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Antigua and Barbuda
-- March 29th to April 4th 2012 --
From one extreme to another in this two-island country: mega yachts and « so British » atmosphere in Antigua are quite opposite to the perfect desert beach of Barbuda. Only common point: the emerald blue waters with white and pink sand…

More pictures in our page "Pictures".

Sailed 64 miles
8265 miles since the start
We stopped in :Antigua: English Harbour, Freeman Bay (anchorage), Saint-John (anchorage) ; Dickenson Bay(anchorage), Barbuda: Low Bay (anchorage)
29th-30th March : English Harbour
Our anchor is dropped along the beach in a few variable gusts and we start assessing the situation here. In Freemans Bay we are in family, with other travelling boats at the anchor. Towards English Harbour itself, well actually we can’t see much as a huge motor yacht is blocking the view to the channel. Above it are the masts from the giants sailing yachts of Falmouth Harbour, the other bay which stands… behind a hill!

English Harbour, welcome to England
Antigua is one of the only Caribbean islands to always have been British since its first colonization, and we are curious of discovering this pure heritage free from the usual doubtful mix of French, Dutch or even Danish… We get closer with “litt’l Saltimbanque” our tender and finish to find out the dinghy dock, hidden by this huge motor yacht, the “Leander”, coming with a door code at the entrance and an helideck on the roof, don’t mix up with common people please ! Once onshore we land directly in the “Nelson Dockyard”, the former Royal Navy base of the island, Nelson’s port base during his time in the Antilles.
Everything is so British and well restored, the white and black houses remind us the small villages of Cornwall, with the sun and the palm trees as a bonus! Around the old buildings, capstans, and guns used as bollards, a small quay where VERY nice boats are moored. Old fashion boats and luxurious yachts are getting prepared for the famous racing weeks of Antigua at the end of April. On this one guys are varnishing the masts, on that one some brick the deck, and here this little 57 foot dark blue boat, indeed this is Yaya’s boat that we met in Cayenne and Suriname! It looks ridiculous here though it took all the space in the Mahury river!
This is an average boat here

These pillars used to mark the dry dock.
We keep visiting this little part of England, very exotic in the Caribbean. The former warehouses are turned into sail shops, chandlery, bakery, and a small museum that we visit. There is also to be found the custom office where you can clear in everyday including Sunday until 5:45 pm. But the bad surprise cones when we learn that the anchorage is not free, and being in a museum-harbour we have to pay the entrance fee! (but only once even when you stay for several days) Never mind, we forget everything with a cold beer, so happy to be back on journey after our tiring times at the yard.
Actually we never stopped running these days, with the parents visiting, the work on the boat, the night-time navigation, stop! We need a day-off and for the first time for a while we do not set up any alarm for the following morning (you don’t realize how tiring vacations are!) Then we head to Falmouth Harbour and its mega-yachts. A few minute walk later we find the same huge boats as in English Harbour, but many more! We step in the pontoon innocently whistling and looking straight ahead (they are kept by security guys of course… who probably thought we were some girlfriends of some crews…) and start admiring these monsters. We particularly like Tuiga, a Fife design from the early 20th century very well known, and indeed absolutely gorgeous… Also we found a huge Dutch sailboat, officially based in Willemstad in the Haringvliet. There is no way it can one day enter this tiny little harbour!!


Falmouth Harbour, keep it simple
On our way we find the chart of Bermuda that we were looking for a while. Slowly but surely the crossing back is coming… we do not know yet whether we’ll stop in the famous triangle of Bermuda, but we are fully ready in case!
Back in English Harbour, let’s go for a hike to the southern head. Of course there is the usual fort, but also many goats and “turks” cactus, named for their shape which reminded people of the traditional hat of Ottomans. The sight is superb, but it’s amazingly hot in this desert landscape. What a contrast with the rainforest in Guadeloupe!

View on English Harbour
31st March : English Harbour – Saint-John (22M)
Mega-yachts are fun, but a bit artificial for us, plus we need fresh fruits and vegies. Let’s sail to the capital St-John! The navigation is superb, with perfect wind Saltimbanque squeezes between the coral heads along the coast. We recall our old reflex from North Brittany, when you need to precisely align a rock with another to get your way safely out of the maze. The only difference is that the water here is crystal clear and “Grenadines” blue. Close to the five islands, the Morris bay looks very attractive, too bad we do not have more days…
So we keep heading to St-John, sail up the channel until the ferry quay. No cruise ship today, we can anchor between the quay and an old boat, the Coral Ark, probably just a wreck we thought. But actually it happens to be a party-boat, which leaves every Saturday evening at least to a hidden anchorage where people can dance on loud music without disturbing the neighbors.

