Sailing to Nelsons Dockyard

Saxon Blue's Blog
Harvey Jones and Andrea Stokes
Mon 14 Feb 2011 02:01
17:00.490N 61:45.838W Nelson's Dockyard, Antigua, Sunday night

I'm completely knackered after another day on the water but we've finally arrived in Antigua - it seems that we've been on our way here for weeks. The best bit is that it's lovely so worth all the effort.

We got a reasonable night's sleep in spite of the rolling around off Montserrat. When Andrea and I went to bed last night, our cabin was still creaking, particularly Andrea's side of the bed. I persuaded her to get out again and we set to work to solve the creak. It turned out to be the wooden board under the mattress moving slightly on the surrounding fibreglass. We needed some way of lubricating it so Andrea went and found the birthday candles from my cake and we used one of them to put wax on the GRP. Back in went the wood and no creaks. We repeated the performance on my side and then, finally, we were ready for our now silent bed. Of course, the silence just showed up all the other creaks from bits of the boat further forward but we can cope with that.

I think we all struggled to wake up this morning and get going. I set up all the lines to tension the main halyard before we got underway so, as soon as the anchor was up, we put out the whole sail and pulled it up to get the creases out. Job done, Kali tidied up at the mast while I got us on course. The wind was really light in the lea of the island but I knew it would blow hard as soon as we cleared the northern tip. As the wind hit the sail, it started to heel us over so I went to release the mainsheet and made a stupid, schoolboy error. I flicked a couple of turns off the winch, as I've done hundreds of times before but I did one too many and the line shot through my hand. Instinct makes you grab it harder, rather than let go so, by the time I had let it go, I'd given my left hand a right old rope burn.

The girls were both downstairs so I called out for Kali to take over and got Andrea to dig out some ice and put it in a jug with some water and I stuck my hand in there for about half an hour. After that, I put some Savlon on the damaged skin and stuck a disposable Latex glove over the whole sorry mess. Kali was doing well with Saxon Blue so I just spectated for the rest of the crossing to Antigua. We were going almost dead to windward so we just motored with the main up to give us some stability. There was a big swell running (as ever) and we got hit by a few squalls. As we got over to Antigua, we carried on along the South coast outside the fringing coral reef. It's the first time I've seen a proper reef and I was surprised to see how violently the swells crash onto the shallows, throwing up clouds of spray. Behind the reef, the yachts were anchored in dead calm water and here we were getting tossed around only a short distance away.

The coast of Antigua is covered in scrubby forest on the low hills. It doesn't have any mountains to create the rain which keeps the other islands so fertile. There were a succession of golden sand beaches with no development atall. After a couple of hours, we passed the entrance to Falmouth Harbour where a lot of the really big yachts live. Maltese Falcon was in there, looking amazing as ever. We took the next turning into the much smaller English Harbour. The entrance is very narrow with a castle on each side, then past some anchored yachts off a pair of beaches and Nelson's Dockyard was visible in front. The dockyard is on the port side as you come in and is built on a promontory so that the boats moor stern-to in a kind of star formation. The really big ones are on the end and we were allocated a berth alongside a lovely Dutch yacht facing the harbour entrance.

I must admit that stern-to is a bit of a nightmare for me after the fiasco in Marigot marina but I thought I'd better get back on the horse. We got the tender off and lashed it forward, fendered up our starboard side, rigged up stern lines and got ready to drop the anchor. I worked out my best approach and off we went. I backed into the spot while Kali dropped the anchor and I did a pretty good job. Just as I got to the wall, Andrea threw the stern lines to the marina guys who made them off and we were in position. Well we were in position but the anchor hadn't held atall so there was nothing holding us forward off the wall. Kali went to run a line out to a buoy but couldn't get the tender to start (another schoolboy error, it turns out as she didn't have the kill switch located) so I was forced to sit held backwards towards the wall and motoring hard off it. The marina guys turned out to be a local dive company and offered to take our anchor out and set it for us - for a fee, of course.

Kali thought we should go out and try again but I wasn't in the mood for another go or another potential cock-up, especially as I was still trying to just use one hand. We agreed to get the help and the guys did a very good job, attaching our heavy main anchor to a flotation bag so they could locate it well out in the channel before dropping it and then diving down to dig it in. Finally, we could secure ourselves off the dock and relax a bit. It turns out that the seabed in the channel is super-sloppy mud and I think the guys make a good living from doing the same service to many of the yachts that come in. They were so helpful and nice that I was glad we took advantage of their help, especially as the boss spent a while chatting to Andrea and impressed her as one of the smartest and most sparky people she'd met in the Caribbean.

The marina guy then turned up and sorted us out with power and water. No hassles and no problems. Everyone here seems polite and helpful and we immediately felt at home. After a cup of tea, Andrea and I went to explore our new location. The dockyard was built in the late 1700s and was used by Nelson's fleet when he was trying to enforce the Navigation Acts which got him into such trouble on Nevis. There are a couple of dozen buildings left, many of them beautifully restored in the 1950s. Some of them are now hotels or restaurants but there are shops and other businesses as well plus the Customs Office so we could clear in. The dockyard is a tourist destination in its own right, similar to the Royal Navy Dockyard on Bermuda but not as large or well constructed. There are interpretation boards around so we could work out what each building did. Among the architecture, there are some wonderful old trees and the whole place is very charming. We booked in for dinner in one of the old places and we've just returned from a splendid meal.

I've treated my burns properly now. I think the prompt action with the ice-water kept the damage to a minimum and I only have bad blisters on my index and middle finger. The others and my palm look a bit scorched but I'm hopeful that they won't blister. We've put some Paraffin dressing on and covered it in MicroPore so it's a good job. Certainly nowhere near as bad as I feared this morning. Kali's gone out to a barbeque come dance party which takes place every Sunday night on the hills nearby so I'm sure I'll be in a coma by the time she returns. So far, at least, Antigua has more than lived up to our expectations and, to make matters even better, it's even a bit cold!


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