104 CCA Members and Guests Aboard 22 boats participated in the cruise. The Cruise chairman was Brad Willauer of the Boston Station.
Brad Willauer, Cruise Chairman
The cruise covered two of the Leeward Islands: Antigua and Barbuda, 17 0'N to 17 45'N, 61 40' to 61 55' W. Barbuda lies about 26NM almost due north from Antigua. The islands have a common government, although Barbuda is about half the land area and is relatively undeveloped compared to Antigua.
Antigua is the major yachting center for boats cruising the Leeward Islands and it is famous (infamous?) for its annual riotous aquatic carnival known as "Antigua Race Week" (last week of April).
Tourism is the big business of Antigua. There are dozens of upscale resorts lining the shores. For the sailor, many excellent anchorages, primarily on the protected west, north and south shores of Antigua. Steady, east to west, trade winds of 15 - 25 knots provide wonderful beam reach sailing between islands of the northeast Caribbean..
Some background on Antigua: The island has always been the hub of the Caribbean even when Christopher Columbus sailed past during his second Caribbean voyage (1493), and named it after Santa Maria la Antigua, the miracle-working saint of Seville.
The first British arrived from St. Kitts in 1632 planting tobacco and other crops but it was the arrival of Sir Christopher Codrington in 1684 who established large scale sugar cultivation which dominated the island's economy for the next 200 years. By mid 18th century, the island was dotted with more than 150 cane-producing windmills Harvesting the cane was labor intensive and brought about the importation of African slaves.
By the end of the 18th century, Antigua had become an important strategic port. Its position offered control over the major sailing routes to and from the rich Caribbean colonies. Horatio Nelson arrived in 1784 to establish and develop British Naval facilities at English Harbour. This resulted in construction of Nelson's Dockyard, the remains of which remain today as the foundation of the charming and bustling English Harbour.
In 1834, Britain abolished slavery in the empire and Antigua immediately immediate full emancipation, the first to do so among the Caribbean colonies. The thriving sugar industry started a long and steady decline and Antigua struggled for prosperity until the growth of tourism during the last few decades. Today, tourism supports the island's economy.
The island started its independence movement in 1967 together with Barbuda and Redonda, and in 1981 it finally achieved full independent status as a nation.
Following is a day-by-day summary of our cruise aboard our Sunsail charter boat named Rossi.
American Airlines from Phoenix to Antigua International Airport via Dallas and San Juan, 8-1/2 hours flying time, leaving at 0800, arriving midnight Antigua time (3 time zones East). Long tiring flight. Met sailing buddies Larry Somers (SoCal) and Bill Whitney (PNW) in Dallas. 35 minute taxi from airport to Admirals Inn, Nelson's Dockyard, English Harbour. Built by the British in the mid 1800's, the inn is rich in tradition and architecture, but totally lacking in comfortable accommodations. Bill and I shared a room no larger than 10'x12' with two single beds side by side. A "real bargain" at $165 for the night plus ABST 25% tax!
The Dockyard at English Harbour was started in 1725 where it became an important British base for controlling the major Frigate sail routes of the Northeast Caribbean. Horatio Nelson arrived in 1784 and, while very unpopular with the local merchants, administered the construction of much of the Dockyard's ship service naval shore facilities of that era. The Dockyard was finally closed in 1889 due to its decline in use after the end of the French wars in 1815, and was left to ruin until the Nicholson family arrived in 1949 and were the prime movers in the restoration of this historic harbour.March 14
The Sunsail charter office is adjacent to the Admiral's Inn. We had a 2-hour briefing covering chartering and detailed information on harbours and general chartering rules and regulations. Weather forecast for the week ahead calls for some unusually big swells and planned cruise itinerary is scrapped so that the boats desiring to do so can make the trip north to Barbuda before the big swells hit Antigua.
We had a beer with Baird Tewksbury and his crew at the garden patio of Admiral's Inn. Baird is sailing both the Leeward and Windward Islands starting in San Martine and ending in Grenada.
Lunch at one of the waterfront restaurants on the road to Falmouth Harbour.