Steering is fun

This is the official National Monument
The atmosphere is double in St-John: on the right hand side the R ‘n B music from the market, the fisherman quay, the mangrove covered by white birds; and on the left the “duty free” zone for the cruise ships, luxury shops and class restaurants… totally deserted today as there is no ship!
In the city we are really deep into the usual atmosphere of a Saturday in the Caribbean islands. On the market place a DJ sends very loud music in huge loudspeakers while everyone struggles to buy fruits from the small booths or trucks come for the day. People eat “lunch boxes” of chicken or fish, they chat, smoke happy cigarettes (quite less than is other places though), many are already drunk at 3pm, well a usual Saturday afternoon! As soon as you get out of the enclave of English Harbour, Antigua is just a normal island at the end!
1st April : Saint-John – Dickenson Bay (6M)
We leave the urban mangrove of St-John (and its big mosquitos :oS) for the ultra-touristic bay of Dickenson, a few miles to the North. Don’t worry we have not turned into big fans of luxurious hotels with private beaches and catamaran renting, we only found a beach where Laure can try her new kite-surf. So here we go, we put all her stuff in the tender and land on the most desert end of the beach. First we have to inflate the kite (hum, there is no blocking valve on this kite…), then fix the lines (err, what is this 5th line for, I only have 4 attach points on the sail…), and finally she can make it fly. There is not enough wind today to go on the water, just enough to fly the kite and fine tune the tension in the lines. But now we know how it works, next tine it should be good.
Eer anyone seen the instructions?
On the evening we enjoy internet on a disco-bar on the beach, before getting back onboard, put our ear plugs on, and sleep…
2nd April : Dickenson Bay – Barbuda Low Bay (31M)
Antigua is definitively a very nice island, offering many promising anchorages. But the conditions are just perfect to visit its little sister Barbuda, also very attractive! So we leave early in the morning (again…), get out of the bay, one last alignment to pass through the coral barrier (it´s more fun that getting around it!), and here we go, side wind on flat seas, pushed by a very nice 3 bft. It’s all the nicer that thanks to our clean hull we slide faster than 5 knots with only 8 to 10 knots of wind, just great!

We are making ourselves comfortable in the cockpit, Laure reads the tourist guide and Camille steers when “whale whale!”. A water jet right ahead, and a second one, and two bodies with a short winglet comes out of the water. At their last passage we clearly see the tail. Two humpback whales, just 100m ahead of the boat in 28m of water. These whales come for reproduction in the northern Antilles before heading back to polar waters for the summer. Their size is very impressive…

So there is life in these waters! Even though we do not manage to fish anything since 2 months in the Antilles, we still tow our squids hoping to catch something for lunch. And suddenly a big one comes and eat our red-squid (the one we made out of a rope in la Gomera) and leaves with it .o( Well, full of hope we keep towing “Barbie-squid” (the little yellow one repaired with a pink skirt found in Tobago). Yeepee a few hours later we get a king fish onboard! But once it’s in our bucket we loose our illusions: big white worms are escaping the dying fish from its gills, mouth, it´s so disgusting that we through everything back in the water as soon as we can. Leader Price ham never tasted so good for lunch!

Arriving to Barbuda
After these adventures we are getting quite close to Barbuda, only 10M to go. But we can’t see it yet! Contrarily to most of the Caribbean islands, high and volcanic, Barbuda is a coral island whose height does not exceed 60m. 9M away from the island it suddenly appears and covers the whole horizon! The approach is said to be difficult as the shoreline is continued by many coral heads and it’s difficult to assess the distances with such a flat landscape.
But the GPS is of precious help in this case and we land on the south-west part of the island. Once clear from the “nine-feet” bank west from the southern point, we head to the beach to the “Tuson Rock”. Still bearing all sails, but with the genoa partly furled in, as we do not want to go over 6 knots in 4m of water! In 3 to 4m of water along the beach there are many boats already anchored. We keep sailing along the beach to find a quieter spot further in the North, slowly, powered by Nestor, with Laure standing on the balcony to spot any coral heads ahead. Actually the passage is very wide and you can sail along the beach in 3m50 without any problem.

Anchored close to the hotel

It's shower-time
We pass by the hotel and its coconut trees and drop the anchor in 3m of blue water, which is troubled by the southern wind , blowing harder than planned. Too bad for snorkeling… but perfect for kite-surfing! A good wind blowing from the side of a 15km long pristine white sand beach, we have hardly stopped Nestor that Laure is already in the tender with all her stuff and a smile on her face which means “let´s go let´s go!” Now we know how to rig the kite and it goes quicker than the day before. Not really quickly enough though, the wind has time to decrease below the necessary 15 knots, limit under which Laure won´t be lifted up from the water… But where are the trade winds gone? Since the beginning of March the wind blows much less hard than during our first months in the Antilles, is it spring at last coming? But the sunsets are still breathtaking…

3rd-4th avril : Barbuda Low Bay (5M)
On the next day we set off to explore the beach: 4 hours walking straight ahead on an endless ribbon of pinkish beige sand fringed by turquoise water, picking up shells, having a bath when it’s too hot, and seeing not one single human being. Desert islands still exist on this planet! Pictures speak better than words.
The bad thing about the Caribbean is the crowd...
This beach looks like a "smurf" icecream sprinkled with Pink biscuits flakes

We collect "little pigs" shells (also called "porcelaine"), supposed to bring us good luck and no gale during the crossing back.

