We thought we’d finished all our eastward passages when we got to St. Martin. Heading east means going straight into the trade winds and their associated rough seas. We had forgotten about the Nevis to Antigua passage. It’s due east and that’s where we needed to go next - another 10-hour washing machine ride. When we arrived in Jolly Harbour on the west side of Antigua, we cleared customs and went straight to sleep.
Panache had become a virtual saltlick after all the saltwater spray from the crossing, so the next day we decided to go into JH marina for a few days to get cleaned up and re-provisioned. The wind was kicking up as we entered the marina (it always seems to start blowing when we are about to dock the boat). Unfortunately, I clipped a piling on the way into our slip. It was strictly pilot error. I had to exit and re-enter and the second attempt was perfect. But the first had left its mark on our gelcoat. Kind of like a scrape you might get on your fender in a parking lot. And like getting your fender fixed, the repair is usually much more expensive that you were expecting. C’est la vie!
Antigua has more great harbours than any of the other Caribbean islands. It was home base for the British Fleet in the 1700’s when Lord Horatio Nelson was in command of the Caribbean fleet. Falmouth and English harbours are on the south coast. Both are very well protected and the latter was the site of Nelson’s Dockyard, the centre of activity of the British Navy. Much of the historic dockyard remains and is very well preserved. It’s a real treat to walk along the cobblestone streets and among the sail loft (whose massive pillars still remain), foundries, cookshacks and watering holes that were frequented by Jacktars and officers alike. We were lucky enough to catch a practice run for a parade of police and military officers as they marched through the dockyard in time to the drumbeat.
Falmouth is a very large harbour about 10 minutes walk from English harbour. It was race week in Antigua when we were visiting and there was quite an array of mega sailing yachts on display. One of the most iconic and interesting ones was the Maltese Falcon, one of the world's most complex and largest sailing yachts (88m / 289ft). It has three free-standing, rotating, carbon fiber masts (a modern twist on the square-riggers of old) and, incredibly, is said to be easily controlled.
The coast of Antigua is lovely with many sailboats and nice marinas. However, go one road back from the waterfront and you are into the areas where the locals live – generally quite poor and rundown. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I found the contrast in lifestyles more dramatic on Antigua than I have on the other islands.
Next stop – Guadeloupe and Les Saintes (back to French food and wine – yeah!).
Christopher Columbus named the island "Antigua" in 1493 in honour of the "Virgin of the Old Cathedral". In 1632, a group of English colonists left St. Kitts to settle on Antigua. Sir Christopher Codrington established the first permanent European settlement and guided the development of the island’s sugar trade. Antigua was long considered Britain's "Gateway to the Caribbean" as it is located on the major sailing routes among the region's resource-rich colonies.
As with other Caribbean islands, the sugar industry collapsed in the early 1900’s and the economy is now dependent on tourism.
In 1968, Antigua, Barbuda and the tiny island of Redonda (all British dependencies) were combined to become an associated state of the Commonwealth. They eventually gained full independence in 1981 and the country is called "Antigua and Barbuda".
The total population is about 80,000, of which 91% is African or Mulatto, 2% White and 7% Other. Almost ½ of the population lives in St. John’s, the capital city. The major Antiguan sport is cricket.
Click on the photos below for a larger view