Afternoon visit to adjacent Falmouth Harbour where many of the mega yachts were berthed. We walked the docks checking out these huge yachts. Most impressive!
Late afternoon we moved aboard our charter Oceanis 473 named Rossi. This is a Beneteau, a very well designed charter boat, 47' overall, 14' beam, draft of 6'9", relatively new (2005), 4 double staterooms, 3 heads, large main salon.
The first event of the cruise was a cocktail party reception for the fleet on the lawn in front of historic Admiral's Inn at Nelson's Dockyard. It was good to visit with a number of our long time CCA cruising friends. This is my fifteenth national CCA cruise and I've developed many great friendships on the CCA cruises around the world. My buddy, Bill Whitney, and I, if not the oldest participants, are among just a handful of people over 80 on the cruise. We're both fortunate to be reasonably healthy with most of our marbles. However, age is taking its toll and I suspect that fewer and fewer bareboat charter cruises will be on our calendars in the future.
A light supper aboard completed our first day of the cruise. We're off to a good start.
Boat check out by Sunsail staff. I continue to be impressed with the simplicity and thoughtful design of the Oceanis 473 for charter service. And,, the Sunsail crew at the Antigua base were very competent and professional in handling the arrangements for the charter and provisioning the boat per our request.
Left English Harbour at 1100 for an easy 3-hour motor sail from west along the island's south coast to Deep Bay (17 00'N, 61 46'W) at the northeast coast of Antigua just south to the entrance to St. John's, the major seaport and Antigua's capital city...There were 4 or 5 other boats anchored along the beautiful sandy beach. Afternoon swim felt great in the beautiful turquoise waters; water temperature around 74F.
Delightful early swim before breakfast; warm, crystal-clear turquoise water.
Anchor up at 0815 for a 26 mile broad reach almost due north to Barbuda. It was great to be sailing in the trades again and we had a super sail averaging over 8 knots with a 20 knot wind off our starboard beam. Off to the west, we could see the islands of Montsarrat and St. Nevis. Montsarrat is special because it has a small plume of smoke from its volcano and at night you can see the red glow of lave.
Anchor down in Low Bay on the west coast of Barbuda at 1230 (17 39'N, 61 52W). This is a lovely spot; Only 7 boats anchored off a crescent-shaped beach over 4 miles north to south. Sparkling white beach facing brilliant turquoise shoal waters.
Barbuda is an interesting island quite different from most of the islands making up the Leeward chain. This is a low flat island whose highest point is only 136 feet above sea level. While it is a good-sized island, there are only 1600 inhabitants who live a relatively primitive life, quite different from the bustling, commercial tourist-oriented society of its sister island, Antigua. The island has a large lagoon and lots of wild life; wild donkeys, deer and boars roam its shores.
A very special attraction of Barbuda is a large, frigate bird rookery in the mangroves at the north end of the lagoon. Bird lovers from all over the world come here to see these birds. We were able to make contact with a colorful local guide, George Jeffery, on VHF who agreed to pick us up on the lagoon side of the beach and show us the rookery. Frigates are an interesting bird; they're large with a wing span of up to 6 feet, they're heavy weighing 3 to 3 pounds resulting in the greatest wing span area in proportion to their weight of any bird. This comes at a cost of being ungainly on their legs and they are unable to take off should they become submerged. They avoid landing in the sea and scoop food from the surface of the water usually recovering the catch of our birds who they harass until they drop their catch.
George's skiff was a heavy, sturdy, locally made boat powered with a 50hp Yamaha outboard. On the ride north, upon questioning, George talked about his life on Barbuda; he fathered 13 children (3 wives) and has more grandchildren than he can remember. Two of his children live in Florida. He's visited them twice, both times during serious hurricanes (Andrew and Katrina). We greatly enjoyed the story of his life in Barbuda - a happy, cheerful, articulate man of 55 years, totally content and proud of his family and life's work guiding people around the island.
