay in the Caribbean for all of 2020, I could spend at least a month here. There were many other ports that we didn’t get to visit, and hikes and adventures we only had time to read about. So I’m definitely putting Antigua on my list of islands that deserve a return trip.
Our plan is to sail west to Nevis and St. Kitt’s, then wait a day for better weather to take us to St. Bart’s. We’ll have a couple of nights in St. Bart’s, and then it’s a three-hour hop to St. Maarten. The good thing there is that if we really love St. Bart’s and want to return, we’ll have time for that after Christmas.