Thu 27 Apr 2023 17:30

We had a good sail from Guadeloupe to Antigua departing at 0700 and, after motoring for a while, found some wind off the north of the island and set one reef in the main and a corresponding Genoa.  We let the Hydrovane steer us to the entrance to English Harbour arriving by the early afternoon.  Negotiating the dog-leg entrance put us in the anchorage of Galleon Beach aka Freemans Bay 17:00.40N 61:45.80W.  We eventually found a space to drop anchor among other yachts but never got it to set or dig in reliably so mounted an anchor watch rota overnight.  Unable to face a second night of anchor watches we moved further into the inlet to anchor just above Nelson’s Dockyard in the Mangroves; this was more successful and peaceful, and closer to living museum of the old dockyard and the facilities ashore. 

The dockyard (nelson’s Dockyard) was constructed within English Harbour which was already a known hurricane shelter. Work started in 1743. Nelson was the commander from 1784 to 1787 but, apparently, “detested the mosquito-ridden location”.   The dockyard became redundant by the late 19th century and the buildings deteriorated but restoration work started in the mid-1900s and the site opened as a tourist attraction and working marina in 1961. The dockyard covers a large area of water frontage with buildings that were sail lofts, blacksmith and shipwrights shops, as well as accommodation for the officers and men.   To paint a picture, it could be an amalgamation of the William Yard in Plymouth, Bucklers Hard on the Beulieu River and Chatham Dockyard. The dockyard is now one of the main tourist attractions on the island and the focal point for a lot of sailing events in Antigua including the Antigua Classics, which we overlapped with co-incidentally, and Antigua Sailing week which was due to happen the following week.   As well as the usual bars, cafes, restaurants and gift shops, there were also showers, a bakery and a laundry.  In the evenings, the participants in the ‘Classics’ partied and produced some great musical entertainment. On our final night ashore there, we met Tony and Hazel Hawkins who are involved in the Antigua Classics: Tony sailing on one of the entries and Hazel working on the event organisation. Nelson’s dockyard complex was a spectacular living museum.

Cilla was flying back to the UK on the 24th so needed to be able get ashore to a taxi reliably and since Keith and his wife, Diane, were due to meet us in Jolly Harbour, just up the coast, we transited to the marina there on the 23rd. Leaving English Harbour we were able to sail past the various Classic fleets, which included some very large sailing vessels, jockeying for position on their start line.

The waters approaching Jolly Harbour are shallow -typically only five or six metres deep -and we need two and a half metres to float but with almost no tide, it is not an issue – it’s just a bit odd seeing the seabed pass under us  so clearly in the transparent water.

Jolly Harbour Marina is another oasis of restaurants and shops built around the boatyard and marina complex.  It was also an expensive oasis with an alongside berth at over $100 US per night.  After the crew change, we moved to a stern-to mooring at half the price and more in keeping with UK prices, but getting ashore did then involve some gymnastics using the Hydrovane support struts as steps to reach the pontoon.

The following day, after a morning cleaning and tidying the boat and dealing with laundry, Brian and I took a mini-bus to St Johns, the capital, for the afternoon: the contrast with the sailing and ex-pat communities in the sailing centres was stark. Stark also because we had travelled from the French islands which are sophisticated and wealthy.  Based on the smart and tidy English and Jolly Harbours, we were expecting something similar in the capital but a lot of buildings in St Johns were clapboard shacks and many were derelict.  The cathedral, obviously once splendid, was in poor repair and not accessible. There were open-air stalls on lots of pavements; the only area that seemed a bit ‘together’ was the complex on the quays where the cruise ships tie up.

So, we are now counting down to a departure this Friday 28th for the island of Barbuda, part of Antigua, en-route to Bermuda and the start of the return trip to the UK.  The leg to Bermuda could take a week;  the wind looks light in places.

All best, Tony, Brian and Keith


some of the Classic Yachts