The rookery was impressive, well worth the effort to see it. Thousands of frigates nesting in the tops of low-lying clumps of mangrove bushes; the air above alive with circling frigates. The chicks have white heads, the males are distinctive with a brilliant, scarlet-red pouch (larger than a soft ball) which they activate during mating season. The frigates are big, but with their very articulate tail, they can hover almost like a humming bird. George got us to within 6 feet of their nests and they would come flying in, hove over their chick and put food down its demanding throat. Barbuda's rookery is the largest of these long distance highfliers in the Western Hemisphere (the males migrate to the Galapagos).
The trip with George took about 2 hours, cost a total of $50 and was a memorable experience. I understand that the only other major frigate bird rookery is in the Galapagos. This is my 5th cruise in the Leewards and my first stop at Barbuda. Without question, this is one of the more interesting islands in the chain. One of the attractions of Barbuda is an abundance of fresh spiny lobster. Sadly, we forgot to buy four lobsters from George who is a lobster man when not guiding tourists.
Late afternoon swim. Beautiful sunset but no green flash. Quiet night on the hook under a brilliant nearly-full moon.
Refreshing morning swim. 0900 anchor up for Great Bird Island at the northeast corner of Antigua. Another wonderful beam reach sail almost due south for 26NM to the western entrance to the Boon Channel, keeping inside Diamond Bank, a series of reefs extending across the northern coastline of Antigua. Larry's computer navigation made the tricky passage east in the Boon Channel much easier and safer than the tiny chart plotter at the boat's helm. Anchor set at 1400 on the west side of Great Bird Island (17 08.5N, 61 44.0W). Another gorgeous anchorage. Five other CCA boats were in the anchorage plus our mother ship, Arabella.
The SV Arabella is a 150+ foot three-masted staysail schooner built in 1992 in Newport, Rhode Island and lengthened with a major refit in 2000.. Her appearance is deceiving in that she appears to be a much older vessel but she is thoroughly modern in every respect. She can accommodate 38 passengers but our cruise, unfortunately, was able to attract only 5 CCA'ers. One of the couples aboard, the Brewers fro the Chesapeake, was a good friend of Charlie and we were invited aboard for cocktails. I had a particularly interesting visit (mostly FTC and election year politics) with Bill and Collot Brewer, Charlie's friends from Washington. The preceding evening, the Brewers had seen the famous "green flash" just as the sun was setting into the western sea. We were looking, but missed the instantaneous flash, but we did see a gorgeous sunset.
I fixed baked chicken and potatoes for dinner.
Good day aboard Rossi.
Our destination today is Jolly Harbour, 17 04.5'N, 61 54.7'W. Anchor up at 0930 for the sail west, retracing our steps through Boon Channel. Easy sail mostly downwind to the entranced to Jolly Harbour where we put down a lunch hook.
After lunch and swim. We motored into Jolly Harbour where we had negotiated a side tie on the marina's main dock. This is a much larger development than I had expected: several large restaurants, a supermarket, a 18-hole golf course, a large shipyard and chandlery and dozens of waterfront condos and single family homes.
We purchased ice and necessary ship's supplies at the modern, well-stocked supermarket, one of the nicest that I've seen in the Caribbean..
We had a wonderful fresh BBQ mahi-mahi dinner at Peter's followed by the first ice cream of the cruise.
Jolly Harbour is a good stop. We could easily spend several days here.
Our check out from the marina was somewhat of a shock: $60 dockage, $40 for electricity, $20 for filling our water tanks, all plus 25% ABST. Quite a rip-off considering that the dockmaster had no idea on how much power and water we had actually used.
After leaving Jolly Harbour, we motored south to Carlisle Bay (17 01N, 61 50'W), located on the southwest coast of Antigua. We had intended for this to be a lunch stop but as we lunched the wind shifted to the north and gusted to 25 knots; the fast-moving low (from southeast to northwest) and the accompanying big swells that had been predicted hit us. It blew hard with several rain squalls during the night.
Our friends from the PNW, Roger & Judy Rue, Bob & Janet Witter) were anchored nearby and they joined us on Rossi for cocktails. They're very nice people, lots of fun.
Morning was relatively calm and we were able to see the beauty of this anchorage. A couple of local fisherman in a skiff set a huge net (about 200 yards long) just astern but, after working an hour they only netted a few medium sized fish.
