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07 March 2015

brisk trades and the northwestern anchorages of Antigua

1 - 7 March

Our weather mentor, Chris Parker, keeps saying that the trade winds are moderating.  However, in the current context, this means moderating to 20-25 knots, with gusts to 28 knots (from 30).  With our anchor well dug in to the white sand of Mosquito Cove, all is well, but it's not a great time to implement our plan to explore the northeastern anchorages of Antigua.  Accessing these requires tacking 7-8 miles directly into trade wind and wave, between two somewhat visible reefs, then threading more reefs and islands (always with the trades on the nose) to lovely and (especially now) less-visited spots.  So, we have moderated our plans, and have decided to explore the anchorages closer to Jolly Harbour and do a day of land touring.

Of course, this also includes tasting the delights of Jolly Harbour, including a new Italian cafe, Buongiorno Italia, run by a young Italian couple.  This is really the land of good cappuccino, and they make a darn good croissant, too.

Land Tour

Fellow cruiser Mitch of Private Dancer joined us for our land tour.  Since we had all been to Falmouth and English Harbours, we focused on other areas, including a partially restored sugar plantation called Betty's Hope and a natural formation on the East coast called Devil's Bridge.

And we also found our fourth Geocache at a charming "secret beach" on the West Coast.

Betty's Hope is well done, given its partially restored status, with lots of information and old photos and prints to provide a sense of what the place was like in the 18th century.  The most interesting exhibit was the restored wind mill.  Apparently, it was operated for a while when it was first restored, but immobilized for safety reasons and to protect the fragile structure.  

cane grinding mechanism inside mill
one of two mills at Betty's Hope
Betty's Hope was said to be the most productive and efficient sugar plantation in Antigua.  The work, performed almost exclusively by African slaves, was fairly skilled and specialized, but also difficult and dangerous.  

Devil's Bridge is a formation of the Atlantic rollers that crash continually against the island.  It also allowed us a remote glimpse of the northeastern coast.

definitely a bridge the Devil might use  
JP and Susan photo-bombing (accidentally) and enjoying the Atlantic spray
back at Jolly Harbour marina
Ffrye Bay and Dennis' Restaurant

On March 5 (after 8 days!), we finally wrenched the anchor out of the sand in Mosquito Cove and headed 2 miles south to Ffrye Bay.  The wind was gusting about 23 knots in the anchorage when we raised, pulling so hard it broke the snubber line we use to protect the windlass during anchoring operations.  Ffrye Bay is a lovely, serene public beach with a good restaurant.  We were the only boat anchored there, and the only other diners during the beach wedding reception that Dennis was handling.  Superb conch and goat curries, and bread pudding that received the JP seal of approval.

they quickly moved the small and charming wedding reception up from the beach due to high winds
Raconteur alone at sunset in Ffrye Bay
Hermitage Bay

Overnight, Ffrye Bay became a little more rolly than we like, so the next morning we decided to head 5 miles north to Hermitage Bay, off Five Island Bay just beyond Jolly Harbour.  The wind is still gusting over 30 knots at times, but our anchor seems to grip this Antigua sand pretty well.  Only five days until we go into the marina, where we will get Raconteur settled and  and then leave for the airport!

02 March 2015

Deshaies and Jolly Harbour

25 February

With the wind conditions strengthening even further we decided to go directly from Pigeon Island to Antigua...wait, need to stop for clearing out of the country... so we made an early morning stop in Deshaies, 

watching about 14 boats coming out and heading for Antigua while we moored and rowed to the sleeping little city. 

To Susan's delight, the clearing place did not open until 9 and we had coffee and pastries at the local bakery, tried to use the local ATM and met the local fauna.

By 10 we were sailing towards Antigua at a brisk close-to-beam reach, hitting over 9 knots as we surfed the big rollers, crossed the reef south of the coast by 3:00 and entered Jolly Harbour on the west coast a bit past four. We anchored in the white sand of Mosquito Bay in 8 feet of water and spent the following days catching up with our mail, laundry and even ....going to the beach!

Les Saintes and Cousteau Marine Park

18 February

We moved briskly from Prince Rupert Bay to Les Saintes in 18-20kts of wind, but with a nice angle, and entered the small French archipelago south of Guadeloupe from the back, in the Passe de Grand Ilet, where nature still looks (apart from some windmills producing the local electricity) just as Columbus saw it during his second voyage. The anchorage vas very busy and the mooring field full, so we anchored in 42 feet, seeing parts of our anchor chain that had not seen the light of the day in over a year. 

We enjoyed the local restaurants, including the excellent Au Bon Vivre for a couple of days, rented an electric car and visited the old fort from Napoleon III years, complete with exhibits of the 1782 Battle of Les Saintes where Admiral Rodney defeated the French, including some geocaching.  

We watered by ferrying jerrycans with the dinghy to avoid the local dock, forever busy with ferries, tour boats and tendering cruise ships. 

Both our bilge pumps had stopped working and we embarked on a full scale electrical analysis of the circuits, before Susan hit on the idea to look at the boat manual. The boat has been so heavily modified in the last 14 years that it is mostly of historical interest, but it mentioned a Bilge Pump and Shower Sump Reset Button. Button pressed, problem the stupid manual! We had not seen the button in 11 years....

23 February

Again a fast two-reefed crossing from Les Saintes to Ile Pigeon and the Cousteau Marine Park that sits on the upper west coast of Guadeloupe. We circled the island and anchored about one mile away. 

The anchorage is deep and the shelf rather narrow, so every afternoon arrival is watched carefully. We were joined by a German boat, S/V Homer, that checked that we were OK with the close quarters and invited us for cocktails. The skipper Marcus, a professional captain, and Wolfgang and Marek were full of funny stories. 

The next morning we went snorkeling at Pigeon Island with our dinghy. What a sight! This is possibly the best snorkeling in the Caribbean and compares in my mind only to Warderick Wells. It is like swimming in a giant aquarium with perfectly clear water and seeing hundreds of varieties of fish and coral, including the most magnificent Elkhorn coral trees we have beheld. 

We circled the island swimming, a little bit less than a mile and were back with our dinghy in time for an excellent lunch at the Rocher de Malendure, and provisioning at the local grocery store.