Would you be a good crew member on Saltimbanque? Find the little pigs!
Coral reefs are too far offshore to swim fishing out our diner there. Luckily the grass banks closer to the beach are inhabited by yummy creatures as well! Tonight on the menu we have conch (those pink shells where you hear the sea – and delicious when sautéed with butter).

One thing is for sure: Barbuda has a weird shape: the long beach on the western shore is actually nothing more than a sand ribbon a few meters wide, separating the sea from the inner lagoon. They say lobsters come reproduce there. Thousands of frigate birds call it home as well (which makes them by far the most numerous inhabitants of the place) and the mangrove up north is their favorite nesting area in the Antilles. Our problem is that on the other side of the lagoon lies the (main, one and only) city Codrington (called after the family that used to lease the island and grow the food for Antigua). There we need to go to check out of the country tomorrow. At night we sail Saltimbanque to the south of the lagoon therefore, in the hope of finding a path there that would bring us to town. Wrong: there’s the sea, the sand and the lagoon – but no path.

Lagoon, sand, sea...
OK, so if you can’t walk around the lagoon we’ll have to cross it. With the dinghy. 3 miles roundtrip, that’s more than our 2 hp outboard engine has ever done. So we sail Saltimbanque again 2 miles to the north where the lagoon is the narrowest. 25 minutes to cross. Once on the other side we moor at the fishermen jetty (just next to pots containing the biggest lobsters we’ve ever seen!). They have a wide complex of many buildings all shiny new by the harbor there, only to be used to a few fishermen. A gift from Japan, a board says (we can only hope there’s nothing to do with the abundance of whales in the area…).
The rest of the town is spreading out in a flat landscape. Horses, donkeys and docks running about the streets freely. In the school lots of kids in perfect uniforms play around the pink and blue buildings. Afterwards it’s just a big residential area. Houses are painted, some are abandoned maybe after a hurricane. The name of the game is to find the customs and immigration to check out – any postcard collected on the way is a bonus. At the fishing authority they point us to the Tourist Office (that sells postcards), where we’re told to ask for a Miss Jones by the Port Authority. No Jones there – she actually works across the street by the post office now (where we collect stamps!). Miss Jones nods, picks up the phone to call a friend, then explain how to join the customs: straight up the street, then right by the lottery, right again by the Pentecostal Church, then left on Cephas Street. Sounds easy uh? Well, there was a trick: after the first right we see a church and prepare to turn right again – when we’re stopped by two neighbors chatting at their balcony. This is the Anglican Church! Not the Pentecostal. Wrong direction!
One of the many churches in Codrington
Then the customs office looks like any normal customs office: it has a board (hand painted with stars and graffiti on a wooden plank), archives (piles of papers in a corner stuffed in beer, diapers and powder milk cardboard boxes), and aggressive mosquitoes (in every island the customs office is where local mosquitoes come to get the first bite at fresh meat…). One stamp, then we head for the immigration (luckily we passed it by on the way here). Two stamps. Back to the boat. In the afternoon we work a bit onboard, then have a last swim in the blue waters looking at the beach becoming pinker in the sunset. Tomorrow, we're sailing off again…
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Your messages:

Sylvain - 15/04/2012 07:16:43
Raaaah tant de porcelaines ! Et dire qu'on les cherchait pour Maman quand on était petits :)

Kariine - 15/04/2012 01:21:48
Eh, eh, tout ce bleu et rose désert change du gris asphalte et pare-chocs chromés à touche-touche de la "Belt way 8". On se lasserait pas des vacances, hein?

SuDad - 13/04/2012 23:37:28
Quel rythme ! Faut vous suivre ! Mêmes "fatiguées"...
Baisse de vent ? Pas de problème: on s'attendrait à vous voir remplacer Nestor (comme Obélix et Astérix, après une gorgée de potion magique) et transformer Saltimbanque en hors-bord.
Vos récits, c'est bien la réalité ? Oui ? Vite, continuez. On ne s'en lasse pas. Vous non plus, bien sûr.

Nadia - 13/04/2012 11:31:51
les plages sont magnifiques , on "sent "la chaleur rien qu'à regarder les photos ... très bel endroit ... bon les Bermudes moi j'irai pas ... lol ...

Bonne continuation les filles et vive les "ptits cochons"

mum - 11/04/2012 16:39:45
j ai trouvé des porcelaines et méme un petit jaune je crois dans votre photo .Merci elles font plus que réver ces photos !tout semble tellement irréel!

la mamou - 08/04/2012 14:17:16
et quand vous dites que la plage est rose ........ elle est rose de chez rose !!!
impressionnant vos photos !!!

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