Anchor up at 0930 with a stop at Falmouth Harbour for a boat tour of this large harbour, the Caribbean home to the super-yachts. In addition to the 20 - 30 mega-yachts at the docks, there were at least another couple of hundred boats (almost all sailboats) anchored or on moorings in the harbour.
1045. we're underway for Green Island (17 04.3'N, 61 40.2'W) in Nonsuch Bay, at the easternmost tip of Antigua. We're motorsailing into 6-8 foot head seas with 20 knots of wind on the bow. Lumpy, a little uncomfortable but no real problem slugging along at 3-4 knots.
1300 we're anchored on the east side of Green Island along with 15 other boats.
The outer reefs protect this anchorage okay but the wind is still blowing hard out of the east and the reefs are white with breaking surf. The prediction of increasing swells which was given to us at our charter briefing four days earier turned out to be right on. The swells were big and they made the reefs surrounding our anchorage very visible with spectacular breaking white water.
Nonsuch Bay is quite large and there are several anchorages providing good protection. There are two upscale resorts: Harmony House and the Mill Reef Club. 1500 we picked up the hook and moved to the west side of Green Island for the fleet cocktail reception aboard Arabella. It was a little crowded with over 100 people aboard, but drinks, canapés and conversations were great.
This anchorage should be a great spot in normal weather.
This was a relaxed day on the hook in Nonsuch Bay. Weather is still a little unsettled but the winds and sea are calming down somewhat.
Morning's major activity was a Dragon class sailboat race with CCA crews around a course in the bay. Brad Willaeur had arranged a loan of seven of these identical 30-foot sloops. We were anchored in the center of the race course and had a great view of the two races. The good wind and flat seas made for a good race with Carol Conners eking out an overall victory by shooting into the wind and turning a 3rd place finish into 2nd place just ahead of the three Willauer brothers.
In mid-afternoon we moved back to the east side of Green Island where we were entertained into the wee hours with very loud mambo music from a party on the beach. While Antigua beaches have beautiful white sand, inland of the beach is not so pleasant. Mangroves are thick and almost impossible to walk through. Next are a great many yucca which with their flower spikes are the tallest plant around. Unfortunately they were not flowering. On the ground are prickly pears, barrel cactus and a wicked type of burr that made walking inland either impossible or unpleasant.
After a leisurely breakfast we picked up the anchor and ran south down the coast to Indian Creek Bay (17 00.5'N, 61 44.2'W) for a lunch stop. This is a "S" shaped hurricane hole anchorage about a mile east of English Harbour.. It's small with room for only a couple of boats and quite shallow (8-9 feet) but provides excellent protection from seas and wind. Phyllis and I laid here on Traveler for a couple of days in 1984 while awaiting crew for our cruise down to Trinidad.
After lunch a short run to English Harbour for topping off fuel tank and then across the harbor for a med-type stern to mooring at the Sunsail docks. The closing event of the cruise was dinner on famous Shirley Heights, named after General Shirley, a governor of the Leeward Islands. This is high on the hill at the east entrance to English Harbour with breathtaking, panoramic view of the harbour and Dockyard. . This was a great spot for the closing dinner party.
It was a great party under a full moon with great music but tough dancing on ther cobblestones.
Packed our gear, cleaned the boat, boat check in and deposit release and moved to the luxurious Hotel Cooper and Lumber about a 100 yards east of Admiral's Inn. This was originally the Copper and Lumber Store, built in 1782, where materials were stored for ship repairs with seaman's quarters above. It has been restored as a beautiful hotel with an English Pub and the rooms are terrific, 2-story affairs, lots of room, fully equipped kitchen; and only $100 more than the primitive closets of the Admiral's Inn.. Satellite television allowed us to get caught up on the news and watch the Doral golf tournament where Tiger was struggling to win his 8th in a row..
Good fresh fish dinner at an adjacent restaurant and a good night's sleep in comfortable beds in luxurious surroundings.
0600 departure for airport.
0805 leave via AA for San Juan, Dallas and Phoenix.