18 March - Further Escapades in Antigua
The expensive corner of Falmouth Harbour, viewed from the top of the mast
There are three or four ‘marinas’ in Falmouth Harbour: two dedicated to the superyacht fraternity, one focused on yachts over 60 feet and a small one in the far corner that appeared to be a more traditional boatyard. Some well-spread moorings in the middle, plenty of room to anchor, some sailing dinghies roaring about in the afternoons, a mix of mangroves and elegant villas along the shoreline. We found a buoy just off the two main marinas: fantastic.
Looking for a new boat in Nelson’s Dockyard
We went ashore at the town dock and walked a few hundred yards across the isthmus that separates Falmouth Harbour from English Harbour as we wanted to visit Nelson’s Dockyard. We arrived there about 5pm, by which time all the cruise ship and tourist buses had left. It’s a smaller version of the historic dockyard in Portsmouth: clearly the scale of ambition was much less but most of the facilities a ship of the line would expect were here – imagine a blend of Pompey and Buckler’s Hard in a beautifully sheltered inlet. The architecture is a fine mix of Georgian and Colonial and the buildings have been beautifully maintained. They now house an array of marine services, restaurants and hotels – much as they would have done in Nelson’s day. The waterfront was lined with yachts, mainly rather large ones with a tiny Vancouver 29 somehow tied up at one end of a row of Classics! In the middle of the pack, we saw the Challenge 72 ‘Adventure of Hornet’, run by Joint Services Adventurous Sail Training. The RAF Regiment have chartered her for an expedition, but the skipper was my old friend Chris Sumner. They were sailing for the Azores the next day, but Chris had time for a beer and a gossip before we went off in search of dinner. The crew were in good spirits, some a little apprehensive about the Atlantic crossing – but that’s exactly why Adventurous Training is such a key part of the Armed Forces training strategy: they will arrive back in Gosport in a few weeks time, several inches taller and return to their units understanding teamwork, their own limitations and what makes other people tick. A couple of them might even go sailing again!
RAF chaps in classic pose, looking for the five star hotel…
We ate in the Admiral’s Inn next to the majestic pillars that used to hold up the original sail loft, where we were well looked after – a fitting ‘last meal’ as Anna and Matt returned to New York the following day.
The Admiral’s Inn and the famed pillars
We stayed on the buoy at Falmouth for another couple of days. Andrew Dove from North Sails came onboard to measure up for a new mainsail, we needed some minor repairs done to the bimini, some food shopping and some gas. Andrew nearly spent the night up the mast though, when the spinnaker block at the masthead collapsed and jammed the halyard fast. Fortunately he was also attached to the boom topping lift, so we transferred the load and carried on with the job. Julie then hoisted me up the mast to recover the debris: we now needed a new spinnaker halyard and block. The existing Selden block was original and made mainly of plastic: although there were no obvious signs of wear, 20 years of UV degradation have taken their toll. Lucky it did not fail mid-Atlantic. The following day we found a rigger to make the halyard and eventually found a suitable aluminium Harken block over on the other side of the harbour.
That evening, Julian and Patricia Morgan from A CAPELLA of BELFAST came over for dinner. We last saw them in St Lucia and it was great to catch up. Julian used to work for Arthur Andersen on some MOD projects and we knew a couple of people in common – notably an RAF Regiment chap called Peter Drissell who I thought was one of the brightest RAF officers I’ve ever met, who had a successful career despite not being a ‘fast jet jockey’. How funny that we should see a Regiment yacht in the harbour!
The bimini repair company is owned by a chap called Graham Knight who owns a house in Alverstoke (further evidence of a small world!). They run the business for six months a year and then go travelling. The rigger and the sailmaker both send their lads to Rhode Island and Maine for the northern summer to gain experience and earn money during the hurricane season, when everything here pretty much shuts down. We asked about the lack of water; apparently the island depends on desalination and the seas have been so rough recently that supplies are reduced. Most people experience shortages for a couple of days a week and the marinas are clearly low on the list of priorities. When I collected my gas bottle, it was still empty as the island has run out of gas. Is there a theme here?
