I left St Pierre on a calm and sunny morning and persevered doggedly for a few hours to sail away from the bay. We were stuck in the calm lee of the island. Eventually I succumbed and motored the short distance needed to get far enough offshore to be able to use the convenient SE breeze. All the other boats that had decided to leave that morning had passed us by then. I wasn’t too concerned as I was heading to English Harbour on the south coast of Antigua, about 150 miles away, and couldn’t possibly get there before dark so it would be a leisurely two-day sail; Sunday morning to Tuesday morning if things went as planned.
The weather was kind to us and a bright segment of moon helped us along for a part of each night. Brilliant stars and sparkling phosphorescence. I was in my element.
The channel between Guadeloupe and Antigua was quite rough and the wind had picked up somewhat. I needed to slow down to avoid arriving at the difficult-to-spot entrance to English Harbour in the dark. I did my usual trick of heaving-to about 5 miles off and waited for the dawn. It was still only 3am so I was also able to have a short nap. A well-lit cruise ship was also holding its position some miles off. As soon as it was light we were on our way again and easily negotiated the entrance to the harbour, with grateful thanks to the Navionics app on my tablet.
There is a good anchorage at Freeman’s Bay close to the entrance and it looked pretty crowded. I hastily dropped the sail while in the channel and motored in to try to find a usable space in which to anchor. The ease of dropping the sail is one of the things I love most about the junk rig. Just release the halyard and the sail crashes down in seconds. Then, haul in the sheet and that’s it. I find that the sail furls best if done this way rather than easing it cautiously down.
After settling in I rowed across to Nelson’s Dockyard to clear in and wander about the historical site. It was pretty crowded with tourists and after a quick look around I left the herd and took an interesting path to Fort Berkeley overlooking the entrance to the bay. A few goats gazed curiously at me but there were no shambling hordes of cruise-ship inmates.
Back on Speedwell I gazed about. The wind and currents in the small bay are quite fluky and the boats tend to swirl about unpredictably. Occasionally fenders need to be put out to avoid touching. I moved at one point to avoid getting too close to a small powerboat on a mooring, which was swinging rather differently to the anchored yachts.
Quite often, Speedwell is the smallest boat in the anchorage, but for a change, there was another small boat, anchored closer to the beach than I had dared to try. I soon met the owner, Harry, who had built her himself to a Folkboat design using recycled Silvabally wood, which is one of the best possible woods for boats. The work was done in a traditional wooden boatyard in Martha’s Vineyard over a number of years while Harry was learning his trade.
Towards the end of November last year he sailed her across to Bermuda where he spent some time and then down to Antigua. The boat has no engine and he found that the windvane self-steering gear that he had hoped to use didn’t work properly on his steeply raked rudder. He was able to get the boat to steer itself using a shock-cord arrangement on the tiller. All just so impressive.
Another eye-catching boat in the anchorage was RUSH (Relax Until Something Happens). Phil Louwrens, her skipper and an artist, has painted the hull in realistic zebra stripes. Not something you see every day.
One morning as I was getting into my dinghy to head for the beach and the path up to Shirley Heights overlooking the bay, he offered to accompany me and show me the path. He has been in Antigua for quite a few years and gives guided nature tours. It was a spectacular walk, although once again I was reminded that I’m not getting any younger as I sweated and struggled to keep up with my super-fit guide. A very welcome cold ‘Red Stripe’ at the restaurant at the top of the hill and a chance to take pictures of the spectacular view. Then back via a circular route that winds along the southern coast.
But the anchorage was getting just a wee bit too crowded for my peace of mind, so after nearly a week I moved on to Jolly Harbour. An exciting, fast downwind sail through the Goat Head Channel to the enormous anchorage outside the Jolly Harbour marina. Only snag here is that its a monstrously long row to get ashore. It had to be done at least once as I needed to clear out of Antigua before moving on to St Martin.
While ashore, I bought some provisions and took a bus in to St John’s, the capital, just to have a quick look around. Once away from the Disney world of cruiseship-land it’s a vibrant, bustling town.
The wind was good for the next leg, so on to St Martin.