17 38 500N 61 51 200W
We had an early start from our anchorage near Jolly Harbour and made contact with Pannikin when they came into sight just north of St Johns. With a brisk 25 knots wind we followed them through the reef and across towards Barbuda. It was quite a wet journey, large waves crashing on the side of the boat and launching themselves into the cockpit. Jez timed lunch making quite well, I was on the helm when probably the largest wave to date hit the boat and as it threw itself at me all I could do was flinch and prepare for a dousing. I stayed on course despite stinging eyes and we ploughed on through the waves, good job I hadn’t got my sandwich in my hand at the time!
Barbuda is very flat, not volcanic like the other islands, and it has outlying reefs about 5 miles offshore so it was reassuring to follow Pannikin when the Ipad keeps overheating and the GPS on the other screen in the saloon kept losing signal. We later discovered the Raymarine software update had reset the GPS to the inbuilt one, not so good when it’s inside a steel boat. Sailing all the way along the beautiful deserted sandy beach, with reef one side of you and pink and white sand the other, we thought we had arrived in paradise at last.
Anchoring off the beach alongside Pannikin, we could see over the beach into the lagoon. The beach in some places is a thin spit of sand dune, sea one side and lagoon the other. Across the other side of the lagoon, which is huge, quite shallow and has mangrove around a large area, is the village of Codrington, the only main dwelling on the island and it has a small airstrip. The wind was howling across the lagoon and we could see white horses across the very shallow water, but had been told to go straight to customs when we arrived by the officer on Antigua as we wanted to spend a few days here. So, waterproof jackets on, and the four of us dragged the dinghy up and over the sand dune to the lagoon the other side and set off on our adventure. The chop worsened and water entered the dinghy as though buckets of salty water were being thrown at you every couple of seconds. Angela soon couldn’t see with the salt stinging her eyes and with water up to our ankles our sandals started to float around the dinghy - all you could do was laugh at the ridiculous 1.5 mile journey! We arrived at the fishing dock and tied up, dripping wet we squelched our way down the deserted streets in search of Customs. We found a little hut with Immigration written on the outside, but of course it was shut. It had a phone number on the door so we telephoned to announce our arrival, although I am sure it was all around the village already! The island only has 1500 residents and we were 4 out of 15 ‘tourists’ so we were later told.
Anyway, it wasn’t a wasted trip because we drip dried in the bar opposite Immigration with an ice cold Carib beer…or two! I think we were trying to hang out our time before the return across the lumpy lagoon.
Back on the boats, the beauty of this place hits you with an 11 mile long beach, just about deserted as far as you can see. The boys snorkelled over the reef whilst us girls did ‘jobs’ on board, and then went to explore the beach. About half hour later I looked out and spotted the dinghy making its way past Pannikin, alone. Mmm, I thought, their anchor has dragged quite a way, must have been nearly half a mile, then looking around the boat I noticed the anchor on board. A sudden realisation that they had beached the dinghy and the sea had reclaimed it without their knowledge, slipping quietly away unnoticed! Ange spotted it too, and I shouted and waved at the boys to get their attention, Jez dived in off the shore first quickly followed by Steve. Ange was already donning her snorkelling gear ready to retrieve, it was a bit choppy so I was rather nervous of going in too, four people in the water and no one on board, didn’t seem wise as I am not a strong swimmer. Then the squall hit, hammering rain and very strong gusts raced the dinghy onwards and as Angela tried to swim out she realised that the dinghy was now well out of her reach and returned. Baby Joy kept going, another half a mile out towards the reef by the time the boys made it back to Pannikin, hauling up anchor and racing out to catch her. They gingerly picked their way through the reef and caught her, naughty girl. Phew, that was a close one! Without her we would be unable to get ashore.
We spent a couple of days walking the beach, spotting turtles and pelicans diving for fish. The most stunning and deserted place I have ever seen, the beach is fringed with pink coral sand lapping up with the waves and the sea is the most amazing colour. We all snorkelled over the reef too, although it wasn’t particularly clear and when the sun shone it was like someone turning on a light underwater.
When the time came to check out with Customs and Immigration so that we could sail over to St Kitts, we braved the lagoon once more..only Steve and Ange politely declined the second white water rafting adventure after they helped us over the dune with the dinghy. Once at Codrington we hired bicycles and cycled to customs, again it was shut with a number on the door to ring. The person who answered was in the bar, we knew that because we had just left there and recognised the loud tunes in the background! He kindly returned to sign us out, the office is in a residential street in a bungalow, with a hand-made sign outside! Very Barbudian! Then we had to go back to Immigration for passports stamped and then we were free to cycle the island. Once out of Codrington, the land is reminiscent of the New Forest (although the unmade road is not, very uncomfortable negotiating the pot holes, donkeys, goats and horses – and did I mention the back pedal brakes? Me, and back pedal brakes?!!) and we got soaked when the first squall came over. When the second looked imminent, we found a half built house with a shed in the undergrowth, so dumped the bikes, jumped the fence and ran over to the shed, climbing in over building materials to take cover. Good job we did, the heavens opened and torrential rain fell for ten minutes.
We cycled on for about an hour, stopping to look at all the animals spotted on the way down this track. We saw a beautiful pair of American Kestrels on a telegraph pole, and they were quite happy to watch me as I caught them on camera from below. We eventually reached the East coast, hearing the sound of crashing waves long before we could see them. The track ended up by their ‘Highlands’ close to where the Codrington Estate used to be. There are some great caves along this coast and a beautiful beach, but being Atlantic side with many reefs offshore the water crashed onto the sand with amazing force.
What a great way to see the island, the interior and East coast is so different from the West side. Every single local we encountered on our way that afternoon waved and said hello, there is a great community spirit here and the people are genuine and friendly to visitors (and word had probably got around about my back pedal braking skills).
If you are looking for an undeveloped (for now), deserted place with a slow pace and plenty of wildlife, breath-taking beaches and sunshine – this is it!