Wednesday, March 3, 2010


February 25-March 2 - Antigua (St. John to Jolly Harbor)

The anticipation of making landfall at a new destination in the early morning always brings excitement and some anxiousness. In the early morning darkness, the island’s lights and the navigational lights, at times, look very similar. In spite of having the GPS, you still need to reconcile your position with what’s ahead of you and to ensure you are where it says you are. In my opinion, the attention given to this moment is not unlike that of a hunter in wait of his prey. Your alert, take note of every detail, look for reefs, buoys, wind position, lights, other incoming and outgoing traffic and what you need to do on the boat to prepare for landfall. It’s an exhilarating moment.

In the case of Antigua, we actually were heading to a nearby waypoint that was different from where we thought we were going. So things weren’t reconciling. But that soon became apparent and we made a small course correction and headed for St. John, Antigua‘s capital. Soon afterwards, we were joined by two cruise ships, all heading into the same harbor channel. What fun.

All went smoothly and shortly thereafter we were anchored safely in one of the three anchorages of St. John.

Antigua has well protected harbors, forested hilly areas and lots of beaches. Like most of the Caribbean islands, it was discovered by Christopher on his second voyage in 1493. What I did find out about his second voyage is that he was accompanied by a small armada - 17 ships that time. So often, when we hear that Columbus discovered such-and-such-a-place, in reality it could have been one of his ships that actually discovered it, not Chris himself.

Historically, like so many of the other islands, sugar plantations and salt ponds were worked by slaves. In those days salt was the key ingredient used not only to enhance the flavor of the food but rather it was used as a food preservative.

For the British, Antigua remained a strategic island. One of the more notable personalities who was in charge of its ports in the 1700’s was Lord Nelson. Turned out he was a real stickler to rules and thus kept the island’s harbors closed to any other commerce but British (certainly not to that renegade former British colony - America).

St. John has that same slightly tacky and disheveled appearance of so many of the towns in the Caribbean. Some of the architecture is notably interesting and does have some nicely designed historical buildings that are brightly painted well preserved. But there are many other buildings that are in disrepair and in need of serious rehab.

As we walked around town, we first were accosted by the tour guides and taxi drivers. They were after the cruise ship tourists. But as soon as we told them we were off of a yacht, they mostly left us alone. We wandered through town and found the public market, the fish market and the meat market. The meat market was gritty. This was not the kind of place you picked up a Styrofoam package of irradiated meat. This place gave you the feeling that the animal had just been slaughtered and that the meat was still warm. Having just read Michael Pollen’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” I really connected with the environment.

One of the more architecturally interesting buildings we saw was the Anglican church, built in the early 1800’s. Inside it was all mahogany-like wood ceilings and pews. Dark but nice affect. Afterwards we ended up at the King Casino - it was air conditioned and had GREAT wi-fi for free.

When we got back to the boat, we spotted a fort that was near us. We took the dinghy in to check it out. Fort Louis turned out to be a wonderful find. It is out on a peninsula, overlooking the harbor entrance as well as a very nice beach. Unfortunately, the buildings are in total disrepair, but the canons are there still pointed ready to fire on incoming Spanish or French frigates.

The following day, my friend and ex-Cal Poly colleague, Darren, arrived from San Luis Obispo. Coincidentally, we had had enough of St. John and were ready to move on. After we hooked up with Darren, the three of us motored (all of an hour) to Jolly Harbor.

Lisa and Renz, fellow cruisers who we had met in St. Martin, were anchored in the harbor. We decided to rent a car together to see the island. The sojourn started that very afternoon as we drove southward towards Carlyle Bay and English Harbor. We stopped at a fort, which had a great view of the islands of Montserrat and Guadeloupe. We even spotted the rehab unit owned by Eric Clapton. Nelson’s Dockyard also was of interest. A place where in the 1700’s they brought in ships for repairs.

We also stopped at a fruit stand that had pineapples and mangos for sale. But at $10 for a pineapple, we balked. How could such plentiful fruit cost that much? Was it because we were tourists? (We later found out that that was the going price. Guess we‘ll be eating canned fruit instead.)

Obesity is wildly out of control in Antigua. We have not seen it this bad other than at Wal Marts in the U.S. Women seem to be afflicted most. Even young teen girls. This is going to be a huge health issue for them in the near future.

We stopped by to watch a cricket game that was in progress and with the help of Lisa (who is from New Zealand), and one of the local players, got to learn a lot about the game.

The next day as I was starting to make coffee, the propane ran out. With Lisa and Renz also needing propane, finding it became the day’s primary objective since we had a car at our disposal. Finding the filling station became sort of a geo-cache game - without a GPS. We kept getting hints from helpful and friendly locals as to where it was, but it took many tries to home in on the place.

We dropped off our bottles and went out to lunch at a beach resort. It turned out to be a place where many cruise ship tourists spend the day. We discovered that the severe obesity problem appears to afflict these Anglo-Saxons too. Lots of rotund, whitish-red folks walking around in skimpy bathing suits. It was not a pretty sight.

The following day we all met at the Java-Go-Go coffee shop. Free internet. Need I say more? The rest of the day, Lahaina Roads sailed along the western coast of Antigua in a brisk 15-20 knot breeze. Darren got a chance to steer the boat, handle the sails and sheets and tack a few times. After a good sail we put into Falmouth Harbor, among other cruising boats and super yachts. It was time for a cocktail and dinner.