The choice in supermarkets around Falmouth and English Harbour was surprisingly limited considering the demand from the yachting community – but I suppose it’s only for six months of the year. Apparently, most people go to a large supermarket outside St Johns; when we enquired about transport, we were told that the taxi would cost $US80 and a bus would take all day… so we decided to make do with whatever we can find locally. The roads are poor and outside the glamorous resorts and exclusive villas the countryside seemed poor, ramshackle and lacking appeal. There’s an election later this month and campaigning is colourful and noisy – yet many of the locals we spoke to had no intention of voting. They complained that neither of the main parties have much to offer and nobody has any faith in the politicians. An interesting contrast with Dominica.
Fuelling, with the pseudo-warship superyacht behind
On Friday morning we slipped from the buoy and went alongside amongst the superyachts in Falmouth Harbour Marina to embark diesel. The price was comparable with anywhere else in the English-speaking Caribbean and I reckoned that it would be pretty clean, given the high turnover from the big boys. Then we sailed east out of the harbour towards Nonsuch Bay. The wind was a steady 16 knots to start with and the sea quite choppy, but after an hour or so both eased off and we eased out the reefs and accelerated as we approached Green Island. We were escorted by a beautiful 1930s motor yacht who dropped anchor off the south side of the island, just inside the reef.
Our elegant escort anchored off Green island
We pushed on round the western side of Green Island (which is shaped more like a cat on the chart) and into Nonsuch Bay. It was named after a Royal Navy ship – much amusement for me as it was always used by the RN as a name for a hybrid model of an operations room, or any other entity that didn’t exist in reality. No doubt about this place though: it’s a splendid natural harbour, almost a mile wide at the seaward end, but protected by a coral reef and Green Island. The channel in is around 20m deep and winds a bit between some nasty looking reefs, but straightforward enough in good light. Once inside, the bay opens up and covers a couple of square miles of mostly usable water. Mangroves, limestone cliffs and some fine beaches line the shores and there are a number of smart houses as well as a couple of smart resort hotels. Green Island is owned by the Mill Reef Club – according to the pilot book they scorn yachties, so I was itching to meet a member! We picked up a buoy near Bird Island, just a cable or so inside the main reef. Paradise? Not far off. Far fewer boats than at Tobago Cays, for example and the moorings are well spread out so that there is no chance of overcrowding. There’s a kitesurfing school on the island (apparently deemed suitable by Mr Snooty) and over the next couple of days a couple of smart superyachts came and anchored in the bay behind us.
The anchorage at Nonsuch Bay
We really liked it here. The snorkelling was good: we took the dinghy and anchored it as close to the surf line as we could. Underwater, the visibility was excellent and the coral as varied as any we have seen (I learnt today that 20% of the world’s coral has died off in the past two years due to heatwaves, but here the variety and colours, especially close to the surf, were impressive). We saw many varieties of fish, but not in the numbers we had seen at Tobago Cays. The highlight was probably a large, blue backed stingray. He was about five metres long, of which nearly four metres was tail. He swam effortlessly and unconcerned through the coral, well aware of our attempts to keep up. I was surprised by how thick his ‘main fuselage’ was and how reminiscent of a William Morris wallpaper design his patterned blue back was. We also found an extraordinary cross between a lobster and a woodlouse: the size of a large lobster, reddish pink in colour like the spiny chaps you get out here but without spines, but without claws or an obvious head/torso – just a big shell shaped exactly like an enormous woodlouse. He reminded me of one of the monsters in the first series of Dr Who, back in the 1960s. He moved very slowly; I was tempted to pick him up, but thought the better of it – the dinghy was 100 yards away and I had no real means of taking charge of him for the swim back…
We spent the weekend here, doing some essential maintenance on the generator and the topsides. The water was clear and clean enough to run the watermaker. Today we shifted berth down to the western end of the bay to Brown’s Bay, intending to visit the Harmony Hill plantation for a lunchtime drink. It is closed for refurbishment though, so we explored some of the inlets and bays that line this beautiful harbour.
And for those who have everything… how about a slide from your bedroom into the ‘oggin?
Late this afternoon we departed Nonsuch Bay and returned to Falmouth Harbour so that we can clear Customs and Immigration first thing in the morning and depart Antigua. If the weather is right, we plan to make for Montserrat.