Saturday, January 29, 2011

On the Way to St. Martin: Antigua and Barbuda

After our unfriendly episode in Jolly Harbour, checking into Antigua in its capital St. John’s was a more pleasant, albeit slow and slightly inconvenient matter. We dealt with customs and immigration near the cruise ship dock and then had to take the dinghy to the “big ships wharf” to deal with Port Authority and pay EC $50 (US$20) for a cruising permit. This fee used to be EC$ 30 (US$ 12) last year. The town itself has nothing special to offer. Even the 2400 cruise ship passengers avoided it and planned other activities. A visit to the church seemed to be worthwhile, but the nice looking building was under construction, so access was prohibited.

Our plan was to stay in St. John’s harbor for a couple of days to work online -as always- and then move around the corner to the north shore for some peace and quiet over the weekend. Unfortunately, because of an over-presence of an Antigua company’s strong and inaccessible WiFi signals (present wherever you go on the island but luckily not as strong everywhere), Mark and I couldn’t connect to any of the weaker signals because of the interference. Quite an annoying experience if you rely on internet for urgent business matters. The result was that we had to hunt for another bay with decent WiFi, which we found in Deep Bay.


Deep Bay is a beautiful and relatively calm anchorage with a nice beach and pretty surroundings. A wreck in the bay offers good snorkeling, but because of the heavy trade winds this time of the year, the water was cloudy and the visibility non-existent. A walk to the ruins of fort Barrington offers a nice view of the ocean, the lagoon, St. John’s Harbour and the hilly shores. We enjoyed spending some days there and liked the view out of our office. The only “disturbances” came in the form of loaded day charter catamarans and a pirate ship full of cheery cruise ship tourists, multiple times a day.


Two hours of motoring into strong head winds brought us in between the reefs and the northern shore of Antigua to Long Island with attractive Jumby Beach. Palm trees line the sand, but the many man-built structures really assure you that you are anchored off a fancy resort. After one night, we decided to check out the only settlement in the area: the town of Parham. We explored the local fishing village and unexpectedly found a decent supermarket. The beer was cheap and Mark and I joined a bunch of locals outside the store to sit, drink, watch and be part of the scene.


It was Friday night and we hadn’t eaten out for ages, so we decided to try out Sugar Apple Alley, the big attraction in town. Only, we were the only customers. We started with drinks and saw the humongous speakers arrive. “Aha, they must be planning quite the party” we thought. After another hour, people stopped by to take out food and that was that. We ordered our meals and got served by very friendly employees. When it was obvious that nothing more would be going on, we left the place and dinghied back to Irie, anchored all by herself near the mangroves.


Our next stop was Great Bird Island, part of the “outer islands’ in the North Sound. You have to dodge a few reefs to get there, but it is so worthwhile. Little green islands linger everywhere and the water is clear and pretty. Not a lot of sailboats venture out here, so it is quiet and peaceful. A little bit of swell does make it in, but the anchorage is comfortable enough. And, you can always move towards one of the other, more protected islands, if the light is good to see the reefs.


Great Bird Island is a joy to explore. There is a path to the top with a grand view (if the sun is behind you; better in the morning) and two remote beaches. The snorkeling is OK on the reefs, which are mostly damaged. During the weekend, and possibly other days as well, local boats bring in hordes of tourists between 10am and 4pm. Luckily when you’re there on your own vessel, you can visit whenever you want. This is a nice place to be for a while, but, unfortunately for us, a weekend is only two days and we had to get back to work.


The hunt for internet started again and we tried to anchor in a few places, unsuccessfully, before returning to Deep Bay by afternoon, all frustrated and annoyed to have wasted another half a day. Communicating with Taiwan (where it is twelve hours later) was out of the question now. We wonder more and more whether we will be able to keep this lifestyle up. Running a business professionally and the way we want and cruising seem to be an impossible combination.


When the wind subsided a bit and the sea state improved, it was time for Irie and her crew to make the fun crossing to Barbuda, one of our most favorite places in the Caribbean. We were flying along at 7 knots, with one reef in, getting splashed multiple times by higher waves. No luck fishing again. On the contrary, we lost one hook from one lure and our last decent lure. I guess they do bite; we just don’t seem to be able to catch ‘em! With food, supplies and water running low, we will reach St. Martin in no time. But, in the meantime, we will work in our office with the nicest view of them all! And, try to do some fun stuff as well, this weekend…

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