Happy New Year!

We took a quick trip back to Canada in early December to see family, and returned to Antigua about a week before Christmas. With the all hot weather and sunshine, it has been hard to believe that it’s winter, let alone the holiday season!

Jolly Harbour

Our friends Aaron and Kelly came to stay with us for Christmas week. Our plan was to meet them in Jolly Harbour, on the west side of Antigua, and then sail up to Barbuda for a few days. With that in mind, Mike and I sailed up to Jolly a few days before Christmas. The trip was quick – only about 2 hours to sail the 10-ish nautical miles around the island. Jolly Harbour seems to be mostly a resort town – the inner harbour area looks manufactured, and is lined with townhouse-style villas, each with their own dock. Just south of the anchorage – on the other side of the hill in the above photo – is a beautiful big beach that is lined with hotels and guest houses. Antigua beaches have to be kept open to the public, so we were able to pull our dinghy up to the beach and spend some time enjoying the resort-like atmosphere.

Aaron and Kelly arrived in Jolly on Christmas Day, just in time for a Caribbean-style holiday meal: barbequed vermillion snapper with a cranberry, turmeric, and ginger sauce, with coconut rice and salad on the side (sorry, no photos – we were too hungry!). The flight delay meant we lost our opportunity to go to Barbuda (due to both timing and the weather), so we headed into the North Sound instead.

We had some strong winds on Boxing Day, and as we sailed north we also encountered a few rain squalls (it is winter, after all!) – fortunately, a ten minute downpour in 30 degree temperatures isn’t really too much of a problem. We had a bit of an upwind slog as we sailed across the top of the island, but were still able to arrive at Maiden Island, just southwest of Long Island. Maiden island is mostly private, so we only went ashore so that we could snorkel from the beach. In 2004, an artificial reef was created around the island – 3500 concrete reef balls (hollow spheres with lots of round cut-outs) were lined up on both sides of the island and planted with coral transplanted from other areas. Eighteen years later, you can snorkel around the reef balls and see lots of coral, fish, and other marine creatures. In addition to many kinds of fish, we were able to find a spotted moray eel, and a Caribbean lobster.

The following morning we hopped over to Great Bird Island, on the east end of the North Sound (close to Guiana island, above). We had hoped to hike around the island, but hadn’t brought money to pay for the park fee. Instead, we tied up on the beach and went for another snorkel.

The before-snorkelling photo. Innisfree is anchored in the background

With the strong trade winds blowing all week, we decided to sail back to Falmouth the way we had come, instead of trying to continue upwind around Antigua. Although you can’t see it from the map, the North Sound is bordered on the north by a shallow reef that prevents passage through it – so to continue clockwise around Antigua we would have had to sail back almost to St. John, go outside of the reef, and then double back across the island again. Heading to Deep Bay (the little bay just above Five Islands on the map) made for a much easier downwind sailing day.

Deep Bay is home to a very fancy resort that comes complete with on-the-water-cabanas. We steered clear of that end of the beach, and hiked up to Fort Barrington at the other end instead. Built in 1779 to protect St. John’s, this is the only British Fort that saw any military action during British rule. The hike is steep but short, and makes for some excellent views. When we were done, we went back to the beach and – surprise! – went snorkelling along the wall at the base of the fort.

We had two more sailing days before we arrived back in Falmouth Harbour on December 30th. On New Year’s Eve we had dinner ashore, and then headed over to Nelson’s Dockyard for their fireworks celebration. The party started at 10pm, and the place was hopping – live music, lots of food and drinks, and a great atmosphere. We watched the fireworks against a backdrop of superyachts – 100+ foot sailboats, all lined up in a row.

In spite of our late night, we managed to get up in the morning and join our friend Leon for a hike up Monk’s Hill, on the north side of Falmouth Harbour. At the top of the hill is Fort George, which was built in the 1680s as a refuge point for the British Colonists. Antigua had been attacked and temporarily captured by the French in 1666, and this was a way to protect the British in the event of future attacks. The Fort was maintained as a military fort until the 1830s and then used as a signalling station until the 1920s. As one of the highest points on the island, semaphore flags and signal guns could be used at the Fort and be recognized in all other parts of the island. It was also used as a timekeeping station- a black ball was placed on top of a flagpole every day at 12 noon, which indicated the time for all the plantation workers in surrounding fields. Hard to imagine how big that ball would have to have been in order to be visible from all over the island!

Aaron and Kelly are now safely back home, and we are settling into life at anchor. We need to haul the boat soon to polish the hull and redo our bottom paint (which prevents things from growing on the hull), but we are waiting for a shipment of related goods to arrive before we can start. I suspect we will remain in Falmouth for another week or so, enjoying the company of fellow Salty Dawgs, and just enjoying not being on the move for a change!